Morgana met with what would become her first real mentor in a sun-kissed flower field, sheltered and guarded from prying eyes by the ring of trees that grew around the sanctuary. The two witches stood facing each other, one expectantly, the other hesitant. A doubtful expression played in Morgana’s eyes. The young witch was nervous. And she couldn’t hide it. Maybe it had something to do with where she was, or perhaps it was because she was finally with her own people – but ever since the dance at the festival, Morgana had been unable to slip back into her poker-faced mask.
And, even more strangely… she found that she didn’t want to.
Monoroe looked almost giddy with excitement. She nodded at Morgana, an eager, confident grin playing on her face as she placed her hands on her hips.
“All right! Let’s see what you’ve got, kid. Are you ready?”
“Yes. I think so,” Morgana nodded.
“Good! Let’s start easy. I want you to make the grass around me grow. Can you do that?”
Morgana closed her eyes, withdrawing into herself and focusing on her surroundings. This was something that she had done many times as a child, out in the woods, together with Merlin. She knew how to do it. She knew that she didn’t have to see in order to feel the life that flowed around her. The flowers that grew at her feet. The trees stretching out high above her head, reaching for the sky. The grass, swaying gently in the morning wind. Morgana focused, instinctively reaching out to the different life forms around her-
And she was abruptly yanked out of her trance by Monoroe pulling on her arm. Hard. Hard enough to break her concentration on the spell, bringing Morgana back to herself as she heard Monoroe yell:
“Whoah- stop! Stop! What are you doing?!”
Morgana blinked in confusion at the witch’s sudden panic. In a small voice, she replied:
“Don’t do it like that!” Monoroe replied. “You’ll pass out on me in seconds!”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t mind that right now – are you all right? Are you feeling woozy? Here, sit down before your legs give out on you and… wait…”
This time, it was the witch’s turn to blink in confusion. Baffled, Monoroe looked at the young woman in front of her.
“…You… you’re not tired? Not even a little?”
“No. I feel fine.”
“You just released enough magick to make the average person faint from exhaustion. You must possess a very deep well of power not to notice a difference like that.”
“Well of power? What do you mean?” Morgana asked, tilting her head quizzically at the words. The expression on Monoroe’s face instantly shifted from confusion to dread as the witch realized what was going on.
“…You’ve never even learned the basics, have you? Sweet Goddess, how are you still alive?”
“You can’t be forceful like that,” she continued, frowning at Morgana. “Casting any kind of magick properly requires finesse. Delicacy. You can’t flood yourself with energy, or you’ll end up breaking your own body. Do you do that every time you cast?”
“I don’t do it on purpose,” Morgana muttered, deflated. “It just… happens.”
Monoroe shook her head at the girl in front of her. She placed a single hand on her hip, frowning as she began to explain the first of many lessons.
“You’re releasing way too much magick. Compare it to this. What you are doing is the equivalent of using a waterfall to fill a wine glass, while hoping that the glass doesn’t break. You are that glass. Every time you flood yourself with magick, you’re placing a ridiculous amount of stress on your body. It’s a miracle that you haven’t seriously injured yourself already.”
“I… I didn’t know that,” Morgana muttered softly, placing her hands over her heart as the memory came back to her. The gesture was not lost on Monoroe.
“You did, didn’t you? So that is what we felt when you joined us in the circle. Whoever taught you magick deserves a firm smack on the head. This is the most basic of lessons. They should have taught you proper control before anything else.”
“She… didn’t really teach me.”
“Her name was Millicent,” the budding witch said, scratching the back of her head. “She explained a lot of things to me when I was small, but… other than healing magic and calming down when my emotions got the better of me… she never wanted to teach me. Not how to cast.”
“Why not?” Monoroe said, her frown visibly deepening. Morgana shrugged.
“She said that it was too dangerous for me to learn. I had to figure it out on my own. It took a very long time. Sometimes, Merlin managed to sneak away and practice with me in secret. We made a tree grow. But he didn’t really know what he was doing, either. Not back then.”
“Are you saying that you taught yourself how to cast?”
“I… I suppose so,” Morgana nodded, unsure of herself. “I still don’t really know what I’m doing, honestly. I’ve never had an actual teacher. Mostly it’s… well-”
“Instinct?” Monoroe replied, finishing her sentence. Morgana nodded in affirmation.
“Well, I’ll be damned. Looks like Morgause was right. You have a natural affinity for it.”
Her eyes softened as a smile spread across her lips. The witch took a step towards Morgana, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. Her fingers felt surprisingly rough. But when she spoke, Monoroe’s voice was warm and gentle.
“Don’t worry, kid. You’re in good hands. I promise.”
Morgana instantly found herself relaxing at the sound of her voice. It took the budding witch a few moments to figure out why. Then she realized. Just like Morgause and Lincoln, Monoroe’s presence made her feel safe. Calm. Welcome.
