Disclaimer: big spooders.
“Did you take the oath?”
As he knelt beside the druid, something strange happened. Arthur could see the hesitation in the man’s eyes. He saw the fear and suspicion reflected back at him. But as Arthur kept eye contact, silently willing for him to answer, that suspicion suddenly faded. Arthur could see his shoulders relax. His breathing slowed. The druid leaned back into the chains as he looked up at the Crown Prince…
Arthur recognised the small, fragile bit of trust that the man in front of him had entrusted him with. He knew that he’d been given a chance. He couldn’t betray that trust. Arthur needed to build on it – and the Crown Prince instinctively knew how to do that. He turned around, making eye contact with his uncle.
“Agravaine. Go take a walk.”
The Jacoban priest hadn’t expected that. Visibly indignant, he sputtered:
“What? Sire, I don’t think that’s a good-”
“I wasn’t asking,” Arthur replied. He looked over at the guards that flanked the druid’s cell.
“And take your men with you. Don’t come back until I call for you.”
“…My lord, this is a dangerous prisoner-”
“Whose interrogation is entirely up to me,” Arthur said, cutting him off mid-sentence. “Now do as I command.”
The Jacoban Priest didn’t have a choice. He had to obey. With a face that looked like he had just swallowed a lemon, Agravaine turned around on his heels and stomped away. The two guards left with him. One of them was still trying to get bits of leafy vine out of his armour. It had wormed its way through the entire suit, embedding itself between metal layers and wiggling through cracks in the way that only plants could. The Crown Prince could see little bits of leaf and vine scattered all over the stone floor.
Even the vines hadn’t harmed him.
It wasn’t like what had happened to Bayard.
Somehow, this was different.
Arthur waited until the sound of his uncle’s footsteps had faded away into the distance, listening intently for the telltale signs of Agravaine listening in. When he was sure that the two of them were alone, Arthur turned back towards the druid and opened the shackles on his arms.
With a metallic clang, the chains fell back against the stone wall. The man slowly lowered his arms. He exhaled, rubbing his newly freed wrists. The pressure from the chains had left raw, painful red marks on his skin. From underneath his brow, the druid tentatively glanced up at Arthur.
The Crown Prince gave him a single nod in response.
“What’s your name?”
“I have met sworn druids before, Basil. I know that your tenets keep you from hurting anyone. I’d like to trust you at your word. That means one of two things- you’re either being framed, or you’re trying to protect someone else. Which is it?”
Arthur watched as the druid folded into himself. Basil turned away, avoiding eye contact as he mumbled:
“…It was me-“
But the Crown Prince shook his head at Basil, not accepting his answer.
“Don’t lie to me. I know what the eyes of a killer look like, and you don’t have them. The guards told us what happened in the market. Not a single person was harmed. You could have done so easily, but you went out of your way to restrain them instead. The only things standing between you and freedom are me, and that chain around your leg – and you haven’t even glanced around for a way out.”
Arthur’s frown deepened.
“I know that you didn’t do it, Basil. I need you to tell me who did.”
But Basil refused to answer. The druid stubbornly avoided eye contact with Arthur, looking down at the floor as a heavy silence filled the air between them.
The Crown Prince let out a sigh in response. Arthur tilted his head, his voice softening as he tried a different approach.
“I am trying to help you, Basil. You will find me to be more merciful than my father. But I can’t do anything for you if you don’t tell me what happened. Who are you protecting?”
A silence fell between the two of them. For a moment, Arthur was convinced that he had lost him. The man wasn’t going to answer. Arthur was already starting to think of other things he could try instead – but his instincts were still guiding him, and right now, instinct was pointing towards silence.
So, Arthur said nothing. The Crown Prince sat down on the cold stones opposite Basil, looking at him quietly.
Without doing anything.
Just looking at him.
And it worked. Eventually, after almost a minute of silence, Basil opened his mouth.
“It… it was an accident,” he muttered softly. “We were assaulted. At the inn. We were just passing through. We only planned to spend one night here – I thought that we would be safe.”
