True to his word, Arthur ended up trading his rings away in exchange for lodging. His accommodation of choice turned out to be a small place, tucked away between side streets. It was more a pub than a tavern, with only a few rooms available. They had no extra services. For an overnight stay, the place was barely satisfactory.
Exactly what the Crown Prince wanted. A small place where they could lay low, rarely visited and out of sight.
He was right about the pub being out of sight.
But as it turned out, the place was not exactly rarely visited.
“They’re not going to have a proper bath here, are they?”
“…I don’t think so, Faith.”
“There,” Morgana sighed, finally scrubbing the last bit of dirt off her face. “Back to normal. I am never doing that again. Dear Watcher, the smell was horrendous.”
“It wasn’t that bad, really.”
The princess raised a single eyebrow at the girl.
“I don’t believe you. Try saying that again when the mud isn’t taken from a road that is well-travelled by horses.”
Morgana and Guinevere had ended up sharing a room. There were only two rooms available in this tiny place, and for Arthur to share a room with either of them would have been very improper. But Morgana didn’t mind. Guinevere made for a good roommate – and this way, she wouldn’t have to track her down to ask questions about the city.
Speaking of which…
Morgana finished drying her hands and made her way around her bed. She plopped herself down in front of Guinevere with an expectant look on her face.
“All right, then. Tell me.”
The maidservant blinked, unsure of what she was asking.
“T-tell you what?”
“Everything, of course! You obviously know about this town. More than I do, at least. What is the fair like? Is it better than the festivals that we have at home?”
The redhead awkwardly looked at her feet. Guinevere folded her hands in her lap, in the way that she always did when something made her nervous. By now, Morgana knew the girl’s tells very well. The sorceress also knew how to get around them. She remained silent, waiting for Guinevere to start talking on her own.
And, eventually, she did.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s better. Just… different. More colourful. A-a bit less rigid.”
“I saw the Peteran stones by the entrance when we came in. Is it less rigid because of their faith? Or,” Morgana continued, her smile turning into a mocking grin, “perhaps it is because these people can walk three steps without a foul-tempered Jacoban priest breathing down their necks?”
Her maidservant couldn’t help but let out a giggle.
“Yes. That does help.”
Her little joke seemed to have cleared away Guinevere’s nervousness. The red-haired servant began to smile, her eyes gaining a bit of sparkle as she began to talk to Morgana. As she talked, the sorceress quickly noticed. Guinevere sounded… happy. Cheery.
“It was just a small trader’s fair at first, mil-Faith. But it became really popular when entertainers and performers started coming, too. I remember- I mean, I’ve heard of people performing fire dances and swinging across cords like the ground had no hold on them. It’s really quite amazing. The food, too. There should be a tiny bakery around the corner that makes the most delicious fruit pies. A-and on the height of the festival, all of the women are gifted flower crowns by their partners, and… and…”
Morgana watched her smile falter. A strange, distant look appeared in Guinevere’s eyes.
“A-and… well, that’s what they say about it.”
Morgana frowned. Just like that, Guinevere’s cheery mood had vanished, wilting away like a late autumn flower. Gone. Replaced by a familiar expression. The distant, cloudy stare that hid an unpleasant memory.
Morgana knew that look very well.
“Ah… I should not have talked so much. P-please excuse me. I haven’t even prepared your evening gown yet.”
Guinevere began to stand up, instinctively falling back into her servant habits. But Morgana quickly stopped her.
“Cordelia. We’re in a tiny tavern in Scarborough. There is no evening gown.”
“Oh… right. I should a-at least get you fresh water, then. And a meal. And fluff your bed. And tend to-”
But Morgana shook her head at her maidservant, dismissing Guinevere’s offer.
“I’ll be fine. Worry about yourself today. We’ve been on the road for weeks. I’m sure you’re exhausted.”
She gestured at the bed behind her.
“It’s all right to lie down.”
“Gwen. Lie down. It’s all right. The world will still be here after a nap.”
