Hi, guys! I had this one planned for next week, but I finished early, so, what the heck. Why not. I hope you enjoy! Leave a comment about what you thought if you feel like it. =) Cheers!
Early afternoon in Camelot always came accompanied by the sound of ringing church bells. The Jacoban priest held powerful sermons every day about the power of the Watcher – when he was not busy advising the king on state matters, at least. Or mingling with foreign nobility. Or sending the constable after criminals and sorcerers. Morgana’s uncle was a very busy man. She sometimes compared him to a centipede – so many arms, doing so many things at once.
Of course, she would never say that to his face.
As for today’s sermon -the young princess had decided to skip out. That wasn’t like her – normally, Morgana attended the sermons dutifully, as well as the soirees. And the dinners. And the balls. As well as the daily lessons on history, religion, politics, law and a slew of other subjects that her brother took any chance he could to wiggle out of.
Not today, though. Today, Morgana had other things on her mind.
Gawain mumbled under his breath, flinching as she examined the wounds on his face and hands. The boy had had a number done on him. He had a black eye, with a reddish purple hue around the edges. His knuckles were scraped bloody. His ribs were severely bruised. He was a total mess. Morgana carefully pressed on his right hand, looking for broken bones. Then she stepped back.
“Well, it looks like you were lucky. Nothing is broken. You’ll want to bandage up those hands, though.”
She sat down next to him on the bench, casting a glance in his direction.
“So… do you want to talk about it?”
A short silence fell between the two of them. Morgana knew her friend well. Gawain was a real hothead, but he never threw a punch for no reason. That did not mean that he never fought – out of everyone she knew, Gawain got into fistfights the most, and he usually walked around with at least a few bruises at all times. This time was particularly bad, though.
Morgana allowed the silence to continue for a few more moments. Then she took a guess.
“Was it the boys from the market again?”
“What did they do this time?”
“They were throwing stones at a cat. It didn’t even do anything. It was just sitting on the well, and they were throwing stones at it to make it fall in.”
“I don’t care that it’s three of them and one of me. You don’t hurt animals. Ever.”
Morgana had seen them around town before. Because she was a princess, the town bullies left her alone – but they didn’t do that for anyone else, and they really deserved a lesson. Still, three against one? Gawain never stood a chance.
“You know, I could just send in the guards to arrest them.”
Gawain scoffed at that.
“And be saved by a girl? They’ll never let me hear the end of it.”
“Even if the girl is a princess?”
“Especially if the girl is a princess.”
Morgana sighed, shaking her head.
“Fine. Be like that. But don’t be surprised if they really break something next time.”
Gawain let out a sound that was somewhere between frustration and anger. He sat up a little straighter, stretching his painful ribs.
“You’ll see, Morgana. I’m going to beat them someday. I know I will. And even if I don’t, they’ll just turn into farmers and traders when they grow up. Not like me.”
“Oh?” Morgana replied, raising her eyebrows. “And what will you turn into when you’re a grownup?”
It was as if a switch got flipped. With sudden bright, hopeful eyes, Gawain looked in the direction of the castle.
“Isn’t it obvious? I’m going to be a knight.”
A moment of silence fell as those words sunk in.
Then Morgana snickered, unable to contain her laughter.
“Hey! It’s not funny!”
“Yes, it is!” the princess giggled. “You? A stuffy knight in castle armour? It’s hilarious!”
“I going to! I totally can! I’m nobility, too-”
“You’re a distant third cousin with no titles,” Morgana smirked at him. “That hardly counts-”
“Yes it does! It totally counts! I’m technically nobility, and I know how to fight even without swords, and I’m really brave! I can be a royal knight just like in the stories! You know I can!”
He nodded to himself, turning his gaze skyward.
“I’ll be the bravest knight ever. And kids will never be bullied again while I’m around. I’ll protect them! And I’ll be kind to animals, and save damsels in distress, and have epic battles for my king just like the knights in the legends. I know I can.”
Gawain looked back at Morgana, that hopeful look having been transformed into childish determination.
“Come on, Mor. You know I could be a good knight.”
Gawain was a hopeless romantic, too.
And you know what?
He was probably right.
“…Yeah. I do. I think you’d be a great knight, Gawain.”
A bright, happy smile spread across the boy’s face.
“Heh. Thanks, Mor.”
Later that day, in the royal dining hall…
“… And that’s why I think you need to train more people alongside Arthur, father. I think it’s very important that we start training more people to become knights.”
The kids in the castle had learned from a young age that there were two ways of speaking – the casual, laid-back talk that they could use with friends, and the formal tone that they needed to adopt when talking to everyone else. Everyone. Including their own father. It had taken many years of practice, but Morgana was finally starting to get the hang of it. She’d been working the King and older brother for several minutes now. The young princess had carefully waited for the right moment, after dinner but before dessert, when she knew Uther was at his most pliable.
And her patience paid off. The King turned to her with an approving nod.
