“We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains”
-Ursula K. Le Guin
Prologue – Song of Solomon
The return journey should reasonably have taken a day and a half, but with blind optimism, they had been hoping to arrive in the city by nightfall. It was a decision made silently. The vanguard rode on, and the rearguard followed. The soldiers were more or less all of the same rank; hence the absence of a dissenting voice could not have been attributed to deference. It was a decision made silently, and unanimously.
At dusk, they should have realized that their expectations were unrealistic. They should have set up camp somewhere along the King’s Road and waited through the night. Unfortunately, with the city walls distantly in view and with the promise of a soft bed and a warm meal just within their reach, they spurred the horses on. In their eagerness to arrive, they took a detour from the King’s Road, down a road less travelled and into the Weeping Willows.
It was a moonless night. They rode through the forest in an uneasy silence. A silence accentuated by their dying enthusiasm. The forest of the Weeping Willows tends to have that effect on men. It is an ancient forest. Some say it predates Avalon. Some say it was the site of an ancient and terrible battle. Regardless, all the fact and fiction one hears about the Weeping Willows can never be enough preparation for actually riding through it. The men were perturbed, some of them visibly so. It wasn’t enough that they numbered thirteen, a figure that never boded well. They were now travelling through cursed ground as well.
The soldiers were tired; their groins and shoulders ached. There were no landmarks in the forest, and the sky was so dark that the stars couldn’t be seen. They had no way to tell if they were going round in circles or not. Eventually, one of them suggested that they set up camp in the forest. The more superstitious of them wanted to protest, but they lacked the energy to do so. Evil spirits aside, it was the most rational course of action. Even the horses were tired and seemed reluctant to ride any further.
They made a fire and set up a few tents and waited for sleep. Two of the soldiers had been designated for watch duty. One of them was Mordred, who rarely spoke. The other was Benjamin, a casual gossip.
As the horses and the rest of the men struggled to fall asleep, Mordred and Benjamin sat around the dying embers of the fire. Mordred was wide awake and was anxiously fidgeting with the handle of his sword. Benjamin, meanwhile, was struggling not to doze off.
“God damn it,” Benjamin said, as he caught himself dozing for the third time.
Mordred kept his gaze lowered.
“I would play my flute to keep me active, but flutes tend to be hypnotic and I’d rather not have some uninvited guests,” Benjamin said. “Not here, not now.”
Mordred remained silent.
“Tell you what, how about I tell us a story.”
“Do as you please,” Mordred said grimly.
“You’re a cheerful one, aren’t ya? How about I tell us a story that is just as cheerful as you?”
It wasn’t until Benjamin started that Mordred found out he was being sarcastic.
“A long, long time ago, before the rise of Olaf the Ogre and every other nighttime menace your grandma ever told you about, there was a beautiful and powerful enchantress known as Solomon. Solomon had a face so fair that all who saw it were unable to resist her charm, and fell under her spell. Kings and Princes from all over Avalon travelled great distances to pay fealty to her. They did this to win her favor, for the wrath of Solomon was a terrible thing.
“In time, behind the scenes and in the shadows, six of the seven kingdoms fell under her control. King Eustace of Camelot was yet to pay fealty to her and she waited patiently for his arrival. She waited and waited and still, Eustace did not come. Very well, Solomon decided, if Eustace would not come to her, she would go to him and would have him groveling at her feet before she forgave him for his impudence.
“Solomon’s trip to Camelot did not go as planned. Upon arrival at the court, she discovered that King Eustace was blind and could not be victim to her charms. Eustace, in anger, had her cast out of the castle like a common wench. And that was a mistake, Solomon swore, he would live to regret.
“Solomon had never been so insulted in her life. This was the first time that anyone had ever dared refuse her. This was the first time that anyone had rejected her. Anger and pain welled up inside her like a dark fog as her blood itself seemed to be replaced by a black and acidic fluid. Her fury would be unleashed not just upon Camelot but upon all of Avalon.
“Blinded by her anger, Solomon sought to invoke the power of the most ancient spell in the world. It was a spell written by Aldaron himself at the dawn of creation and was only to be sung by his twin sister, Andromeda, at the twilight of all things. It was a spell no human should have had the power to channel, but Solomon was vain and a burning desire for vengeance clouded her judgment further.
“With the canticle in mind, Solomon stood atop the highest mountain in Avalon and began to sing. The Song of Solomon was a harrowing tune and the wind carried her voice over great distances. All who heard it, living and non-living alike, began to age prematurely. With her voice, Solomon sought to bring about the end of the world eons before it was prophesized.
“All over Camelot, stone castles started to crumble, flowers began to wilt, trees twisted and contorted and fishes bobbed on the surface of water and washed ashore. All the gallant knights and magicians of Camelot were helpless as Solomon sang her song. All they could do was kneel and pray that the afterlife would be merciful to them. Solomon’s pain was full and her vengeance would be complete.
“When all seemed like it was lost, when even the most optimistic of townsfolk had lost their will, the fell voice in the air, the voice which spoke of death and decay and dangerous things, suddenly quieted. For a moment, people were confused, for they had been entirely been resigned to their fate. Then, they came to their senses and began to rejoice. Some brave knight had slain the witch. Some precocious magician’s assistant had outsmarted her, just like all the stories told. They ate and drank and celebrated as good trumped evil once again.
“Unbeknownst to them, the sole architect of Solomon’s demise was none other than Solomon herself. In her pride and arrogance, she sought to sing a canticle reserved for a god and manipulate a power she did not fully understand. Alone and at the top of a mountain, Solomon was overwhelmed by a power she was not strong enough to channel and fell downwards into the caverns below.
“Even though she failed, Solomon had come closer than anyone would ever have expected. She did not quite achieve her objective, but for several moments, her fury caused all of Avalon to quake. Even today, her memory still haunts us. Even today, the land still bears scars from her brutal attack.”
Mordred didn’t know how long he had been asleep, but when he came to, something was very, very wrong. The campfire had died out and the forest was shrouded in darkness. Where was Benjamin? Where were the men? Where were the horses?
Mounting dread drew Mordred totally out of the embrace of sleep. He stood at the center of the desolate camp, alert, alone and with his sword drawn. What was going on? He thought about shouting out, but decided against it. Had they abandoned him?
Suddenly, a crack came out of the forest. Soldier instincts honed over the years immediately suggested to Mordred that someone (or something) was lurking inside the woods and had stepped on a twig.
“Who goes there?” Mordred said, hoping that he sounded brave enough, hoping that his voice did not betray the terror he felt within. “Reveal yourself!”
