“Your Majesty. We have news on the assailant.”
King Uther had retreated to his study, taking his Kingly duties with him. The royal visit from Wessex and Nemeth had left him with a mountain of work to sift through. They’d made a new trade deal. He would need to write a decree that notified the merchant’s guild, and adjust taxes on his citizens. He needed to appraise his treasury. A few criminals had been charged the other day – Uther would need to look over their case and decide on their fate. For sorcerers, it was easy. He had just executed one the other week. But thieves and swindlers required a few more documents.
And so,the King of Camelot had instructed his servants to leave him alone. Uther worked best in silence, and they knew better than to test his temper.
The arrival of the knight captain was the only exception.
“Speak,” Uther said, gesturing for the man to come forward. He bowed in response.
“Yes, your Majesty. We have a possible lead on his identity. One of the guards recognized the type of sword that the assailant was wielding. It was a longsword made from Damascus steel. One from Cornwall, sire.”
A moment of silence fell between them, as the King of Camelot let the meaning of those words sink in. Then, a growl escaped from his lips.
“It would seem so, sir.”
“Curses be upon him. My wife wasn’t enough? Now he’s going after my daughter?”
The King abruptly got up from his desk and began to pace through the room. The expression on his face could be compared to a dark thundercloud. In a low tone, Uther began to give instructions.
“Double the security around Morgana. I don’t want her leaving the castle until this scoundrel is found.”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
“And search the village again. Go door-to-door if you have to. I want absolute certainty that nobody is colluding with the enemy and hiding him in their homes.”
The King turned to look at his guard captain, an ominous glimmer in his eyes.
“I want this man found at any cost. Do I make myself clear?”
The guard captain bowed deeply.
“Yes, your Majesty. We will not fail you.”
In a lounge area not far from the study, Arthur and Morgana were enjoying some afternoon sweets.
More specifically, Arthur was eagerly stuffing his face, while his sister looked on from her seat in mild disapproval.
“You’re going to get fat.”
“Minff your own bushness,” the young prince mumbled, his cheeks filled with cookies. “A’hm fhe *gulp* crown Prince. I can eat whatever I want.”
As if to make a point, he reached for one of the plates on the table. Arthur broke off a piece of honey cake and eagerly devoured it. The young Princess raised a single eyebrow. Her brother’s love for sweets was well-known. But stealing their father’s honeycake was excessive, even for him. Morgana shook her head as she got up from her seat.
“Don’t blame me if your clothes don’t fit.”
Arthur mumbled a crumb-riddled “shaddup” that made her chuckle. She had half a mind to stay and watch him wreak havoc on the rest of the royal pastries, but decided against it. Her uncle Agravaine had promised to take her on in a chess match, and she was eager to beat him.
If only those annoying guards wouldn’t follow her everywhere she went. Ever since the incident on the bridge, they’d stuck to her like shadows. The young Princess could not get a single moment to herself. In fact, she could swear she got more guards to tail her every day. When she left her bedchambers this morning, there were five of them already.
But the man that tried to kidnap her had not been caught yet… so it was probably for the best.
Morgana was halfway out the door, her thoughts still on that night, when she suddenly heard a loud thud behind her. Immediately, the image of the kidnapper sprung back up in her mind. The sensation of being grabbed against her will. The heavy, armoured glove clamping over her mouth, keeping her from screaming. Morgana froze, looking back over her shoulder with large, deer-like eyes-
But it wasn’t him.
It was Arthur. He’d fallen to the ground. The pastries were scattered on the floor around him, sprinkling the floor with sugar and crumbs. Morgana could see her brother cough up blood as his entire body suddenly began to convulse.
The young Princess bolted over to his side, sinking down on the ground next to him. Her brother’s face had gone a deathly pale. His breath came out in shocking wheezes. The Crown Prince grabbed onto Morgana’s arm, his eyes panicked.
The next second, his grip loosened. Morgana watched as his hand fell back onto the floor. His eyes fell shut. He stopped breathing.
A cold, primal fear rose up from the pit of her stomach and clasped around Morgana’s heart. When she opened her mouth, the scream that came out was formed by instinct alone.
The King, his royal advisor and Gaius the physician had gathered in Arthur’s bedchambers. They had brought Arthur here not half an hour ago. About a dozen guards stood watch in the hall, with more posted outside of the building. Uther had positioned them at every door and window that led out of the castle.
The boy was still unconscious. As the King looked down at his son, he could hear his ragged, painful breathing. Enraged, Uther turned towards the physician.
“My son… has been poisoned?”
“Yes, my liege,” Gaius answered. The elderly man bent over Arthur’s unconscious body, checking his pulse and breathing again.
