One month earlier…
“What is the meaning of this?!”
“I believe I’ve made myself perfectly clear, Rodor. Your son’s engagement is hereby annulled.”
The throne room filled itself with gasps and echoed whispers as King Rodor raised his arms, shaking his head in confusion at the man in front of him.
“We had an agreement, Uther! We’ve been working towards this union for over a decade! You can’t do this – are you out of your mind?!”
The Iron King did not answer. He merely stared Rodor down, not budging a single inch. The surrounding nobles watched the spectacle with open mouths from shock. Something like this had never happened before.
From behind Rodor, the voice of Richard echoed through the throne room.
“Surely, there must be some kind of misunderstanding. My lady, have we done anything to offend-”
But Uther cut him off. The Iron King took a step forward, moving his arm in front of Morgana and partially shielding her from view.
“You will not address her. This decision was mine and mine alone- and my decision is final. I offer you my sincere apologies, King-”
“Apologies?!” Rodor spat. “You think that an insult of this magnitude will be forgiven with an apology?! This is outrageous! You’re betraying everything the Five Kingdoms stand for!”
Kind Rodor was known as a reasonable man, calm and soft-spoken even in his arguments. Not this time, though. The elderly King was beside himself with anger, his hands shaking with rage as he yelled at Uther.
Behind Uther’s back, Arthur snuck a suspicious glance towards his sister. But his gaze was met with a small, denying shake of her head.
The Crown Prince of Nemeth finally stepped forward. Rodor immediately fell silent, leaving the rest of the conversation to his son. The room watched as Richard raised his arm, shaking his head at Uther.
“Think about what you are doing, my lord. Nemeth is a very forgiving Kingdom. But even we have our limits. You have given us your word. We have granted you every form of aid imaginable in return – food, economic support, military assistance – and this is how you intend to repay us?”
Richard took another step forward. When he spoke, the threat beneath his words was unmistakable.
“I strongly advise you to reconsider, Uther. For the sake of our alliance. Do you really want to go down in history as the King with no honour?”
“My word is final. There will be no union between you and Morgana. But there are others in our Kingdom. We can offer you a different-”
It was such a meagre excuse for a compensation that Uther’s offer was taken exactly as it was intended – as another insult. And the Crown Prince reacted to it as expected. His eyes flashed with anger as he glared daggers at the people before him – first Uther, and then Morgana.
“Save it. This humiliation will not stand, Uther. Mark my words. You will regret making an enemy of Nemeth.”
The Crown Prince abruptly turned around. He began to march out of the throne room, followed closely by his father. Uther said nothing to stop them. He just watched in silence, his hands folded calmly behind his back.
“Tarquin. Prepare the men,” Rodor barked. “We are leaving.”
One by one, the nobility of Nemeth trickled out of the throne room. They did so in varying degrees of outrage. Scorn and icy glares were thrown Uther’s way in spades, making their disdain for the Iron King’s actions abundantly clear.
There would be no coming back from this.
Moments before they exited the chamber, Richard turned around. His eyes gaze trailed past the small crowd that still remained, locking onto his sister.
“Mithian. Come here. We are leaving.”
But the Princess hadn’t moved. Mithian stood on the other side of the throne room, frozen like a deer facing a hunter’s bow.
“Did you not hear me? I said come here.”
“I… I don’t-”
As Mithian muttered those words, steadily looking down at the ground beneath her, her brother’s expression slowly shifted from anger into something else. Something cold. Richard moved back, cutting through the throne room and marching straight towards his sister. Mithian began to shake at his approach. The Princess trembled like a wind-blown leaf, her eyes growing large with fear as her brother reached her. The entire room watched as Richard raised his hand, grabbing for Mithian’s arm-
Before being abruptly and forcefully cut off.
The sound of shocked gasps echoed through the room, swiftly being followed by outrage. Several of Nemeth’s guards instinctively grabbed for their weapons, finding nothing but air – weapons were not allowed in the throne room. The shocked, angry murmuring grew in intensity, before being drowned out by the low, commanding voice of Arthur.