“Excellent, Morgana. I can see that you’ve really thought this through. I approve. We will start training more nobles to become knights starting tomorrow.”
“Yes. About that… I actually have someone in mind,” Morgana pushed. “I’ve thought about it, and I really think that Gawain would make a good-“
“Gawain?” her brother, Arthur, snickered. “As a royal knight? He doesn’t even know how to hold a sword correctly! Not to mention the fact that he isn’t a member of the nobility.”
“That’s not true. He’s a very distant cousin-“
“And his father laid down his title to marry a merchant. That makes him a commoner.”
Arthur turned to his father, a mocking smile on his face.
“Surely you agree, father? We cannot allow the likes of commoners to become royal knights.”
“You’re right, Arthur,” the King nodded. “I’m glad to see that your lessons are bearing fruit. By law, only members of the nobility are allowed to join the ranks of the royal knights. To act otherwise would bring great shame to Camelot. Lot laid down his title, so Gawain simply does not qualify for that position. We will appoint someone else.”
Arthur leaned back into his chair, a triumphant smile on his face. He had gotten very skilled at talking, too.
The fopdoodle, Morgana thought venomously. All that work for nothing.
The King of Camelot suddenly cleared his throat, turning towards his royal heir.
“That reminds me – I have something I want you to do. The King and Queen of Wessex as well as the royal family of Nemeth will be arriving at the castle tomorrow. You and your sister will accompany me when greeting them, attend the ball that evening, and do your best to entertain our noble guests. Arthur, I want you to pay attention to Mithian of Nemeth in particular, do you understand?”
He turned towards his daughter.
“Morgana, that goes for you, too. Their oldest son is called Richard. You will do whatever is necessary to enter into his good graces.”
Morgana racked her brain for a moment, trying to think of why that name sounded so familiar. Then she remembered. Their teacher had talked about the royal family of Nemeth before. If she remembered correctly… Nemeth was the nation directly bordering theirs. Relationships between the two had been very good for very long. The royal families got along especially well, often traveling to each other and introducing young nobility to discuss future-
Arthur, not grasping what was going on in the slightest, tried the same trick on his father again. He always tried to get out of any responsibilities, sword fighting being the only exception. The young prince gave King Uther a big smile, saying:
“But father, I was going to train with Sir Bertrand that evening. You said that I needed to improve my footwork. Surely I can skip the ball this one time?”
But this time, the Iron King did not budge. With a strict, unyielding expression in his eyes, Uther looked down on his son.
“No. You will do as you are told. And you will be on your best behaviour.”
“Not another word, Arthur. I will not warn you twice.”
That evening, Morgana found herself alone in her bedchambers. Her solitude was on purpose. She’d given the servants instructions to leave her alone for a while. Morgana found herself doing that a lot lately. She sat on her bed, arms around her knees, lost in thought as she stared at the object in front of her.
The name of the lady on the portrait was Ygraine du Bois. Morgana’s father had told her much about her. According to the Iron King, Ygraine was supposed to have been the wife of another noble – King Gorlois of Cornwall – but she had fallen in love with Uther instead. And he with her. They eloped on the night before her wedding. The kingdom of Camelot was still at war with Cornwall because of it. But Ygraine and Uther were married, and she even gave him a son. They were truly happy together.
Until Ygraine died in childbirth.
Now, every time Uther talked about his wife, his eyes were shrouded by a cloud of sadness.
Morgana was not looking at her mother’s portrait, though. Instead, her gaze was fixed on the doll underneath it.
It was a burlap villager doll, with straw on the inside, black beads for eyes and pieces of rope stitched to the head as hair. A cheap-looking thing, really.
But Morgana treasured that doll more than all of her other toys.
Because Merlin had given it to her. He’d spent his entire savings on it.
It was all right. He was safe. If the guards had caught him, the castle would have heard about it by now. But there had been no news. No news at all. For weeks.
And no more executions.
That meant that he was safe… right?
She wanted to believe it. Morgana wanted to believe it so bad. The young princess whimpered, burying her head in her arms.
“Please be all right, Merlin…”
Morgana was abruptly taken out of her thoughts by a loud, frantic hammering on the door. Annoyed, she began to rub her temples.
“I said I wanted to be alone, Sarah!”
The door abruptly opened. And it wasn’t Sarah the servant.
Instead, tumbling in and hastily slamming the door shut behind him, came Arthur.
“Morrie! You gotta help me, quick! They’re gonna cut it!”
Gone was his formal speech. Morgana frowned in confusion and rose up from her bed. With a puzzled expression, she made her way over to her brother.
“Whoa, slow down. What’s going on?”
Arthur shot a panicked glance over his shoulder, before blurting out:
“Quick – you gotta lock me in your closet!”
“… Excuse me?”