“It seems that the Prince has ingested essence of Hemlock. I examined the pastries that he ate, and one of them had traces of the poison in it. Hemlock is a deadly plant that is also known as poison parsley, the devil’s blossom, or…”
“Or the witch’s revenge,” the King said, finishing the man’s sentence. His eyes darkened. Gaius could see his hands ball up into fists. In a low growl, Uther addressed the physician.
“How quickly can you cure him?”
He had expected a swift answer from the man. Instead, Gaius averted his gaze, looking down on the boy on the bed.
“Sire… I cannot heal him.”
“What do you mean, you can’t?! You’re my physician! This is what I employ you in my household for!”
But Gaius shook his head, a look of confusion playing on his face.
“I have already given Prince Arthur three different treatments for Hemlock poison. All three of them should have been effective. For all intents and purposes, the Prince should have woken up by now. Yet, his condition worsens. I do not have a scientific explanation for what is happening. It’s almost as if… as if something is preventing him from recovering.”
The dark-haired priest frowned. He had picked up on the unspoken suspicion in Gaius’s words. With an ominous gleam in his dark eyes, Agravaine looked down at his nephew.
“This reeks of sorcery.”
“I have to agree,” Gaius nodded, stroking his beard in contemplation. “My guess is an enchantment of some kind, that is keeping the poison inside his body. It would explain why I have been unable to cure him. That also means that my medicines are useless, sire. To cure the Prince… we need a sorcerer’s magic.”
“Absolutely not,” Uther growled. “I will not tolerate any magic within these walls. You will try another treatment.”
“But sire, there are no other-“
The King cut him off, pointing angrily towards the bookshelves.
“Then try something else. Anything else. You’re our physician, for Watcher’s sake! This is your only purpose! You will find a cure for my son, or it will be your head on the block alongside with the witch that poisoned him! Do I make myself clear?!”
“I… yes, sire.”
Uther turned towards Agravaine, his brother-in-law. The King’s eyes gleamed with rage. The priest had seen that look many a time in the past, and knew exactly what was about to happen.
“Gather the guard. I want every single home in Camelot searched from top to bottom. Look for any traces of magic, and any worship of the Old Religion. Use force if you must. I will not tolerate this blatant attack on my family. Someone did this – I want them found and executed, together with everyone else that is involved with any part of this.”
The Jacoban priest nodded. His thoughts went to the town square, where they’d burnt the previous witch a week ago.
They were going to need more pyres.
Back in castle Camelot, Uther had canceled his schedule for the day. He’d found it impossible to work. The King couldn’t concentrate on anything but his son. He found himself wandering back into Arthur’s bedchambers every few minutes, checking up on the boy’s condition. Badgering the guards about not letting anyone inside. Replacing them with new guards. Checking up on Arthur’s condition again. Rinse and repeat, while he waited for Gaius to return with a cure. And the physician did. Over, and over, and over again.
But nothing worked.
And Arthur’s condition worsened by the hour.
Uther sighed, taking a seat on the bed next to his son. He could see Arthur’s fingers twitching as his tiny body tried to fight off the poison. Poison that should never have entered his body to begin with.
Poison that he ingested from stealing a piece of honey cake.
The real target of the witch’s revenge… wasn’t Arthur. It was Uther. The poison had been meant for him. And yet, his son was the one paying the price.
If he let Arthur die from magic… his mother would never forgive him.
The King of Camelot sighed, placing a hand on Arthur’s side. He knew that the boy was unconscious. He couldn’t hear him. But Uther began to talk, anyway.
“I’m sorry. You weren’t supposed to get dragged into this. Not yet. Not while you were still a child.”
His expression fell.
“For all the King’s power… I still failed you. Your mother would have had my head on a pike.”
His thoughts dwelled to his late wife. Her fierce, grey eyes, brimming with anger at his stupidity. Her perfect lips, swearing at him in three different languages. Ygraine would have called him every name under the sun. There probably would have been hurled silverware involved.
She’d been that kind of woman.
Uther looked at his son.
“Did I ever tell you how your mother and I first met? I don’t think I did. I was still a young lad, barely more experienced than a teenager. Cornwall and Camelot were allies in battle against the Saxons. We frequently visited each other. It was on one of my visits to Gorlois that I first saw your mother.”
The King of Camelot smiled, his eyes turning gentle.
“At first, I thought I’d been graced by a fairy. Your mother was the most beautiful woman I’d ever laid eyes on. I remember being smitten from the moment I saw her. I knew that this was the woman I was going to marry one day. I was young, and quite the fool…”
“Which is probably why she disliked me. Intensely. That first meeting, Ygraine wouldn’t even acknowledge me with a conversation.”
