As the year’s warm Summer faded into Autumn, Arthur and Morgana’s stay in Scarborough came to an end.
“Everything is packed, mil-Trevor. I’ve informed miss Goth of our departure, and handed in our room keys, too. We’re ready to go.”
“Good. Thank you, Cordelia.”
The Crown Prince glanced over to the bed behind the maidservant. His sister had been quiet and sullen all morning, absent-mindedly staring out of the window or curling up on the mattress as Arthur and Guinevere packed. He would have scolded her for her behaviour – but at the moment, his mind was plagued by bigger worries.
As their stay in Scarborough drew to a close, Arthur’s thoughts were inevitably pulled back to the situation at home. To the danger that they had left behind. The war brewing to the South, and their father’s noble decision to attend parley without them. To send them away to safety, hiding in Northumbria while he risked his life.
He hadn’t heard any news from home since he left Camelot.
Is father still alive? Did the negotiations with Cornwall succeed? Or did they fail? Was father captured? Victorious? Executed? Safe in Camelot?
Arthur didn’t know. And as their departure approached, that fact very quickly began to suffocate him. He couldn’t stand not knowing.
No more. Arthur had to know his future.
They had to go back.
“Faith. It’s time to leave.”
“Faith? Are you coming?”
As the group set out on their two-week journey back to Camelot, the landscape around them slowly began to change with the arrival of Autumn. The sky clouded over. Previously green leaves turned into shades of yellow and red, pulled from their trees by cold winds as the temperature began to drop from a gentle warmth to an uncomfortable chill.
And, as the world around them slowly chilled and darkened… so did they.
Arthur silently looked up at the castle’s massive walls and towers. Camelot still looked exactly the same. It had not changed a bit, from the grey stones in the walls to the rain dripping down from the roof tiles and onto the muddy streets. It was a scenery that Arthur had seen many, many times in the past.
So… then why did it feel different? The Crown Prince could feel the heaviness in the air as he looked upon his home. It took Arthur a while to work it out in his head. But eventually, the realization hit him.
Ah… I see. It’s not Camelot.
That feeling of heaviness came from him. The Crown prince could sense the pressure bearing down on him, the weight of an unknown truth lurking behind those stone walls. Now that he was here, Arthur suddenly found himself wishing that he’d made them all stay in Scarborough for just a few more days.
The Crown Prince let out a sigh, finally voicing his thoughts to his sister.
“What do you think happened? At Hadrian’s Wall?”
“I… I don’t know, Arthur,” Morgana muttered softly. Arthur shook his head, casting sideway glances at the commoners as they passed them by in the rain. Most of them did not recognize the pair – or perhaps they were simply too busy to care. The Crown Prince could see no relief in their expressions. No surprised joy, or celebratory mood over being told good news.
That could only mean one thing.
Negotiations had failed.
“Do you think father made it out safely? Do you think he’s still…?”
“I don’t know,” Morgana muttered again, in an even quieter voice this time. Her lack of answers did nothing to console Arthur. But he couldn’t blame her for not knowing. After all, neither did he.
It was time for answers. The Crown Prince turned to face his sister as he braced himself for the inevitable future.
“Come on. We need to go to the throne room.”
For Watcher’s sake, don’t address me with Your Majesty when we arrive.
I’m not ready for that.
As he began to move towards the stone bridge, Arthur could suddenly feel himself getting pulled back. A soft hand clasped around his wrist. Surprised, the Crown Prince turned back towards Morgana. She had never grabbed hold of him that strongly before. Arthur could feel himself frowning in confusion as he saw a strange expression in his sister’s eyes.
Was that… dread?
“Arthur. I don’t want to.”
The Crown Prince was baffled. He had not expected that. Was she that scared to find out what had happened to Uther? Even more than he was? Arthur hadn’t seen Morgana show that much concern for their father’s wellbeing in a very long time. Lately, she’d always brushed him off, rejecting Uther whenever he tried to show affection. Arthur had thought that she didn’t care.
Apparently, he was wrong.
But he couldn’t go in there without her. Not by himself. If Uther was dead, and Arthur was the next King… then he could not face that announcement alone. He could not do that on his own. He didn’t want to. The Crown Prince replied on instinct, without thinking.
“I need you.”
“Of course you do. I’m the best asset you have, after all. Admit it. You’d be blind without me.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Arthur replied, confused by the abrupt, drastic change in behaviour. But Morgana brushed him off, pointing in the direction of the stone bridge.
“Get us inside, then. We’re getting soaked by the rain. At this rate, you’ll have both of us catch a cold.”
“Wha- you’re the one that’s holding us up!”
Arthur grumbled under his breath as the turned back towards the bridge. Sometimes, his sister’s behaviour baffled him. But he couldn’t let himself be distracted by that now. The Crown Prince shook his head, putting the moment out of his mind as his thoughts automatically returned to his father.
Right now, Arthur had more important things to worry about.
As the Crown Prince entered the throne room, his hands reflectively balled into fists. The cold, hand-carved throne sat noticeably empty. Arthur was used to his mother’s throne going unused – Uther did not allow anyone to even touch it – but the Crown Prince had hoped to see his father’s greying face frowning at him as he entered. Chastising him for returning to the castle so late.
But Uther wasn’t there.
