Two days after the end of the Knights’ Tournament, Morgana Pendragon found herself slowly packing up her belongings. Or at least, she was deciding on what to pack. The actual packing was done by Sarah, whom Morgana commanded back and forth over and over again as the maidservant filled her suitcases for her.
Morgana had thought about it in advance. In the end, it really didn’t matter what she put in her luggage. As soon as they reached that cliff, the budding witch was going to jump, and make a run for it. She was going to disappear. But she could not just fill her suitcases with random things – that would end up looking suspicious. She had to bring at least a few things that actually mattered to her. Morgana hated the thought. She didn’t want to lose anything to the likes of Richard. But if it would give her a better chance of escaping, then she had no choice. She could part with some of her nicer dresses. A few pieces of jewellery that she was fond of. Maybe one of her childhood dolls-
-but when Sarah placed Arthur’s wooden dragon on top of the nearest suitcase, the sorceress finally balked.
“No. Not that one. Leave that here, please.”
“Are you sure?” she said, cocking her head quizzically. “You’ve had that for years. Do you really want to leave it behind?”
“Yes,” Morgana nodded. I don’t want Richard to torch it afterwards. He’s petty enough to do it.
The maidservant shrugged, placing the statue back on Morgana’s night stand. As she walked back to her spot by the mirror, she threw a glance at the clothes that Morgana had chosen to take with her. Sarah raised a single eyebrow.
“Are you sure you don’t want to bring more? I know you’ll have a legion of dresses waiting on the other side, but it’ll all be Nemeth fashion.” She shivered. “They wear those ridiculous hats with feathers. Are you sure that this is all you’re bringing?”
Morgana merely smiled at her in response.
“Yes, I’m sure. I have everything I need.”
“All right, suit yourself,” Sarah replied, shaking her head again. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you when they turn you into a royal flycatcher. Has Guinevere brought you that travel cloak yet? She said she was working on something.”
“Not yet,” Morgana answered. As she watched her maidservant close and carefully lock her luggage, a memory drifted to the surface. Amidst the chaos that was the end of the tournament, it hadn’t seemed important. She had almost completely forgotten about it. But now things had finally calmed down – and curiosity ended up getting the better of her.
“Sarah… why did you make Guinevere rob our physician?”
The maidservant gave Morgana a playful wink.
“Now, just how did you find out about that?”
“Agravaine isn’t the only one with spies, Sarah,” the sorceress answered. “And Guin isn’t exactly known for being sneaky.”
Sarah chuckled, her smile widening.
“You caught me. I’ll confess. The guards and I wanted to have some fun with certain ‘stimulants’-”
But Morgana cut her off. By now, the budding witch knew her well enough to know exactly when Sarah was lying. She shook her head at the maidservant, not accepting her answer.
“Yeah, I don’t think so. Try again.”
And she was right. Morgana watched as Sarah’s sly smile vanished. The maidservant placed her hands behind her back, looking at the ceiling with a little huff.
“Oh, fine. I had her fetch me some aconite for your fiancé. If you must know, I was planning on poisoning the little rat on his way home.”
Morgana blinked. She must have misheard. Or perhaps Sarah misspoke. The sorceress stayed silent, waiting for the maidservant to correct herself – but that correction never came. She was serious. Morgana raised a single eyebrow in response.
“Sarah. That’s regicide.”
“Not enough to kill him!” Sarah scoffed. “Goodness, no. Just enough to seriously incapacitate him and his knights for, say… an hour or two? Would that be enough time?”
Morgana frowned, utterly confused at Sarah’s explanation. Incapacitate them? Why in Watcher’s name would she do that? Richard and his knights were their escort to Nemeth. They were what was supposed to keep them safe on their journey. There was absolutely no reason to immobilize all of them, unless…
Morgana’s eyes went wide as the realisation hit her. She stared at the woman in front of her in shock, completely dumbstruck.
“… You know, don’t you?” Morgana said, her voice barely more than a whisper. Sarah let out another indignant huff. She took a step towards the girl, her hands firmly placed on her hips.
“Don’t insult me, Morgana. I raised you. Of course I know what you’re planning.”