“I still remember that visit to Cornwall. I brought her a flower that very same day, convinced that I could sweep her off her feet like the charming knights in the stories. I was supposed to attend a war council with Gorlois and your grandfather. But instead, I spent the entire afternoon combing through the castle gardens as well as the surrounding meadows for the perfect flower to give her. Oh, the scolding I received for my actions.”
“And your mother rejected me again.”
The King laughed, shaking his head at the memory.
“But I tried again the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that. Again and again. Your grandfather must have thought I was mad, what with the way his heir behaved.”
“We were there for almost a month, and I spent every day of it trying to win your mother’s affections. I think I made a fool out of myself every single time I talked to her.”
“But I was persistent. And I think she appreciated that. Because in the end…”
“Persistence paid off.”
“I still remember what she looked like, that day on the ramparts. Our envoy left Cornwall the next morning, and your grandfather had no plans to return for a long time. But I never forgot about Ygraine. Not for a moment.”
“A year later, I gathered a company of knights and rode out to Cornwall castle. And with your uncle’s help, I brought your mother home with me that day. We wed the next spring, and she blessed me with two beautiful children.”
Uther sighed again.
“We were happy for a long time, your mother and I.”
He looked down on his son. The boy didn’t know it, but his features resembled Ygraine just as much as they did Uther. Maybe even a little more. Those were her hands. He had her nose and brow, elegant but regal. Even his sweet tooth, Arthur inherited from his mother.
He and Morgana were all Uther had left of her.
The King of Camelot could feel a raw anger rising from the pit of his stomach. Magic had stolen so much from him already. His wife. His future with Ygraine. Any other children that they could have conceived. And despite his efforts to silence it, magic just kept taking. And taking.
The King of Camelot balled his hands into fists.
“I swear to you, Arthur. I will destroy every last one of them.”
Meanwhile, in the Princess’s bedchambers…
Sarah’s gloved fingers delicately pulled a brush through the Princess’s hair, untangling it as best she could. It was always a struggle, and normally, Morgana had to be dragged to the seat kicking and screaming.
This time, though, the Princess was unusually quiet. She merely looked at the ground, seemingly deep in thought. The servant had a pretty good idea of what was bothering her. Sarah tried what she could to reassure the child.
“Gaius is the most capable physician in all of Camelot. I’m sure that he’ll have found a cure for Arthur in no time at all.”
Her attempt was met with silence.
“Arthur is strong. He’ll be back to normal before you know it, milady.”
No answer came. Sarah sighed, lowering the brush. She didn’t know what else to say.
As it turned out, she didn’t have to. The maidservant watched as Morgana suddenly turned around, looking up at her with a strong determination reflected in her eyes.
“Sarah. I need your help.”
In the physician’s quarters of Camelot, Gaius finally reached the end of his rope.
He had tried everything. Common antidotes. Strong alchemical draughts. Reagents specifically intended to induce vomiting, and remove the source of the poison. Activated charcoal. Nothing worked. Arthur Pendragon remained asleep, and the enchantment continued to slowly siphon away his life.
In his frustration, the elderly man slammed his hands down on the table. All of his knowledge was useless. Gaius didn’t care about the death threat from King Uther – the man knew his King well, and he knew that it had been in the passion of the moment. But the physician couldn’t handle not being able to save a patient.
They always recovered in the end. Always. Even if it had been an illness that had never been seen before. Even when the city was on the verge of an epidemic. Even if their wounds were too much for a human being to handle, or if Gaius did not have the financial means for a cure. Even if the sickness had spread too far for scientific methods to reach.
Because he’d always had Millicent by his side. Whenever he reached the end of his powers, she had always been there to take over. Millicent always had a solution when science failed. Even when using magic placed her in danger. She had been that kind of person.
But Millicent was never coming back. She had been sentenced to death by the King, after Gaius had failed to keep her safe. How ironic, he thought, that the one thing that could have saved his heir, was the very person that Uther had condemned.
There was nothing more Gaius could do.
The future King of Camelot was lost.
Under the gentle guise of night, Morgana Pendragon snuck out of her bedchambers. It wasn’t hard to fool the guards. They were on the lookout for adult assailants – not for a little girl sneaking out in a serving tray. Sarah had done her job well. The Princess made it to the other side of the castle without issue.
Morgana snuck past the guards by Arthur’s chambers in a similar way, waiting until their change in shift to stealthily make her way past. She moved past the door and silently, carefully, closed it behind her.
Arthur lay on top of the bed, still in the same clothes as this morning. His breathing had become shallow. His skin was deathly pale. She could see beads of cold sweat, dried up on his forehead.
