Disclaimer: disturbing. The big spooders went somewhere and I don’t know where.
With an expression of complete disbelief, the Crown Prince looked down on the tiny toddler in front of him. Arthur’s logic quickly reasoned out what his intuition had already concluded. If the dark green eyes, tanned skin and shoulder-length, braided hair didn’t give it away, then Guinevere and Sarah’s shocked expressions definitely did.
There was no doubt about it.
This was him.
But part of Arthur still didn’t want to believe it. The implications were too great. He didn’t want his sister, or Guinevere, or even Sarah mixed up in any of this. The Crown Prince groaned, rubbing the base of his nose with his fingers as he addressed Morgana’s maidservant.
“Sarah. Please tell me that you’re babysitting your adopted cousin.”
“If I did, milord, would you believe me?” Sarah replied, her voice somehow managing to sound both derisive and guarded at the same time. Arthur crossed his arms in response.
“…no. No, I would not.”
He had to get to the bottom of this, and quickly. Arthur didn’t know what had happened to make that toddler end up in Morgana’s room, of all places. But his presence endangered all four of them. In more ways than one. The child was like a lit powder keg. Anything could set him off. He had to step in. Arthur had to take control of the situation, and keep the keg from exploding. He had to know what was going on.
And the best way to do that, was to go straight to the source. Arthur’s eyes moved away from Sarah, trailing towards the dividing screen. It was very unlike his sister to hide behind anything. He had half-expected her to start throwing things at him, yelling at Arthur to knock instead of “barging in like a common barbarian”. That’s what his sister usually did whenever he entered her chambers without thinking. But Morgana had been uncharacteristically silent. He had never talked to her during that time before – perhaps she was too embarrassed to show herself?
Arthur frowned. He didn’t have time for feminine delicacies. Not today. She could talk to him through the screen.
“Morgana,” he called out. “I know what’s going on. Explain yourself. What is that kid doing here?”
But there was no answer. Arthur’s frown deepened. The Crown Prince took a step forward, planning to walk around the screen and force Morgana to talk– but he was blocked by Sarah, who leaned against the divider with her arms crossed and a disapproving scowl on her face.
“You need to leave,” she said sharply. “This is very inappropriate.”
“I don’t care,” Arthur snapped back. “You’re hiding a dangerous fugitive in my sister’s bedchambers. His father is a known sorcerer. I’m not leaving you alone with that kid, and I’m not leaving here without answers.”
The Crown Prince was rapidly running out of patience. Suddenly, it wasn’t just Basil and Yarrow’s lives that were weighing on his shoulders. Arthur didn’t catch Morgana in a mistake often, but this was a terrible one. By bringing Yarrow into her chambers, she had inevitably turned herself into a suspect. If they caught him here, they would think that she was an accomplice. She could probably talk her way out of a murder charge – but being accused of sorcery was another matter altogether. Even a princess was not safe from that. They couldn’t risk it. If that toddler was seen by anyone else, the consequences would be dire. Not just for Morgana, but for Sarah and Guinevere, as well. Arthur had to help them. They had to deal with this.
As he moved further into the room, Arthur could see Yarrow’s face morph from hostility into fear. The little toddler began to back up, letting out a whimper as he retreated into the corner.
But the Crown Prince wasn’t listening to Guinevere, either. Arthur moved past Sarah, pushing her aside as he rounded the corner.
“Look, I really don’t care that you’re flowering, just tell me what is going-”
The words got stuck halfway his throat as he glanced past the screen. His sister wasn’t there. The space in front of the mirror was empty. So was the other half of her bed. There were no nightgowns laid out, no tea still steaming in its cup, no sign of a third person being tended to in the room. The Crown Prince couldn’t find a single trace of her anywhere.
Arthur’s hands balled themselves into fists.
“Where is she?”
The maidservant calmly glared back at him.
“Indisposed. As we said, milord, she is-”
“Stop lying to me!” Arthur interrupted her. His anger had finally started to get the better of him. With an aggressive gesture, the Crown Prince pointed at the toddler in the corner.
