I’t’s going to get weird. According to the legends, this is a thing. I’m not changing it. Fight me.
Under the warm rays of the rising summer sun, Arthur Pendragon addressed his would-be knights. The scene itself was nothing out of the ordinary – they gathered in the courtyard almost every morning. But this time, the Crown Prince had some news for them.
“In three months’ time,” Arthur spoke, “Camelot will be host to an international knight’s tournament. It is to be a celebratory gathering, and all nobles and knights are expected to participate.”
“This will include a grand mêlée as the main event. All of noble blood are encouraged to compete. The winner will face off against our grand champion for a prize of 200 pounds in silver.”
Gawain’s eyes widened at the outrageous sum of money. A farming peasant earned 2 pounds in a year. If he was lucky. Even a knight only made 3 pounds of silver in a month. 200 pounds was a ridiculously high amount.
“The tournament will last for one week. Gawain, I am entrusting you with the security of the castle during that time. As Sir Betrand is a member of the gentry and cannot perform his duties, you will temporarily hold the position of Guard Commander.”
“Y-yes, sire!” Gawain replied, unable to keep the shock from resounding through his voice. Arthur nodded to his men.
“Good. Are there any questions?”
Percival, Elyan, Lancelot and Lionel shook their heads. They had participated in these events before. They knew exactly what to expect. But Gawain cocked his head, looking up at his lord.
“Sire? Who is the champion?”
A sliver of a smirk appeared on Arthur’s face in response.
The next moment, that smirk vanished, and his serious expression returned. Arthur seemed lost in thought for a moment. Then, he nodded to himself.
“That will be all for today. You are dismissed.”
Without another word, the Crown Prince turned around and entered the castle. The doors fell shut behind him with a heavy clunk.
And Elyan immediately jumped behind Gawain and Lancelot, throwing his arms around their shoulders and catching the both of them in a bear hug.
“Right, then! You heard the man, lads! A tournament! And not just that, but a mêlée!”
“We know what a tournament is, Elyan,” Lancelot chuckled from underneath his shoulder.
“You’re damn right! It means fighting! Fighting, glory and delicious caskets of ale!”
“And cheering maidens?” Gawain jested. Elyan nodded vigorously, his grin widening even more.
“And cheering maidens! Yes! Forget court – this is what we were made for!”
The two of them laughed at Elyan’s eagerness. His love for brawling was well-known in their group. As was his distaste for all things political. It frequently became a source of hilarity. Once, Elyan had decided to hide in a broom closet for an entire night, just so he could avoid making small talk in the ballroom. That was years ago – and the others still gave him grief over it.
Not everyone seemed to be as excited as Elyan, though. From the other side of the group, Percival and Lionel watched the three of them with clear disdain.
“Chivalry contests are not about brawling,” the brown-haired knight lectured stiffly. “They are an opportunity to show about valor, courage and skill in honourable combat.”
“Exactly,” Lionel added. “Not that we’d expect you two barbarians to understand. Sir Lancelot aside, neither of you ought to be anywhere near the tournament, let alone compete.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Lancelot asked, his voice instantly cooling to an icy chill. The blonde-haired noble shrugged.
“Oh, please. We all know that Elyan has the grace and chivalry of a donkey-“
“Who are you calling a donkey?!”
“And that Gawain shouldn’t even be here in the first place,” Lionel spoke, ignoring Elyan’s increasing anger.
“Lionel,” Percival warned. But the blonde-haired noble ignored his friend.
“You heard our Prince. Even he realizes that you should stay away. You have no titles. No land. No business mingling in the affairs of true knights. Why else do you think he placed you on guard duty again? Guard duty is all you’re good for.”
Gawain straightened his back, rising to his full height as he addressed the nobleman in front of him.
“Arthur entrusted me with looking after the castle. It is an honour. And I will gladly do it.”
“Of course you will,” Lionel sneered back. “Prince Arthur has spent years raising you to be a good guard dog.”
The blonde-haired noble smiled; a venomous grin that did not extend to his eyes.
“But make no mistake, Gawain. A guard dog is all you will ever be. Even as the royal pet. You can pretend to be a knight all you want. But you will never be more than a lowly commoner, performing tricks on command like a dog for its master.”