A footstep, and then another, and then…
A tall woman walked out of the woods. Her blood red lips against her snow white face formed an interesting color palette. Her irises were deep pools of obsidian. She was dressed in a robe so dark that it was impossible to discern where they ended and where the umbra began. Her dark hair, with a slight sheen, flowed all the way down to her waist.
“Who are you?” Mordred demanded.
“Not even a greeting first?” she said with a voice as smooth as silk. “Young men these days.”
“Take another step and I’ll cut you down where you stand witch!”
“Well that’s a bit dramatic, don’t you think?” she replied, in a tone that suggested she was close to laughing. She smirked and started to saunter towards Mordred.
Mordred charged at her with his sword high above his head. Just as he got close enough to strike, the Witch’s eyes flared like a flame and a sudden pain coursed through Mordred’s palm, causing him to drop his sword. The sword fell to the ground with a soft thud. It had a golden glow about it, as if it had just been drawn out of the fires of a forge.
The witch let out a soft chuckle and then said to no one in particular, “I think I like the fighters most. How I love it when they try.”
Very well, Mordred thought. If his sword would not be of any use, then he would rely on his fists. He would strangle the wench before she uttered one more foul breath. Mordred took one step and then another. Slow, menacing, determined. The witch watched him with a curious expression. As if she couldn’t quite believe her eyes. Just as he got close enough to pounce, he fell to the ground heavily, like an anvil dropped from a great height.
The impact of the fall caused Mordred to let out a soft moan. His armor suddenly felt like it had increased in weight, tenfold. He struggled to move, struggled to get up, but that’s all it was, a struggle. All his joints were uncooperative and felt like they had been welded together. He lay on the ground, sprawled like a tin can soldier toppled over. So this was the power of witchcraft.
“Are you the one they call Solomon?” Mordred heard himself utter, his voice little more than a whisper as he struggled to breathe due to his current circumstances.
“Solomon?” the witch laughed. “Why would you think that? I haven’t heard that name in years. Fortunately for you I am not. Oh no. I could never measure up to her majesty.”
“Then it is as I feared, Mordred said. You are Morgan Le Fay.”
And with that Morgan let out a delightful girlish laugh. “Indeed I am.”
“Well, what are you waiting for? Finish the job.”
“Finish what job? Are you trying to imply that I killed your troupe? That’s a very serious accusation my dear.” Her voice was dripping with sarcasm. “I’m just an aging woman, living alone in the woods, craving some company. Is that so hard to believe?” She laughed.
Mordred said nothing. He would not give her the satisfaction of playing her game. He would die with dignity.
“You’re one lucky soldier my dear,” Morgan continued. “It just so happens that today is my birthday and on my birthday my benevolence reaches its absolute maximum. Isn’t that lovely?”
Mordred remained silent.
“Torture doesn’t seem appropriate for a birthday night spent at a campfire. Hmm…what could we possibly…Oh! I know! How about a story? Yes, yes! A story by a campfire! How splendid!” Morgan clapped her hands several times with glee.
Mordred continued to remain impassive, and when Morgan finally noticed his disposition, the excitement vanished from her face. She crouched, stared Mordred intently in the eyes and said, “You, my dear, have been bestowed with the wonderful privilege of being my audience. Not an audience to any regular story, mind you, but to the story of my life. Aren’t you excited?”
Mordred stared back at her, unimpressed, and remained silent. Little acts of defiance.
With a sigh of exasperation, Morgan rose to her feet and moved to sit at the camp. “You’re free to move by the way.”
Having heard that, Mordred felt the invisible bonds that held him down loosen. He immediately clambered to his knees and started to reach for the hilt of his sword. “Aren’t you worried I will attempt to kill you again?” he asked, as he thought better of his course of action.
“I would be disappointed if you tried, and more so if you did not,” Morgan replied with a shrug.
Contemplating his situation, Mordred arrived at the conclusion that he had no other choice but to humor her. He sheathed his sword and then moved to sit opposite the witch. If the opportunity arose, he would not fail to take it. They now occupied the same spot he had shared with Benjamin earlier. They stared at each other for an intense moment, and then, Morgan started to speak.
“This is a story few have heard, soldier. Listen and listen well.” And with that the campfire blazed back into life without any visible source of ignition. Mordred stared at the fire, mesmerized. He began to see visions and shapes, dancing inside the flickering flame. The witch spoke with a hypnotic voice, almost like a lullaby.
If Mordred had not been so enthralled, perhaps he may have noticed, even in the darkness, the faces of his comrades and brethren, contorted in pain as their bodies hang limply and lifelessly from the top of the trees, like mannequins, like scarecrows, like strange fruit. If Mordred had not been so engrossed, perhaps he may have detected the smell of blood and sweat as they dripped slowly down the ridges in the tree bark, as tiny rivulets, mixing, converging and diverging.
Part One – Seven Sweet Summers
I was born just a week before my cousin, Arthur. My mother, Princess Umbien, died in childbirth. My father died long before I was born. I never knew his name and nobody ever mentioned him. Every time I tried to start a dialogue about him, I was met with nothing but silence and scathing looks. Almost as though all talk about him was prohibited. This happened enough times that I gave up completely on ever learning anything about him.
As if he blamed me for the loss of his twin, Uther never held me in his arms. Thus, the only caressing touch I knew as a babe, was that of my milkmaid, Alayne, who looked after Arthur as well.
Because our births were so close, Arthur and I shared more than a teat. We shared a childhood as well. When we were young, we would cause all sorts of commotion as we run through the castle, playing various games. We would play tag or use sticks to have mock swordfights or dress up like princesses and have tea parties. Though I had no parents, I was happy, as happy as the orphaned niece of King Uther of Camelot could be. Even though my uncle did his best to ignore my existence, Arthur and Alayne acted like family, and they were enough.
Happiness rarely lasts however. The dreamlike obliviousness of childhood may maintain the illusion of a perfect life for a while, but in time the fantasy fades, like wisps of fog in the light of dawn. As with most happy childhoods, mine came to an abrupt end. Though the wheel of time was relatively slow in its motion, my thirteenth birthday eventually arrived and things started to change for worse.
One morning, sometime after we both turned thirteen, Arthur and I had our game of tag rudely interrupted by Sylvanus, the court physician. We were marshaled into the throne room to meet Uther, who did not look happy. Uther very rarely had a facial expression which could pass for “happiness” or “contentment” but today, there was something especially grim about the King’s visage.
“For too long I have been patient with you,” Uther said, addressing Arthur. “And out of respect for the memory of my beloved sister, I have tolerated your antics with that one.” His gnarly finger turned to point towards me.
“All that ends today,” Uther said. “No offspring of mine should ever have been playing silly games like a little girl in the first place. Lucky for me, it’s not too late to make a man of you yet. Starting tomorrow you begin your training as a Knight.”
