Disclaimer: the following chapter has elements of death in it. Be warned. For those of you who want to know, but don’t want to read, I will add a short summary at the very end. Stop reading after the scene with the guard, and continue when you see Arthur again.
That night, Morgana Pendragon’s sleep was plagued by nightmares.
The young princess dreamt of a bottomless blue, cold and merciless, that pulled her under. Deeper and deeper. The blue faded into black as she sank. Morgana couldn’t move. She couldn’t breathe. She gasped for air, but her lungs filled with water instead. The pain was unbearable. It burned.
Please. It burns.
With a scream, Morgana jolted awake from her nightmare. Her nightgown was soaked in cold sweat. Panting, the young girl put her hands over her ears.
“It burns,” she gasped. “It burns. It…”
Only then did she realize that she wasn’t actually drowning. It took Morgana several seconds to piece together her surroundings and finally recognize her room. The hues of pink and white. The painting of her mother on the wall. The large closet in the corner, spacious enough to hide Arthur in. Merlin’s doll, sitting silently by her desk.
She wasn’t drowning.
She was home.
It had seemed so real. Too real. A cold chill ran down her spine.
She had to know what happened.
That early morning, as the servants began their morning duties and long before her brother would wake up, the young princess went to talk to Agravaine. Most of the passages in that book had been written by him, so he had to know something. Besides her father, the Jacoban priest was the most knowledgeable man in the entire kingdom. Morgana was sure of it. If anyone knew what had happened, it would be Agravaine.
She found him behind the altar, praying and tidying up. He always seemed to be in the middle of something. Normally, her uncle was very generous with his time whenever she came to him with questions. Especially if they were about the Watcher. Morgana disliked his preachy attitude. But if it meant getting answers for the peasant man and his granddaughter, she was fine with another religious lecture. Morgana carefully scraped her throat, announcing herself to the Jacoban priest.
“Uncle Agravaine? Are you busy?”
He turned around, looking down on his niece with a raised eyebrow.
“Ah. Morgana. Not at the moment, no. What can I help you with?”
“I… I had a question about a history book in the royal archives,” the young princess began. Agravaine nodded, a look of approval on his face.
“Ah, brushing up on your education of your own initiative! How commendable. If only your brother would do that more often. So? What book do you have questions about?”
“It’s about our criminal records,” the young princess continued. “I was reading through the rulings from a few years ago, and-”
Agravaine’s expression suddenly darkened. He put up his hand, cutting her off in the middle of her sentence.
“Our crime records? What in Watcher’s name are you doing with those? That is absolutely not appropriate reading for a child,” the Jacoban priest scowled. Morgana merely shrugged.
“Father allowed me to take them for study. It was very… I learned a lot. But there’s a passage missing, and I was wondering why.”
With every word that Morgana spoke, she could see Agravaine’s expression darken further. He was not enjoying the direction this talk was headed towards.
“What passage?” the Jacoban priest asked in a low tone.
That wasn’t good. Morgana had heard her uncle use that tone before. It was a warning that his patience was about to run out. If that happened, she’d lose her chance to question him. Morgana quickly improvised, adopting the same round puppy-eyes that she gave her father whenever she needed something. Those always worked. In a soft voice, she answered:
“Well… there’s one that’s missing from twelve years ago. Right around May Day-”
But the Jacoban priest cut her off again. This time, his voice was stone cold.
“No. You have no business with those records. Leave them alone.”
“But I just-”
“I said no, Morgana!” Agravaine suddenly snapped, raising his voice at the girl. With the way the church was built, his voice boomed across the chamber, strengthening in volume even more and making his niece flinch in shock. Agravaine raised his hand, angrily gesturing at the girl in front of him.
“This topic is completely inappropriate for a girl of your age! You are too young. I forbid it. You will drop the subject this instant, do you hear me? I will be having a talk with your father about this, and you will hand over those books!”
“What? No!” Morgana protested. “You can’t just take them away! I’m not doing anything bad – I’m just trying to learn! And the old man deserves to know what happened to his granddaughter-”
That last sentence was a mistake. Morgana realized that when her uncle suspiciously narrowed his eyes at her.
“What old man?” he demanded to know.
“I… I don’t know-”
The Jacoban priest took a step towards her. His gaze was intense, in a way that Morgana had never seen from him before. She involuntarily took a step back. That did not deter Agravaine, though. In a low tone, he continued:
“Talking about those events is forbidden under rule of law. There is no way that you came to research that specific period on your own. Someone told you, and they deserve to be punished for it. Now, tell me their names. I will see to it that justice is done.”
