In the Iron King’s royal chambers, Uther and Agravaine were in the middle of their daily report. The Royal advisor made a point of structurally informing his King of everything that his network of informants picked up on, both in Camelot itself and in the surrounding nations. Countless scrolls and letters arrived every day. Agravaine took his duties to his Kingdom very seriously. He knew that Uther relied on him, trusted him to act as the eyes and ears of Camelot. He took pride in that.
“Our scouts came back empty-handed. I have arrested and interrogated every black-haired young man in town and scoured all surrounding villages. A handful have perished, but the spy was not among any of the suspects. I suspect that it may have been a foreign spy, sent from either Cornwall or the Isle of Mora.”
The priest’s brow furrowed, his gaze trailing off. A sense of anger overcame him as Agravaine remembered dat day in the catacombs. The feeling of rage as he realized that someone had infiltrated his -his- secret archives. The shock of seeing vile, tainted sorcery used against him. The complete and utter helplessness as Agravaine’s body stopped working and crumbled to the floor, without the Jacoban priest being able to do anything about it. The vile magic that dragged him out of control and straight into darkness.
Agravaine despised losing control.
Someone told him where to go, the royal adviser thought to himself. Someone that is working with our enemies. A traitor, living right under our noses and colluding with vile sorcerers. I will find them. And when I do, they are going to pay dearly.
Uther interrupted his train of thought, glaring at Agravaine as he made his will known.
“I want this man found and executed. At any cost.”
“Yes, your majesty,” Agravaine nodded. “You can count on me.”
“Good. Continue – what else do we have today?”
He gestured at the pile of unread letters and scrolls. In truth, the pile was three times as large as what was shown on the table. Agravaine had already made a selection of the most important pieces of correspondence, as well as quietly taken away what was not necessary for Uther to know. The Jacoban priest grabbed a scroll from the pile, breaking the seal and quickly skimming through its contents.
“Well-wishes from the smaller kingdoms, sire. A proposal for a trade agreement with the south. A marriage proposal for you from Dutchess of-”
“Irrelevant,” Uther interrupted him, waving the letter away in annoyance. “I will never remarry. What else?”
Agravaine nodded, steadily working through the pile. He picked up a scroll with a familiar seal.
“A royal message from Essetir, sire. Let me see…”
The royal adviser suddenly let out a gasp. Uther gave him a look, raising a single eyebrow.
“What? Are they rescinding their participation in the tournament? William always was terrible at making up his mind.”
But Agravaine shook his head, an expression of genuine shock on his face.
“Sire… King William is dead.”
A brief silence fell in the King’s chambers.
Then, that moment was over, and Uther’s angry voice echoed against the elegantly decorated walls.
“Wait, what?! What do you mean, he’s dead?!”
“Essetir has sent us a letter of succession,” Agravaine continued. “It says that King William succumbed to old age-”
“At forty-two years old?! Poppycock!” the Iron King yelled. The priest just shook his head in response.
“All three of his sons have testified with their signatures, your majesty. I will need to verify their authenticity later, but… from what I can see, they seem genuine. They have even provided us with a royal statement… ‘The king is dead. Long live King Cenred.’”
“And who the hell is that supposed to be?!” Uther growled. He had never heard of the name Cenred before. Neither had Agravaine. As far as the Jacoban priest knew, nobody in the royal family of Essetir was named Cenred, including any distant relatives among their nobility. He had no idea who this supposed “king” was, or where he had come from. No insights to bestow upon his liege. No knowledge whatsoever.
That was bad. That was very, very bad. Agravaine despised not knowing something. And judging from Uther’s face, the Jacoban priest was about to regret his dire lack of information.
“Do we not have spies in Essetir? How have we not heard about this in advance?!”
“I- I don’t know, sire. It must have slipped past my informants-”
“Then send better informants!” the Iron King snapped at Agravaine, finally losing his temper. “You’re supposed to be my eyes and ears, Agravaine! Not only did you fail to keep sensitive information from our enemies, but now you can’t even keep tabs on our allies?! Are you that eager to lose your head?!”
Agravaine gritted his teeth, breaking eye contact and looking away in frustration at Uther’s biting words.
“….No, sire. Please forgive me. I will get to the bottom of this.”
“You better – because if you don’t, I will find someone that is actually qualified for the job. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, your majesty.”
“Good. Now, continue. What else?”
The Jacoban priest grabbed another scroll, his face pulled into a dissatisfied scowl. Inside, Agravaine was fuming. He knew that the King’s anger was not because of his shortcomings. After all, Agravaine had none. He knew everything. Always. And this was not a coincidence. No, someone was working against him. Agravaine was sure of it. Someone was working against the priest, stealing information and tainting their reputation with the King.
Someone close to him.