The maidservant hesitated for a few more moments. Then fatigue seemed to take over. Morgana could see a wave of lethargy wash over the girl as Guinevere slowly grabbed at her head.
“…Okay. Thank you, mil… Faith.”
They really had been on the road for a long time. And, true to her nature, Guinevere had not had a single moment of rest. Morgana knew that, too. Her maidservant was exhausted. She had been for days. But Guinevere wouldn’t rest until the sorceress ordered her to.
The girl was too loyal for her own good.
It didn’t take Guinevere long to drift off into slumber. Before long, the gentle sound of her soft breathing filled the room. Morgana looked down on her as she slept, her mind idly pondering the words of her maidservant.
“Wait, you know the place? Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?”
“…You never told me where we were going, milady.”
“A-and… well, that’s what they say about it, anyway.”
As she looked at the girl in front of her, Morgana slowly came to a realization. It was something that she hadn’t even considered for a very long time. A small smile spread across her lips.
For once… she didn’t need to know.
Keep your secrets, Gwen. I won’t pry.
Not with you.
As the sorceress was lost in thought, a different memory came to her – together with an idea.
“There should be a tiny bakery around the corner that makes the most delicious fruit pies.”
Right around the corner, huh?
Morgana quietly got up from her bed, making sure not to wake Guinevere as she tiptoed her way to the door. She quietly closed it behind her, leaving her maidservant alone in the tavern room. There were only two other doors in the hallway. Morgana knew which one belonged to her brother. She gave a soft knock before pulling on the door handle.
Morgana quietly closed the door again.
Leaving it unlocked, the mymmerkin. We should have a conversation about that later.
A conversation over some fruit pie.
Morgana couldn’t help but drink in the scenery around her as she made her way through the town.
Through the busy, colourful streets, its flowers still in full bloom and thriving.
Past the flirting couples, making use of the festivities to steal a few moments of romance. Past the children that were playing, making mischief and being scolded by their family. Past people laughing, dancing, celebrating, daydrinking and spilling cheap ale everywhere.
Everything was so vibrant.
Their enthusiasm radiated off of them like an aura, vibrating through the crowded streets and affecting everyone who joined them.
It was almost overwhelming.
Instead, the sorceress felt something that she hadn’t felt in a long time.
Morgana felt giddy.
This place… she couldn’t put her finger on it. But there was something about this town.
Something that made her wonder what their stay in Scarborough would bring… and eager to find out.
Unfortunately, Morgana ended up enjoying herself a little too much. The sorceress had been so occupied with taking in the sights and admiring the town’s cheery mood, that she forgot to pay attention to where she was going. Twenty minutes later, she still hadn’t seen a bakery anywhere. Guinevere had said that it was right around the corner of the tavern – it couldn’t be this far away, could it?
I must have overlooked it on the way here, the sorceress thought. Or maybe I should have walked down the other road, instead. It has to be around here somewhere. I’ll go back and check again.
Wait… which way was back to the tavern, again?
This wasn’t good. Morgana had wandered so much that she couldn’t remember which road was the right one. By now, there were almost no people around. Morgana tried to listen for voices – but the lively buzz of the market in the distance reverberated strangly through the back alleys, making it hard to tell which way she was supposed to go. The sorceress started to get nervous. Her instincts told her to find people. She had to find someone and ask for directions.
Before she got even more lost… or worse.
The next corner proved to be her salvation. Morgana peeked her head around to see a middle-aged man, dressed in leathers and casually leaning against the nearest wall. Morgana opened her mouth to call out to him – and suddenly caught herself.
Something about this man gave her a bad feeling. A cold chill, running down her spine and urging her to stay hidden.
But there isn’t anyone else, she scolded herself, dismissing her feelings. It’s just asking for directions.
Morgana gave herself a nod. In a soft voice, the sorceress called out.
“Um… Excuse me. Do you know-“
“Well, I’ll be damned! Today’s me lucky day.”