“Glitonea is a skilled healer, and Tyronoe has a ridiculously large well of magick, too. When you’re ready, they’ll know how to help you.”
“In the meantime… How about this? I’ll teach you the basics. Let’s make sure that you don’t kill yourself next time you try to cast something big.”
Back in Scarborough, Arthur and Guinevere were in the middle of enjoying their second town tour.
Or at least, Arthur was. The Crown Prince had suggested that they visit the town walls next, and was pleased to see that Scarborough gave a magnificent view from its ramparts, too. Both of the city itself and of the vast, blue ocean behind it.
But as the day progressed, the maidservant had steadily begun to grow silent. By early afternoon, she barely responded to Arthur as the Crown Prince fruitlessly tried to make small-talk. Her eyes were cloudy and troubled. Arthur could tell that her mind was miles away, silently pondering and hesitating over something that had nothing to do with the magnificent view.
He couldn’t leave it alone. The Crown Prince sighed.
“Cordelia, what’s wrong?”
“Ah… nothing, milord,” she muttered. But Arthur refused to take that for an answer. He raised a single eyebrow at her.
“That is twice now that you’ve slipped up with our names.”
“I’m sorry, mi- Trevor.”
“No, that’s not what I mean,” the Crown Prince replied. “I’m not trying to scold you. But something is obviously troubling you. What’s wrong? Have I offended you in some way?”
“N-no, of course not!”
“Then what is it?” Arthur pushed. “You can talk to me.”
“Ah… well… it’s…”
Guinevere sighed, breaking eye contact with the Crown Prince as she looked down at the streets below.
“I… I have somewhere I’d like to visit, milord.”
“We can go wherever you like. We have at least another week before we’re due to return. Where do you want to go?”
The maidservant slowly exhaled. In a small voice, she said:
“…The town graveyard, milord.”
Arthur had not expected that answer. He blinked, looking at Guinevere in silence as he could see the girl struggling with herself. Searching for the right words. Her hands folded in front of her lap, neatly, as they always did whenever Guinevere was struggling to speak up. By now, the Crown Prince knew her tells pretty well. He knew that she needed time to verbalize what was on her mind.
So, he waited. And his patience paid off a few seconds later.
“I don’t think that I will ever come back here again. So, before we leave… I’d like to pay my respects to my mother.”
Arthur suddenly found himself at a loss for words. He could feel a heavy weight begin to press down on his stomach. She doesn’t realize, he thought. Of course she doesn’t. She’s just thinking about her mother.
But he couldn’t stay silent. Not this time. Guinevere’s naivety was going to end up hurting her. He couldn’t allow that. And so the Crown Prince spoke out, very carefully weighing his words as he did so.
“Cordelia, if your mother was tried as a witch-”
“She was not a-a witch.”
“And I believe you. But if the town thought that she was… then it would be no use to go to the graveyard.”
The Crown Prince blinked. He had not expected that question.
“Because they would have… done what happens when they sentence a magic-user to death. They would have thought her to be… a corrupted soul. A witch. There wouldn’t be anything left to pay respects to.”
Guinevere turned away from Arthur, facing the distant blue sky. Arthur had expected anger in response to his words. But when the maidservant spoke, her voice was surprisingly mournful.
“Even witches get buried, milord. They’re… they’re still people.”
The Crown Prince bowed his head, allowing the conversation to end there. But as Arthur followed Guinevere down, those words echoed in his mind.
No… that felt wrong. In the back of his mind, Arthur could hear the voices of other people – stronger ones, drowning out the maidservant’s gentle compassion. Arthur recounted the horror stories, the cautionary tales of the devastating effects of magic. The curses. The monsters that prowled the woods at night. The executions.
Their winter of starvation.
To Arthur, the word witch was so strongly tied to everything that he had been taught to fear, that he could not see the two separately. He could not see the difference.
Are they really?
No, they’re not.
Something that powerful…
… isn’t human.
It did not take the two of them long to find their way to the town church. Scarborough was a large town, taking pride in its colourful citizens and wealthy merchants. The graveyard lay in the shadow of its church. It was a Peteran building that was neither imposing nor intimidating in the way that Camelot’s church was. Scarborough’s graveyard began at the side of that building, stretching around the back and extending almost all the way to the rocky shore.
Most of that graveyard was well-maintained. The gravestones were lovingly kept and tended to by both the Peteran priests and the family members of the deceased.
But not all places received that same loving care.
For not all deaths in the town were honourable.
Arthur frowned, reaching out for Guinevere when he saw the maidservant freeze and hesitate to enter.
But she cut him off.
“A-actually, milord… would you mind waiting outside for me? I… need to do this by myself.”
“Of course. I’ll be right here.”
She opened the gate, turning back towards him as the maidservant stepped through.
Arthur stayed behind, watching over her in silence as the began to trail from stone to stone. They would be here for a while. A frown spread across his brow. Her previous thoughts returned, mulling through the back of his mind and darkening his mood as he watched Guinevere.