As Morgana stared at her in shock, Sarah’s expression grew gentle. She folded her hands info her lap, her shoulders relaxing. The maidservant smiled at her. The look in her eyes betrayed a soft, caring warmth that crossed the boundaries between master and servant.
Morgana knew that look. She had never seen Sarah look at someone else like that.
“I told you,” she said, her voice gentle. “You’re stuck with me until the end.”
For the second time in three days, the sorceress found herself completely speechless. She could feel her throat close up as the full meaning of those words hit her. Morgana opened her mouth and closed it again, not knowing how to turn the sudden maelstrom of emotions swirling inside of her into words.
And Sarah noticed. The maidservant took a step forward, placing her hands on Morgana’s shoulders as she instinctively took the lead.
“Don’t worry. I’ll make sure Guinevere and I make it back safely. You won’t need to think about that.”
“I… t-thank you,” Morgana muttered.
“Do you have an exit plan? A dress that you can hide rations in? What about making a fire? It’s nearly winter – you’ll need to find a way to keep warm at night, or you won’t make it far. Have you figured out how to do that?”
“Good,” Sarah continued. “What about directions? Do you know where the nearest settlement is, and how to reach it? You can’t go wandering through the wilderness aimlessly – you’ll get horribly lost. We can probably smuggle a map into the carriage with you, if we’re a little creative. Do you need me to do that?”
“N-no, I… I-”
Sarah’s words were practical, experienced and completely free of judgment. Like always, the maidservant didn’t think twice about jumping in to help, with the same calm level-headedness that she always had. There was no prejudice in her tone of voice. Sarah sounded kind. Helpful.
And Morgana finally broke.
She couldn’t hold it in anymore. It was all too much. Her vision grew blurry as she felt tears begin to drip down her cheeks, breaking through the cracks in her mask and shattering it completely. The inside of her chest was burning. The sorceress could feel her eyes go misty as she let out a sob-
And the next moment, she was in Sarah’s arms. The woman had pulled her in without a second thought. Morgana could feel Sarah’s hand on her dress, softly stroking her back and trailing her fingers up and down in comfort.
She hadn’t done that in years.
It was more than the sorceress could handle. Her shoulders shook as her sobs grew worse and before she knew it, Morgana was weeping in Sarah’s arms. Her entire body was trembling. She could feel Sarah rocking her back and forth, patting her back as she made soft soothing noises.
“Shh. Hush, love. It’s all right. We’ve got time. We’ll figure it out.”
“It’s all right. You don’t have to do this alone.”
It took the sorceress a long time to calm down. Eventually, she stepped back, still sniffling and with her face completely streaked by tears. Sarah’s hands were still on her arms, gently rubbing up and down her skin.
“Why do you keep helping me?” Morgana muttered, finally regaining some use of her voice. “If they find out, they’ll behead you.”
Sarah shrugged, that gentle, loving expression still there.
“I told you, love. I’ve had your back for sixteen years. I don’t intend to stop now. Is that so strange?”
“N-no,” she sniffed. Sarah smiled at the girl in front of her.
“There you have it, then. We have a few days left before you leave. We’ll figure it out, all right? Don’t worry. I’m going to help you as best I can. Do you have a small knife that you can conceal on your person somewhere?”
Morgana hadn’t thought of that. She shook her head.
“I’ll get you one. We’re not sending you into the woods without something to defend yourself with. Let’s see, what else will you need…”
Morgana had always known Sarah to be an incredibly resourceful woman. She always pulled through, with an ease that still impressed Morgana even now. After sixteen years, the sorceress had believed that she knew her pretty well. But the calm, confident, almost casual way that Sarah took charge of her escape told Morgana something different. She suddenly felt very small. There was still so much about Sarah that Morgana had no idea about. So much she didn’t know.
Why had she never asked?
“How do you always know what to do?” Morgana muttered; her voice unusually timid. Sarah let out an amused chuckle. The maidservant placed an arm around her and playfully bopped Morgana on the nose.
“Do you think that I was born wearing a servant’s uniform? I’ve had a life before you, you know.”
Morgana had never thought about that, either.
“What did you do?”
