I was going to wait with this one until the weekend, since it’s not been that long since last one – but oh, what the heck. My schedule can do with some spice, anyway. xD
Also, some CC messed with how Agravaine looks. I decided to keep it and added a beard. He’s not happy with it.
In the upper ring of Camelot, Lancelot and Gawain were in the middle of patrolling the city. As Prince Arthur’s men, it was one of their sworn duties. They were to keep an eye out for trouble, break up any fights in the city and arrest active rabble-rousers. Position-wise, they were a step above the common town guards in that regard.
Of course, the biggest rabble-rousers of Camelot were Elyan and Gawain themselves.
Not today, though. The young redhead walked the streets of Camelot silently, his brow furrowed and his mind lost in thought. That wasn’t like him. Even the people they passed by could tell that something was bothering Gawain.
Of course, Lancelot knew exactly what it was.
“Don’t let Lionel get to you,” the Duke’s son said, trying to cheer up his friend. “The guy is all talk. You’ve seen him. He wouldn’t be able to win a fight with a wet towel if his life depended on it.”
“Yeah, I know. He’s a bag of hot air. Elyan already offered to beat him up.”
Lancelot chuckled. The young noble put his arm around Gawain’s shoulder, playfully roughhousing with his friend.
“He would win, too. And so would you. Fighting Lionel wouldn’t even qualify as training.”
“Aren’t you supposed to tell me to ‘not make a scene’?” Gawain grinned, echoing Lancelot’s words from that day at the tavern. It earned him a smirk and a casual shrug.
“What can I say? Even I realize that, sometimes, the best thing to do with a bag of hot air is to punch it. Even if the guy is a nobleman.”
Then, Lancelot frowned and quickly added:
“Don’t actually do it, though. You already ended up in the dungeon twice this month.”
Gawain chuckled. His last visit to that cell hadn’t even been a week ago. It was becoming a habit. He remembered Arthur’s angry face from behind the bars.
“I know, I know. I won’t. I promised Arthur that I wouldn’t.”
The two continued their patrol, surveying the streets in a calm, professional manner that had become natural over the years. But thanks to Lancelot’s words, Gawain’s posture had changed. His shoulders were no longer slumped, and the frown had vanished. A familiar gleam returned to his eyes. As they turned the corner, he softly hit Lancelot on the shoulder.
“Any time, Gawain. Any time.”
With a heavy sigh, Morgana leaned against the doorway of Gaius’s clinic. She had never felt so humiliated in her life. Most of her beautiful, raven-black hair was gone. Butchered. Fallen prey to Gaius’s blunt, rusty excuse for a cutting knife. Her hand involuntarily reached towards her head, trying to touch what was no longer there.
All that her fingers met with was air.
Can’t be helped, Morgana reminded herself, closing her eyes as her hands balled into fists. Get a hold of yourself. There are more important things to worry about.
She had to find a way to turn back to normal. Gaius had promised to cover for her, but even the physician could only do so much. He had other patients to check in on, as well. He could not be in her chambers for long.
And if someone found out that he was covering up an empty room before Morgana discovered a way to turn back… then the sorceress wasn’t the only one who would end up on a burning pyre.
She had to turn back.
By any means necessary.
Morgana racked her brain, trying to find a solution to her dilemma. She did not have enough information. If she did not know what she was dealing with, then she could speculate and worry until winter came – and none of it would make any difference.
What she needed was knowledge. As much knowledge as she could find.
And the best place to obtain that… was in the castle’s catacombs.
Her mind traveled back to a memory from 4 years ago. The sensation of sneaking into Agravaine’s hidden chambers. The stale and stuffy air in the room, pressing down on her like a heavy stone weight around her neck.
She remembered the books hidden away in that room. Concealed from the public eye, but still available for a spymaster to browse. Morgana had touched some of them. Most of the tomes in that chamber had no title… but she remembered others depicting banned myths and legends. Some of them had felt almost magical to the touch, drawing her in like a moth to a flame.
She had left them alone back then.
Not this time. If Gaius could not help her… then those secret archives were her best, and only hope. Morgana nodded to herself, a look of steely determination appearing in her eyes. She knew what to do now.
It was time to infringe upon her dear uncle’s hospitality again.
The black-haired Princess stepped out from the shadows and into the square…
And immediately wished that she hadn’t.
Morgana froze, her eyes locked on the two men in front of her. She could feel her breath getting stuck in her throat. It took all of her composure to keep herself from panicking.
And the would-be knights noticed. Lancelot raised a single eyebrow at her, while Gawain’s expression immediately changed to one of concern.
“Whoa, you look pale. Are you all right, sir? Do you feel ill?”