Arthur just stood there impassively with his head bowed. He never dared speak out to challenge his father. One might have thought he was not listening, but I knew better. I knew he was ashamed.
“And you,” Uther said, his cruel gaze coming to rest on me for the first time. “You will begin your training in the nunnery. Your crooked father may have planted the seed of evil within you, but with the help of the gods, we will beat it out of you.”
Uther’s words rung in my ears with a dull tone of finality. Understanding was not apparent hence I tried to think deeply about the meaning of the aging king’s words. Young as I was, I knew they couldn’t possibly bode well.
I was then approached by a woman I did not know. Her face was a mask of premature age and ill-humor. She gripped me firmly by the shoulders and forced me down a dark corridor. I managed to steal one last glance at Arthur, who was being led down an opposing corridor by Sylvanus. It would be years before I ever saw Arthur again. He was sent away from the castle to become a ward of Lord Percival in the East. His teenage years would be spent learning the games of war, and I would be taught to bow and smile.
Part 2 – The Crone in the Cave
Around the time of my sixteenth birthday, my tutelage in the nunnery had been going as well as anyone may have expected. The other sisters hated me, and I hated them even more. I memorized their doctrines alright, but only so I could make crude perversions and parodies of them. I caused trouble every chance I was given and I had a tongue feared by many of the noblemen. You may have been able to punish me for my insults, but you could never quite forget the sting of them, or the truth. The only one I never dared try was Uther.
It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized my antics during this period were just an attempt to get some attention from my Uncle. Uther never took the bait however. He didn’t care enough. I should have expected as much from a man who didn’t even bother to give me his last name. I knew he was waiting patiently for my eighteenth birthday so he could marry me off to some piss poor excuse of a lordling and be rid of me.
Ever since Arthur left and Alayne died, I was totally alone and felt neglected. When I wasn’t out in public causing commotion, I often took long strolls around the castle grounds and in the surrounding forest, thinking about my pathetic life.
One day, during a particularly pensive walk, I wandered deep into the forest. Unknowingly, I wandered deeper than I ought to and before I knew it, I was lost. Trying to find my way back to the castle brought me to the mouth of a cave. It must have been located in the other side of the same mountain in which certain sections of the castle had been chiseled out. My anxiety attenuated as I realized I wasn’t as lost as I initially thought. The cave had an air of mystery about it and I was contemplating exploring it further. Before I could decide however, I heard a voice say, “Sweet girl, come a little closer.”
I almost turned to ran right there, but something about the voice held me in place. Tentatively, I moved closer to the cave, and then I saw her.
An old woman stood at the mouth of the cave. She was hunched and dressed in rags so worn that their blue color was barely visible. She beckoned at me and in a voice as old as time said, “Come closer sweet girl.”
Sympathetic, I walked towards the old woman. I walked with poise right up until I saw her legs. She was shackled by the ankles to chains which led deeper into the cave. Something within me screamed danger. Who ties up harmless old ladies? Nobody. Unless they aren’t harmless. Who is she? Where do the chains lead to? Is that cave an entrance to a dungeon? The same dungeons in the castle? Those thoughts validated my initial instinct to run. Regardless, I continued my approach. This time my gait was lacking in confidence. I knew interacting with her could get me in trouble, but trouble was my middle name.
“Sweet, sweet girl,” the old woman said. Droplets of saliva appeared at the corners of her mouth as her toothless gums struggled to form the words. “Could you do an old lady a favor? Could you please find a Bloodsprout tree and bring me a fistful of leaves. My joints are aching a bit too hard and I sure could use some.”
In my most humble and graceful voice, I replied, “Sure I will, my lady.” Being up-close with the crone, fear and discomfort finally trumped my stubborn curiosity. I had had enough and I feigned obedience while plotting my escape.
Halfway back to the castle however, I stopped at the first Bloodsprout tree I saw, plucked a handful of its blackened leaves and headed back towards the cave and the smelly old woman. I don’t know why exactly I changed my mind. Perhaps my curiosity was getting the better of me again. When I arrived, the old lady seemed pleasantly surprised to see me. Seeing her toothless grin made me feel a little warm inside.
I watched inquisitively as she slowly grinded the leaves with a stone, using her saliva as lubricant (which disgusted me a little) and then applied the resulting paste to her ankles and joints. “Aah,” she moaned softly. “That feels good.” In spite of the oddness of the whole situation, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
“What’s your name child?”
“Morgan,” I said shyly.
“Well, Morgan, would you like to come in?”
And thus, my long and fruitful relationship with Solomon began. Over the years, Solomon taught me a great many things. She was my knowledgeable teacher, and I was her eager student. I learned how to make poisons which had no antidotes, I learned to make objects float with my mind, I learned to bind dark creatures to my will, I learned to see visions of faraway places and far off times, and most importantly, I learned how to make men fall in love with me. Those trips to Solomon’s cave had become my only joy in life and I snuck away to see her as often as possible.
For all the things Solomon taught me, for all the dark secrets we shared. We never once discussed her history. She never told me who she was but I was smart enough to conjecture that for myself. I knew her dark past and what she had done, and I knew she knew I knew. I may not have had the innate talent or raw power of Solomon the Great, but I had determination, and that was enough for her.
Whenever I had the opportunity, I surreptitiously used my new-found abilities to cause mischief in the castle. I never got caught, but one time, I came dangerously close to suspicion:
Uther obtained a nasty cut while hunting in the woods one day. Before Sylvanus arrived to treat him, I took matters into my own hands. When Sylvanus finally arrived, he was astounded that someone other than him had the skill to treat a wound of that severity in so short a time. His surprise quickly metamorphosized into suspicion after hearing that I was the one who had come up with the remedy. When queried by him, I lied and told him I discovered the remedy from a scroll I found in the archives one day. I don’t know if he believed me. His only responses were long scrutinizing looks.
Before, I had never so openly revealed that I possessed even an iota of any arcane knowledge. It was a risk I took to win Uther’s favor and my cold uncle couldn’t care less.
Part Three – The Binding of Uther
With our eighteenth birthday around the corner, Uther decreed that Arthur return to Camelot. When I heard he had arrived, I excitedly ran through the castle grounds barefoot and headed downhill towards the surrounding town. I was hoping to cut him off before he arrived at the castle.
The townsfolk had gathered by the roadside to cheer for the Crown Prince as he trotted towards the Stone Castle with his procession. Since Arthur was loved by the people, the crowd cheered like a roaring thunder. Still, in a desperate bid to get his attention, I yelled and waved more frantically than anybody else.