The ominous tone in his voice left no doubt in Morgana’s mind about what form of “justice” Agravaine was referring to. The young sorceress knew what he’d done to the baker and his wife, after Arthur got poisoned. The whole castle knew. And they didn’t even do it. Morgana would not let that happen to the old man – not if she could help it. Morgana steeled herself, glaring at the priest in front of her.
“I don’t remember. And even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you.”
“What’s that supposed to-”
“Thank you for your time,” she said, icily cutting through his speech. “I’m going now.”
And she turned on her heels, abruptly and decisively walking away from her uncle.
But the girl didn’t look back. She barrelled right for the door. Inside, Morgana was seething. Agravaine knew exactly what had happened. He knew, and he wouldn’t tell her. Not only that, but he’d actually forbidden people to talk about it. No wonder that man had looked so fearful when she asked him what had happened.
He knew that telling her would probably get him hanged.
Morgana strode right towards the door, stubbornly deciding to get the information some other way. Any other way. If anything, her uncle’s extreme reaction had made her even more determined.
She was getting to the bottom of this, one way or another.
It wasn’t until Morgana was already at the door that she noticed Agravaine had followed her. As the young princess reached for the handle, her uncle put his hand against the door, pushing it shut again and blocking her from leaving.
“We are not done here.”
“Yes, we are,” Morgana replied, turning around to face him. “You haven’t told me anything. I don’t have time for speeches about the Watcher. If you won’t tell me, then leave me alone.”
She had never spoken to her uncle with such disrespect before. But she couldn’t help it. The young princess expected Agravaine to yell at her, or lecture her about respecting your elders. She had even counted on a verbal smackdown about her terrible manners.
What she had not expected… was a hand clasping down on her shoulder.
“I am trying to protect you. Listen to me. Give up this foolish curiosity before you find something you’ll regret.”
But Morgana was having none of it. She pulled herself loose from Agravaine’s grasp, throwing a look of defiance up at him as she stepped towards the door.
“Good day, uncle.”
And Morgana exited the Jacoban church.
“Let me get this straight. You want me to distract our uncle while you go spelunking in the catacombs?”
Arthur and Morgana stood in the middle of the dining hall, where she had cornered her brother after they’d broken their fast together. It was a natural instinct. The young princess needed help – and her brother was the first person that came to mind.
“Yes,” the young princess nodded. “You won’t have to do much. Just keep him busy until I’m back from the catacombs.”
Both of them knew that Agravaine had a second, secret archive behind a hidden door. They’d snuck down there often enough that Morgana knew the place like the back of her hand. Her knowledge of the maze had been a lifesaver when she needed to help Merlin escape. And now, it was about to play an important role once again.
“That should be doable. But Morgana… fooling our uncle is going to cost you.”
Morgana had expected nothing less. She nodded at her brother. The princess already knew what he wanted.
“I’ll give you my desserts for a week.”
Of course, her older brother wasted no time in abusing the situation.
“Not for a week. For a month,” Arthur replied, smirking at her. “I want all of the sweets you get for a whole month, including those special ones that Sarah makes for you on your birthday.”
“Are you trying to get poisoned again?” Morgana scoffed at him. Arthur shrugged, chuckling.
“I’m the one subjecting myself to Jacoban torture here, while you get to have fun playing explorer. If anything, a month is too generous.”
Her brother knew exactly what he was doing. He knew Morgana needed him, and judging from her behaviour, he knew that he could ask for whatever he wanted.
And Arthur was right.
The young princess groaned.
“Fine. All of them, for a month, including the ones from Sarah on my birthday.”
His smirk widened. Pushing Morgana when she was under pressure was almost too easy.
“My lady, you have a deal.”
When Morgana retreated to her chambers, her guards were always stationed at two locations.
One was the central hall, right outside of her door…
And the other was the stairs to the servant entrance. It was that second one that Morgana had to use, if she wanted to have any chance of slipping away unnoticed.
But she would have to deal with the guard posted there, first.
But how was she supposed to do that? Morgana had no idea how to deal with a armed, armoured adult, whose entire job depended on keeping an eye on her at all costs.
The girl bent down, peeking through the keyhole. They were right on the other side of the door. If it had been a normal guard, Morgana might have been able to fool them with some spiked wine or ale. But these guards were different. Her father had appointed them specifically to guard her. And they did, never once loosening up.
At first, their presence made her feel safe.
Now, they were a bloody nuisance.
…Wait a minute.
Wasn’t this how the kidnapper had gotten a hold of her?