His reaction startled the sorceress, as did the lustful, predatory look in his eyes. Morgana could feel his gaze trail up and down her body. His eyes stopped on her chest and hips as his mouth widened into a lecherous grin. The sight of it reminded her of a wolf, crouching down moments before it pounced on its prey.
As the man took a step towards her, Morgana could feel that same gut feeling again, much stronger this time. Warning her. Tugging at the back of her mind.
Telling her to leave. Right now.
This time, the sorceress decided to listen.
“Sorry.. I’ll ask someone else.”
As she turned around to leave, Morgana could hear rapidly approaching footsteps – and then an arm wrapped around her shoulders, forcibly restraining her and preventing her from leaving.
“Where’dya think yer goin’, lass? If yer lookin’ fer a good time, I kin oblige…”
The shock of his behaviour instantly caused Morgana to forget about her commoner ruse. A deep sense of anger rose up in her stomach.
“Unhand me this instant, you brute!” the sorceress yelled. But the man didn’t listen. Quite the opposite – her forceful reaction only seemed to excite him, causing him to pull her in even tighter.
“Aye, call me names all ye like. I like ’em foul-mouthed. I’ll even leave yer fancy getup on the ground fer ye afterwards, make it fair.”
Morgana could feel his hand move past her shoulder. It began pulling at her clothes, forcibly reaching down underneath her tunic. The sensation sent her into a panic. She tried to pull free, pushing against his hand to get him off of her – but it was like pushing against a brick wall. Morgana wasn’t strong enough. In desperation, she tried to hit him, yelling:
“Let go of me!”
The man merely laughed at her efforts. His breath reeked of cheap spirits and decay.
“Feisty one, are ye? Makes it more fun fer me.”
She struggled against his grasp, but the man was too strong. Her flailing only seemed to encourage him. Morgana could feel him grab her by the waist, pulling her against him as he began to drag her towards a dark corner of the alley. She could feel his fingers digging into her skin. She could smell the alcohol and decay on his breath, overwhelming her senses. Morgana desperately tried to keep control of her mind as he pressed himself against her, whispering in her ear. Time slowed down. She could feel the magic beginning to slip through-
“I like the ones tha’ put up a fight.”
It was the last thing that he said to her.
Suddenly, Morgana could see a flash of movement to her right. She was violently yanked out of his grasp and pushed to the side as something large and red rammed her assailant into the nearest wall. Morgana could hear a crack, paired with a cry of pain.
But it didn’t stop there. The man kept going, pushing her assailant away from Morgana and further into the alleyway. The gasps of his airway being forced shut barely registered in her mind. Morgana could see another flash of movement – white and black, this time. She blinked. A woman. She positioned herself in front of her, shielding the sorceress from view as the two men in front of them fought.
And their struggle did not last long. Her assailant was flung back like a ragdoll, barely managing to land land on his feet. Morgana could see a red bruise on his jugular as the man covered his throat. He coughed violently.
“Gah- what the plum?!”
“That’s one of ours. Sod off. Now.”
“One of yours?!” the man coughed, still grasping at his throat. “One of yours, me arse! The doxy’s covered in gold and waltzing through back alleys like a common who-“
“Finish that word,” the woman spoke, “and it will be the last thing you ever say.”
It was not an empty threat. As she spoke, her partner’s hand went to the blade on his belt. They both stared him down, silently challenging him.
“Last chance. Sod off.”
“Ugh… You’ll regret this.”
The man threw another dark glare in their direction, before finally deciding to cut his losses. He quickly turned on his heels and hightailed it out of the alleyway. Morgana watched him turn a corner. He vanished from sight almost instantly. She could hear his leather boots resounding against the cobblestones, splashing through a puddle and growing distant before finally fading away.
The sorceress let out a sigh.
She was safe.
As her two rescuers moved to turn around, Morgana instinctively fell into a bow. The commoner speech was all but forgotten. Her instincts made her fall back on what she was familiar with.
They will demand payment.
Morgana could not afford to be indebted to people here. Her ring would do. She gave the two a polite courtesy.