“What happened?” Arthur pressed. “Who threw that man out of the window?”
The Crown Prince watched as a pained expression appeared in Basil’s dark eyes.
“My son. Yarrow. He’s not even three years old. He can’t control his magick yet. He doesn’t even realise that he has magick.”
“A… a toddler did this?” Arthur replied, shocked. He had not expected that answer. When Agravaine had told him about the murder, the Crown Prince had imagined all kinds of monstrous sorcerers as the culprit – but a spellcasting toddler had not been one of them.
“Eye witnesses saw him hurl a man out of a window. The victim died from injury.”
It’s… different… isn’t it?
…No. It isn’t. He’s a danger.
Too late, Arthur realised that he had said those last few words out loud. And the druid in front of him heard it. Basil abruptly raised his head, catching Arthur’s gaze as dread and suspicion rapidly began to flood back into his eyes.
“He’s not a danger,” Basil protested, his voice pleading. “He’s a toddler. He doesn’t know what he did. One of the patrons at the inn tried to rob me – he assaulted me in the hallway and almost broke my arm in the process. Yarrow saw it happen. He’s only just learned what hurting someone means. He was trying to protect me. He doesn’t even understand what ‘death’ is yet.”
The druid let out a groan, resting his head on his hands in distress. When he spoke, his voice had faded to a soft whisper.
“He shouldn’t die for that. Please. You can’t kill him for that. You have to help us.”
“Please. I am begging you.”
“That’s right, guppy. We just have to wait.”
Guinevere grabbed the wooden horse off the floor, holding it out for Michael to distract him from the doorway.
“Look, it’s horsey! Do you want to play with horsey?”
“That’s right,” she smiled. “Horsey wants to go on an adventure. He wants to play treasure hunt with you. Do you want to go find some treasure?”
At the mention of the word “treasure”, the toddler’s eyes started to sparkle. Guinevere could see Michael’s pouty face vanish like snow on a warm summer’s day. He began to giggle with anticipation. Treasure hunts were his favourite game. Guinevere knew that she could use it as a distraction – by some miracle, he hadn’t grown tired of the game yet.
The tiny toddler waddled over to the fireplace, clutching the little toy in his hand. Bits of ash and dust went flying everywhere as he enthusiastically began to sift through the contents of the hearth. It didn’t take long for an enthusiastic babble to follow his digging. Within seconds, Michael had found the small, shiny pebble underneath the ashes.
Guinevere always made sure there was one in there to find.
As she watched her little brother play, Guinevere’s gaze was pulled to the small toy on the ground. He’d all but forgotten about it, dropping it the instant he found the pebble.
Wasn’t it a bunny?
Guinevere groaned. It was as if she was coming up from a deep, deep fog. The memories faded from her mind as she regained consciousness, slipping away like soft sand trickling through her fingers.
She… wasn’t with Michael.
What had happened?
The young redhead could feel a pounding headache coursing through her skull. It felt like someone had taken a sledgehammer to the back of her head. Even the light that seeped in through her closed eyelids was painful. Guinevere let out another groan, covering her eyes with her the back of her hand as she tried to get her bearings.
Slowly, her other senses came back to her. The young maidservant could smell the familiar scent of rose oil. She knew that scent. Guinevere focused on it like a homing beacon, slowly drawing herself out of the fog as she became aware of her surroundings. She recognised those cream-coloured curtains, heavy and thoroughly disliked by her mistress – and yet, Morgana never let her change them. The maidservant could see the window in the distance, the delicate white of the walls, the familiar blue pattern on the bedsheets beneath her-
Why am I on Morgana’s bed?
Groggy and unbalanced, Guinevere tried to get up. She wasn’t supposed to lie here. She had to get off- but she couldn’t. The entire world around her was spinning. Guinevere rolled over and pushed herself off against the silk bedsheets, letting out a groan as the spinning sensation instantly got worse. She could feel a strange sense of nausea push its way up from her stomach. It was not a good feeling.
But she couldn’t stay there. She had to know what happened.