“How dare you!“ Elyan yelled, outraged at the insult. “You’ve got a lot of nerve, milksop! I oughta’ slam that mouth of yours shut!”
He took a step forward, moving in between Lionel and Gawain in the process. Lionel was not intimidated, however. He raised a single eyebrow at Elyan, a clear look of disdain reflected in his eyes.
“Contain yourself. It’is unbecoming of a member of the gentry.”
“I’ll show you gentry, you white-livered, unlicked-“
But Gawain placed a hand on Elyan’s shoulder.
“Elyan. Stop. It’s all right.”
“What?! No, it isn’t!”
But the redhead shook his head. His gaze was aimed at the ground.
“I’m fine with guarding the castle. Honestly. I am. I don’t mind. Arthur asked me to do it, after all. I really am honoured.”
He nodded at his friends, a shadow of a smile on his face.
“I… have some things to do. I’ll see you at the training grounds later.”
And with that, Gawain turned around and left the castle courtyard. The two knights-to-be watched him leave.
His slumped posture spoke louder than any of his words did.
With an weary expression, Morgana glanced around at her new chambers.
They were immaculate. Not a single expense had been spared in renovating and refurbishing the place, from the tasteful furniture to the soft, silk curtains and the priceless new queen-sized bed.
It had stood empty for years. No longer. It was a gift from King Uther, in the form of a chamber fit for royalty.
The place made Morgana deeply uncomfortable. She did not want to be in this room.
Her maidservants did not share her discomfort, however.
“Marvellous!” Sarah grinned, very visibly pleased. “Now this is what I’m talking about! We’re finally out of that broom closet!”
“It wasn’t a broom closet,” Morgana protested. Her maidservant scoffed.
“I don’t mean you, I mean me! Have you seen the servant’s quarters next to this room? They’re majestic!”
She leaned towards Morgana, her words suddenly taking on a suggestive tone.
“Plus, with chambers as large as this, we could finally hide some… male company from view if we have to, if you catch my drift.”
“You’re going to cause a scandal, Sarah,” Morgana replied, rolling her eyes at the woman. Her maidservant never changed. Guinevere nodded nervously.
“Y-yeah… I’d really rather not get fired. Or hanged.”
Sarah laughed at them. It was a loose, frivolous laughter.
“Well, your loss. At least one of us will be having some fun. I have the day off tomorrow, after all! That reminds me, did you know that Sir Bertrand was caught right outside the chambers of-“
But Morgana had stopped listening to Sarah. Her eye had fallen on a nightstand near the window, the surface of it still empty.
That would do.
“Guinevere, did they bring my possessions yet?”
“Yes, milady. I have your dresses right-“
“No, not those. Fetch me the box, please.”
The young servant did as she was told. She quickly moved over to the corner of the room and brought back a jeweled strongbox. It looked like the kind of thing that you put priceless jewelry into, or exotic gemstones. Priceless valuables.
But that wasn’t what was in there. Morgana took a small, silver key and opened the jeweled box, revealing the contents within. Only three objects were stored inside. An old burlap doll, a carved dragon and a stitched snow rabbit. For a box this ornate, they looked incredibly out of place. All three of them were old, imperfect or unremarkable.
But to Morgana, those three things meant the world.
And they made the room just a little more bearable.
Morgana sighed. Her gaze traveled to the wall, making eye contact with the figure depicted there.
“Forgive me… for intruding.”
When Morgana regained consciousness the following morning, waking up felt like she was reaching the surface after a very deep dive. Her vision was blurred. her body felt strange. Sluggish. She had a nasty headache, too. The sorceress groaned, lifting herself off her mattress and slowly swinging her legs over the edge.
The Watcher must love irony, she thought. Of all days, I catch a cold when my maids are away.
She stood up from the bed, and her headache immediately worsened. The Princess was strangely out of balance. She quickly grabbed hold of the bed post, steadying herself. Her legs felt like they were made out of jelly.
That wasn’t good. Maybe it was more than just a cold.
But Morgana was stubborn. She wasn’t going to call back Sarah for this. The woman hadn’t had a proper day off in years, and Morgana wasn’t about to rob her of that. As for Guinevere… knowing her, the girl would probably spend more time panicking than being helpful.