“That’s close enough.”
The crowd watched the stand-off between two Crown Princes in shock. Richard and Arthur faced off against each other, aggressively making eye contact and staring the other person down. The tension between them became almost palpable. It would not have made much of a difference if they had actually crossed blades.
Eventually, Richard spoke up.
“What is the meaning of this?” he growled.
“It is exactly what it looks like,” Arthur replied, standing his ground. “Mithian will not be leaving this castle with you.”
A flash of rage crossed Richard’s expression.
“Do you realise what you are doing, Pendragon? This is an act of war.”
The Crown Prince of Camelot merely crossed his arms in response. He wasn’t budging. Arthur stared Richard down, refusing to move as he silently challenged the man in front of him.
“Take your leave, Richard.”
Arthur could see the mask of the man in front of him crack. A cold, ruthless glimmer reflected from the depths of his eyes as, for a split second, a murderous rage radiated off of him. When Richard spoke, his voice had lowered to a tone that only the two of them could hear.
“You will regret this, Arthur Pendragon.”
The Crown Prince of Camelot straightened his back.
“…No. I don’t think I will.”
Arthur let out a sigh, silently watching the diplomatic envoy of Nemeth as they departed from the castle. Word of what had happened in the throne room was already spreading among the other nobles. Soon, all of Albion would know that Uther had broken his word – and with it, violated the alliance.
The Crown Prince didn’t understand why Uther had done that. He couldn’t wrap his head around it, no matter how much thought he gave it.
He didn’t understand Uther’s actions at all… just like he didn’t understand Morgana’s.
She said that it wasn’t her.
For the first time in many, many years… Arthur did not believe her.
He couldn’t blame her. Arthur knew how his sister felt about Richard. Their marriage would have been a disaster waiting to happen. He hadn’t agreed with his father’s decision, and had tried to get Uther to change his mind. He had even tried to get Morgana herself to speak up.
Apparently, she did. And she had succeeded.
Like she always did.
Arthur couldn’t help but wonder… why she hadn’t done the same for him.
As Arthur made his way through the castle, his thoughts absent-mindedly led him to the residential area, and towards Mithian’s door. There was not a single person in the throne room that had not noticed her reaction to Richard’s anger. And it had affected the Crown Prince more than he had thought. Arthur couldn’t get her frightened, deer-like eyes out of his mind.
He had to check on her. It was the least he could do.
As Arthur turned the corner, he was surprised to see two heavily armoured knights standing guard outside of Mithian’s chambers. Both of them fell into a salute as they saw Arthur coming.
“At ease, soldier,” Arthur replied, putting his hand up. “Why are you guarding this door?”
The knight to his right nodded.
“Yes, sire. Royal adviser’s orders, sire.”
“Ah. I see.”
A small smile spread across his lips.
“Why don’t you go for a walk? I have some business to discuss. I’ll recall you when I’m done.”
Being heir to the throne came with significant perks. By now, there was not a single servant in the castle that did not listen to Arthur’s commands without question. Except for Sarah – but she listened to nobody, including her own mistress. Arthur watched as the two knights took off, walking away from him without a single moment’s hesitation.
As soon as they had disappeared around the corner, Arthur stepped towards the door and knocked. He wasn’t sure what he was going to say to her. But Arthur couldn’t help but feel responsible for her being there.
A few moments of silence passed. Then, he could hear Mithian’s voice calling out from the inside.
Arthur opened the door and stepped into the guest chambers. He found Mithian on the other side of the room, still in the same dress as earlier, looking back at him with a forlorn expression on her face. She gave him a practiced, almost mechanical bow as he approached.
Her quiet, emotionless tone made him feel terrible. Arthur suddenly found himself second-guessing his actions in the throne room. Had he made things worse? Did he end up doing the wrong thing, after all? By keeping Mithian from leaving with the rest of Nemeth, she had turned from a tournament guest into a glorified prisoner. And she became that way because of him. He did that to her.
Had he made a mistake?