With an inhumane effort, the young maidservant managed to lift herself far enough to see into the chamber. Most of it were still blurry shapes. She could vaguely make out the toddler’s tiny, angry form in the corner. His hands were still balled into fists, and he was staring up at the other person in the room. Guinevere could see a familiar black-and-white maid uniform. She tried to focus on the face above it, but it took a while for the blur before her eyes to go away. As her vision gradually sharpened, Guinevere could hear a strict, female voice echo out, directed at the toddler next to her.
“We do not hurt people when we’re angry,” Sarah scolded. “Not with fists, and not with magick. Hurting people is bad. Do you understand?”
“Dada-” the toddler protested, but Sarah cut him off mid-word. Guinevere watched in silence as her mentor’s voice lowered to an icy chill.
“If you hurt Guin again, I will not find your father for you. You will be all alone. Is that what you want?”
The toddler’s face pulled into a shocked expression, like she’d just doused him in icewater. His lower lip started to tremble. The boy looked up at Sarah, his eyes filling with tears as he wound himself up for a different outburst – but she looked back with a strict glare that immediately made him stop. Thoroughly scolded, the toddler looked down at the ground.
Sarah’s cold anger had completely subdued him. Guinevere couldn’t help but feel amazed – the young redhead hadn’t even been able to get him to calm down, let alone listen to a word she said. But to Sarah, it had come so easily. Like it was second nature.
Like she had done it countless times in the past.
Guinevere could feel another wave of nausea overcome her. She groaned, leaning back onto the mattress. That caught Sarah’s attention. The young redhead watched as she instantly made her way over to the bed.
“Thank the Watcher. I was starting to think that you’d never wake up.”
“You tell me,” Sarah replied. “I found you passed out on the floor. I cleaned the cut on the back of your head, but I’m pretty sure that you have a concussion, too. The toddler woke up not long before you did.”
“H-how long was I out for?”
We were so bored!
“A few minutes at most,” Sarah replied. “I saw you struggling with a laundry basket on your way up and came to help you. That toddler was inside of it, wasn’t he?”
The young maidservant nodded. Sarah’s worried expression slowly faded away, making room for suspicion and anger.
“What is going on, Guinevere? Why are you hiding that child?”
“I… I didn’t have a choice,” Guinevere muttered. “His father gave him to me to hide. Then they arrested him. In the middle of the crafts market. The boy can do magic-”
“I gathered that,” Sarah said, raising a single eyebrow.
“Y-yeah. His dad caused a-a distraction so that we could escape. I had to find a-a place where he would be safe.”
“And of all possible places, you decided that it was a good idea to hide the boy in Uther’s castle?” Sarah asked, baffled. “How in Watcher’s name did you reach that conclusion?”
“I… um… panicked.”
“I gathered that, too,” Sarah replied, her voice dripping with sarcasm. She shook her head at the girl in front of her.
“I swear to the Watcher, you two are going to be the death of me someday.”
“I… I’m sorry,” Guinevere muttered, her voice barely rising above a whisper. Sarah let out a sigh.
“What’s done is done, I suppose. There’s no changing it now. Honestly – I should be expecting these things at this point,” the woman continued, raising her hands in annoyance. “I’m supposed to enjoy some time off this week, but noooo. Of course not. First Morgana takes off, and now this. I’m convinced that the Watcher is doing it on purpose at this point. Does anyone know that you took the kid?”
“I don’t… think so.”
“Good. Let’s keep it that way. The last thing we want is for people to know that you’re involved in all this. We’ll need to smuggle him out of here as soon as possible. And we’ll need to disguise him, too. He looks way too much like a druid kid. There should be a set of Morgana’s old toddler clothes lying somewhere around the castle- I’ll see what I can find.”
“I… I’ll help,” Guinevere replied, once again trying to push herself up from the bed. But Sarah shook her head at her.
“You will do no such thing. You got knocked on the head so hard that you passed out, Guinevere. You will stay put.”
