Disclaimer: the following few chapters will have elements of death in it. Be warned. If you cannot handle that sort of thing, these chapters are not for you.
From the very beginning of Uther Pendragon’s reign, the Kingdom of Camelot had been ruled with an iron fist. Even more than his father, Uther became known for his complete unwillingness to compromise. For better or worse, it earned him the nickname “Iron King”.
The seat of his power, in every sense of the word, was the throne room. King Uther oversaw everything from that throne, sitting in judgment and deciding the fate of everyone. From the lowliest peasant to the richest noblewoman. Uther had the last word over every favour, every plea and every death.
In practice, many of the daily audiences could just as easily have been delegated to his royal advisor. But Uther never gave them away. He liked the power. He liked the feeling of absolute control that ruling from his throne gave him. The King reveled in it, only rarely relinquishing that power to someone else.
Today was one of the rare days where he did.
“Starting today, you are my servant,” the King’s daughter spoke, her childlike voice echoing through the stone chamber. Today’s events were a closed audience, and so – besides the man kneeling before her – Uther and Agravaine were the only other people present. Looking down on the spy, Morgana spoke with as much authority as she could.
“I want you to go to the Kingdom of Nemeth, infiltrate the royal household and learn everything you can about King Rodor’s oldest son, Prince Richard. I want to know what his hobbies are. Who he likes. Who likes him. What he’s afraid of. What he doesn’t want others to know about – I want you to find out everything you can.”
The spy bowed his head, placing his hand on his chest in the traditional oath of fealty.
Morgana blinked, not used to hearing the word. Nobody had ever called her that before. It was always “my lady”, or “your Highness”, or “Princess”.
But Mistress – now that sounded nice. Important. Powerful. Morgana immediately took a liking to the title, as well as the sense of importance that came from seeing the man kneel before her. The young girl smiled.
Mistress. I can get used to that.
On the throne, Uther straightened his back. A ruthless expression lay in his eyes. With a stone-cold voice, the King of Camelot addressed the man in front of him.
“You will follow any order Morgana gives you, as if it came directly from me. Betrayal of her trust will be seen as treason, and I will have you hanged for it. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, your Majesty. I am hers to command.”
“What’s your name?” Morgana asked, curious about the man in front of her. He lifted his head in response. It was a rugged but handsome face, tanned from the sun and with very defined jawbones. Two dark eyes peered out at her from underneath a strong brow.
“My name is yours to choose, mistress.”
That was new, too. Morgana had never chosen a person’s name for them before. The young Princess pondered it for a while, after which a name from a storybook came to mind. It was as good as any.
“I shall name you Helios,” Morgana decided. The spy lowered his head again, bowing to her and saluting as he rose to his feet.
“I will depart for Nemeth at once. Expect regular contact once I arrive. You have my word – I will not fail you.”
His dark leather boots made no sound as they moved across the marble floor of the throne room. Morgana watched him leave with a childlike fascination. How did he move so quietly? Whenever she tried to sneak, people always noticed her.
But it didn’t matter. She didn’t need to be quiet. She just needed to command someone who was. And Helios would do just fine.
The young Princess was taken out of her mutterings by the voice of her father, King Uther.
He was looking at her expectantly. With a large smile on her face, the young Princess nodded at him.
“He’s perfect. Thank you, father.”
Morgana had asked for a spy with a singular purpose in mind. She still vividly remembered her defeat at the noble ball a month ago. Richard had played her like a fiddle, knowing exactly what to say to make her lose her cool. It had been a complete and utter defeat… and Morgana hated losing. She could not let that happen again. She would not let that happen again. The young sorceress watched as Helios stepped out the door, a newfound determination reflecting in her green eyes.
When the autumn leaves fell, the royal family was scheduled to visit the kingdom of Nemeth.
And this time, Richard would meet his match.
The King of Camelot watched as his daughter exited the throne room, ascending the stairs until she was out of sight. Her request for a spy had surprised him. But Uther had given her what she wanted, curious to see what Morgana would use him for. And her plans did not end up disappointing the King.
She was maturing. Perhaps, in a few years, if she became a little more cunning, Uther could trust Morgana to perform… other tasks.
His head turned to the left. Agravaine, his royal advisor, stood by the statue in the corner. He had been uncharacteristically silent throughout the whole ordeal.
With a mild frown, Uther confronted his brother-in-law.
“You don’t approve.”
“No, I don’t,” the priest sighed. “I think your daughter is much too young to be in command of someone so dangerous. She is a child. A maidservant is one thing – but a spy? Have I not explained in my reports that this man is a dangerous, highly skilled assassin not unlike the one that tried to kidnap her a month ago?”
“You mentioned it, yes,” Uther responded. As the King looked at the entrance to his throne room, his grin returned.
“That’s exactly why I chose him.”
Weeks passed. The April showers finally ended, bringing a stop to the constant downpours. May arrived. And with it came the promise of warmth, sunlight and budding flowers. Spring was Morgana’s favourite season. She loved seeing the gradual change in the world around her, as well as the beautiful array of colours that nature could bring.