“You have my sincere gratitude. I don’t know what would have happened if it hadn’t been for your timely intervention.”
“Please allow me to-“
The next second, those words got stuck in her throat.
“Are you all right? You look pale.”
It can’t be.
“I… do we know each other?”
A smile spread across the woman’s lips in response to Morgana’s question. But it was a smile that did not extend to her eyes. For a fraction of a second, the woman in front of her looked almost… sad?
“…No. We don’t.”
The woman in front of her instantly noticed.
“Oh, love. Don’t look so lost. It’s all right – you’re safe now. Crooks like that crumble as soon as they’re outnumbered, just like rats. That’s why they stick to alleyways and dark spaces. Avoid those, and you’ll be fine.”
“What are you doing here by yourself?” the man behind her asked. Morgana looked down at the ground, trying to remember the reason that she came here.
Without telling anyone where she was going.
It all seemed so foolish now.
“I was looking for a bakery. I didn’t mean to end up- I should have been more careful. Thank you for… interfering.”
“You’re welcome, love,” the woman smiled. “What’s your name?”
Morgana barely remembered to use her false name. The encounter had shaken her up so much that she couldn’t focus properly. Her mind was a jumbled mess. But the woman in front of her did not seem to notice. Or perhaps she chose to ignore it.
“A pleasure to meet you, Faith. My name is Morgause. The ill-tempered bloke that’s sulking behind me is called Lincoln.”
“I’m not sulking,” Lincoln grumbled. Morgause let out a giggle at his reaction.
“Do you prefer the term “edgily brooding in the corner”?”
He seemed to be a man of very few words. Lincoln sighed as he shot Morgause an annoyed look.
“You’re dragging me into your messes again.”
“Says you, even though you were the one that ran in first. You even left your vielle behind. You know that someone will have stolen that by now, right?”
Lincoln grumbled some half-hearted expletives, aiming his eyes skyward as Morgause let out another giggle. Her laugh sounded as clear as water. The contrast between the two of them was staggering. Morgana caught herself subconsciously trying to analyse the pair, in the same way that she always read the nobles in the ballroom of castle Camelot. But her mind failed her. She couldn’t focus, couldn’t figure them out fast enough. What was their goal for saving her? What kind of angle were they playing? Did they know who she was? Were they waiting for a reward?
With his gaze still aimed at the clouds, Lincoln addressed Morgana. She had expected him to demand payment – but all he ended up giving her was a warning.
“Don’t go heading down alleyways by yourself. They’re not safe. Next time, we won’t be there.”
“Ah… yes. Thank you.”
“Good. Now go home.”
Morgana sighed. Lincoln was right, of course. She should have woken up Arthur and taken him with her. What was she thinking, going off on her own like that? This wasn’t Camelot. It was a strange city where she had no power. Morgana couldn’t call for the guards. And there were no knights to protect her, or to jump in when rowdy commoners got too close. She had been acting like a fool. The bright colours of the town had made her forget herself. Lower her guard. That wasn’t good.
She had to go back.
Wait… which way was the tavern, again?
Morgana looked back to the alley behind her. It didn’t look familiar. She had been so focused on trying to find a bakery that she hadn’t kept track of which streets she had walked through to get here.
Dear lord. Arthur is going to kill me.
The sorceress awkwardly scratched the back of her neck, looking away in shame.
“I… I um… I hate to admit this, but I might have lost my way back.”
Lincoln finally averted his gaze from the sky. He turned his head and made eye contact with Morgana. His eyes softened. Just a little bit. It was barely noticeable.
But it instantly made her feel safe.
“Don’t worry, little lady. Only a handful of taverns in this town. We’ll find yours soon enough.”
The sorceress watched as Morgause extended her arm, gently holding out her hand for Morgana to take. There was something so… familiar… about that gesture. Morgana could not put her finger on it. She couldn’t put it into words.
But… she had never wanted to go with someone more than she did in that moment.
“Come. We’ll take you to where you should be.”