“I don’t have time for this, Sarah! Do you not see how this looks?! By bringing him here, you’ve turned all three of you into suspects! What do you think the guards will do if they see you protecting a druid child?!”
“S-suspects?” Guinevere muttered from atop the bed.
“Yes!” he snapped back. “The man is accused of murder, and you’re actively hiding his child from the law! Agravaine will not go easy on you just because you’re Morgana’s servants! Is she out of her mind?! Why is she not here to deal with this?!”
“Sire, calm down,” Sarah answered. “This wasn’t her idea-”
“Then where the hell is she?!”
He focused on Guinevere, turning to her in a silent rage. The effect was instant. The girl immediately turned pale, folding into herself as her hands began to tremble.
“S-she- she i-is-”
“Indisposed,” Sarah repeated, her voice growing dangerously sharp. “Now stop asking, sire. For our sake.”
The maidservant’s eyes shone with a strange, intense glimmer as she stared him down. Sarah’s attitude was an exception amongst servants already, but even she normally did not challenge Arthur like that. A calmer person would have seen it for the warning that it was.
But Arthur was no longer calm. The Crown Prince had reached the end of his composure. The tension of the day, paired with the pressure of Yarrow’s dilemma bearing on his conscience was too much. Arthur’s emotions finally got the better of him. Anger took over. Rage filled his eyes as Arthur rose to his full height, his face contorting into an expression of outrage. For a moment, the future king looked like the spitting image of Uther. Then that anger boiled over, and Arthur lashed out.
“Your sake? Your sake?! I am doing this for your sake!” he snapped, pointing at Yarrow. “Did you know that that toddler murdered someone in cold blood only three hours ago?! Did you know that he can hurl full-grown adults out of a window on a whim? That his father restrained four armed guards at once without even breaking a sweat?! Did you know that?!”
“Arthur, calm down-”
“No!” he yelled, taking a step towards the toddler. “You have no idea how dangerous that child is! He could snap your spine like a twig! He could have killed the both of you ten times over already! And he can’t even control it! He isn’t even aware of it! He is a danger to everyone around him! He’s- he’s-“
The memories flashed by faster than Arthur could process them. They assaulted his mind, screaming warnings at him in the voices of Uther and Agravaine. For a moment, Arthur couldn’t see the room around him anymore. He couldn’t hear Sarah’s voice. The Crown Prince was blind to his senses as, on the inside, duty and compassion violently fought for control.
I can’t let him go.
I can’t kill him.
I can’t let him live.
“Because sorcerers are wickedness incarnate?”
Slowly, the chamber around him came back into focus. The barrage of memories stopped. The chaos in his mind slowed down. The Crown Prince wasn’t sure how much time had passed. But when Arthur regained control of his thoughts, the scene before him had changed.
His path to Yarrow had been cut off. The Crown Prince could see the small, fragile form of Guinevere standing in front of him. Her arms were spread out to her sides. Her eyes were wild, like those of a cornered animal. Arthur could see her hands shaking. But she didn’t budge. The girl blocked his path, shielding the toddler from him with her own body.
She had never looked at him like that before.
The sight shocked Arthur so much that it forced all of the air from his lungs. It was as if someone had plunged a knife into his heart. Everything else instantly fell away. Horrified, the Crown Prince took a step back. He put his hands up, his eyes opening wide in shock as he stammered:
“I-I’m sorry- Guinevere, I’m-”
But the maidservant didn’t respond. Arthur could see her swaying back and forth, stumbling forwards as her eyes suddenly clouded over.
Her knees gave out underneath her. Arthur’s shocked expression turned to horror when he realised that she was falling. The Crown Prince jumped forward, grabbing onto Guinevere and catching her before she hit the floor.
The girl slumped into his arms like a doll whose strings had been cut. As he turned her over, Arthur could feel her hand clasp onto his lower arm.
“Don’t… hurt Michael.”
The Crown Prince had never heard that name before. He had no idea what she was talking about – but as Guinevere looked up at him, the expression of despair that that lay embedded in her eyes made the knife in his chest twist even further.
