“Yes,” Guinevere nodded, her lips pulling into the smile of a pleasant memory. “It was never this big in the past. Before it became a-a trading fair, it was only a one-day festival. The markets weren’t this big before. But there was always music a-and dancing. And baking. I remember how the morning streets always smelled like freshly baked bread and pastries. They would give us the leftover cupcakes for free sometimes. It was… nice.”
Arthur smiled at the gleam in Guinevere’s eyes. She looked happy. Relaxed. In hindsight, going for a tour of the fairgrounds had been the right decision. The Crown Prince had never seen Guinevere be this comfortable around him before. Perhaps his plan had worked, and the maidservant had finally forgotten who she was talking to.
All that was left was for Arthur to forget, too. As they strolled through the busy streets of Scarborough, the Crown Prince looked at the crowds around him with interest. He wanted to know more.
“So, there was dancing and baking. That can’t have been all of it. What else did you do?”
On the other side of the square, Morgana had asked roughly the same question to Morgause.
“What do we do? What don’t we do?” the woman laughed in response, spreading her arms wide in elation. “Today is a festival of celebration and gratitude. It marks the end of summer and greets the dawn of Autumn, and the beginning of the harvest season. It’s perfect for celebrations – so we do everything! We dance, and laugh, and feast and have fun!”
Morgause let out a chuckle when she saw Morgana’s doubtful frown.
“Okay, there is a little more to it than that, of course. It’s not just merrymaking. Some people are bound together in handfasting ceremonies, or they confess their love to each other with bouquets and flower crowns. A select few even carry the first strands of wheat uphill so they can offer them in rituals.”
“Wait, wait- what?” Arthur smirked, raising a single eyebrow as he cut into the maidservant’s explanation. “They carry bits of wheat away? Why?”
“Oh… w-well, it’s a tradition, mi- Trevor. The people here have been doing that for years.”
To Arthur, the thought alone sounded ridiculous. He couldn’t imagine the people of Camelot doing the same. They weren’t allowed to, of course. But even if they were, what kind of merit could that possibly have? Carrying grains into the wilderness? It was a complete waste of time. Without thinking, the Crown Prince voiced his thoughts.
“Why on earth would you want to do something like that?”
A pinkish blush spread across Guinevere’s cheeks. The maidservant broke eye contact with the Crown Prince, looking down at her feet as she awkwardly fiddled with the sleeves of her tunic.
“…I don’t know.”
Morgause’s answer was very different, her voice confident, her eyes bright and gleaming.
“They’re an offering to nature, of course. And a gift to the Fae. We offer it to show gratitude, and to gain favour for a good harvest this year. It doesn’t have to be wheat, either. Most people bake it into bread or pies or pastries. Of course, the average person won’t actually go near the faerie hills. They leave it outside their doors in the evening instead.”
It took a moment for those last few words to register in Morgana’s mind – and when they did, their meaning gave the sorceress pause. She blinked.
“Wait – faerie hills? That’s where you go to offer them?”
When Morgana was younger, Sarah and Millicent had always warned her to stay away from faerie hills. You were not supposed to go near them, as they did not belong to the world of mortals. Those who came too close or harmed a faerie mound ran the risk of being spirited away, or falling ill… or worse. As a result, everyone steered clear of them. Not even the knights in the castle would disturb the faerie mounds. Once, Sir Bertrand had made his entire regimen take a two-day detour across dangerous swamp lands just so they could avoid the fairy mound that lay on their route.
It seemed that the people of Northumbria did not share his fear.
“They really visit those?” Morgause asked, surprised at the woman’s words. “Won’t they get taken away? Or anger the creatures that live there?”
“Not if you come bearing gifts,” Morgause chuckled. “But you’re right – not everyone should go. Not everyone can. Only a select few people actually make the journey.”
The sorceress couldn’t believe how different things were here. Back in Camelot, they were not even supposed to mention topics like this in conversation. Let alone admit to possessing knowledge of the Fae. They were the origin of all wicked magic, after all. Just talking about them was enough to land you on the pyre.
But this was more than just talking about it. No, this was something else entirely. The way that Morgause spoke – it was almost as if she had been there herself. As if she had borne witness in person. Morgana could feel a strange sensation rise from the depths of her mind as she pondered the woman’s words. She couldn’t help it – something about her was so fascinatingly familiar. Morgana could not explain it. Not even to herself… But it felt right. A shadow of a smile spread on Morgause’s lips as she looked at Morgana’s rapidly changing facial expressions. The sorceress could feel herself being drawn to the woman in front of her, like a moth was irresistably drawn to a flame.
How tempting was this new, curious unknown.
The sorceress had to know more.
“What kind of person can go?”
Morgause’s smile widened.
“Only those who are welcome.”