Yes, she was sure of it. He had snuck up on her, and used some kind of magic to make her sleep. Morgana’s memory was fuzzy, but… she was pretty sure he’d said something. What was that, again?
The young sorceress concentrated, racking her brain to remember. It was on the tip of her tongue. She could feel it. Just out of reach, like it was behind a thin layer of glass.
Then, instinct suddenly took over. Morgana watched herself raise her hand towards the keyhole, the word forming on her lips as if she had always known it.
Her eyes grew large as she watched a bright blue spark light up her fingers, going through the keyhole and hitting the person on the other side. For two scared heartbeats, nothing happened. Then Morgana could hear a clang, followed by a heavy metallic clatter.
When she opened the door and peeked around the corner, Morgana came face-to-face with the guard’s rear end. They had collapsed on the spot. For a moment, the young sorceress panicked, thinking she had hurt them- but then she heard the loud, heavy snoring sound coming from underneath the helmet.
It had worked.
Morgana was home free.
Carefully, the young princess made her way down into the castle’s catacombs. The place was designed like a maze on purpose, full of twisting paths, dead ends and secret doors. Arthur and Morgana had explored the place for years, and they still hadn’t uncovered every secret the maze had to offer.
If you had something to hide… this was the perfect place to hide it.
Morgana knew exactly where to go. One time in the past, when her brother and her were playing hide-and-seek, she happened to notice Agravaine slipping out from a hidden door in the wall. For all his power as spymaster, the Jacoban priest wasn’t very stealthy, himself. It did not take Morgana long to figure out which tile she had to press.
She still remembered. The stone door swung open before her, revealing the inside of Agravaine’s secret archives. As she had expected, half the place was covered in decorations to honour the Watcher. Her uncle was disturbingly obsessed, even for a Jacoban.
The other half of the room consisted of a stone table, a large candelabra and dozens of bookshelves, lined up neatly along the walls. Morgana could see multiple locked strongboxes, as well. The air in the room was stale and stuffy. It pressed down on her like a heavy weight around her neck.
She was not welcome here.
Morgana took a deep breath.
One of these books had to hold the secret that she sought.
Ignoring her sense of discomfort, the young princess began to scour the bookcases. Most of the books on the shelves had no title. Others she recognized for banned myths and legends, as well as some tomes that felt almost magical under her touch. Morgana was tempted to pull them out and take a look – but she had a purpose, the young princess reminded herself. And Arthur would only be able to distract Agravaine for so long before the priest got suspicious.
Plus, if she wasn’t back before that guard woke up… then a suspicious Agravaine would be the least of her troubles.
As Morgana made her way past bookcase after bookcase, she suddenly saw it. A large, brown tome, very much like the one that king Uther had in his own archives. Right there, on the other side of the room.
Instinctively, Morgana knew. That was the one. The tome that held the answers she sought.
The young princess stepped forward, heading for the bookcase-
When she suddenly felt the stone tile underneath her foot sink down a few inches. She heard a loud click.
Everything happened in a split second. A hole in the wall behind the bookcase suddenly opened up, revealing a hidden compartment. From that opening, Morgana heard a whiffing sound. She watched in shock as a large, steel dart the size of her hand shot forth from the opening, coursing straight for her.
The girl froze in fear as she felt the dart whiff by, the feathers scraping past the top of her head.
With the force of a crossbow bolt, the dart whiffed across the room, before embedding itself into the wall with a loud thunk.
The room went quiet once again.
If Morgana had been any taller, that dart would have killed her.
The young princess could feel her knees grow weak. She grabbed hold of the nearest chair, using it for support. The silence around her was deafening. As she stood there, her heart beating in her throat and her hands shaking from what just happened, the atmosphere in the room pressing down on her… Morgana finally came to a realization.
Whatever had happened twelve years ago, whatever secrets lay buried in this room…
Her uncle was willing to hurt people to keep them buried.
Morgana took a step forward, reaching for the book on the shelf with reckless abandon. No more darts came flying at her. She grabbed the book and threw it onto the stone table.
Her determination had finally turned into anger.
No more secrets.
Not from me. Not something like this.
No. I won’t allow it.
Morgana had found what she was looking for. A similar tome to Uther’s. But this one was documented in much, much more vivid detail. Morgana tore through it. Systematically, page by page. She quickly realized that the contents of Uther’s records were nothing compared to this.
Assassination. Infiltration. A purge of all magic users in Camelot. Conspiracies, treachery, magically attempted regicide – all of it found, instigated or thwarted by Agravaine and his spies. Morgana worked through it, discarding the information as she went, her mind of a singular focus.