On the verge of giving up, he finally noticed me. For a moment, which felt like an eternity, our eyes met and we held each other’s gaze. My eyes were filled with enthusiasm and delight but Arthur’s were nothing but expressionless blue discs. The moment passed and without a word, he turned away to continued his slow trot to the castle gate.
I stood there for a moment dumbfounded, maybe even hurt. Did he not recognize me? And then I understood. This wasn’t the Arthur I knew as a little girl. This was a different creature. This was Arthur, bronze skinned. This was Arthur, golden haired. This was the champion of the people, and some strange pride had held him back from acknowledging me.
Later that day, King Uther organized a royal banquet to commemorate his heirs return to Camelot. It was one of the lavish events I was unusually allowed to attend. I had been expecting to sit at the far end of the table, among the lowlords and the nobodies, quietly eating a measly meal while being bored to death by smalltalk and wishing I was elsewhere. However, to my utter surprise, I found myself seated next to Arthur; an arrangement which certainly escalated things.
After Uther performed a toast, the room broke into noisy chatter as the distinguished guests delved into their meals and their pointless conversations. Mummers and Jesters proceeded with the entertainment for the night and Arthur and I were left in an uneasy silence. I sat facing away from him and did my best to appear preoccupied with the countless plates of food I didn’t even have names (or an appetite) for.
Tiny beads of sweat formed on my brow as my anxiety levels shot up due to the social pressures of an environment I wasn’t comfortable in. Sand did not seem to be falling down the hourglass anymore. The shadow of the Moondial seemed to be arrested in its course. How much longer could the dreadful evening go on? My head begun to throb with a light headache.
Eventually, with a voice which cut through the din like a crack through a frozen lake, with a voice which was deep as a valley and majestic as a mountain, Arthur spoke. “Morg,” he said softly.
Slowly, with faux irritation, I turned to face him.
“I’m sorry about how I conducted myself earlier.”
I said nothing but the knot in my stomach unclenched as relief washed over me like a cool breeze.
“I was just…seeing you made me…things haven’t been so good with me Morg,” he ended with a sigh.
Hearing his words, the ice which had steadily been building up in my heart melted like frost in the heat of the day. I turned towards him even more and ended up listening to him talk for the next hour. He talked about his tough childhood and the unrealistic expectations Uther placed on him. He talked about how he was judged based on his ability to throw a spear or tame a horse and nothing else. He talked about the difficult trials of knighthood and how they destroyed him mentally. The more I listened, the more sympathetic I became.
At the end of Arthur’s story I felt sorry. Sorry that I couldn’t be there for him. Sorry that he had to go through all that hardship alone. Sorry that I acted so selfishly. I wished desperately that I could find a way to make up for my absence in his life.
Eventually, Arthur asked, “So what’s been going on with you Morg?”
Solomon immediately came to mind, but I hesitated in mentioning her. Doing so was extremely risky. To say she wasn’t an ally of the people would be a gross understatement. But this was Arthur. My childhood friend was still somewhere within the hulking mass of a man that sat before me. Who could I trust, if not him?
“Okay Arthur,” I said. “There’s something I found. Or rather, someone. I’ll show you tomorrow, but first, you have to promise not to tell a single soul.”
In a tone like quicksilver, Arthur said, “I promise.”
And I believed him.
Solomon’s execution was scheduled for noon. Word spread quickly about her capture and many of the townsfolk swarmed the Town Square to witness the event for themselves. It had been quite a while since they had last seen a witch burned at the stake.
Uther and Arthur were on horseback, at the center of the Town Square, next to the stake. I was standing behind them, flanked by Sylvanus and Ser Wulfric, who gripped my arm so tightly that it hurt.
My arm was hurting. My eyes were hurting. My head was hurting. My heart was hurting. Everywhere was hurting. I had cried so much that I thought I must have run out of tears, but seeing Solomon’s frail figure bound so tightly to the stake, caused the tears to come out in fresh torrents.
Someone in the crowd started a chant, and the rest followed. “DEATH TO THE WITCH! DEATH TO THE WITCH!” As this went on, I sank to my knees, defeated.
“Enough!” Uther bellowed, and at once the crowd quieted down. For a moment, an uneasy silence set about the whole town. With his daunting presence, Uther held the silence for what seemed too long a time. Eventually, addressing Solomon, the King spoke.
“My son may have spent the days of his youth drinking and whoring and god knows what else, but never would I have dreamed in a thousand years that he would deliver you to me. He may turn out not to be a complete disappointment. He may prove himself worthy of my throne after all.”
Arthur said nothing and kept his head bowed, visibly embarrassed.
“Solomon,” Uther continued. “You stand accused of theft, fraud, attempted murder, murder, regicide, genocide, conspiracy, witchcraft and high treason. What say you in your defense?”
For a while, Solomon said nothing. Her eyes remained closed and her head bowed, as though she was unconscious. Just when no one thought she would speak, words came. They came through a toothless mouth and a cancerous throat, but they were unmistakable.
“Is this intended to be a trial, boy?” Solomon said calmly. If she was any kind of frightened, her croaky voice did not betray it. “Even with my failing eyes, I can see you already have me bound to a stake. I see your lapdogs arranging firewood around me. I can smell the Kerosene from here. What are you so afraid of? You are just as boneless as your blind ancestor. Or maybe worse”
Having said that, Solomon closed her eyes and bowed her head once more. Uther’s face turned a bright red. It was a hue his soldiers knew well, it was a hue they knew intimately. This was the exact shade of red his face turned when he was about to launch into one of his legendary tantrums. Even the horses neighed anxiously.
Remarkably, and to the shock of many, Uther maintained his composure. “Bring me the torch,” Uther said. “I will light the fire myself. I have no idea why my father’s father kept you locked away in our dungeons. A painful end to your baneful existence has been long overdue.”
With the torch in his hand, Uther asked Solomon, “Any last words?”
Solomon said nothing, and without hesitation, Uther ignited the pyre.
The people looked on, anxiously, nervously, curiously, tensely as the fire roared and blazed to life. The Town Square remained eerily quiet; some suggested that perhaps the witch had died quietly, suffocated by the smoke before the flames got close enough to lick her skin.
Sickened by the smell of burning flesh, the crowd began to thin. Many were disappointed. They had been expecting frantic cries and screams to feed their apathetic hearts. Instead, the fire gave off nothing but light and a disappointing heat. The show would not come on today, it seemed.
I remained on the ground, crying violently and shivering. On my thirteenth birthday, I thought my life had hit rock bottom, but this was a new depth and all around me, the walls were closing in.
Suddenly, a voice came.
“Did you even for a moment stop to think this whole thing over?”
This voice was different. It was not croaky, but smooth like a pebble. This was the voice of a queen. This was the voice of a goddess. This was the voice of a woman who had looked deep into the eyes of Aldaron himself and had known his secrets and was not impressed. This was not the voice of Solomon the Crone. This was the voice of Solomon the Great.