“I-I thought you should know,” Arthur spoke, awkwardly trying to make conversation. “Your brother and the rest of Nemeth have departed from Camelot.”
She let out a small sigh. Arthur watched as Mithian slowly wrapped her arms around herself, breaking eye contact with him and looking down at the ground.
“Will you be moving me to the dungeon, my lord?”
“The dungeon?” Arthur replied, confused. “Why would I do that?”
“I know my family. And Richard is not the forgiving type. This is enough for them to declare war on Camelot. By keeping me in the castle, you’ll have an enemy within your walls. The most fitting place for someone like that is inside of a dungeon, my lord.”
She already sees herself as a prisoner, he realized. Arthur could feel his feelings of doubt slowly turn into guilt.
He should have just kept his mouth shut.
“Mithian… if I overstepped in the throne room, I apologise. It wasn’t my intention to turn you into a prisoner. Or a hostage. I just thought… look, if you prefer, I can probably arrange for you to go back to-”
The effect was instant. Arthur watched in stunned confusion as Mithian’s expression immediately changed from resignation to near-panic.
“No- no, please! Don’t send me back to Nemeth!”
But Mithian didn’t give him the chance to finish his sentence. She took a step towards him, speaking frantically as a look of desperation crossed her face.
“I know things! I- I have valuable information that I can share with you! I’ll tell you everything! I know how many troops we have, and what their military strategy is, and what their weaknesses are, and the secret routes that lead in and out of the castle and- and-”
“Please. I am begging you, my lord. Please don’t send me back. You have no idea what Richard will do to me now that… now that I’m…”
“Now that I’m no longer useful.”
The Crown Prince was speechless. He watched the woman in front of him in shocked silence, temporarily unable to form words. Arthur knew the gravity of what she was offering him. What Mithian was proposing to give him was nothing short of treason. A betrayal of her entire family. If she told Camelot their military secrets, Mithian would never be welcome in Nemeth again – if she returned, they would have her head.
She would go that far… to avoid Richard?
“You.. you fear him that much?”
The Princess of Nemeth did not answer, skittishly avoiding eye contact and looking down at the floor. But she didn’t have to answer. Her silence spoke volumes.
Arthur had always wondered. He remembered Mithian as a bright, inquisitive girl when they were younger – but as they grew up, she had become more and more withdrawn. She had stopped laughing. Lately, she would only speak when spoken to. He had always wondered why.
Now he knew. Arthur could feel the hairs in the back of his neck rise up at the realisation – which was immediately followed up by an even more disturbing thought.
If Uther hadn’t done what he did, if he hadn’t annulled the engagement and kept Morgana from leaving with him, then in a few years…
She might have become just like Mithian.
Arthur took a step forward, his feelings of guilt making way for determination.
“Mithian. Look at me.”
She did. The Princess of Nemeth slowly lifted her head, making eye contact with him.
“Listen to me. I’m not sending you to Nemeth. Nobody is sending you anywhere.”
“…You’re not?” she muttered, her voice barely audible. Arthur shook his head in response.
“No. I’m not. And you’re not going to the dungeons, either. You have my word.”
“None of this is your fault. I will not see you punished for it.”
The effect of his words was noticeable. Arthur watched as, slowly, Mithian’s shoulders relaxed. She exhaled, the fear vanishing from her expression. Mithian gave Arthur a small nod.
“Thank you, my lord. You are very kind.”
“It is the least I can do,” Arthur responded. A faint smile spread across his lips at the sight of her grateful expression. His feelings of doubt vanished. The Crown Prince straightened his back, nodding to himself.
I did the right thing. I know I did.
“This is how it will be,” he continued, thinking out loud. “You will stay at the castle as my guest, under my protection. You will not be harmed in any way. If you do not wish to return to Nemeth, then you can call Camelot your home, for the time being. How does that sound?”
“…I’d like that, my lord.”
“Good. I will have the servants prepare proper chambers for you. We’ll take care of you, don’t worry.”
She gave him another nod, staying silent this time. Arthur took that as his cue to leave. Once again, the Crown Prince had his work cut out for him. He had a lot of strings to pull. But he know that he could do it.