Arthur and Guinevere had circled back around to the market. In the short time it had taken them to walk there, the mood between them had cooled to an awkward chill. Arthur knew why. Ever since he had ridiculed the fair’s customs, Guinevere had fallen painfully silent. The Crown Prince was kicking himself in hindsight. His mocking question had been beyond inappropriate.
You complete mymmerkin, he thought, mentally scolding himself. She even told you that she used to live here. Commoners are ridiculously superstitious. And you mocked her like a complete fopdoodle. What were you thinking?
He had to make it up to her somehow. But Arthur wasn’t used to salvaging a conversation. Usually, people were so occupied with trying to get in his good graces and kissing up to him, that they just ignored any slights. And even if they didn’t, then Arthur’s reputation was caught and carefully adjusted by Morgana later.
But not this time. Arthur racked his brain, trying to think of a way to turn the mood back around.
When they passed the third baking stand, an idea suddenly popped into his head.
“Hold on. You said that the people here offer pies and pastries to each other as a show of gratitude, right?”
“Y-yes,” Guinvere replied. The Crown Prince gave her a single nod.
“All right. Wait here, please. I’ll be back in a moment.”
He turned and left, leaving Guinevere alone as the Crown Prince quickly moved towards the stand. He did not stay there for long. Within a minute Arthur returned, sporting a smile on his face and with one hand hidden behind his back.
“Mi-Trevor? What are you doing?” Guinevere asked, a puzzled expression on her face as she watched him approach. Arthur didn’t answer, instead gesturing at her arm.
“Here. Hold out your hand.”
She did. Guinevere watched as the Crown Prince played a single cupcake in her outstretched palm. It was still warm, having just come out of the oven. The faint, pleasant scent of fruit mixed with sugar drifted off of it. Guinevere blinked in confusion.
“W-what is this?”
“Strawberry fizz cake,” Arthur replied. “I’d get you something larger, but I only have two rings left and a flower bouquet is not entirely appropriate.”
But the maidservant shook her head at him.
“No, I mean… why?”
Arthur chuckled as he began to explain.
“I haven’t shown you proper gratitude yet. You didn’t have to come with us all the way to Scarborough. Or care for us on the road as much as you did. My sister and I have inconvenienced you terribly, and you have not complained about us bringing you with us even once.”
As he talked, Guinevere’s cheeks once again flushed bright pink, turning into a deep crimson as the Crown Prince praised her. Guinevere awkwardly tried to look away.
“I… I was j-just doing my job-”
“Perhaps,” Arthur nodded, keeping eye contact with the maidservant. “But that doesn’t change things. You have been acting incredibly selflessly. I won’t forget that. Thank you, Cordelia.”
“You deserve more than one cupcake, of course… but I can’t exactly do that while we’re here. Forgive me. Right now, a strawberry fizz cake is the best I can do.”
When he saw the expression on her face, his smile faltered.
What’s wrong? Don’t you like it? Watcher, you’re not allergic to strawberries or something, right?”
“N-no!” Guinevere quickly replied. “I’m not allergic.”
“Oh. Oh, good.”
Guinevere finally managed to break eye contact with the Crown Prince, looking down at the ground. Her cheeks were burning. In a voice that was almost completely lost in the buzz of the crowded market square, she softly muttered:
“They’re my favourite.”
“N-nothing, mi… Trevor.”
As the two women crossed the town square, passing Arthur and Guinevere in the distance, Morgause suddenly stopped walking. Her head turned to the left as she looked over her shoulder at something.
“Oh, right. There’s one thing I forgot to do,” Morgause spoke. “I always participate in this one. Today is a day of confessions, after all! This one is one of my favourites.”
“What are you talking about?” Morgana asked curiously. The woman simply smirked at her, ignoring her question.
She did. And it did not take Morgause long to come back. Within moments she had dived in and out of the crowd and returned to Morgana’s side. Her hands were behind her back, hiding something from view.
“Left, or right?”
Morgause’s smile widened. She stepped towards Morgana, deftly placing something on top of her head before the sorceress could see what it was. Morgana reached for her hair in confusion. Her fingers came into contact with what felt like… petals?
“…A flower crown?”
A confused frown crept across Morgana’s brow as the sorceress recalled her words from before.
“Wait, aren’t those supposed to be used as-”
“Confessions of love, yes,” the woman replied, smiling mischievously. Morgana raised a single eyebrow in response.
“You’ve known me for a day.”
“What, should I take it back?” Morgause teased her. She reached out to grab the flower crown from Morgana’s head – but the sorceress quickly stepped back in response.
Morgause’s laughing echoed through the busy town square, bouncing off the colourful stalls and shops. The sound was strangely magnetic. Morgana watched as she revealed her other hand, which held two more flower crowns. The dark-haired woman placed one on her own head, as well.
“You have more?”
“Of course!” Morgause nodded. “I always get at least three of them. Usually, I give them to complete strangers, just so I can see the looks on their faces. It’s always hilarious. I feel like doing something different this year, though.”