“Did you stop for a moment to consider that you might be making a mistake?” Solomon demanded. “Did bother to think deeply about why I have been kept alive for all this time? Oh you stupid, stupid little boy. You thought executing me would improve public opinion of you, but instead, this farce will prove to be your undoing. Today, you will come to a visceral understanding of the fact that in life, some lessons come at too high a cost.”
The fire blazed on. A few gasps emerged from the crowd. The horses surely would have fled, had they not been held steady by their riders. Arthur looked ghastly and Uther’s face was blank; the expressionless mask of an individual in a state of pure shock.
Solomon continued. “I may die here today boy, but at what cost? Eustace was shrewd enough to keep me bound by magical bonds. He knew that for me, being powerless was as good as being dead or worse. You, boy, have exhibited a remarkable error in judgment. In the few moments I am free of these bonds, I will show you the true meaning of despair!
“I curse you Uther. I curse your bloodline. None who bear your name will know the meaning of peace. Not until the ocean dries up and the World Tree loses its last leaf and the earth becomes a barren wasteland and Alister bathes all of Aldaron’s creations in dragonfire. I curse your pitiful existence. A life for a life boy!”
Solomon then began to laugh. It was a terrible sound. A cacophony which was equal parts bliss and equal parts madness. The fire blazed on and the smell of Brimstone and burning flesh dominated the atmosphere. Almost as suddenly as it began, it was over. The laughter stopped, the fire burned less furiously and the crowd murmured anxiously.
Uther remained near the burning stake for a long time. His face still expressionless. Eventually, Sylvanus rode over to him and said, “Baseless threats my King. Empty words by a finished sorceress. Best not to dwell on them too much. Lets head back to the castle, the sun is setting.”
Uther rode back to the castle quietly and Arthur followed like a lost puppy. I was not sure Sylvanus believed his own words, but if his goal was to cheer Uther up, his success was impossible to evaluate.
Someway somehow, I managed to carry myself back to my chambers. My heart was heavy with loss and even more so with guilt. It was my fault Solomon was captured. If only I hadn’t been betrayed by that golden-haired rat. If only I had kept the secret of her existence to myself.
Each time I closed my eyes, my mind went back to the memory of Ser Denver and Ser Boris dragging Solomon out of her cave. I was powerless to help her. I sobbed heavily as I watched them carry her away. It’s not your fault love, Solomon said to me. It’s not your fault.
How could I believe that? How was it not my fault? Solomon must have uttered those words to make me feel better, but all they did was worsen the wound of her passing. Losing Solomon hurt badly. More than a serrated splinter beneath my fingernail. More than a rusting nail in the sole of my foot. There was a heavy blackness in my chest and the pain I felt was indescribable. I would need many months to get over her passing, but that was time I did not have.
Exactly a week after Solomon was burned at stake, King Uther slipped inside his bath, broke his neck and died.
And Arthur was crowned King.
Part four – The Sinister Sorcerer
Two fortnights had passed since Solomon’s death, and still peace did not find me. I was a grieving, disconsolate mess. Not that anyone was trying to console me. The number of people who genuinely cared about me had always been a small circle, and over the years the circle had gotten smaller and smaller until it could no longer be identified as such. The circle was now just a single point and it was me against the world.
Between Uther’s funeral and Arthur’s coronation, the higher ups were busy with official business and had not been given enough time to address the question of if I had been punished enough for fraternizing with the most notorious sorceress in Avalon’s history. At the very least I was still allowed to stay in the castle. I wanted to believe that the Pendragon family’s continued hospitality was because I had been forgiven, but the part of me which wasn’t a naïve little girl thought that their toleration of me was because my punishment was being postponed to a later time.
I couldn’t care less however. The sorrow I felt following Solomon’s passing had slowly drained me of my will to live. I felt like a phantom. Like a spectre only pretending to be human. Sunrise and sunset no longer had any meaning and food had lost its taste. I wore my grief on me like a veil. My eyes hollowed out and my ribs became visible. My youthful beauty began to fade more and more as I took up the appearance of the bride of death.
It wasn’t just deterioration of the body, but deterioration of the mind as well. Consciousness was no longer a stream, but random splashes of awareness. Moments of clarity were rare, but when they came, I was hyperaware of what was happening to me, of what I was becoming. I knew my negligence was a form of self-destruction, of self-sabotage, but I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t want to stop, because to stop was to face reality and the last thing I wanted was to come to terms with a world without Solomon. So I carried on, living the days out like a ghost, searching for meaning in the world, but secretly hoping I would not find it.
One day, not long after Solomon’s execution, I woke up in a dark chamber. I should probably have panicked, but the creature I had become did not know fear. Also, there was something familiar about the darkness, almost comforting.
I sat upright, with my fingers running along the walls of the chamber. There wasn’t much to see in the darkness, but my eyes could just make out the unmistakable shape of stalactites hanging from the ceiling. I was in some kind of cavern.
I closed my eyes and tried to recall exactly how I arrived there. At once, memories appeared in my mind’s eye. Memories in the first person perspective. Memories of a grief stricken young woman, walking mindlessly away from a castle, into a nearby forest, down a familiar path and into…
Solomon’s Dungeon? The place looked different but there was no reason why it shouldn’t have. In addition to the fact that I had never been there at night, it must have been ransacked by Uther’s knights soon after Solomon’s arrest. Now, all that remained was an empty cavern. A space populated by a ghost, a spectre and memories held too tightly to.
Tears formed in my eyes and I wondered how long I could hold them there before they started to fall. I had never tried to hold back before, but on this particular occasion, given my location, I felt ashamed. Ashamed I had let Solomon down. Ashamed that I was nothing but a weeping mess.
I was just about to launch into one of my downward thought spirals about the whole Solomon situation when I heard a cry. It was high pitched and loud. I was drawn out of my reverie and immediately sat bolt upright, attentive, waiting.
The world was silent.
I started to doubt if I had even heard anything at all. Maybe I was losing it. Then, another cry came, breaking the fragile quietness. Fear crept into my heart like a maggot into rotten fruit. I felt my muscles build up with tension. I felt numbness creep into my fingers and toes. This was the onset of paralysis and I willed myself to fight it.
I walked slowly out of the cave. Standing at the entrance, I looked out into the dark forest and strained my ears. The forest was deathly quiet. No chirping crickets, no hooting owls, no howling wolves, no blinking fireflies, nothing.
And then, it came. The same cry. With the quality of the sound unaltered by the large chambers of the cave, I knew immediately what it was. It was a moan. Though the two were often difficult to distinguish, I believed it was a moan of pain and not of pleasure.