Just like that, his inner conflict was gone.
“Guinevere. I’m not going to hurt him.”
Her eyes fluttered. He could see her losing consciousness fast. But she held on to him, grasping his sleeve with a strength that didn’t match her small body.
Arthur shook his head.
“I will not. You have my word.”
Her grip on his sleeve faded. Guinevere went limp in his arms, her eyes falling shut as the girl lost consciousness. It was only then that he noticed the small spots of crimson on the back of her head.
“What happened to her?”
“Concussion,” Sarah explained. “A bad one. As you said, the kid can’t control himself. She hit her head trying to calm him down.”
“She shouldn’t have gotten up,” Arthur muttered. Sarah put her hands on her hips, glaring at him in response.
“So I’ve told her. In case you hadn’t noticed, none of you dollop-heads listen to me.”
Carefully, Arthur lifted her up from the ground. The Crown Prince was surprised by how little she weighed. Guinevere was light as a feather, like a strong breeze could pick her up and blow her into the sky. He walked over to Morgana’s bed and gently lowered her onto the pillows.
As Arthur looked back towards Yarrow, the Crown Prince suddenly felt very tired. He sat down on the edge of his sister’s bed, burying his head in his hands.
Watcher. What a day.
He could see Sarah walking around from the other side of the chamber, followed by the sound of running water. The maidservant came back with a damp piece of cloth. As she placed it underneath Guinevere’s head, Arthur let out a long, worn-out sigh.
“Sarah. What happened?”
The maidservant sat down next to him, neatly folding her hands in her lap.
“The druid handed him to her in the market,” she explained. “Right before he was arrested. Guinevere brought him here to try and save his life. We all know the laws regarding sorcery, Arthur. She knew that leaving him behind meant that he’d burn on the pyre, along with his father.”
Sarah sighed, gently rubbing her forehead with the tips of her fingers.
“Watcher. What a mess. Do you intend to let him burn, Arthur?”
The Crown Prince shook his head.
“No. There has to be another way.”
The maidservant did not respond. A moment of silence fell between them. Arthur looked down at the ground, trying his hardest to turn the chaos inside of his head into something that he could use.
“I don’t know what to do,” Arthur eventually admitted. “I… I need time to think. And I can’t do that if I don’t have all the cards on the table. I need time. A few hours. Can you give me that?”
“I can. But I cannot hide him forever, Arthur.”
Arthur’s eyes trailed back towards the toddler in the corner. He had gotten his hands on what looked like bits of Morgana’s makeup, pulling off the lids and spilling the contents everywhere.
“Will you be safe?”
For a moment, the Crown Prince could swear that he saw the shadow of a strange, distant smile on Sarah’s lips.
“Don’t worry, Arthur. I’ve handled worse.”
It didn’t take Arthur long to realise what he had to do. The Crown Prince knew which cards he had to turn around. Whose hands he had to reveal to come to a decision. Yarrow’s existence was no longer a mystery. Neither were Sarah and Guinevere’s motivations. He’d asked for his sister’s whereabouts again, but Sarah had stoically refused, telling him to trust her.
And he did.
That left him with only one card still hidden.
Silently, Arthur descended into the dungeons. A sharp, nasty-looking silver dagger rested in his hand. The Crown Prince gulped at the thought of what he was about to do. It was beyond reckless. But it was the only way that he could know for sure.
And he had to be sure. There could not be a shadow of a doubt. Arthur could not be wrong. Not this time.
If he was… he’d never forgive himself.
Arthur reached Basil’s jail cell, once again sending the guards away. When he was sure that the two of them were alone, he walked inside, clutching the dagger in his hand.
Arthur could see Basil’s eyes go wide. He could sense the sudden fear in the man before him. The druid was still chained to the wall by his legs. He couldn’t run. Arthur raised the weapon to eye-height, pointing it at Basil… before he flipped it over, holding the hilt out to the man in front of him.
“Stab me. Right now.”
“You heard me,” Arthur spoke, his voice low and commanding. “The keys to the dungeons are inside my left pocket. Right now, I am the only thing standing between you and your child.”