Arthur was already halfway out the door when Mithian’s soft voice called him back.
“Yes?” he replied, turning his head to look back at her. His gaze was met with just the faintest hint of a smile. Barely noticeable.
But it was there.
Downstairs in the music room, Uther was interrupted from his moment of silent contemplation by the arrival of his daughter. Morgana had been waiting for him to be alone all day, ever since the scene in the throne room. The anger visible on her face was nothing compared to the rage that she felt on the inside.
His announcement hadn’t just taken Nemeth and the other nobles by surprise. Arthur and Morgana had had no idea, either.
“So,” she growled, approaching her father from behind. “Care to explain your sudden change of heart?”
“Whatever do you mean?” Uther asked. He barely acknowledged her presence. The Iron King kept gazing into the fire, not even turning around to address her. It made Morgana feel even angrier.
So close. She had been so close to freedom, and giving Arthur his best chance at the same time.
But Uther had broken everything.
“Don’t treat me like a fool, father,” Morgana spat. “A month ago, you sent Arthur and me all the way to Scarborough for the mere chance of making peace with Cornwall. Today, you all but declared war on Nemeth. What in Watcher’s name are you thinking?”
“My decisions are none of your concern,” Uther replied, finally turning around to look at her. Morgana blinked at his answer. Her father had never responded like that before. Not once. Uther had always taken care to explain himself in great detail, so she could learn from his example.
This was new.
Morgana didn’t like it.
“What do you mean, none of my concern?” the witch answered angrily. “Your decisions affect Arthur and me! This double engagement was your idea! It is imperative that we maintain a good relationship with Nemeth- those are your words! You’re the one that started all of this! What in Watcher’s name are you doing, going back on your word now?! Richard will declare war over this!”
“So be it. They were getting too powerful either way – it would have come to this sooner or later. Best it be on our terms.”
Morgana couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Had he lost his mind?
“Our terms?!” she snapped at him. “Do our terms include breaking two unions on the same day? Do they include making us seem untrustworthy to every single noble that attended the tournament? Father, we gave them our word! In public! In front of the five bloody Kingdoms! This will break trust beyond repair! It will take years to recover from-”
But Uther had only listened to one part of Morgana’s tirade. He crossed his arms, replying to her halfway her sentence and cutting her off.
“One union,” the Iron King spoke. “I annulled one. Yours. Arthur’s betrothal shall proceed as planned.”
“Mithian of Nemeth is too valuable a chess piece to give up. Surely you can see that, too-”
“We just publicly humiliated their king!”
“-and her blood will give us a claim on Nemeth’s lands in the future. She is too important to give up.”
“What about Arthur?!”
“This is in his best interest,” Uther calmly replied, not responding to his daughter’s anger at all. “When the time comes, he will do his duty.”
Are you joking?
Morgana could feel the anger taking a hold of her. She couldn’t keep it inside. Uther’s hypocrisy was the final straw. In one fell swoop, Morgana had lost not only her path to her witch coven, but any chance of an alliance for Arthur’s future. All her hard work had been for nothing.
She couldn’t take it. The witch dropped any form of polite speech as, in an instant, rage took over.
“That is rich, coming from you!” she spat. “You’re the one that sent two Kingdoms into war by deciding to marry our mother! In whose best interest was that?! Because it sure wasn’t ours! The least you can do is give your son the same freedoms that you took! Are you seriously saying that you’ll break my union on a whim, but you have no problems with keeping Arthur shackled to-”
“It was not a whim.”
“Then what in Watcher’s name was it?!” Morgana screamed. “And why won’t you do the same for him?! How could you-”
“I will not have you questioning my decisions,” Uther growled. “I do what is best for our Kingdom. After today, Nemeth will turn into an enemy, which makes Mithian a valuable hostage. Rodor has no other sons. If Richard dies, she will be his sole heir to the throne.”
“One of her sons will become King of Nemeth. And I will make sure that that child is a Pendragon.”