Oh gods. Of course it’s them. It just had to be them, didn’t it?
Morgana covered her face as the two took a few steps towards her, desperately trying to keep herself calm.
“I- I’m fine, Gawain.”
That was a mistake. Morgana realized it right away. She watched as Lancelot’s face instantly grew suspicious, while Gawain’s expression went from concerned to surprised confusion.
“Wait, how do you know my name? I’ve never seen you before.”
“Um… I, uh…”
“My friend here asked you a question,” Lancelot spoke. He crossed his arms, his brow furrowing even further as his suspicion of Morgana grew. This was bad. Gawain was one thing, but Lancelot was perceptive enough to put Morgana on her guard – even when she wasn’t stuck in a stranger’s body. There was no way that she could fool him as she was now. And she couldn’t outrun either of them. Not a chance. The sorceress had to think of something, quick.
“Uh… Err… I’m… an admirer…?”
Morgana could feel a dark blush spread to her cheeks. She inwardly scolded herself for her terrible choice of words. But it was too late to back out now.
“Yes. An admirer!” Morgana said, quickly improvising. “I heard about your fight with the assassin. And how you’re one of Prince Arthur’s best men, even though you’re not a noble. Everyone in the lower city is talking about you, you know. They say that you’re the most courageous out of all of Arthur’s knights. They’re calling you a hero.”
If it had been anyone else, Morgana’s lie would have fallen terribly flat. She had no idea what she was doing, no time to think about her words. She didn’t even have her normal charms at her disposal. Her voice wavered, her body language was unnatural. Everything felt wrong.
But Gawain had always been easy to fool. The would-be knight was too naive and gullible for his own good. This time was no different – but instead of hindering her, this time it actually worked to her advantage. Gawain’s eyes began to sparkle as a surprised, elated smile spread on his face.
“Wait, really? A hero?”
Morgana nodded. It wasn’t a complete lie. As the only commoner that was accepted into Arthur’s ranks, Gawain really was known around the city. People really did talk about him. Even if what was actually being said… wasn’t completely faithful to reality.
Lancelot knew that, too. Morgana knew that he saw right through her lie… but even Lancelot couldn’t help but smile a little at his friend’s genuine excitement. He playfully bopped the young redhead on the shoulder.
“See? Forget what Lionel said. Even he can’t compare to a title like that.”
“…yeah. Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
Gawain nodded at Lancelot, suddenly standing a little straighter than before. He turned back to Morgana, placing a hand on his side as the two of them made eye contact.
“What’s your name, friend?”
It was a simple question, but one that took the Princess by surprise. For a second, she forgot what kind of body she was inhabiting.
“What do you mean? It’s Mor-“
“-Dred! Mordred. Yes. My name is Mordred.”
“It’s great to meet you, Mordred,” Gawain smiled back. The momentary pause in Morgana’s reply went completely over his head. He gave her a nod, gesturing at the road behind them.
“Lancelot and I have to continue our patrol now. But we’re in the Tall Tales tavern a lot after dark. If you’re ever nearby, then feel free to come in for a drink.”
And he turned around, leaving the conversation. With a smile on his face and a renewed spring in his step, Gawain returned to patrolling the city. He hadn’t even questioned their meeting. Inwardly, Morgana sighed in relief. It seemed that she still had some deceptive ability. Even as a man.
But it wasn’t enough to fool both of them. And Lancelot had definitely seen through her lie. The blue-eyed nobleman cast her a cold glare, the distrust in his voice almost tangible.
“Thank you for your time. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance…”
“And Oswald of Mercia?”
“Sends his regards, but is unable to participate,” Arthur replied, bowing as he reported this week’s correspondence to his father. “He will send all three of his sons to participate in his stead, as well as his daughter.”
“As expected, then,” Uther nodded, leaning back into his seat. “No matter. I did not think that Oswald would come at his age. Sending all three of his sons shows great respect.”
As the Crown Prince continued his report, King Uther silently observed his son. He had given the responsibility of organizing the tournament to Arthur on purpose. It was a good lesson for the boy, as well as much-needed practical experience.
The way Uther saw it, Arthur was still sorely lacking in both.
As soon as the Crown Prince finished his report, Uther took over the conversation to lecture him.
“Organising a tournament takes skill and foresight as well as good leadership,” Uther spoke. “They are traits that any future King must possess. This is your chance to prove to me that you possess these traits, as well as an opportunity to make up for your lapse in judgment in Murkwood. You will not disappoint me again. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, father,” Arthur responded. “I will not fail you.”
The Crown Prince began to step back, having assumed to conversation to be over. But his father called him back.
“One last thing. I have put this off for far too long. I want both you and Morgana in my chambers after supper tonight. This is not a request, Arthur. We have matters to discuss that concern the future of Albion. Make sure that you are both there.”