She turned to face Morgana, a mischievous glimmer appearing in her eyes. Morgause placed a finger against her lips as she held up the final flower crown.
“Do you have an idea for what we should do with this last one?”
Even that mischievous glimmer was familiar. It was an expression that Morgana had worn many times, herself. Her own lips pulled into a smile as an idea began to form in her head.
“…I think I know someone. Oh- but don’t tell him what it symbolizes.”
Exactly one hour after leaving Lincoln in the center of the town square, Morgause’s head suddenly perked up. She turned to look at in the direction of the well.
“Oh, I think he’s starting!”
Morgana followed the woman’s gaze. She could see Lincoln in the center of the square. He was holding an old, wooden vielle. A few curious bystanders had stopped to watch. As the seconds passed, that number slowly began to grow. Even though Lincoln was completely silent and motionless, somehow his presence rapidly became almost impossible to ignore. More and more people stopped what they were doing, turning their heads and casting curious glances at the bard.
As Lincoln raised his instrument to his shoulder, Morgause began to pull on Morgana’s arm. She led her to a corner of the square.
“Come on! This way. You’ll want a good view of this, I promise.”
Strength of presence or not, Morgana found herself only glancing at the bard from the corner of her eye. She was used to ignoring and downplaying bards just like that. They were a dime a dozen in Camelot. Despite Morgause’s enthusiasm, the sorceress wasn’t all that interested in witnessing this one’s performance, either. She’d prefer to walk around the market and talk to Morgause some more. After all, bards and jesters of all kinds were all too common in court, and Morgana had seen her fair share of half-baked-
Then Lincoln started playing, and the sorceress instantly forgot about court. Morgana nearly forgot about herself as she was pulled in by the scene that unfolded in front of her.
Because the sound that came out of that vielle was nothing less than divine. Morgana watched in stunned wonder, mesmerized by the way that Lincoln’s hands deftly moved back and forth across the instrument. The man moved as gracefully as water. Not a single movement was wasted. And yet every stroke of the bow vibrated with an energy, a vigour that the red-haired bard had not possessed before. Lincoln almost seemed like a completely different person. The brooding stranger that had stood sulking in the tavern corner had all but vanished.
In his place stood someone else entirely. A confident smile played on the man’s lips, his gaze distant and aimed at something that Morgana couldn’t see. Lincoln effortlessly moved around the town well, his feet not disturbing a single flower in his path as his hands summoned forth something incredible. It was mesmerizing. The sorceress could feel the melody wash over her, filling her with an emotion that she didn’t even know she could feel. She couldn’t identify it. She could not give it a name. Morgana blinked in confusion, completely enchanted by the bard in front of her. His song reverberated through the small, cramped town square, spreading out in every direction and turning every head.
And it had an effect. Within moments, a large crowd had formed. Men and women began to cheer and clap at his performance, an excited buzzing that steadily grew louder as the melody before them increased in intensity.
“Well? What do you think?” Morgause grinned. Morgana found herself at a loss for words. The sorceress could barely pull away from Lincoln to focus on the woman next to her.
“…yes,” she mumbled.
“It gets better. Watch this.”
The woman skipped away from Morgana…
And joined Lincoln in the middle of the town square. His melody changed, the bard’s eyes now focused on her. The bells attached to her clothes chimed in unison to the melody, adding to the song even more as Morgause began to dance. She twirled and spinned, moving with a vigour that made her earlier cheeriness seem like nothing in comparison. Her every movement matched perfectly to Lincoln’s melody. When the rythm swelled, so too did her dance. When she turned, so did he. Every step, every movement, every stroke of the bow flawlessly complimented each other. Morgana found herself unable to look away.
She wasn’t the only one.
Morgana could feel goosebumps spread across her arms as Lincoln’s melody increased in intensity. The notes succeeded each other faster and faster, and the sorceress could feel her heartbeat pick up in response. The two of them had begun to dance in unison, him not missing a single stroke of the bow, her movements still matching his melody perfectly. Morgana could feel a strange sense of power radiate out from the two as they danced. It felt… oddly familiar.
What is it?
The sorceress couldn’t remember. She couldn’t remember why it felt so familiar. As she watched, Morgana could feel herself slipping into a strange, blissful haze. She could not recall what was outside of the sun-kissed town square anymore. Or what she had been so worried about before she came here.
Morgana couldn’t really remember anything.
But… she had never felt so alive. Morgana could feel her heart soar, overtaken by waves of euphoria as the sorceress was swept up by the moment.
Ah. So that’s what this feeling is.
Remembering no longer mattered.
As Morgana allowed herself to be swept up by the music, twirling round and round in that sun-kissed town square… she could feel a weight lift off her shoulders that had been pressing down on her for months. The sorceress felt light as a feather.
She finally felt alive.
Morgana wished for that moment to last forever.
The sorceress smiled.
Ironically, out of everyone in my cast, Morgause was the first one with a theme song.