“Oh, everything,” she replied with a shrug. “I was an assassin, you know. Then a pirate. Then Queen of Northumbria, but I got bored with that after a month and ended up switching places with a maidservant.”
“Oh, all right. It would have made for a good story, though. ‘Sarah, the dagger-throwing Pirate Queen’. Has a good ring to it, no?”
“No,” Morgana smiled. She knew what Sarah was doing. And it was working. Morgana could feel herself calm down, the flood of emotions fading away as a warm feeling spread through her chest. She felt light. Relieved. Just like that, a gigantic weight had been lifted off her shoulders.
She would be all right. Ever since returning from Scarborough, Morgana had told herself that, over and over again, trying to convince herself as much as anything.
But now… now she actually believed it.
“Is there anything else that you’ll need?”
“No,” Morgana replied, shaking her head. “I think I have everything.”
“Good. I’ll see about getting you that knife, and a proper map of the area. Does anyone else know about this?”
“Lancelot knows,” the sorceress answered. That instantly got a reaction out of Sarah. Her smile twisted into a sly smirk.
“Oh? Confiding in the handsome knight before me, are we?” Sarah teased, waggling her eyebrows at Morgana. The sorceress huffed.
“It’s not like that. He found out on his own.”
“I see. Bright lad, that one. He’s positively glowing compared to your rat of a fiancé. Oooh, I cannot wait to see the look on Richard’s face when he finds out that y-”
At that moment, the door to Morgana’s bedroom suddenly opened. Sarah immediately fell silent as the two of them turned around, glancing at the intruder.
“Milady, could I have… oh!”
Guinevere quickly took a step back. The maidservant instinctively realized that she had interrupted a moment and tried to leave back through the door, stammering:
“S-sorry! I didn’t mean to intrude!”
“Nonsense, honey pie,” Sarah chirped, quickly stepping forward. “In fact, you have fantastic timing. You’re taking over my duties today.”
“You heard me! I am taking the rest of the day off. Cover for me, will you?”
“No buts!” Sarah replied, flashing her a toothy grin. “I’m getting up there in age, you know. Soon I’ll be all shrivelled up and wrinkly. I’m taking a day off and using this face to flirt with the guards while it still can.”
The young maidservant opened her mouth to protest, but Sarah didn’t listen. With another wide smile, she left Morgana’s bedchambers, humming to herself and leaving a perplexed and very confused Guinevere behind. It took the girl almost a full minute to process what had just happened.
By then, Morgana had recovered enough to wipe the streaks from her face and put her mask back on. She smiled at Guinevere, raising an eyebrow and asking:
“Well? Did you need something, Guin?”
“Ah… w-well, I, um…”
Morgana could see her fidgeting with the sleeves of her uniform. Guinevere averted her eyes, looking down at the floor and falling silent as she struggled with herself. The sorceress had seen this display many times over the past few months. By now, she had begun to recognise it for what it was.
“Guin. You’re doing it again.”
She blushed, awkwardly scratching the back of her head. Morgana stayed silent as she waited for her maidservant to start talking – but instead, Guinevere surprised her. She turned around, picked up a small wrapped box that she had been hiding behind her and carefully placed it on top of the suitcase.
“…What is this?”
“It, um. It’s a thank-you,” Guinevere muttered. “For Scarborough.”
Morgana’s eyebrows rise in confusion at the girl’s words.
“I forced you to come on that trip. And then I spent most of it tormenting you with my brother. You shouldn’t be grateful for that.”
“A-ah, well… that’s true, but, well…”
She could hear Guinevere let out a sigh. Then, her back straightened a little bit. When she spoke, Morgana was surprised to hear her usual stutter being completely absent.
“…I, um… I used to live in Scarborough, milady. A long time ago. I didn’t leave on good terms, and… I didn’t think I’d get to see the town again. Visiting during the festival gave me a sense of closure that I didn’t think I’d ever have. And, well… you gave that to me. By deciding to bring me along. Even if it was just to tease me with milord. I wanted to thank you for that, so… so I made something for you.”