He needed information and he needed it fast. Arthur’s gaze was drawn to the right, towards two familiar figures. Elyan and Lancelot. They would know. As Arthur approached, he immediately picked up on the scowl on Elyan’s face, as well as his aggressive body language. The two of them seemed to have been in the middle of something when Arthur and Morgana entered the throne room. Normally, he’d see what the problem was – but all of that would have to wait. Arthur scraped his throat, announcing their presence to the two.
And Lancelot and Elyan immediately fell into a salute.
“My lord! Welcome back, sire!”
Not Your Majesty. Oh, thank the Watcher, Arthur thought, breathing a small sigh of relief. Lancelot gave him a polite nod.
“It is good to see you back unharmed, my lord. Shall we formally announce your return?”
“No, that can wait,” the Crown Prince responded, after briefly glancing at the cold, empty throne. “Bring us up to speed, Lancelot. What has happened while we were gone? What is the situation with Cornwall? Did negotiations succeed?”
Lancelot shook his head at him. The young nobleman quickly began to fill them in on everything that had happened while they were gone.
“No, my lord. They were a failure, unfortunately. Cornwall has re-declared war on us. They have begun to march on our outer villages a little over two weeks ago. We have sent out a garrison to drive them back, and are currently recruiting among civilians.”
“…I see. And the King?”
“Has returned safely, my lord,” Elyan replied. “As did most of the Knights that accompanied him to Hadrian’s Wall. There was only one casualty on our side. Sir Bertrand is dead.”
That gave Arthur pause.
“Bertrand?” he finally asked, confused. “Why would they kill him? What do they gain by killing our general, but not our King?”
“We don’t know, sire. King Uther has not given us any more details. He has been holed up- I mean conferring in the war chamber with Lord Agravaine all week.”
That told Arthur everything he needed to know. It was time to return to being a Prince. Negotiations had failed. They were still at war. And from the sound of it, things were about to get ugly.
It was time to put his mask back on.
“Thank you,” Arthur replied, summoning confidence to his voice as he spoke. “I’ll speak with the King myself to hear the details. Please let the others know that I have arrived. And gather the other Knights-in-training in the courtyard tomorrow. That includes Gawain. I’m giving you all new instructions for the upcoming tournament. We need to start thinking about defensive measures.”
He had expected the two of them to get on with it immediately. They normally did what they asked, when he asked, whenever Arthur gave them instructions. But this time around, both of them hesitated. He could see Elyan scratch the back of his head as the would-be knight glanced over at Lancelot.
“Err… I can’t, my lord,” he finally said. Artur raised a single eyebrow.
“You can’t what?”
“I… I can’t gather Gawain.”
“And why is that?”
Lancelot’s frown deepened. Arthur experienced a strange sense of déjà vu as the nobleman replied:
“Gawain is locked up in the dungeon, my lord.”
For a moment, all Arthur did was give Lancelot a blank, expressionless stare. It took a second for his mind to process that piece of information.
Then, the Crown Prince of Camelot let out a very, very deep sigh.
“What did he do this time?”
Gawain had seen the inside of this particular dungeon before. Multiple times, in fact. To the point where the rough, uncomfortable bedding, now stripped of its matress, was almost starting to feel familiar. The small spider web in the corner had grown in size. So had the spider. It was almost the size of his fist now.
Gawain let out a sigh.
How many times has it been, now?
Five. Five times.
The young redhead could hear the sound of footsteps outside of his cell. He did not have to lift his head to know who those footsteps belonged to. From the other side of the bars, Gawain could hear Arthur’s deep, commanding voice call out to him.
“I believe that I made myself very clear when I warned you that, the next time you were caught brawling without a good cause, I would leave you in here for a month.”
The Crown Prince let out a tired sigh. Gawain could hear the disappointment in Arthur’s voice as he said:
“You promised me that you would not assault people for slander. I heard your full list of charges from the guard. Battery. Obstruction of justice. Resisting arrest and assaulting a member of the guard. That sounds like a broken promise to me, Gawain. What do you have to say for yourself?”
The cold, disappointed rejection in Arthur’s voice was more than Gawain could handle. Slowly, the young redhead rose up from his wooden cot, careful not to move his upper body. He lifted his head to look Arthur in the eyes.
And Morgana let out a gasp.
“Oh, sweet Watcher. Gawain.”
He hadn’t realized that she was there, too. The young redhead breathed in sharply – and immediately winced, gritting his teeth to try and mask the pain. With a look of frustration, Gawain growled:
“I didn’t assault anybody.”
Gawain could see Arthur’s look of shock very rapidly turned into anger. His hands balled into fists as a cold, steely look of silent rage appeared in his friend’s eyes.
“Gawain. Who did that to you?”
Gawain hung his head. The movement stung a little, but he tried to keep a straight face.
In truth, it wasn’t just his mouth that was injured. The encounter had left Gawain with a badly healed split lip, but the young redhead was fairly certain that he had a couple of cracked ribs and a sprained wrist, too. His thoughts darkened as Gawain recalled the events from a few days ago. He didn’t want to answer Arthur’s question. But the Crown Prince repeated himself, forcing him to reply.
“Gawain. Tell me who did that.”
The young redhead looked away, aiming his gaze at the ground as he answered Arthur’s question.