“The servants are trying to cut my hair, and they won’t take no for an answer!” Arthur blurted out. “I tried to order them to stop, but it’s like they’re possessed by magic or something! They won’t listen! One even tried to corner me in the lavatory – the LAVATORY, Morrie! I don’t want to have my hair cut, I’ll look ridiculous!”
He threw another panicked glance at the door behind him, then took a step towards his sister.
“You gotta let me hide until they stop searching. Maybe overnight! ANYTHING to get them off my back until tomorrow morning! PLEASE, Morrie!”
Ah. So that’s what it was. Morgana couldn’t help it. She let out a snicker, amused at her brother’s peril. She couldn’t help but mess with him a little, either.
“You know, they do have a point. Your hair IS very long for a crown prince. Maybe just a trim from Sarah-“
“Nononono! Anything! ANYTHING but that! The last time she trimmed it, it made me look like a banished exile with a bald spot! PLEASE, you gotta help me!”
Morgana’s smirk widened. Bribing the servants had worked even better than she thought it would.
The young princess straightened her back, moving on to the next step of her plan.
“Very well. I can see that you’re desperate. I’ll let you hide in my room for the night… on one condition. You need to promise to give Gawain some sword fighting lessons tomorrow.”
“What?! No!” Arthur sputtered angrily. “We don’t have time tomorrow! And he’s not even a noble – I’m not wasting my time on that, Morrie! I already told you that!”
But this time, Morgana did not back down. This time, she had leverage.
“Oh, my poor brother. Nowhere in the castle left to hide from the servants but his sister’s room. Think of the embarrassment it would cause when they catch you. Bested by a servant. You know, I think I could go for some fresh water. Maybe I’ll call Sarah. She’s always here within seconds if I call her.”
“You’re blackmailing me?!”
“Call it what you like,” Morgana replied, lowering her tone. “Either you train him, or I yell for the servant right now. Maybe I’ll give her a nice, pink bow to put in your hair after she cuts it. And some glitterdust. It will go great with your pretty eyes.”
“You… you blood traitor!”
“Take it or leave it, brother. Your choice. I’m calling for Sarah in five… four… three..”
If looks could kill, Morgana would have been a smouldering pile of ashes on the floor. But Arthur was clever enough to know when he had been cornered, literally and figuratively. His eyes flicked over to the main door. Back to Morgana. To the door again. The young princess could see the wheels turning in her brother’s head.
Then, Morgana watched as his expression calmed to an icy stare.
“I knew you’d see things my way,” the young princess smiled sweetly.
“Shut up. And I’m not turning him into a knight, you hear? He’s still not a noble.”
The young prince sighed.
“I’ll give him ONE lesson, Morrie. ONE. And YOU can figure out how to sneak the both of us away from the nobles tomorrow.”
“Good. Now give me the key to your closet.”
Later that night, Morgana snuck away from the palace in order to bring her friend the good news.
Gawain lived in a small house – compared to a castle, at least. Her friend didn’t seem to mind that fact. In fact, Gawain often mentioned how happy he was that his home was “Right next to the town wall! If you jump off it, you can jump into the pond! It’s awesome for cliff diving!”
Morgana stopped in front of the door, straightening her robes. Then she took a breath and gave a short series of knocks on the door.
“It’s open. Come in!”
Morgana pushed open the door. The inside of the home was humble, too. To her surprise, Gawain was right around the corner waiting for her.
“Hey, Mor. What are you doing here so late? You’ll make the king worry.”
“I snuck out of the palace. I wanted to tell you in person,” Morgana smiled. She took a step towards him, giddy with enthusiasm.
“Gawain, I talked to Arthur. Well, blackmailed him, really. But it worked. It’s only one lesson, but he’s going to teach you how to use a sword tomorrow!”
Instantly, the boy’s face lit up.
“REALLY?! For real? The prince will?!”
“Really! He promised to teach you tomorrow, behind the castle walls. And he always keeps his promises!”
“Holy Watcher, Morgana! My dad won’t even teach me how to use a sword! He says I don’t need it to become a merchant – and you got the PRINCE to do it?! You’re really not joking?!”
“I’m really not joking. But you’ll need a sword.”
“Not a problem!”
He fished around behind his bed, pulling out a wooden toy sword.
“Will this do?!”
His giddiness rubbed off on her, too. The young princess nodded, a smile playing on her lips.
“Yeah! That’s perfect.”
“Holy Watcher, Morgana, I can’t believe you did that for me! This is the best day ever! I’ll be terrible at first, but I’ll improve fast, I promise! Will you come watch us tomorrow?”
“Of course! If you want me to,” Morgana replied. Gawain nodded frantically at her.
“Of course I want you to! This is going to be amazing!”
He placed the sword on his shoulder, his eyes beaming with happiness. It almost made you forget about the bruises on his face.
“Thank you so much, Morgana. I really owe you one. This will be the first step on my road to Knighthood!”
The young princess gave him a warm, heartfelt smile.
“You’ll do great, Gawain. I know you will.”