There was no time to lose. Not another second.
“Don’t worry,” the Princess whispered to him. “You’ll feel better soon. I promise.”
Morgana brought her hands together, closing her eyes and concentrating like Millicent had taught her. She could feel the magic in her body seep out, swirling and coalescing around her fingers in the form of druidic energy. Morgana slowly exhaled.
It’s okay. I can do this. Millicent and Merlin showed me.
The small sorceress allowed the light to leave her grasp, steering its energy towards Arthur. She knew what to do. She’d seen Millicent do it before, healing the people that even Gaius couldn’t cure. Morgana concentrated, allowing the magic to seep into Arthur’s body. The poison was rooted deep. Very deep.
And that wasn’t the only obstacle. The girl could feel a resistance as she tried to draw the hemlock out – a vile magic, malefic and dead-set on killing its host. She could feel it reaching for her. Morgana grimaced, doubling her efforts. She could feel a sharp sting of pain in her chest. It hurt. The enchantment was pushing back, pressing down on her lungs and cutting off her breath. But she kept going. Morgana knew that this was the only option Arthur had left.
No potion from Gaius could save her brother from dark magic.
Morgana could feel her arms and legs begin to shake under the pressure. Her own strength was being drawn out together with her magic. It felt like she was scraping her body against a rough, spike-riddled brick wall. It hurt. But she refused to give up. She couldn’t give up. Morgana gritted her teeth, breaking through her own boundaries. A metallic taste rose up in her mouth. She knew she was at her limit. The pain became almost unbearable – and suddenly, the girl could hear Merlin’s voice in her head.
“Don’t give up.”
The young sorcerer could feel a wave of strength surge through her body. Instinct took over. Morgana closed her eyes and bent foward, reaching out to the source of Arthur’s pain. She could feel the magic pulsating, inches away from her consciousness. In a burst of energy, she grabbed for it – and shattered it in her hand.
The effect was immediate. The enchantment broke, causing the dark magic around Arthur to fade. Gaius’s medicines could reach him now.
And they did. As the glow faded, , Arthur’s posture relaxed. His breathing returned to normal. Colour returned to his cheeks. The Crown Prince lay comfortably, unaware of the world around him and drifting off into a peaceful slumber.
Morgana, exhausted, smiled at the sight. Her breathing was ragged. Her legs were still shaking.
She didn’t care. it was worth it.
“Haah… there. Told you… you’d… feel better.”
Morgana began to move away from his bedside. Sarah had only promised to distract the guards for a few minutes, so the faster she got out of there, the better. The young Princess nodded to herself. She’d sneak out through the servant’s door and through the courtyard. Tomorrow, she’d pretend to be surprised. Morgana was a good actor, as long as things didn’t surprise her. She turned away from her brother, beginning to move towards the door…
And came face-to-face with Gaius, who stood frozen in the doorway. He was looking directly at her, his eyes wide in shock.
Morgana had forgotten to lock the door behind her.
“…Milady? You.. did you just…?”
“N-no! It- it’s not what it looks like! I was just… I came to… I-I mean…”
The Princess stumbled over her words, desperately trying to come up with an excuse and failing miserably. A deep sense of dread overcame the young girl. She could feel herself beginning to shake as she felt his gaze on her. Then, his eyes wandered over to Arthur, now peacefully asleep, with colour having returned to his cheeks.
Exactly how patients looked after Millicent had treated them.
And Gaius immediately knew what had happened.
The elderly physician knelt down in front of Morgana. His eyes had changed. Where before there had been shock and confusion, now Morgana could see a strange, steely resolve.
“Princess. Listen to me. This is what happened tonight. You came here to pray for your brother. When you left, I gave Arthur an experimental treatment. It worked, and the Prince was cured from the poison. You will learn about this tomorrow morning.”
Gaius allowed a moment of silence to fall, giving the words time to sink in. Then, he continued.
“That is what I will say happened here, Morgana. That, and nothing else. Do you understand?”
As he stood back up, the young Princess could feel a wave of relief washing over her. She knew exactly what Gaius meant, as well as the unspoken promise in his words.
“I… I understand.”
The man nodded, gesturing towards the side door. It would not be long before the guards on that side came back.
“Go. Quietly, now.”
Eyes filled with gratitude, she smiled at the man.
“Gaius… thank you.”
When Morgana returned to her brother’s bedchamber the next morning, the Crown Prince had made a miraculous recovery. Gaius’s experimental treatment had worked, against all odds. Almost like magic. Of course, the elderly physician was quick to refute those rumors, pointing out how that was simply impossible.
After all, as Uther knew… there were no more sorcerers in Camelot.