His instincts were telling him that it was the same someone that had sent that filthy sorcerer into his archives.
The realization made him angry enough to open the next scroll without even looking at the seal. It wasn’t until he was halfway through the letter’s contents that he realized where it came from – and saw the single olive branch lying at his feet.
The Jacoban priest froze.
His sudden silence did not go unnoticed by Uther. With a frown, the Iron King opened his mouth.
“Oh, for Watcher’s sake – what is it now?”
“It… It’s from Cornwall, sire.”
Agravaine’s eyes were glued onto the contents of the page. For the second time that day, the man seemed legitimately stunned.
“Gorlois is proposing a truce.”
“We’ve received word from Cornwall. Gorlois has offered a cease-fire and is proposing formal peace negotiations.”
The Crown Prince listened to his father’s words with an increasing sense of shock. Arthur had made his way towards the throne room that morning with a very specific goal in mind. That goal was to talk to the Iron King about Morgana. He had practiced it beforehand, in front of a mirror. The Crown Prince had rehearsed it. Thought of arguments. Practiced not flinching at Uther’s anger. Tested out his own angry glare. It was perfect. He had been ready.
But this was not the kind of talk that Arthur had imagined at all.
A truce? With Gorlois, of all people?
“Wait – what about the forces that were gathering near the border?” he asked. “What happened to those?”
“Our scouts confirm that they have begun to move away from Camelot. I cannot rule out the possibility of a bluff or a trap, but… from what we can tell, Gorlois appears to be serious.”
“I don’t understand. Why now?” Arthur said, thinking out loud. “We’ve formally been at war with them for almost two decades. Neither side has suffered big losses lately. Why would they propose a ceasefire now? What has changed?”
“I don’t know,” Uther admitted. “We cannot rule out the possibility of a setup. But two decades is a very long time. Perhaps Gorlois is finally starting to think about the future, too. Or maybe he is tired. Either way, this is an opportunity that I cannot pass up.”
“Where would this ‘meeting’ take place, exactly?” Arthur asked suspiciously. “In his throne room? In Camelot? Is he using this as an excuse to try and smuggle in more assassins?”
“Neither,” Uther replied, shaking his head. “Gorlois wants the negotiations to occur within the fort of Hadrian’s Wall, in Camlann.”
Arthur knew of what location the Iron King spoke. Camlann was a large plain within a mountainous area on the border between three nations; Camelot, Cornwall and Nemeth. The fort there had been partially destroyed in a dragon attack in the distant past, and had been in a state of abandonment ever since.
But, more importantly… Camlann was also the site of the very first battle between Cornwall and Camelot. It had been a brutal, chaotic slaughter that lasted for three whole days and resulted in hundreds of casualties on both sides. The symbolism of choosing that place to broker for peace was not lost on Arthur.
“He’s really willing to call for a truce?”
“So it seems.”
Uther let out a sigh.
“I intend to attend these peace talks in person, Arthur. The war between Cornwall and Camelot has lasted long enough. And it was caused by my hand. It is only fitting that it be my hand that ends it.”
“What if it’s a trap?” Arthur asked. The Iron King shook his head.
“Gorlois is not the type for traps. It is not his style. He has always been straight-forward and honourable, even in battle. But even if it is a trap…”
His eyes softened.
“If it means that I get a chance to bring peace to your future, then that is a risk I am willing to take.”
Uther’s eyes trailed off to the left. Arthur followed his gaze, looking down on the heavy, stone throne that was the seat of power in Camelot. The Crown Prince sighed.
“Good. I knew you would, Arthur.”
“When is this meeting?” he asked. The Iron King gave him a single nod.
“Twenty days from now. Camelot’s written answer should reach Cornwall within a fortnight. That gives both sides plenty of time to get to Camlann.”
Arthur nodded, his gaze lingering on the throne as his mind trailed off in thought.
Twenty days. He had a lot of things to prepare before then.
“I’ll clear my schedule and have Lancelot inform the knights. Regardless of whether it’s a trap or not, we should make sure to display a proper show of force-”
“No,” Uther said, interrupting his son halfway his sentence. “You will not be attending. And neither is Morgana.”
Arthur blinked. For a moment, the Crown Prince thought that he had misheard his father.
Then the King spoke, confirming his words to his heir. His voice was strict and unyielding. It was the same tone that he always used when he gave commands that could not be disobeyed. Arthur was intimately familiar with that tone.
“I do not want either of you within ten miles of Camlann while negotiations are ongoing. Neither will I have you remain in the castle. Cornwall is still an enemy nation, ceasefire or no ceasefire. And I will not leave Camelot’s future in a vulnerable position. Come tomorrow, I’m sending both of you to Scarborough.”
That was not what Arthur wanted to hear at all.
