Warning: mildly NSFW.
The King of Cornwall had always been a good talker. It was the first thing that Uther had noticed about Gorlois when they first met. The man had been blessed with a silver tongue, easily befriending nobles left and right. As a young man, Gorlois of Cornwall had been able to charm and court even the most cold-hearted of noblewomen.
In contrast, Uther had not been as blessed in his early years. It had taken many years of hard work to develop his current force of personality. The Iron King had always been jealous of Gorlois’s natural charisma as a result.
But this time, the King of Cornwall could have talked until hell froze over. Uther was not listening to a single word that came out of his mouth. He merely sat across from Gorlois, glaring at him in cross-armed silence. It didn’t matter what he said. Uther knew that none of it was genuine. It was all an act. Any goodwill from the Iron King towards his opponent had vanished like snow on a summer’s day. Evaporated the moment that Uther realized how Gorlois had come to Hadrian’s Wall ahead of time.
Uther knew that he was not here to parley. No, the King of Cornwall was here with ulterior motives. Uther was sure of it. And because of that, the man in front of him could not be trusted under any circumstances. He would not believe a single word that came out of that snake’s mouth. All the small-talk in the world could not obscure the fact that he was hiding something.
And with Bertrand’s help, Uther was going to find out what that was.
There was always an ulterior motive. Always. Even back in the day, when the two of them could still have been called friends. Even back then, his innocent invitations had been nothing but a ruse. A ploy, in order to get close to the woman that was meant to be his.
“You called me brother, once.”
Uther could feel the hatred festering inside of him. He balled his fists, cracks beginning to appear in his mask.
A brother would not take what is mine.
As he read… Bertrand of Camelot finally understood.
“Sweet merciful Watcher.”
Bertrand could feel the hairs in his neck rise up in horror as he realized the implications of the words that were in front of him. His insides turned cold as his heart began to hammer in his chest.
Their suspicions were right. This entire meeting had been a ruse from the start.
And the real parley… was not with Camelot.
The King had to know. Immediately.
He had to-
As Lincoln materialized in Nimueh’s realm, the Faun nearly doubled over in pain. Lincoln groaned as he placed an arm around his stomach. He had pretended to be fine before. But in truth, the Faun was doing much, much worse than he had shown Morgause. Lincoln had tried his best to keep a grip on himself and stay in control of what was festering inside of him. But as he crossed over into Nimueh’s realm, that last bit of control finally began to slip away.
With an inhuman amount of effort, the Faun stepped out of the faerie circle and began to drag himself to the centre of the sanctuary. His hooves splashed into the water, making ethereal, shifting ripples appear underneath him as he walked. It took the Faun a moment to realize that he could not feel those splashes. He couldn’t feel the water swirling around his hooves. The Faun groaned.
His arms and legs were slowly going numb.
He had to get it out of him. Before it was too late.
Before it swallowed him whole.
The Faun stopped at the heart of the sanctuary, halting inches from the guarded wellspring to Tír na nÓg. Normally, he would find Nimueh next to that wellspring.
But not this time. The sanctuary was empty.
He grimaced, peering down into the darkness below. The Lady of the Lake did not know that he was coming. She was not expecting him. She could be anywhere. And if the Sidhe had ventured down into the well… then the Faun was as good as lost. Lincoln had to hope that she was still here. Summoning his last ounce of strength, he lifted his head to gaze at the sky.
“I brought… what you asked for,” Lincoln growled. “Show yourself.”
To the Faun, the few seconds of silence that passed felt like an eternity.
The next moment, that silence was broken. Lincoln could hear something swoop down from above, accompanied by the heavy beating of wings. He could see a gargantuan shadow glide over him.
The Faun could hear the cracking of stone as a massive, blue-scaled talon clamped down on one of the standing stones. Lincoln felt a cold chill as he gazed upon the sharp, bluish claws, each one the size of his torso. He could see a glowing, gargantuan scaled front, its icy blue scales leading into a purple, spiked, thrashing neck. Two massive wings unfurled in front of him, their hide spotted and glowing like the dark night sky.
As a horned, scaled head snaked around the corner, lowering itself to his height and revealing rows of razor-sharp teeth, Lincoln could hear a familiar voice resound in his head.
And Lincoln could feel his last bit of strength leave his body. The Faun let out a pained gasp as he collapsed, crashing down towards the watery ground below. He only barely caught himself at the last moment. The Faun no longer had the strength to get back up.
The giant, horned creature above him leapt off of the standing stones, swooping down towards him. Lincoln could feel the ground underneath him shake as its massive talons crashed down on opposite sides of the wellspring. The water on the ground immediately began to travel towards the dragon. The Faun could see it flood in from all directions. It rose up and surrounded the creature in front of him, enveloping it whole and soaking Lincoln to the bone as the dragon rapidly began to change form.