On one of those sun-lit days, Morgana found herself wandering around outside. The young Princess had reached a reluctant truce with her guards. She would stop trying to ditch them, and in return, they had promised to give her some space. Morgana persuaded them to lengthen that space from fifteen to twenty feet… As long as she did not go around corners. Or stood behind a tree. Or walked into a crowd. Or made any move whatsoever that placed her out of their line of sight for even a second.
She knew why. Morgana realized that she shouldn’t be taking risks. The guards never did catch her would-be kidnapper. But by now, enough time had passed that, to Morgana, the event was starting to feel like it hadn’t really happened. Like it had been some strange, distant dream.
Surely, he was long gone. If he was still here, someone would have spotted him by now. And the constant surveillance was starting to drive her insane… so Morgana was happy with every extra foot of space that she could get.
About halfway through her walk, the young Princess noticed someone sitting in the shadow of a large oak tree. A peasant, judging from the state of his clothes. He looked like he was working in the garden. The castle employed a lot of gardeners, so it was a fairly normal thing to see.
At least, it would have been – if it wasn’t for the three small tombstones that rested in front of the man. Morgana could see his shoulders going up and down in small jerks. Paired with the slumped posture and his hunched back…
She didn’t have to get closer to realize that he was crying.
Don’t get involved. Just keep walking.
Merlin had always scolded her for sticking her nose into other people’s business. She had a bad habit of poking it where it did not belong. Constantly. It had gotten the two of them into trouble more often than she could count. But Morgana couldn’t help herself.
Even if it was just a stranger… she couldn’t stand seeing someone so sad.
Carefully, Morgana approached the man in front of her.
“Did you lose someone?”
“Aye,” the man answered, not looking who stood behind him. His eyes were fixed on the gravestone.
“Ma’ granddaughter, Ada. We lost her on May Day, over a decade ago. Lost her mother to sickness the year afore, n’ her father to the war with the Saxons.”
“I’m… sorry to hear that,” Morgana muttered. It sounded like the poor man had outlived his entire family. Morgana couldn’t imagine how that had to feel. She wasn’t sure what she could say to make him feel better.
“How did she die?”
A confused frown spread on the man’s face. He looked away from the grave, turning his head towards her and saying:
“What do you-”
At that moment, he finally realized who it was that was talking to him. His confusion instantly turned to shock, mixed with embarrassment and, strangely… fear?
“M-milady!” the man gasped, quickly getting up and kneeling down in front of her. “Forgive an old man. I was just getting rid o’ some weeds, ‘ere. Dinnae mean to ruin milady’s mornin’.”
“No, that’s- that’s all right,” Morgana replied awkwardly. “I’m sorry for scaring you. You just… you looked so sad. I wanted to help.”
Morgana could feel herself searching for the right words. This was a lot harder than she thought it would be. The young girl fiddled with her hands, awkwardly looking down on the man in front of her.
“When… when I get sad, it sometimes helps to talk about it. To someone. Maybe it helps you too. You could talk to me.”
A small silence fell. Then, Morgana continued:
“How did Ada… how did she die?”
Morgana half expected the man to refuse her. After all, this was a sensitive, heavy subject, and she was approaching it with the grace and subtlety of a rhino. But at her age, a rhino was the best that she could do.
The man broke eye contact with her, his gaze lowering to the ground. She could see his shoulders tensing up.
“She… she dinnae die, milady. She was murdered.”
Morgana’s breath got stuck in her throat. The young princess placed a hand over her mouth, looking down on the man in shock. She had not expected that answer. In the back of her mind, she could hear Merlin’s voice, warning her once again.
Walk away, Mor-mor. Leave it alone.
“What… what happened?” Morgana asked.
“Ada was just a wee bairn,” the man said. She could see the pain reflected in his eyes.
“Barely a month old, she was. She had ‘er mother’s laugh. The sweetest wee lass. I can git over my daughter’s death. But every year, Ada comes back tae haunt me.”
“Did they catch who did it?” Morgana muttered. The man shook his head sadly.
“Na. He escaped justice.”
How could that be? Uther was a strict King, and he was ruthless against all things magic, but besides that, her father ruled Camelot pretty fairly. Whenever she walked into his chambers, he was always in the middle of passing judgment on criminals. Or writing letters to nobles. Or talking to Agravaine about the Watcher. Her father wouldn’t just let a bad person get away with something like murder. No, there had to be some kind of mistake, the young Princess concluded.
Speaking of which… didn’t King Uther keep a record of crimes in his archives?
Morgana could see the man begin to turn away from her. In a broken voice, he muttered:
“My apologies, milady. I shouldna be bothering ye with the sorrows of an old man.”
“It’s no bother,” Morgana said softly. “I want to help if I can. My father… the king… he has records in his archives about all big crimes in the kingdom. Maybe Arthur and I can take a look at it, and… see if there’s anything the guards missed. And father is really smart, too. He’s a fair king. If I ask him, I’m sure he’ll take a look at the case again for you.”