It was fine. She could look after herself. At least for a day. Morgana sighed, massaging her temples as she walked towards the closest mirror.
And the Princess froze dead in her tracks.
Her eyes were glued onto the object in front of her. She could feel her breath get stuck in her lungs as her mind tried to process what it was seeing.
Gaius the physician was having a difficult week. Accompanied by the arrival of warm weather, the town of Camelot had been plagued by a very persistent summer flu. Especially among the elderly. Gaius had been forced to work overtime because of it, paying house visits and checking up on everyone who was feeling ill. By some miracle he hadn’t caught it yet, himself… but the list of patients had already risen far above his ability to handle. He hadn’t slept properly in over a week.
The physician was tired.
He needed a day off.
So when Gaius heard a knock on the door in the early morning, he let out an involuntary groan. Another case. He really needed an assistant. Gaius sighed, slowly making his way towards the door.
“Hold on. I’m on my way.”
The grey-haired elder unlocked the door, removing the bolt that kept him safe. With a creak, the door opened to reveal-
“I need potions, advice, divine intervention, anything!”
The strange man leaned forward, talking to him in a frantic, hushed voice.
“Gaius, it’s me! I woke up like this – it won’t go away! I had to sneak out of the servant’s entrance while dressed in nothing but my nightgown! I had to steal a man’s tunic off of a clothesline like some low-born thief! You have to help me!”
Gaius was baffled, physically stepping back from the figure in front of him. All kinds of alarm bells were beginning to go off on his head. Oh, dear lord, the elderly physician thought. This man is insane.
Then he noticed the green eyes. Gaius’s gaze trailed to the long, raven-black hair that fell down the man’s shoulder. That was strangely familiar, too. The voice had changed… but the choice of words and physical mannerisms had not. It took Gaius’s brain a few seconds to process what his instinct had already realized. He gasped.
“Yes! For Watcher’s sake, let me in already!” Morgana whispered, looking like a cornered, panicked rabbit. Gaius quickly stepped aside.
But Morgana had already dashed past him, sprinting into the small clinic and slamming the door shut behind her. She marched right over to the nearest bed. Perplexed, Gaius followed the Princess. He could feel it in his bones.
Today was going to be a long day.
She had to tell him the story twice, before things began to make sense to the elderly physician. As Gaius listened, an increasing sense of wonder began to overcome him the more she spoke. Magic never ceased to surprise him. When Morgana finished, he looked down on the Princess with an almost child-like curiosity.
“This is fascinating. I’ve heard the myths, but seeing it in the flesh is something else entirely. Do you realize what happened to you, Morgana?”
“I’ve become a hairy man with a beard that itches when I talk?”
“You’ve changed form,” Gaius explained, a sense of wonder seeping through his voice. Morgana raised a single eyebrow.
“Yes. I know, Gaius. That was implied with the ‘I’ve become a hairy man with a beard that itches when I talk’.”
“You misunderstand. I think you’re a shapeshifter, Morgana. It’s a very old form of druidic magic. Even Millicent only mentioned it once, in passing.”
The elderly physician looked her over curiously.
“Have you been feeling stressed lately, to a degree that could have triggered this kind of development? Is your vision different? What about your physical abilities? How are you feeling?”
A thousand thoughts were racing through the physician’s mind at once. Magic had always fascinated him, despite his ineptitude for it. And this wasn’t just any magic. His background as a scholar took over, eagerly considering the possible medical applications of this new discovery.
But the sorceress couldn’t appreciate his enthusiasm. Morgana groaned, placing a hand on the side of her head. That headache was still there.
“It feels like I fell into a hairy, graceless peasant body. I want it gone. How do I turn back to normal?”
The physician shrugged, shaking his head at her.
“I… don’t know.”
That was the exact opposite of what Morgana wanted to hear. She jumped up from the bed, her anger bubbling to the surface. A familiar red glow began to envelop her body. Gaius took a step back in response.
“Now, Morgana, just take a deep-“
“What do you mean, you don’t know?!” the princess snarled. “You have to know! You were married to Millicent, for Watcher’s sake! You’ve been around magic for years! You have to know something!”