When the waters parted, the dragon had vanished, leaving behind the old Sidhe’s second form. It was a form that Lincoln knew all too well. With a look of cold, calculated disdain, the Lady of the Lake looked down on the Faun in front of her.
“You are too early.”
“I am… at my limit,” Lincoln growled in response. His arms were shaking. Even speaking was starting to become difficult. Nimueh raised a single eyebrow at his words.
“That is not my concern. Our deal was for you to return after the festival.”
Another twinge of pain shot through Lincoln’s body. He could no longer feel his legs. His eyes were beginning to cloud over, the edges of his vision rapidly staining black. With a groan, the Faun pushed himself up to look at Nimueh. Their gazes met.
“I cannot hold any more. Take it… out.”
This had been their dynamic for as long as he could remember. As a young Faun, Lincoln had taken notice of the darkness that humans fell into so easily. He had wanted to help them. Nimueh had amplified his natural abilities, allowing him to reach the hearts of many mortals through his music. She had taught him how to cleanse their inner doubts, their self-hatred, their festering grudges – everything that corrupted their souls and caused them pain. Lincoln could take it away, drawn out of them and manifesting in the form of a vile, black energy.
What the Sidhe had neglected to mention was that he would be drawing it into himself. Nor did she mention that she was the only one that knew how to remove it permanently.
Even now, the Faun still performed out of compassion. But somewhere along the way, his good intentions had been twisted by the Sidhe, warped and turned against him until Lincoln had found himself forced to dance to her every whim.
Morgause knew none of this.
For a moment, Lincoln could see no change in those cold, disturbing blue eyes. Not a shred of empathy for the pain that he was in. The Lady of the Lake merely looked down on him, not responding to Lincoln’s distress in the slightest.
The next moment, the Sidhe let out an annoyed sigh.
Nimueh closed her eyes. The droplets around her stopped moving, freezing into place as she stretched out her hand towards Lincoln.
“This will hurt.”
Lincoln was not prepared for the agony that followed. The Faun had experienced her draining him of the energy inside his body before – it had always been uncomfortable. Not this time. Lincoln let out a howl of pain, rolling up into a ball as the darkness swallowed him whole. He couldn’t breathe. His insides began to burn. His skin felt like it was on fire. The pain was excruciating. The Faun could see the world around him being swallowed up by a massive, rapidly expanding orb of darkness-
And then it was abruptly pulled away from him, drawn towards the blue-skinned Sidhe. The Faun was instantly able to breathe again. The pain subsided. But his body was still numb, and his vision was swimming. With an inhuman amount of effort, the Faun lifted himself off the ground too look at Nimueh.
Lincoln had witnessed the Lady of the Lake dispel harmful magic countless times over the years. She would gather the negative energy and cleanse it, washing it away effortlessly while insulting the petty, insignificant grievances of mortals. The act always filled her with disdain. Lincoln fully expected the same thing to happen this time around.
But this time, the expression that he saw on the Sidhe’s face… was something else entirely.
“Exquisite,” the Sidhe spoke. “You have done well, Faun. It has been decades since I have tasted corruption this potent. I was right to send you.”
“You… knew it was there?” Lincoln gasped.
“Of course I knew, Faun. Why do you think I ordered you to perform there, of all places?”
The Sidhe placed her hands on opposite sides of the pulsating black orb. Nimueh’s lips pulled into a sinister grin as her eyes began to glow with arcane energy. The Faun watched in stunned silence as he could see the darkness begin to drain out of the orb, seeping into her outstretched fingers.
The Sidhe lifted her head, her horns tilting back as she released the now clear orb into the sky.
“Exquisite,” she muttered again. “I’ll be watching your future with interest.”
When Gorlois realized that his polite attempts at small-talk and reminiscing were utterly fruitless, the air around the stone table had taken on an unmistakably tense edge. To Uther’s surprise, the King of Cornwall actually launched into formal negotiations. That came as a surprise. Uther once again found himself conflicted, wondering for a brief moment if he had been wrong after all.
But then he noticed. Whenever he thought that Uther was distracted, Gorlois’s gaze wandered towards the setting sun. His shoulders tensed up. His brow furrowed.
Gorlois was anxious about something.
An hour into formal negotiations, one of Gorlois’s knights suddenly came into the ruined hall. He swiftly moved over to his King’s side and handed him a scroll. Uther saw the creases in Gorlois’s forehead deepen as the King of Cornwall opened it and read its contents.
Then, Gorlois straightened his back. When their gazes met, the expression that Uther saw in his eyes was very, very different from a few moments ago.
It was hostile.
“Well, then,” Gorlois spoke. “I believe that concludes our negotiations. There is no need to continue this farce any further.”