My first instinct was to run away, to run back to the castle and to safety, but I just stood there, transfixed, mesmerized. Something was drawing me towards the source of the cries. Something which was equal parts curiosity and equal parts stupidity. Standing there, my instincts to run were overridden by thought, and I remembered I didn’t exactly have a will to live. The cries seemed to be coming from deeper in the forest, so deeper in the forest I went.
As I approached the source of the sound, the darkness in the forest was attenuated by what I could make out to be a campfire. Someone had set up a camp at a clearing, and this seemed to be the source of the moans. I gave myself one last chance to run away, but that was a futility. I was resolute. Slowly, I crept around the clearing till I found a tree large enough to hide my body while I watched what was happening. What I saw took me quite a while to understand, but when I did, my blood turned ice cold with fear and then red hot with anger.
At the clearing, I saw a man sitting on a stool in front of a fire. Though the lightening wasn’t the best, his features were unmistakable. That scowl, that pointed chin, those crooked eyebrows, they belonged to none other than Sylvanus, the court physician. At the same clearing, there were two cages. Cages filled with people. The people in one cage seemed to be sleeping, unconscious or dead. Those in the other cage were alert; crying, pleading, or moaning. What was going on? I didn’t have to wonder for long.
Sylvanus had two Knights helping him. I didn’t recognize them. They were dressed in all black, rather than the traditional blue and crimson of King’s men. One of the Knights opened the cage and forced one of the prisoners out. I couldn’t quite make out what the man was saying, but I could tell he was begging. The Knight struck him on the head and he turned docile. Sylvanus then held the man by the hand and started chanting. In what was obviously some dark ritual, the man started to shake and convulse violently, followed by screams. Screams filled with pain and fear and agony. The same screams I had no doubt heard at Solomon’s cave. And almost as soon as it began, it was over. The man fell to the ground, unconscious. The other Knight then carried his body to the other cage and threw him in with the rest of the comatose prisoners.
A less informed person may have been terrified and confused by what they saw. I was frightened, but not exactly puzzled. Given my familiarity with the dark arts, it did not take me long to connect the dots. So this was the secret of Sylvanus’ power. He prided himself in being a noble magician and had worked his way up to become the court physician of Camelot, but all he did was abuse dark magic. Sylvanus’ secret lay bare before me and it was a stinking, ugly mess.
He was a conduit: A person who takes illness and disease from one, holds them within himself for a while and then transfers to another. Conduism was forbidden, even among clandestine groups, for it was an unethical and evil practice.
I stayed for a while and watched as Sylvanus and his men repeated the process over and over. After a day of pretending to be a healer, he had no doubt come to offload all the ailments he bore within himself on innocents he had captured. How many times had he done this? How many had he tortured this way? How many had he killed? Solomon, with her failing ears, would never have heard the screams. Perhaps it was good fortune that led me to her cave on that particular night. I alone knew Sylvanus’ secret and I alone knew how to take him down.
I couldn’t ask anyone to help me in this. No one would believe me. This is something I had to do alone. That night in the forest, fueled by rage and disgust and other repressed emotions, I made a resolution. I resolved to take Sylvanus down no matter what it took. Sylvanus had played a part in destroying my childhood, Sylvanus had played a part in getting Solomon killed. Sylvanus definitely had Arthur under his control, and by extension, Camelot. The Dark Magician had to go down. I could feel the life creeping back into me as I found what I had been searching so hard for: Purpose.
Part Five – The Sword in The Lake
That night, I ran away from the castle, but before I did, I stole something of considerable importance. I had only seen it once, back when I was a child, but I had read about it a lot in Solomon’s books. They called it The Dark Crystal and Uther never let it out of his sight when he was alive. It was a magic crystal, surrendered by the dark elves to Camelot in a treaty after the last Great War. Unlike Solomon, I had no innate magical powers of my own, and if I was to survive, I would need the power of an object like that.
Stealthily, I snuck into what used to be Uther’s chambers, where Arthur slept heavily. His snores echoed and reverberated around the large chamber, and the bottles of wine I saw at the feet of the bed suggested that Arthur had, as usual, gone to bed drunk. I was less worried about the man in the room I had snuck into and more worried about the guards who patrolled the corridors outside. Before I lost confidence and developed cold feet, I moved across the chamber and headed over to the pedestal where the crystal was mounted.
I held my breath and gently removed the crystal from its place in the glass chamber. Relieved that no alarms had been triggered, I exhaled.
The crystal was ruby red and had a peculiar shape, like the beak of some magical bird or the claw of some monstrous creature. As I held it in my hands, I felt its power coursing through my veins. I closed my eyes and saw that I was a step closer to my goal. After the moment had passed, I did not linger. Almost as quickly as I came, I was gone.
I knew the soldiers of Camelot would be hot on my heels as soon as the realized that the crystal as well as I, were both gone. Arthur could probably have gone a lifetime before noticing that the crystal was gone, but the noblemen who wanted to see me punished publicly would soon notice my absence from court. Hence, I went were the brave Knights of Camelot would never dare to venture. I made my home in the Weeping Willows.
Unlike the simpletons of Camelot, I had nothing to fear from the Weeping Willows. I had long ago come to terms with the reality that I was a child of darkness. Nothing that dwelled in that Forest would dare harm me, and anything which was foolish enough to try would come to find that I was adequately capable of fending for myself.
The Dark Crystal increased my powers a hundred fold, but it would not be enough to take down a sorcerer of Sylvanus’ caliber. I would need something else. A powerful object which could only be retrieved on a full moon. There was still a score of days remaining until the month ended, so I stayed in my abode in the woods and plotted and schemed.
Eventually, the days passed and the full moon rose high into the night’s sky. Dressed all in white, I made my way, with determination, towards the silver lake.
The object I was seeking was being protected by an ancient spirit. A spirit who had existed since the early days of the world. A spirit known as The Tear of the Goddess for she was born from a lake which was formed when the Goddess, Andromeda, wept a tear of joy upon seeing the beauty of the world her brother, Aldaron, had created. She was not an easy spirit to please, and I did not expect her to oblige willingly to my request.
When I arrived, she seemed to have been waiting for me. Nynevienne, the Lady of the Lake, stood atop the still waters, and watched me approach with an icy cold stare.
“Why have you come here, ward of Solomon?” Nynevienne asked with a voice like glass.
Confident, I replied, “You know why I am here, Ancient One.”
“The null-blade was not intended for you,” Nynevienne said. There was no change in the tone of her voice, but all around me, the air turned a biting cold, as if it were a response to some imperceptible emotion.
“Aye, Great Spirit, it may not have been intended for me, but since I have Pendragon blood running through my veins, it is my right to challenge for it.”