“You… you’re out of your mind,” Basil stammered. He shook his head, stepping away from the weapon and hitting the wall behind him in the process. Arthur mimicked his movement. He grabbed the man’s arm, forcefully putting the dagger into his hand.
“And you’re out of time,” Arthur growled.
“W-what do you-”
“I found him,” the Crown Prince said, cutting him off. “Your son has dark green eyes and brown hair that is too long to belong to a normal citizen. The left side of it is braided.”
Arthur could see Basil’s eyes widen in shock at the description. He could see the recognition on his face. Arthur lowered his voice, his tone turning into a soft, whispered threat.
“I will execute your son at dawn, Basil. Brutally. Sorcerers in Camelot are burned alive. You’ll be able to hear his screams for hours. No-one will come to help him- but if you use that dagger, you can save him from that fate. You can protect him. Do it.”
His threat had worked. As Arthur stepped back, he could see the light vanish from Basil’s eyes. The druid lifted the dagger in his hand, his eyes locking onto Arthur as he struggled with himself. His hands started to tremble. The Crown Prince could see him shaking like a leaf. Beads of sweat gathered on his forehead. The dagger lifted another inch, pointing towards Arthur’s unarmoured chest. He watched in silence as Basil took a single step towards him…
And immediately crumpled to the ground, hitting the stones hard as his legs gave out underneath him. Arthur could hear Basil panting as the druid doubled over. He groaned, shaking as he clutched his head in agony. Quickly, Arthur bent down and took the dagger away from him.
“That’s enough. Forgive me, Basil. I had to make sure.”
“You… you lied?” the druid groaned.
“Of course I lied. But I had to know for sure. I had to know if druids who take the oath really can’t hurt anyone.”
“You… you’re insane.”
So it seems.
The panting stopped. Basil’s shoulders relaxed. Arthur reached down, grabbing onto his arm and helping the druid to his feet.
“Are you all right?”
“I’ll… live,” the man gasped. Arthur gave him a nod.
“The oath that you took. How does it work?”
“It… it’s part of a ritual,” Basil muttered. “A sacred ritual that binds us to the Goddess. We can’t… defy it. If we do…”
“You die,” Arthur nodded, finishing his sentence for him. The memory of Emrys briefly flashed in his mind. Arthur pushed it away, focusing on the man in front of him.
“Basil… Can you cast it on your son?”
The druid’s eyes widened. For a moment, he seemed completely baffled, his mouth falling open at Arthur’s words.
“You’re… you’re asking me to cast magick?”
“Yes,” Arthur nodded. “I know how that sounds. But if he really can’t control himself, then he’s not just a danger to the people around him. He’s a danger to himself, too. I can’t condemn a toddler for doing something that he doesn’t understand. But if Yarrow is going to live, then he needs to be bound, like you are. Can you perform that ritual on him?”
The idea was the result of Arthur’s best efforts – the only compromise that he had found. And only after much deliberation. It was the only move that he could make. The only move that he could live with.
But Basil shook his head at Arthur.
“I can’t,” he explained. “I need a high priest to lead the ritual. The one in our coven passed away last year. It’s why the two of us were traveling East. Yarrow has come into his magick way too early, and our village is no longer safe for him. We were traveling to meet with others. We never should have stopped in Camelot,” the druid lamented. “I should have looked for rations out in the wilds. We only had three more days to go- we should have just kept going until we reached Murkwood.”
The druid groaned, burying his face in his hands.
“Yarrow shouldn’t pay for my carelessness. He deserves to grow up. He deserves to have a future. The other druids can bind his powers for him. They’ll protect him from the world, and the world from him. He deserves that much. He shouldn’t suffer for my mistakes. I don’t care what happens to me – but he can’t die here, he can’t, he-”
“He won’t,” Arthur said softly, placing a hand on the druid’s shoulder. Basil looked up at him through his hands, his eyes overflowing with hope and despair in equal measure. The sight of it was enough to fill Arthur with a steely resolve.
The future king had made up his mind.
“He won’t. You have my word.”
“We’re staging an escape.”