Woops. These were meant to be published as a pair, but my electricity decided it wanted to try being a mutineer. Sorry for the wait!
Carefully, Gawain made his way up to the roof. The assassin had already moved onto the ramparts. Gawain gulped, hesitating right as he reached for the door.
If he stepped out there… Gawain would have no backup. Nobody knew where he was. Nobody would know where to look for him. Most people didn’t even know he was on patrol in the castle. If things took a turn for the worst…
This time, there would be no knights to save him from the reaper.
Gawain was on his own.
His thoughts trailed back to that night. To the image of his friend, unconscious on the ground. To the helpless sensation he had when he wasn’t able to get to her. Gawain remembered the heavy weight of the man’s foot, pressing down on his hands and pinning him to the cold stone below.
He hadn’t been able to protect her then.
But this time…
This time would be different.
This time will be different.
The Crown Prince of Nemeth took her hand in his, gently bringing her fingers up to his lips. As he kissed her ring, Richard’s eyes did not stray from hers. A confident smile played on his face.
“I must say, it disappoints me greatly to see that you have chosen not to wear any of my gifts this evening. Were they not to your liking, princess?”
Morgana smiled back, a dainty, innocent smile that did not extend to her eyes. They were cold, calculated and ruthless.
The exact same as his.
“On the contrary, my lord. Your taste in jewelry is impeccable. If I were to wear them in public, it would draw the ire of every noble lady in the kingdom.”
He chuckled at that statement. Richard stepped backwards, bowing and formally extending his hand to Morgana. The sorceress could see the challenge reflected in his eyes.
“Would you do me the honour of a dance?”
“With you, my lord? Always.”
Richard’s smile widened as she accepted his invitation. He pulled her onto the dance floor. They began to move in circles on the rythm of the music, his arm placed on the small of her back as she held on to his shoulder. Richard had always been an exceptionally good dancer, even when he was just a boy.
He also excelled at shrouding their conversation from curious ears as they moved.
“I hear that Camelot has had a rough winter, my lady. It wounds me to think that such a beautiful flower would wilt because of circumstances outside of her control.”
“Your concern for our people is touching,” Morgana replied, deflecting his words. She leaned into his embrace as Richard led the sorceress around the dance floor. The Crown Prince chuckled again.
“Believe me, my lady, when I say that my concern is singularly focused. Nemeth would be honoured to extend a helping hand to those in need… if it pleases its future Queen.”
Morgana could feel his grip around her tighten, like an iron cage slowly closing around its prey. It was not a pleasant sensation. Richard leaned down and whispered into her ear,. His commanding tone made all of the hairs in her back stand upright.
“All you need to do is ensure that your fair King accepts my marriage proposal. You have the influence to do that, my lady. Give me your hand, and I will make sure that your people never go hungry again.”
His words sounded true. But Morgana saw through the deception, recognizing his intentions for what they really were.
If she were to wed herself to Richard, she would become his property, and her people would no longer be the citizens of Camelot. It was a low trick, even for him. His words were hollow. Richard promised her nothing, and was asking for everything in return. The sorceress could feel a prideful anger rise to the surface.
He tried that on her.
There would be no holding back.
On the ramparts of the castle, two figures were locked in intense combat, blocking and parrying sword strikes that would have killed any commoner.
But Gawain wasn’t a commoner. And his training with Arthur had paid off. He was no longer that scared boy on the bridge, who had barely been able to hold a sword properly. Gawain expertly countered the man’s blows, forcing him back towards the edge of the ramparts. A strange sense of calm overcame Gawain as he fought. He could feel his confidence grow with every strike, and every parry.
This was nothing.
Nothing compared to the ferocity of facing Arthur in combat, as the Prince came at him with everything he had.
Nothing compared to that sense of dread on the bridge. Nothing compared to the cold fear that came with facing an unbeatable opponent, while knowing that doing so could lead to your death.
No. This time, Gawain felt no fear.
This time, he was a force to be reckoned with.
“I must commend you, my lord,” Morgana purred, as she removed her hand from Richard’s grasp. “Pursuing me with such vigour, while you covertly explore other possibilities.”
She emphasized that last word, earning a sliver of a frown for her efforts.
“Whatever do you mean, my lady? My actions prove my intentions for you.”
He tried to bluff his way out. But Morgana had surprised him, and she knew it. Her smile widened into a wicked, merciless grin.
“The written correspondence you sent to Cornwall says otherwise, my lord.”
That had an effect. She could see it on his face. Richard might have been bluffing, but Morgana was not. Her spy Helios had outdone himself. A month ago, he had intercepted a letter addressed to King Gorlois of Cornwall, that bore the seal of the Crown Prince of Nemeth. She didn’t know how he had managed to get his hands on it, but it didn’t matter. Cornwall and Albion were at war. And Wessex as well as Nemeth had declared their support to King Uther.
That meant that Richard’s letter to Gorlois was nothing less than a complete betrayal.
Or, it would have been, had it reached its recipient. But it hadn’t. Instead, it was now in the hands of Morgana… along with the fate of their entire Kingdom. As long as she had that letter, the sorceress had all the leverage that she needed.