“Very well,” Nynevienne said. Slowly, she descended into the lake, leaving no ripples. Moments after she had totally disappeared, a hand emerged, rising slowly from the lake, clutching firmly to the object I was seeking. Excalibur, the null-blade, the anti-magic weapon, shone and glinted in the moonlight.
Slowly, I waded into the still waters and made my way towards the object of my desire. As I swam, each breath became harder to draw, each stroke became harder to make. The Lady of the Lake was fighting me, hard. Eventually, I reached the center of the lake, where Excalibur was being held aloft by a spectral hand. The moment I reached out to touch the sword, the whole world turned upside down.
In what seemed to be a maelstrom, I was lurched violently into the lake. Water collapsed rapidly into my ears, my nostrils, my mouth and my lungs. I was drowning. Nynevienne was insulted, Nynevienne was angry, and this was how she manifested her wrath. I tried to swim against the current, but that was just an act of futility. Each movement I performed seemed to drain me of rapidly depleting energy. Each movement I performed seemed to take me only deeper into the lake.
For a brief moment, I was still, like a mannequin suspended in water illuminated by moonlight. Was this the end of the line? Would my life end in this cold, damp place? Was this my fate? In that moment, I thought about my mother and my nameless, faceless father. I thought about Uther and Arthur. I thought about Solomon and Sylvanus. Slowly, I felt resolution build up inside me. I may not have been able to defeat Nynevienne in a battle of strength, but I sure could beat her in a battle of wills. Steadily, clutching hard to Excalibur, I swam towards the surface and out of the lake. I was victorious, I had won, and my prize, the null-blade, was firmly in my hand.
Interlude – The Dwarf and The Dark Eyed Woman
Once upon a time, Durinn was the most revered and respected dwarf in all of Svartalfheim. He was the most hardworking and talented craftsman. Many came from all over the land to see his marvelous creations with their own eyes and to pay homage to him. He was honored and he was pleased.
One day, a human woman approached Durinn. She wore a veil which covered everything but her eyes. Eyes which were deep pools of obsidian. She came to Durinn for she had heard that none in all the world was as skilled a craftsman as he, and she had a job for him.
When Durinn heard her request, he gave a great guffaw. It was virtually impossible. She might as well have been asking for the sun and stars. Disappointed, the woman turned away. As she was leaving, she promised to find one who would be capable of fulfilling her request.
Durinn halted her departure, not because he was afraid there was some craftsman greater than himself; he knew not even the gods had greater skill than him. He halted her departure, because he saw that the brightness had been drained from her eyes and was ashamed that he was the cause. He decided then and there that he would do anything to see the warmth return to her eyes, even if he had to waste precious time and materials in attempting to make what she wanted.
For seven days and nights, Durinn worked the fires of his forge. His dwarven brethren watched in wonder as his workshop became as fiery as the throat of the dragon. They watched in amazement as Durinn struck his anvil with such force that even the mountains seemed to quake. What could he be up to, they wondered? When they finally saw what Durinn had made, they were astonished, ashamed and shocked.
When the dark eyed woman first approached Durinn, she came with two items and demanded that he unify them as one. Durinn judged that the task was impossible, since the items were as incompatible as fire and water. They were magic and anti-magic. But Durinn was never one to back down from a challenge, also he had his own selfish motivations. So he worked, day and night, that the dark eyed woman’s mad dream become a reality. Against all odds and to everyone’s surprise, he succeeded.
From the Dark Crystal and the Null Blade, Durinn forged a new item. He melted the steel of Excalibur and re-set it to make a beautiful diadem, a diadem which he decorated with the Dark Crystal. Thus magic and anti-magic were united as one. It was not as simple a feat as it seemed. Even the strongest of giants would not have had the raw strength to hold the two objects together. Even the oldest of elves would not have had the magical aptitude to prevent the two objects from annihilating one another. The knowledge of how this feat was achieved was a secret Durinn took to his grave. And it was a grave he entered sooner than expected.
The Dwarves, ashamed by the abomination the master craftsman had made, cast him out of their kingdom. No amount of skill justified the creation of such atrocities. Dishonored, he left the warmth of their golden halls to live isolated in the cold, dark mountains. As Durinn starved through the winter, he remembered the glimmer returning to the woman’s dark eyes, and it kept him full. As Durinn shivered from the biting cold, he remembered the kiss the dark eyed woman gave him on the cheek, and it kept him warm.
But not for very long.
Part Six – Strange Encounters in the Woods
A few years passed and I spent the time consolidating my power. I increased my mastery of spells and charms, made allegiances with dark spirits, beasts and marginalized fractions, and obtained the most powerful weapon that had ever existed. An item which was magical offense and defense combined as one. Sylvanus’ days were numbered and my vengeance would soon be complete.
My reputation spread rapidly across all of Avalon and soon some brave and foolish souls began to seek me out. They wanted to use my power to resolve their petty conflicts. Some, I turned them away, but not before giving them a good scare. Others, I granted their nonsense requests. It was always good practice, turning unfaithful spouses into filthy pigs.
One day, when I felt confident enough in my prowess, I put on a veil that covered everything but my eyes, mounted my dark mare, and made my way slowly towards Camelot. I began my journey at dusk, and by midnight, I had arrived, unnoticed, in the woods behind the castle.
I walked down a familiar path, towards a clearing I had first discovered as an eighteen year old girl. I knew my target would be at the same place. He may have guessed, long ago, that I had discovered his secret, but he was overconfident like that.
I arrived at the clearing to see familiar sights. Sylvanus, on his stool, in the middle of his dark ritual while his faceless soldiers helped him. This time I did not hide behind trees and among bushes. This time I walked out into the open, where the campfire would reveal me. As I made my entrance, I exuded an aura that made all the slaves and their captors fall into a heavy sleep. All but Sylvanus.
It took Sylvanus quite a while to notice my presence. The ritual was a tiring ordeal and it took such a toll on his body that it must have dulled his senses. Eventually he saw me; tall, beautiful, fierce and powerful. I was no longer the girl he had bullied in the castle so many years ago. I was now a powerful enchantress.
“Ah, this is a pleasant surprise,” Sylvanus said. His voice was deep but the words were strained. “When you disappeared with the dark crystal all those years ago, I was disappointed that perhaps you had pawned it for a few petty coins. I never imagined that you knew its true value. I never imagined that you would keep it for yourself. Who would have thought that all the gossip that reached my ears about a dark eyed witch was really news of a brat like you? Ha, no matter. I have had my sights on the Dark Crystal for a long time. Have you come to deliver it to me?”