“Just because I was married to a sorceress doesn’t mean that I’m an expert, Morgana,” Gaius replied, exasperated. “I’ve never even seen this kind of magic before. It is as much a mystery to me as it is to you.”
“Great. Fantastic. Then how do I get rid of it?!”
“I don’t know. For all we know, it goes away on its own. Eventually.”
That was the wrong answer, as well. The red glow around Morgana’s body increased even more.
“Eventually?! EVENTUALLY?! I don’t have TIME for eventually! You have to fix it NOW! I can’t walk around like this! My voice sounds like a rusty wood saw! I can’t fit into my dresses! There’s hair all over my chest! I have a-!”
Morgana couldn’t finish her sentence. She buried her face in her hands, trying and spectacularly failing to hide her embarrassment.
So far, this day was not going well. At all.
With a groan, Morgana began to massage her temples.
“Please. For the love of plumbob, tell me that I’m not stuck like this.”
But the elderly physician shook his head at her. He couldn’t help. Even Gaius didn’t know what he didn’t know.
“I’m sorry, milady. I think you’re stuck like this.”
The red glow slowly faded as the Princess sat back down on the bed. Morgana buried her face in her hands, a discouraged sigh escaping from her lips.
“What am I going to do?” she groaned. “I can’t return to the castle like this. They’ll know I’m gone soon. I can’t explain this. They’ll think that someone kidnapped me again. Or worse.”
The Princess slowly shook her head. She couldn’t see a way out of this. She didn’t even know where to begin. Sixteen years of hiding her magic from everybody – and just like that, it was over. And there was nothing she could do about it. The Watcher had a twisted sense of humor.
Gaius saw her despair, too.
“You said that the change happened in your sleep, correct?”
“Yes,” Morgana groaned. “I think so. For Watcher’s sake – I knew I shouldn’t have slept in that room.”
The grey-haired physician nodded. A familiar look of determination appeared in his eyes. Morgana had seen that once before. He had saved her then, too.
Gaius was about to do the same a second time.
“All right. Listen closely, Morgana. This is what we’re going to do. In five minutes, I will go to your chambers and diagnose you with a summer flu. It’s plaguing the town lately, so it will not be out of the ordinary for you to catch it. It is also contagious. I will tell the King to keep everyone away until you have recovered. Nobody will be allowed to enter your chambers but me.”
“We… we can do that?”
“Yes,” Gaius answered softly. “It’s risky, but we can do that. Only for a few days, at most. But maybe a few days is all you need. I will cover for you at the castle, while you figure out how to turn back into your real self. Do you think you can do that?”
Morgana had no idea how she was going to do that. She hadn’t even realized that she had turned into somebody else until she had seen her own face in the mirror. But the young sorceress didn’t see any other options. Or at least… any other options that did not end in her being burned at the stake. She nodded to Gaius.
“…All right. I’ll… I’ll try.”
“Good. It will be all right, milady.”
Then, his determination made way for an awkward, guilty expression.
“And… we’ll also need to cut your hair.”
“What?! No!” Morgana protested. Gaius took a step towards her.
“Milady, be reasonable-“
“You are NOT cutting my hair, Gaius!”
“But you can’t walk around looking like that!”
“Wha- what’s that supposed to mean?!” Morgana sputtered angrily. The physician quickly put his hands up, awkwardly trying to diffuse the situation.
“Now don’t be upset- I mean – it’s just that your hair is very long, and-“
“I like my hair!”
“And there’s nothing wrong with that!” Gaius hastily replied. “But it’s not exactly common to have that length among lower-class citizens. Especially not for men. And there’s- well, there’s a stigma, milady. You’ll need to keep your head down until you can figure out how to return to normal. And the last thing you need is a guard that suspects you of being a druid.”
The grey-haired physician had a point… even though Morgana hated to admit it. She let out another sigh. At this point… it probably didn’t even matter. She had no other choice.
“Oh, for crying out loud. Fine.”
The sorceress inwardly cringed as she watched Gaius take a rusty cutting knife from his bookshelf. This was going to be terrible.
If she lived through this, if she made it back to the castle in one piece… then the Watcher and her were going to have some words.
And Morgana had some very colourful language in mind.