Where was it?
Where is it?
It burns. Please. Where is it?
And then… she found it.
May, twelve years ago. Morgana’s finger stopped at a familiar name, neatly documented near the top of the page.
She was looking at a death record.
No… that wasn’t right. It wasn’t a record.
It was an order.
And Ada’s name… wasn’t the only name on that page. Morgana frowned, unsure of what she was seeing. Uther had shown her a list like that before, when he warred against the sorcerers in Camelot. A similar one had been on his desk just before the execution of Millicent. It had been what allowed Morgana to get to Merlin in time, and smuggle him out.
But this… what was…?
Then, the young sorceress finally realized what it was that she was looking at. Morgana’s breath got stuck in her throat. She could feel her insides going cold as her entire body began to shake.
Now she understood why Agravaine had tried to deter her. Why he had been so aggressive in keeping her away. She didn’t want to see anymore. But Morgana couldn’t look away. The letters danced across the pages, searing themselves into her memory.
For the child born on May Day will herald the end of the Pendragon line,
its King destined to fall by their hand.
Spoken by a powerful sorcerer, as she burned at the stake.
Morgana grew nauseous as she looked down at the page.
Sixty-four children had lost their lives… over a prophecy.
“N…no,” Morgana muttered, her entire body shaking. “It can’t be. Father… wouldn’t do this. He wouldn’t let… he wouldn’t.”
She scoured the page again, looking for written mention of King Uther. For anything, anything proving that her father wouldn’t have allowed this. That he had forbade it. That Agravaine, or his spies, or whoever was responsible for this, had gone behind his back. Morgana frantically looked for any mention of her father at all.
And there was.
At the very bottom of the page, neatly stamped underneath the death list…
Was King Uther’s signature.
The order had come from him.
Back in the castle, Arthur was trying his hardest to keep his uncle distracted.
It really wasn’t all that hard. True to the boy’s prediction, as soon as he mentioned the Watcher, Agravaine turned the conversation into a private sermon.
“For you see, the Watcher is all-powerful but merciless, and must be feared and appeased by us mortals! From the beginning of time, He guides us towards our glorious individual-“
Dear lord, shut up already.
Arthur had stopped paying attention around ten minutes ago. His uncle’s speeches were always the same, and both him and Morgana could recite them from memory already. That’s how often they were forced to listen to his ramblings. Arthur fidgeted about, throwing looks out the window every now and then to see if Morgana had come back yet.
She better hurry up. This is torture.
At that moment, Arthur spotted the young princess. He could see her heading for the main entrance. The crown prince quickly put his hands up, interrupting Agravaine right when he was about to launch into a tirade about the dangers of magic.
“Oooookay, thank you, uncle! I think that’s enough for a refresher.”
“Are you sure? We haven’t even touched upon the subject of-“
“Yes, I’m very sure! I have sword fighting lessons now, have-a-nice-day-goodbye!”
And he took off, leaving a mildly puzzled Agravaine behind.
The Crown Prince caught up to his sister just as she was about to ascend the stairs. Arthur called out to her, stopping Morgana in her tracks.
“Hey! Morrie! How did it go? Did you get in?”
She nodded, a mechanical, expressionless nod. Her movements were robotic, almost forced. But her mental state went completely over Arthur’s head, as the boy’s curiosity was stronger than his intuition. He raised an eyebrow, eager to hear the story.
“Well? Don’t tell me I went through thirty minutes of Jacoban nonsense for nothing. Come on, spill it. What did you find?”
To Morgana, her brother’s voice sounded strangely far away. Like he wasn’t really there. She felt like a bystander, watching her body perform tasks from the sidelines. Even her thoughts were strangely slow.
But… even in that state… Morgana knew.
She couldn’t tell him.
He was too young.
He loved him too much.
If she told him…
She would break him.
“I found nothing.”
In the original lore, the May Day massacre was an event where the King of Camelot received a prophecy from a sorcerer. It stated that the child that was born on May Day would cause the death of the King and the downfall of his court. But the prophecy did not specify which child it was. So the King sent for all of them, every child that was born in May, and sent them to their deaths.
The legend of Arthur is, above all else, a tragedy. I’m altering very large parts of it, but there are some some things that I cannot change too much without breaking the story further down the road. I hesitated on what to do with this part of the legend for a very long time. In the end, I decided to present it as-is, which is… incredibly dark…. but instrumental in explaining how Morgana becomes the person that she is later.
Please forgive me if this crossed a line for you.
If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go hug my cats now. T.T