His arrogance infuriated me but I willed myself to remain calm. “Sylvanus,” I said. “I know what you truly are. You pride yourself on being a great magician with a healing touch, but all you do is practice dark magic. Even Solomon, who you despised so mu-”
“Don’t compare me to that wench!” Sylvanus screamed.
I smirked, satisfied that I was getting under his skin, and said, “You are nothing like her. She was a goddess and you are nothing but an insignificant gnat.”
“Oh, if I’m a gnat, you are but a writhing maggot.”
“Me? A maggot? Ha! Your overconfidence will be the death of you, old man.”
“This isn’t overconfidence,” Sylvanus said, with a voice returning to its natural cadence. “Do not confuse the parlor tricks you perform with that crystal for real magic. Let me show you true power.”
Sylvanus moved to attack and it was an attack I had anticipated. He stretched out his hands and started to radiate dark energy towards me. It was energy that contained all the illnesses and ailments he had held within himself. He would surely have killed me then and there, but, unfortunately for him, he did not count on my secret weapon.
Excalibur would simply have blocked the attack, but my diadem, along with the Dark Crystal, amplified and redirected the dark energies back to their source. I watched as Sylvanus was overcome with energy he couldn’t control.
He lay on the ground, suffering from a hundred different diseases all at once. Being a conduit is always inherently dangerous. One has to make sure they never cross the threshold of what they can handle. Sylvanus may have been proud, but for years he had been careful. He had been careful but his vigilance lapsed at just the wrong moment. The second he turned his short, stubby fingers towards me, it was over for him. Now he was overwhelmed by disease, and he did not have the strength to hold it at bay. He would die there in the clearing with no one to help him. I suppose it was a fitting death for a man who had risen up the social ranks by taking sickness and disease from the rich and giving them to the poor. He was trapped, suffering the fate he was so eager to subject to those he deemed lesser than himself.
Part Seven – Solomon’s Legacy
That night, following our battle, I briskly rode back to my abode in the woods. I was victorious, but my mind was heavy with thought. Over the years I had sacrificed so much to gain enough power to defeat Sylvanus and now I had finally achieved that feat. I felt fulfilled, sure, but could this really be my lives work? Could I honestly call myself a student of the great Solomon if my Magnum Opus was something as trifling as defeating a third rate magician?
That night, filled with a strange angst, I went to bed. Unbeknownst to me, forces had been set into motion. Forces which would decide the trajectory of my life for the foreseeable future.
I awoke to grim news from my spies. Long after I absconded the scene, my ravens stayed to watch the forest. Apparently Sylvanus had survived much, much longer than I predicted. He stayed alive long enough to be discovered by the King’s Knights. With his dying breath, and with no one to counter his words, he spewed lies to the King about how he confronted a dark sorceress in the forest and sought to release the people she had enslaved. He told the King that I, Morgan Le Fay, was the evil he had fallen to. Arthur took in every word like sponge, never bothering to question the man who had manipulated his household for decades.
After Sylvanus drew his last breath, Arthur swore that he would see me defeated in his lifetime.
The news I received put me in a dark mood. I had just relieved Camelot of a pest who had secretly been leeching off of them, and this was how they would repay me? This was how they would remember me? I was insulted, but more than that, I was angered. If Arthur wanted a war, then a war he would have. He and his kinsmen were not exactly innocent either. They had been responsible for Solomon’s death, but more than that, they were responsible for making my life miserable.
The sun had set on Solomon’s era, true. But now the moon was rising on a new era. The Era of Morgan Le Fay. Camelot thought they had destroyed their worst enemy when they killed Solomon, but unbeknownst to them, they had catalyzed the creation of the one who would carry on her Legacy. I may not be as powerful as the great Solomon, but my reputation would be just as fierce, or maybe even more so.
Epilogue – The Queen’s Gambit
When Morgan was done with her story, the embers in the campfire had long since burned out, but the fire blazed on. Morgan stared at Mordred, expectantly. Mordred was still staring at the fire, with his signature brooding expression.
“Well, aren’t you going to say anything?” Morgan asked.
“I’m still thinking about your story,” Mordred replied.
“What’s there to think about? Did I recount some of the parts in the elvish tongue?” Morgan asked wryly.
Mordred sighed, “It’s just, what you’ve told me is so different from what I know of you. If it turns out to be true…”
Morgan let out a high pitched laugh. “Why would I lie to you? Who are you?” The last words in each statement were emphasized out of spite.
Mordred, insulted, took his eyes away from the fire for the first time in hours and stared at Morgan for a hot moment. She didn’t notice however. Her attention was elsewhere.
“Would you look at that,” Morgan said. “The sun is almost above the horizon. You best be on your way back to Camelot.”
“What happened to my men?” Mordred demanded, his voice full of steel.
“Oh don’t be so thick, boy. They abandoned you!”
“What happened to them?”
“Oh look at you, so high and noble. Still thinking about those who left you to die. Who cares what happened to them? The Forest of the Weeping Willows is a dangerous place. Travelling through it as a group of twelve doesn’t guarantee your safety any more than travelling as a group of thirteen.”
Mordred bowed his head and looked sad for a moment and then, “Very well witch, what happens now?”
Anger flashed over Morgan’s face the moment she heard the word ‘witch’ but she maintained composure. “I’m going to let you go, as a sign of my goodwill. No creature will hurt you as you make your way out of this forest. This, I promise you.”
Through wounded pride and gritted teeth, Mordred said, “I thank you for your magnanimity.” As he walked out of the camp, it never once occurred to him to look up.
Morgan watched him as he left. She had her doubts about that one but she was still, paradoxically, sure that she had made the right decision. The emotional ones are always easier to manipulate, she thought. They are always burning with a fire that can achieve great things when fanned in the right direction. Sure, he might not entirely believe her now, but as he walked back to Camelot, the dark seeds she had planted in his heart would grow and flower and bear favorable fruit. Old age was catching up, her powers were fading and she needed to make a move for Camelot while Arthur was still King. A more competent King would be infinitely harder to deal with.
Mordred would be her agent. Mordred would be her slave. Mordred would tear a rift through the proud cabal known as The Knights of The Round Table. Mordred would stab Arthur in the back when the time came and then he would open up the gates of Camelot to Morgan Le Fay and her entourage. This, she was sure of. Morgan would then take her rightful place on the Siege Perilous and Camelot would be hers to rule.
First Camelot, then Avalon.
Sitting alone at the clearing in the forest, Morgan felt her spirits lift, like birds riding a homeward breeze. In spite of herself, she couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
Author’s note: Though Power and Glory may feature characters and locations from Arthurian Legends and the Poetic Edda, it is more or less an original story. If you managed to make it this far in reading it, I appreciate (all five of) you. These stories wouldn’t exist if not for you. 🙂