And it was only her first trump card.
Gently, the Princess placed her hands on Richard’s torso. Her fingers traced the outline of his suit, stopping halfway down his chest. She knew exactly what kind of effect she was having on her opponent. The sorceress made use of every advantage that she had.
“I wonder, what merit could a suitor of Camelot possibly see in consorting with her enemy? Imagine the consequences if evidence of this was brought to light…”
The man was getting desperate. Desperate enough for Gawain to read his moves ahead of time. He knew exactly how to counter them. Gawain parried his opponent’s blow as he recklessly charged at the young soldier, trying to slam into him. Trying to knock him off the ramparts. But Gawain didn’t budge. His stance was stronger. He pushed back, throwing his assailant off-balance and sending him sprawling. The fall exposed his flank. Provided an opening.
It was all the incentive that Gawain needed. With a large overhead strike, the redhead slashed his opponent across the chest. The blade tore right through his leather armour, cutting into the skin underneath. It drew blood. The force of the blow left the man wide open, his neck exposed.
Gawain could have killed him right then and there.
But he didn’t.
Instead, the young soldier brought his blade up to the man’s neck, finally forcing him to surrender. He had no moves left. And this time, the steep drop to his left ended in cold, hard ground. He had nowhere to run. His blade clattered to the ground. The man raised his hands… and yielded.
Gawain had won.
Morgana felt Richard place his arms around her waist, once again pulling her close. His hands encompassed the small of her back almost entirely. She could feel the heat of his palms, pressing down on her body.
“I believe you are mistaken, my lady.”
Morgana smiled up at him.
“Oh, we both know that’s not true. But feel free to put it to the test, my lord. King Uther is right there, after all. My father has been in a terrible mood lately – imagine how he would react to finding out that his closest ally and his preference for a royal union is a traitor. The audacity alone may be enough for him to declare war on you.”
The pressure on her waist increased, and she could feel Richard’s fingers dig into her dress. She hadn’t defeated him yet. She needed more. As Morgana weighed her options, the Crown Prince gave her a cold, threatening smile.
“My, this is unexpected. I wonder – what happened to you to make my flower grow so many thorns?”
Don’t make me laugh.
It was all or nothing. Her final trump card. The sorceress leaned in close, until their faces were mere inches apart from each other. In a low, sultry voice, the sorceress whispered into his ear.
“The thorns are just for you, my lord. And don’t worry. I promise… my resolve won’t snap as easily as your brother’s neck.”
That did it. Morgana watched as a crack appeared in Richard’s carefully cultivated mask. For a brief second, his true self shone through. She had finally hit a weakness- but what Morgana saw in that moment of honesty would come back to haunt her. A glimmer of absolute rage reflected in his eyes as she felt Richard’s hands tighten around her waist. It hurt. Morgana’s breath got stuck in her throat as she could feel a murderous rage radiating off of him, stronger than anything she had felt before. It was overwhelming. It took all of her composure to keep herself from flinching.
The next moment, his rage was gone. Prince Richard stepped back, releasing Morgana from his grasp. His mask returned. A polite smile spread across his lips, his eyes again cold and calculating. With an elegant posture, the Crown Prince of Nemeth bowed to Morgana, thanking her for the dance.
“You are a wonderful opponent, my lady. I can see when I am outmatched. There is no need to show anything to your King. Rest assured, Camelot will not grow hungry this year. I will arrange for the necessary documents in the morning. You have my word.”
“Thank you, my lord, for your incredible kindness,” Morgana smiled back. “Camelot is lucky to have such an honourable, dependable ally.”
Morgana phrased it that way on purpose. Her words stung, and she knew it. They both knew that Richard had only been one letter away from outright war.
But what she had seen underneath his mask… that had come as a complete shock. His unbridled rage at being defeated. The split second of murderous intent, radiating off of him like a concentrated evil. Morgana had never seen a face like that before, and it scared her.
The sorceress suddenly realized that she never wanted to be in a situation where she would see Richard without his mask. Her gaze trailed off to the left.
She now understood what had happened to Mithian of Nemeth to make her cling to Arthur as much as she did.
The young sorceress kept a calm exterior, but as she watched Richard turn and leave, on the inside, she was shaking.
She had won. Finally. It had taken months and months of preparation, but her efforts had paid off. She had beaten Richard at his own game. She had protected Camelot and Arthur in the process. No matter what happened this year, the citizens of Camelot would be fed… and Morgana would not have to give herself to Richard in order to ensure it.
She had won.
But then… why did it not feel like a victory?
Whew! There we go. Welcome to Chapter two, guys! I hope you’ve enjoyed the first taste of what is to come in the future. Also I cannot believe how cute Gawain still is despite aging up a category. I swear the game is doing it on purpose at this point. xD
Let me know what you think? Did they turn out as you thought they would? What do you think will happen in this chapter? Did you see the banner? =D Constructive criticism or spelling errors that I missed are very welcome, as well!
Right. Time to make dinner. Have a nice day, everyone. =)
P.S. Here is a mandatory Cat Tax for making it to the end of my rambling! ❤