The Crown Prince had never even thought about it before. But now that it was staring him in the face, Arthur couldn’t help but wonder.
What did Camelot do with its witches after they burned?
The Crown Prince had no idea. The realization made him deeply uncomfortable.
Do we bury them?
Where would they even be buried? They won’t be with our citizens. They can’t be placed together with honourable people. Witches and sorcerers are corrupt. Tainted. An insult to everyone who is buried honourably. Their remains would haunt anyone nearby in the afterlife.
After all… they are wickedness incarnate, aren’t they? All of them, tainted and corrupted as soon as they start using magic. Even Emrys. Deep down, they’re monsters.
Do monsters deserve to be buried?
The Crown Prince was pulled out of his rapidly darkening thoughts by the voice of Guinevere, ringing out from the other side of the gate. Arthur had been so deeply lost in thought that he only caught the tail end of her sentence.
“What?” he asked, quickly shaking his head to come back to reality. Arthur focused on the girl in front of him.
And the Crown Prince immediately noticed the change. Guinevere had turned around to look at him. That cloudy, distant, mournful gaze had vanished, making way for an almost panicked confusion. Her hands were clasped around the fabric of her dress, her knuckles having turned white. When she spoke, Guinevere’s voice was riddled with worry… together with an ominous, underlying sense of dread.
“M-my mother’s grave.”
“It’s not here.”
The budding witch stood half-hidden behind the standing stones, not wanting to be noticed and making her presence as small as possible. Morgana silently watched the woman in front of her. She couldn’t place her finger on it, but…
Something about this woman felt familiar.
A shadow of a frown crept up on her face as she focused on Tyonoe’s features.
Her eyes kept returning to her scars. The woman was riddled with them, her fair skin marred and mangled by gashes that were way too large to have been normal cuts. As she moved, Morgana could see other scars. Beneath her collar bone. On her wrists. At the base of her neck, vanishing underneath her clothing. She could even see a few on her legs, carefully hidden from sight by the multi-layered tunic.
Morgana was taken out of her observations by the sound of footsteps.
“You’re curious, aren’t you?”
The budding witch looked to her right. Glitonea, the fourth member of her coven, had approached her from behind. Morgana could feel a red blush creep up on her cheeks. She quickly looked away, embarrassed at being caught.
“I- I’m sorry. I don’t mean to pry.”
But the witch merely smiled at her.
“It’s all right, love. You’re one of us now. You’ve earned the right to know.”
That smile quickly faded away, replaced by a mix of pain and regret.
“It is not a happy tale. If I tell you, I have to ask that you do not bring it up around her. She is trying to forget.”
“I won’t. You have my word.”
Glitonea nodded, accepting her promise. In a soft voice, the witch began to speak.
“Tyronoe has been in this sanctuary for a very long time. Probably the longest out of all of us. She used to be one of the town healers, hiding under the title of alchemist and curing Scarborough of their sick whenever she could.”
“One day, the major’s son fell very ill. His disease was a dark one, and Tyronoe’s magick was not powerful enough to stop the boy from dying. After his death, his family became convinced that she had poisoned the child out of spite. They took away her position as village alchemist. Then, when the harvest failed, they became convinced that she had destroyed it.”
“Because they were afraid. And it is very easy to turn against the source of your fear. They arrested her on charges of witchcraft. She never received a fair trial. In exchange for her years of kindness, the town sentenced Tyronoe to burn to death on the pyre.”
“Tyronoe had always had a special affinity to fire. On the night before her burning, a Sidhe came to her, speaking to her through the flames on the torches in her cell. She begged it to save her, and it ended up offering her a deal. Tyronoe accepted. That night, she became permanently immune to fire. The heat cannot harm her. Tyronoe can walk through raging wildfires and feel nothing.”
“That is incredible!” Morgana gasped. Then she realized, and her frown instantly returned.
“Wait, but if it saved her from the flames, then…”
“Then why does she still look like that?” Glitonea spoke, finishing her sentence for her. Morgana gave a short nod and watched as the witch’s eyes hardened.
“Because Sidhe can be incredibly cruel when they want to be. It kept its word, yes. They cannot break any promise. It did save her from the flames.”
“But it did not save her from the pyre. Nor did it rescue her from the wrath of the townsfolk, when they realized that they had discovered a witch that would not burn.”
“Have you never noticed? Human beings hate what they fear. And more than anything, they fear what they do not understand.”
“That is horrible,” Morgana muttered. “She was just trying to help. Why did nobody help her? Why didn’t they speak out? Why do they always… why do we always-”
The woman next to her bowed her head.
“It is what our people have come to expect. Throughout the years, our help has always been misunderstood, and our kindness has always been rewarded with pain and suffering.”
“Magick always comes with a price,” the witch whispered, her eyes downcast. “We all must pay it. The larger the gift, the bigger the cost. And for the gift of magick itself…”
“We pay the biggest price of all.”