“I… I’m fine,” Guinevere mumbled, trying to ignore the pounding in her head and the nausea in her stomach. “I shouldn’t be on milady’s bed- I’ll m-move-”
“You will stay right there, and you will do so without complaint,” Sarah commanded. “A blow that is powerful enough to knock you out, is powerful enough to cause brain damage. I have called for Gaius to examine you. We can trust him. Now hush.”
“I said hush. Don’t make me whack you with my spoon.”
Arthur didn’t know what to do.
The Crown Prince had been forced to decide over people’s fates in the past. Even before he took over court trials from his father. He had faced dilemmas before. But up until now, the decision had always seemed obvious. Bringing justice had been easy. The man who had assaulted his brother was guilty, and deserved a jail sentence. The woman stealing bread for her children simply needed a job- and finding one for her in the kitchens had been as easy as snapping his fingers. The baron exploiting his serfs instead of protecting them deserved to have his title stripped away.
Some judgements had not come so easily. But up until now, it had never been impossible to follow the law and do the right thing at the same time. Arthur had never felt morally compromised before. Not once. He’d always known exactly what to do.
“Please. You can’t kill him for that.”
The laws on sorcery were clear. So were the laws on murder. They had been drilled into his head Arthur was able to walk, repeated again and again until he could recite them in his sleep. He knew what he was supposed to do. Anyone found guilty of murder, treason or sorcery was to be executed. There were no exceptions. Taking a life, betraying the King and practicing magic were the worst crimes that a person could commit.
“He is a toddler. He doesn’t know what he did. He doesn’t even understand what ‘death’ is yet.”
“Go away, Morrie.”
“You stole my cake. Say you’re sorry.”
He couldn’t do it.
He couldn’t go through with it. He simply couldn’t. There were lines that Arthur could never cross, and condemning a toddler was one of them. Arthur could never harm a child. He knew that Yarrow was not at fault – how could he be? He was only two years old.
It’s not him.
It’s his magic.
Yarrow wasn’t the culprit. He was a victim. Magic itself was the issue. Arthur groaned, burying his head in his hands as he realised the root of the problem.
It’s always bloody magic, isn’t it?
But Arthur would not condemn a toddler for that. He couldn’t. The thought alone filled him with revulsion. Arthur had to cover his mouth, wincing and forcing down the sudden bile that rose in his throat as the image of a burning pyre flashed before his eyes.
He’d never forgive himself.
But then… what was he supposed to do?
Gawain, an inner voice spoke. But the would-be knight was out of reach. Gawain was miles and miles away, risking his life for Arthur in the depths of Murkwood. He had sent him there himself. Arthur suddenly found himself regretting that decision. Two of his three sources of support were gone. The Crown Prince couldn’t rely on his friend’s honesty and compassion. Neither could he rely on Lancelot’s calm, analytic mind.
That only left one person.
“There’s nothing unregulated about it, sire. Your daughter is tending to monthly flowers.”
Oh, Watcher. This was going to be a disaster.
But he didn’t have a choice. Arthur needed to confide in someone – he needed a listening ear, desperately, so he could figure out what in Watcher’s name he was supposed to do about a magic-slinging toddler. And his sister was the only one left. He needed her. This was an emergency. She could purify herself afterwards, or continue avoiding everyone, or whatever it was that women did during that time. The Crown Prince did not want to know. And it didn’t matter.
Right now, he just needed her help.
The Crown Prince quickly marched through the halls of the castle, headed for his sister’s chambers. He hadn’t visited her private space in weeks. Not since Uther annulled her engagement. His footsteps echoed across the hallway as he walked, carrying the weight of the upcoming conversation with them.
His sister hated magic almost as much as Uther did. But Morgana had always encouraged him to do the right thing. She would be able to help. He knew she would.
It didn’t take him long to reach his sister’s chambers. The door was locked, as it always tended to be these days. But this was an emergency. She could yell at him later. The Crown Prince took out his set of master keys, quickly and silently inserting it into the lock. Arthur took a deep breath, composed himself-
And twisted it, unlocking Morgana’s chambers. He pushed the large doors open, walking inside with his head raised as he yelled:
“Morrie, I don’t care if you’re flowering, I need your h-”