“Scarborough?!” the Crown Prince protested loudly. “What do you mean, you’re sending us to Scarborough?! That’s all the way in Northumbria! It couldn’t be further away! Father, this is a pivotal moment in history! I am your successor! Your son! I should be there with you!”
“No. I will not risk it. You and your sister will do as you are told and stay in Northumbria while-”
“You can’t be serious!” Arthur retorted, raising his voice in anger. “You would send both of your children into hiding during formal peace negotiations?! Don’t you see what kind of message that sends?! Are you trying to antagonize Cornwall?”
“Do not question my decisions, Arthur! I am doing what is best for-”
“No! If you’re risking your life for my future, then so should I! Morgana and I should be there, looking Gorlois in the eye when you-”
It was a small phrase. Insignificant. Meaningless. Small enough that any other person would not have given it a second thought.
But for the Iron King, that small, meaningless, insignificant phrase was enough to awaken a deep, deep sense of rage.
The sudden roar from the Iron King caught Arthur completely by surprise. The Crown Prince took an involuntary step back, startled at the outburst. The King raised raised his arm at his son, his other hand balled into a fist. His knuckles turned white as a look of pure rage broke through the surface.
“You will not meet with Gorlois! Not now, not ever! Gorlois will not speak to you. Gorlois will not look at you- and Gorlois will not lay eyes upon Morgana! EVER! Do I make myself clear?!”
Arthur blinked, taken aback by Uther’s sudden rage.
As he looked at Uther’s expression, the Crown Prince could feel any arguments he had fade away. Drained and extinguished by the raw anger that radiated off the person in front of him.
He had not seen that anger in a long time.
“You will do as you are told. You will go to Scarborough, and you will stay there until I tell you to return. That is an order.“
In the castle’s musical parlour, Arthur informed Morgana of what had happened while she was asleep. The Princess took the news fairly casually, barely reacting to both the shock of Cornwall’s proposed truce and Uther’s sudden decision to send the both of them away from the castle.
“We’ll set off for Northumbria at dawn tomorrow,” Arthur explained. “Father has forbidden us to share our destination with anyone. We will remain hidden in Scarborough until Agravaine sends an escort for our return.”
“I see,” Morgana replied tamely. “And how does father expect us to keep our destination hidden from the knights that will guards us on the way?”
Arthur shook his head at her words.
“There will be no knights. No guards. The King fears that spies from Cornwall or Nemeth will find out our location if we draw any attention to ourselves. So we will be moving in secret, disguised as commoners.”
“I see,” Morgana replied, casually sipping her tea. “Wonderful. And we have no choice in this, I assume?”
“Apparently not,” Arthur said, breaking eye contact as he let out an indignant huff. “I don’t agree with him. I should be there in Camlann. By his side. But I can’t exactly speak out against him, can I? Not with father blowing a royal gasket every time I open my mouth.”
“You could let me try,” Morgana offered, placing the tea cup back on its plate. “He listens to me more than he listens to you.”
But Arthur shook his head.
“Not this time. I haven’t seen father look that angry in years. I don’t think there is any chance of changing his mind now. Not even for you, Morrie.”
The Crown Prince let out an annoyed sigh.
“We don’t have a choice. So… let’s just look at it like a long leave of absence. Or a holiday, or something. A holiday in the middle of some bloody, backwater, commoner’s village,” he added, mumbling with a frustrated look on his face. Morgana nodded. She got up from her seat to pour her brother some tea.
At that moment, the large, double doors of the parlour opened, and Guinevere came walking in.
“Milady, you called for-”
“-oh! Milord! P-please forgive my rudeness!”
The Princess raised a single eyebrow. She hadn’t called for Guinevere. In fact, she hadn’t called for anyone. What was Guinevere doing here?
Then she realized.
Oh, wait. Sarah walked past here five minutes ago.
So that’s what happened. Morgana’s brief sense of confusion turned into a tiny smirk as she mentally praised her oldest maidservant. She never did miss a chance to mess with Guinevere. And Morgana couldn’t blame her. It was too much fun not to. Teasing the girl with her crush on Arthur always lifted Morgana’s spirits, even when her mood was sour.
Sarah was the same way. In fact, Morgana had picked up much of her teasing from observing her. Chances were that the maidservant had sent Guinevere here on purpose, just so she would have to spend some time being in the same room as…
Wait a minute…
As she looked upon the two people in front of her, an idea began to form in Morgana’s mind.
No choice, huh?
If we’re gone for weeks anyway… then I might as well enjoy myself on the way, right?
Morgana’s smirk widened. With a devious glimmer in her eyes, the Princess raised her hand and addressed her maidservant.
“Guinevere? Pack your bags. We’re going on a holiday.”