But the man shook his head sadly, looking down at the ground. He would not accept her help.
And yet… there was something about his expression that caught her attention. When the man made eye contact with Morgana, the young sorceress could see an unexpected emotion reflected in those eyes. It was a strange mix of regret, anger, grief… and compassion? The young girl couldn’t made heads or tails of it. But when the man spoke, his voice sounded strangely ominous.
“Trust me, milady. Some things ought tae remain locked in ta past… For a’body’s sake.”
Morgana suddenly felt a profound feeling of discomfort overcome her. A cold chill that had nothing to do with the weather slowly ran down her spine.
Something about this… wasn’t right.
“Thank you for talking to me,” the young Princess said softly. “I’m very sorry for your loss.”
“Aye, Princess. I appreciate that. Ken yer days be warm an’ sunny.”
“Watcher… please forgive me.”
Let it go?
Of course not.
Nervously, Morgana stood in front of the door to her father’s work chamber. He was in there a lot, busy with everything it took to run a Kingdom. Morgana knew very well that both her and Arthur were not supposed to barge in there without good reason. Just the other day, one of the servants had received a harsh scolding for disturbing him. Her father was pretty scary when he got angry. Morgana really didn’t want to see him get angry at her.
But the young Princess couldn’t get the conversation with the old man out of her mind. She wanted to see those records. And as soon as her father left that room, the door would lock, and it would become impossible for anyone to enter.
Well, except for maybe Helios. But Helios was in Nemeth. Morgana could not use him for this.
Maybe she needed a second spy?
Morgana sighed, bracing herself. She stepped up to the door and gave a short series of knocks on the dark wood. A moment of silence passed. Then, she could hear her father’s voice ring out from the other side.
“Who is it?”
“Morgana, fath… my lord,” she answered, quickly changing her speech to a formal tone. “May I enter?”
“Thank you, my lord,” she said, opening the door to his chambers. Morgana gave a small curtesy once she was inside. Uther’s work chambers always smelled of old books, dusty tomes and ink, paired with the occasional sweet fragrance of honey cake.
But not this time. Ever since Arthur got poisoned, the King of Camelot had not touched a single pastry.
“What do you want?” Uther asked from behind the desk, engrossed in a stack of papers. He didn’t even look up to greet her. But his voice was calm, and Morgana knew that she wasn’t being a bother to him… yet.
“My lord, I was hoping that you would let me look at the records of crimes in the Kingdom. For, umm… educational purposes. I want to study your past rulings.”
It wasn’t a total lie. Looking at the records really would be educational. But she wasn’t interested in all of them.
Morgana just wanted to know about one that had occurred around May Day, over a decade ago.
King Uther did not seem to mind her intrusion. With a short wave of his hand, he dismissed his daughter.
“Very well. Bottom row on the shelf behind you. Return it to a servant when you’re done.”
“Thank you, my lord.”
Locked away in the safety of her bedchambers, Morgana diligently began to work her way through the tomes. As it turned out, there were quite a few of them, even if they only described the bigger crimes of the Kingdom.
And the contents were not at all pleasant to read. Especially for a child. Morgana tried to stick to lightly skimming the pages, but she couldn’t help but notice the details.
The young sorceress learned a lot of new, very unpleasant terms that day.
As she read, Morgana began to notice subtle details within the tomes. Some of the contents were in her father’s handwriting, but most of it seemed to be written by Agravaine. His passages were dry, precise and very, very detailed. Morgana flipped further, finishing the first book and moving on the second. And the third. History flashed by as she read, and Morgana found herself gradually traveling back in time. Five years. Six years.
Halfway through the third book, the young Princess found what she was looking for.
Or rather – she found the location where it should have been. Up until eleven years ago, every major crime in the Kingdom of Camelot had been meticulously recorded month-by-month. Every single one of them, From first-degree murder to kidnapping and premediated arson.
Up until May 1st, twelve years ago. There, the passages suddenly skipped a month. No records appeared between April and June. None. Not even the “lesser” crimes, or a passage stating that nothing had happened. Morgana flipped back to and forth between the pages, a confused frown on her face.
There was nothing.
The entire month of May was missing.
Morgana could see little bits of paper sticking out between the last day of April and the first day of June, almost as if something had been there in the past. Something that was not there anymore.
Something that had been ripped out… and erased from history.
A cold chill ran down her spine.
It took Morgana a moment for her head to realize what her gut had already noticed. These books described all of the major crimes in the Kingdom. All of them, from murder to treason and everything in between. Morgana did not want to look at the details, but… it was all in there.
Except… for that one passage in May. That was the only one missing. Not the records of the witch hunts. Not the premediated arson. Not the other murders. Not Uther’s traitorous brother, convicted of treason against the crown.
That was all there.
Only May was missing.
Whoever had taken that passage from the books… had left everything else, and had only seen that passage as significant enough to erase from history. Morgana gulped.
She had a bad feeling about this.
What had happened on May Day?