Uther’s expression darkened as his suspicious were finally confirmed. An involuntary smirk spread across his lips. In a low growl, the Iron King spat:
“So, this was just a trap. I suspected as much. I never knew you to be such a back-stabbing coward, Gorlois. Murdering a fellow King during formal parley. How low you have sunk. The years have cost you more than your youth, it seems.”
The King of Cornwall pushed his chair back, towering over Uther as he rose to his full height. Their gazes violently locked across the table, not unlike two bulls locking horns. Any and all trace of warmth had vanished from Gorlois’s grey eyes, their piercing sharpness bearing a striking resemblance to the cold steel of a blade.
“I retain both my honour and my soul,” the King of Cornwall spoke. “But we both know that the same cannot be said for you. I know exactly what you are, Uther Pendragon. Mark my words – the deepest layers of hell are reserved for monsters such as you.”
“How dare you!” the Iron King growled back. “I merely took what was mine. My conscience is clear.”
Those words seemed to spark a silent rage in the man in front of him. Uther could see his eyes flare up angrily. Gorlois lifted his chin, glaring down on the Iron King as he spat:
“Your conscience is rotten to the core. There will be no redemption for you, Uther. Not after Ygr-”
“DO NOT SPEAK HER NAME!”
Uther’s stone chair crashed into the wall behind him, breaking a piece of stone from the wall as the Iron King lunged forward. He slammed his hands onto the table with a force that sent an echo throughout the entire chamber. Even the guard behind him flinched. But Uther didn’t care. He could feel a raw, red-hot anger overtake him.
“How dare you speak that name!” the King growled.”She was not yours. She was never yours! From the very beginning she belonged to me – and you took her from me!”
The Iron King could feel wave after wave of hatred hit him as the memories came flooding back. The fleeting looks. The carefully orchestrated schemes to catch her away from him. The stone-faced lies. The deception. The feeling of absolute rage as Uther was forced to watch what was his be taken by someone else.
His anger radiated off of him in waves, becoming tangible even on the other side of the table. Gorlois narrowed his eyes in response, an expression of cold, hateful contempt shining through his mask.
“You are rotten to the core, Uther. I may never lay eyes on her again – but neither will you.”
Any hope for future reconciliation between their two Kingdoms died with those words, ripped apart and strangled by the pain of decades-old wounds. The raw hatred and outrage that festered between Gorlois of Cornwall and Uther Pendragon was almost tangible. It wrapped around the cold, hollow chamber like a dark shroud, slowly suffocating everything within. The murderous intent was overwhelming. Both of them responded to it without thinking. The Iron King instinctively went for the weapon on his waist. Gorlois mirrored his movement.
But they had disarmed themselves before going into the chamber. They had nothing to destroy each other with.
And the moment passed. The King of Cornwall sighed and straightened his back. In a cold voice, Gorlois spoke:
“Never let it be said that I am not an honourable man. It will not be by my hand that a formal parley is broken. You and your knights are free to leave as you please. I expect you to honour us with the same decency.”
“But mark my words, Uther. When you die, you will burn. And when you burn, you will burn for eternity.”
The Iron King watched in stunned confusion as Gorlois turned on his heels and gestured towards his men. They instantly followed him out of the ruined hall. The door heavily fell shut behind them, leaving Uther alone in darkness. He could hear the sounds of hooves clattering against the mossy ground.
The Iron King did not follow them out. He couldn’t. His hands were still on the table, grasping onto the stone below as his mind tried to process what had just happened. He tried to find an explanation – and failed.
If Gorlois had not drawn Uther here to kill him… then the Iron King had misread him. But if that was the case… then…
Then what was his goal?
He didn’t know. But the Iron King realized that something had gone over his head. Something important. Something crucial. Something that would inevitably come back to haunt him. Deep down… Uther knew that he had lost. Badly.
For the first time in over twenty years… He had no idea what Gorlois wanted.
The Iron King could feel a strange emotion overcome him. It took him a few moments to realize what it was. When he finally did, Uther could see his knuckles turn white as he clasped onto the table in front of him.
Uther was afraid.
“Please, this way. Our other guest has already arrived.”
“I would like to thank you for your trust and willingness to attend this parley. It is a personal honour of mine to finally be able to welcome-”
But the man to his left interrupted him, crushing any chances that the future King of Nemeth had at political small-talk.
“No. No chatter.”
“Indeed,” the woman nodded. “I enjoy the idea of swiftly handled business. Allow us to get right to the point.”
The Prince could see a grin spread on the man’s face. He remained silent, allowing the woman on his left to speak for the both of them.
And she did.
“Richard of Nemeth. The Kingdoms of Cornwall and Essetir formally offer you an alliance.”
The Prince’s lips pulled into a calculated, prideful grin.
He had won.
“I am deeply honoured. Please let your Kings know that I accept.”
“A toast, my friends. To a mutually beneficial future.”