Timidly, she gestured at the package. It was neatly wrapped, the parchment wrapping over itself in the corners almost perfectly. Morgana carefully unwrapped it. She knew that Guinevere was a skilled seamstress. The sorceress was expecting a handmade scarf, or a pair of gloves, or some other gift that did not need a box this big.
She was not prepared for what she found.
“I know it’s not a-an exact replica, but I think I came pretty close. I had to find some materials by going through the tailor and traded with Gawain for a set of gloves that looked the same. But he used them, so they’ll look a little bit worn, if… if that’s okay.”
Guinevere’s expression instantly turned to regret as she saw the look on Morgana’s face.
“Milady? I-I’m so sorry, I should have asked first. I didn’t mean to offend you. I… I’ll go take them apart right n-”
“Thank you, Guinevere. This is incredible.”
“Really? You… you like it?”
“I love it,” Morgana smiled. “I’ll treasure this forever, Guin.”
The maidservant beamed, her entire face lighting up as the blush returned to her cheeks.
“I’m so glad!” she chirped. “I know she’s very important to you and milord, and we can’t take the painting with us when we leave. So I figured that this was the next best thing. You can’t look at her, but this way, well… you can carry her with you.”
…I can do more than that.
“What… what was she like?”
I can show him now.
To most citizens of Albion, the idea of fate was an abstract concept, not very unlike magic. The average person could not predict the kind of effect that their actions and decisions would have on the world around them.
How even the smallest pebble, tossed carelessly into the water, could grow into ripples and waves that affected everything around them.
On that autumn evening… a single decision marked the beginning of just such a series of events.
Morgana rushed through the empty hallways, giddily enjoying the feeling of not having four layers of clothing on. She felt strangely free. Sarah’s words and Guinevere’s handmade gift had sparked a sense of joy that she hadn’t felt in a very long time. She felt light – in more ways than one. Morgana hadn’t run through the castle hallways since she was twelve.
She couldn’t wait to show Arthur.
The sorceress picked up speed, her footsteps echoing against the walls as she rounded the corner-
And crashed head-first into Uther Pendragon.
The impact felt like slamming into a wall. Morgana was knocked off-balance, only barely staying upright at the last second. She quickly stepped back.
“Oh! I’m sorry!”
The sorceress expected an outburst. Not only was she not dressed appropriately, but she had been sprinting through the hallways like a child. Morgana expected her father to berate her. Chastise her for lowering her guard in public.
But that did not happen. Uther stood frozen in front of her, his face rapidly draining of all colour as he looked down on his daughter.
Something in the depths of Uther’s eyes made all the hairs in Morgana’s back rise up. It felt wrong. She took another step back, hastily apologising to her father in the process.
“Please forgive me! I wasn’t watching-”
“-where I was going-“
Morgana’s words fell on deaf ears. He wasn’t hearing it. Uther did not react to them at all. The sorceress instantly realized that in that moment, her father was not seeing her. He was seeing her mother. A long-passed, distant memory- but his reaction to that memory made a cold chill run down Morgana’s spine. She could feel her throat close up, a deep sense over dread overcoming her as she saw Uther’s expression slowly change.
Not to sorrow.
Not to love.
What Morgana saw reflected in the depths of Uther’s eyes…
Uther flinched, pulling his hand back as if he’d been burned. For a moment, she could see a sense of recognition on his face.
“…Get out of my sight.”
“LEAVE!” the Iron King bellowed, his voice booming across the walls with such force that it made the windows vibrate.
Morgana didn’t have to be told twice. She dashed away from him like an arrow from a bow, sprinting through the hallways in what she later would realize was a raw fight-or-flight response. Morgana could barely see where she was going. Her body moved on its own. It carried her past servants and through hallways, barely avoiding slamming into people as her mind was pulled into complete chaos.
Leave leave leave leave L E A V E
It wasn’t until she slammed the door behind her, leaning against it and panting heavily, that the sorceress realized she was back in her chambers. She could hear Guinevere gasp in surprise. She could feel the young maidservant coming running towards her, her footsteps quickly drawing closer.
But she couldn’t see her.
“Milady?! What happened?!”
“I… I don’t know.”
“I don’t know.”
That night, Morgana’s engagement to Richard of Nemeth…