Arthur could take a guess as to what kind of conversation Uther was planning to have. If it concerned both him and his sister… then there were only a few topics to choose from. None of them were good. It was best that he warned Morgana as soon as possible. After his conversation with the King had ended, the Crown Prince immediately moved to go find his sister.
However… fate had other plans.
Prince Arthur was forced to return to the throne room with the bad news. He knew that King Uther was going to be outraged. Not just at his children for defying him, but also at Gaius for allowing a member of the royal family to fall ill. Ever since his mother had passed away, the King had been incredibly paranoid about his children’s health.
But it couldn’t be helped. He had to tell him. With his hand awkwardly scratching the back of his head, Arthur broke the news to his father.
“Forgive me, sire. Morgana cannot attend tonight – she appears to have caught a summer flu. It’s been going around in the castle. Gaius says that she needs to rest for a few days, at least.”
He had expected Uther to get angry. Maybe even demand to see Gaius immediately. But the King’s reaction surprised Arthur. A strange, distant look appeared on his face as his eyes clouded over.
“…Summer flu, is it…?”
“She has a flu again?!”
A strange, distant smirk spread across his lips. For a moment, it was almost as if Uther was looking straight through his son.
In the Jacoban chapel, Agravaine du Bois was in the middle of giving a passionate sermon. Today’s turnout had been meagre so far. But to Agravaine, it mattered not. Ever since the struggles of last winter, the church had begun to attract more and more followers.
The Jacoban priest knew why. As it turned out, convincing people that they were being punished by a vengeful god was much easier to do when the country was plagued by a famine.
As Agravaine reached the height of his religious speech, his attention was suddenly drawn away from the Watcher’s wrath by the soft ringing sound of a metal bell. It was a small device, hung in the corner of the chamber next to the church hall. The ring was barely noticeable.
He knew that sound.
Agravaine had engineered its mechanism four years ago, after he had found his hidden archives disturbed by an unknown source.
That sound could only mean one thing. Someone had snuck their way in there again.
Whoever it was… the Jacoban priest was about make them regret it.
Two minutes later, Agravaine had ended the sermon and made his way down into the catacombs, followed closely by two royal guards. His expression was calm and focused – but on the inside, the royal adviser was fuming.
One time could have been a coincidence. He remembered the poisonous dart, wedged into the cracks on the far wall. That had been four years ago. The traps were old. Sometimes, they broke down. It happened. At the time, Agravaine would have assumed it to be a mechanical malfunction… if not for the stack of books on the table. A stack of books that he had not placed there.
Someone had stolen information from him.
Agravaine had installed a trip wire that very same night. It was designed to snap when the fake wall opened, which would trigger a soft bell to ring on the surface. None of the church-goers knew what it meant when it went off.
But Agravaine did. The Jacoban priest could feel a cold anger in his chest as he and his guards rounded the corner.
Nobody stole knowledge from him and got away with it. This time, he would make them regret it.
“Ready your weapons,” Agravaine ordered his guards. “The door is right behind this wall.”
The men behind him nodded. He could hear the scraping of steel as they drew their swords. Agravaine stepped forward, pressing the stones on the wall in front of him in the order that made the wall open – the order that only he knew about. Or so he thought. Yet, someone else had managed to open the hidden door. The Jacoban priest was very interested in finding out how their intruder had managed to obtain this particular piece of information. By any means necessary.
For starters… the rack would do nicely.
With a soft scraping, the wall moved out of the way. It had been designed to be quiet when opening and closing. Agravaine couldn’t have his hidden wall announced to everyone in the catacombs every time he made use of it, after all.
Once again, the silence would work in Agravaine’s favour. He gestured for the guards to move towards the door.
“Attack to subdue. I want them alive.”
The spymaster placed his hand on the door ring, with the guards taking up flanking positions on either side of him. For a fraction of a second, none of them moved. The dark, subterranean hallway was completely still, devoid of all sound or movement.
The next second, everything happened at once. The guards threw open the door, stepping through with their swords drawn and pouring into the hidden chamber. Agravaine followed. His eyes locked on their target, a young, black-haired man. The Jacoban priest opened his mouth to speak.
“Did you really th-”
But Agravaine never got a chance to finish his sentence. The sorceress immediately reacted, instinct taking over.
The Jacoban priest watched in shock as a ray of cold, blue arcane energy burst forth from the man’s outstretched hand. It soared across the stone chamber, headed straight for him. The magic struck him square in the chest. He felt it seep into his body. A strange, gripping cold overcame the Jacoban priest–
And then his mind went blank, and Agravaine felt nothing.
“Good night, uncle.”