Author’s note: I rolled for every single thing that happened this chapter. It was a wild ride. 😆
“Mister… we’re not in danger. You are.”
“What do you mean?” Lancelot asked, his eyes widening in confusion.
“It will think that you’re bad. They’ll all think that you’re bad.”
“What are you talking about? What will think that?”
“The forest,” Henry muttered. “The animals, and the plants, and the huntress, too. They can’t tell the difference. Murkwood is blind when she’s angry – it can’t tell who is bad and who is just dark. It won’t hurt us… but it will come after you if it senses your spirit.”
As Henry spoke, their gaze crossed Morgana’s, and the sorceress suddenly shivered. The hairs on her arms stood upright as the three of them kept eye contact, locked in a silent moment of mutual recognition. The sorceress immediately, instinctively knew what had happened.
They knew what she was.
Time slowed down. Morgana could feel herself begin to panic. This was bad. This was very bad. Somehow, Henry had sensed what she was- and he was a druid child. He would not realise that she was keeping her magick a secret from her companions. The thought probably wouldn’t even occur to him. Morgana slowly shook her head at him, the gesture hidden behind Gawain and Lancelot’s backs. But it didn’t work. The boy cocked his head curiously. She could see the wheels turning in his head.
The second Henry opened his mouth, both of her friends would turn against her.
She couldn’t let that happen. Morgana acted on instinct. As the sorceress took a step forward, pushing her way past Lancelot, the answer suddenly came to her.
Instead, we shall converse my way. Using magick.
Her encounters with Cenred had not been completely worthless. The King of Essetir had shown her how to wield a very useful tool. Morgana focused, silently grounding herself. When she spoke, the words that rolled off her tongue did not match the contents of her mind.
“It’s all right. Don’t be afraid.”
Henry, they don’t know that I have magick. Don’t say anything.
She hadn’t used magick in a while. Morgana could feel a strange sense of pressure in her head. A heavy weight, like she had dived too far underwater. She ignored it, focusing on the boy in front of her. She knew that he had heard her. His eyes opened wide in shock – but Henry stayed silent, listening to her mental warning.
It had worked.
“Henry, we need to find Emrys,” Morgana continued, her voice pleading. “It’s very important. We didn’t come here to harm him, I promise. We came here to warn him. And we can’t leave the forest until we do. Do you know where he went?”
“Yes,” the boy replied hesitantly. “The glade.”
“We need to go there. Can you show us the way?”
But Henry shook his head. He took a step backwards, pulling Cicely with him as he went.
“That place is bad.”
“All right,” Morgana replied, quickly backtracking when she realised that she was losing them. “We won’t make you go. You can stay here. But we do need your help. Can you teach us how to stay safe?”
She could see the hesitation in his eyes. Henry glanced over at Cicely, uncertain. The two of them exchanged a meaningful look. Then Henry nodded. In small, hushed voices, the two druid children began to explain.
“You have to stay quiet. Really quiet.”
“Don’t touch the thorns,” the girl whispered, her eyes large and frightened. “Or cast magick. Or hurt the trees.”
“Is that what happened to the soldiers? Did they harm the plants?” Morgana asked. The children shook their heads at her in response.
“Not all of them. But they tried to fight to save the ones that hurt the glade. The forest sensed it. It came after them. We saw. They were loud. And angry. Most of them didn’t make it out.”
Lancelot cast a glance over his shoulder at Gawain. The would-be knight was still standing at the ready, his weapon raised to guard against any dangers.
“Gawain. Put away your sword,” Lancelot muttered. His gaze was met with a look of confused disbelief.
“Just do it. We should not anger something in its own home.”
Reluctantly, Gawain slid his weapon back into its sheath. Being without a weapon made him look visibly uncomfortable. Morgana could see his hand resting anxiously on the hilt of his sword, ready to grab it again at any second.
But Lancelot was right. They had no idea what they were dealing with. They had to listen to the children’s advice.
After all… they had already had one close call with it.
…wait. That isn’t right. Something doesn’t add up.
If it attacks everything…
Then why didn’t it hurt Gawain?
“Henry, why are you safe?”
Morgana hadn’t meant to say that out loud. But something about this whole situation did not make sense. It wasn’t just the previous encounter – it was the two children standing in front of them, too. Something wasn’t right. The sorceress could not imagine that anyone would abandon their child in a place like this. Not with an eight-foot tall tree monster roaming around.
But the druids had done so deliberately. They had left them alone on purpose.
Why had they done that?
“I don’t know,” Henry replied softly. “Emrys said so. He said that we would be okay if we did what he said, but that none of the grownups are safe. That’s why they’re hiding.”
She didn’t understand. Morgana didn’t know enough about magick to figure out what was going on. But even with her lack of knowledge, the sorceress could tell that the three of them were missing some piece of information. Something vital. Something that they had to find out – and find out before whatever was roaming the forest found them.
They had to locate Emrys.
“Then let’s go. We don’t have a second to waste.”
Basil nodded, hoisting Yarrow up onto his hip as he began to follow Arthur. The Crown Prince had never snuck through the streets of the lower district before. It was a place that he only frequented in passing while on his way to somewhere else. The houses were cracked and badly maintained. Weeds and cobwebs lined the outer walls. Most of the roads were made out of muddy dirt instead of stone. Their torches were uncovered, and half of them had already gone out from the rain.
Carefully, Arthur snuck through the abandoned streets. At this hour, most of the city was asleep. But not all of it. Arthur knew what kind of folk crept around the lower district at night. They had to avoid guards at all costs, but they had to be wary of everyone else, too. Tonight, there was not a single creature in the lower town that was not a threat.
As the Crown Prince snuck through the dark streets, Sarah’s parting words echoed through his head like a warning mantra.
“You’ll have five minutes to get them the gate. If those doors close, they are doomed.”
She had given him the exact path to take to the exit. She had even drawn it out for him. Sarah had gone above and beyond in terms of preparation.
But she had also said that there would be no guards patrolling the lower part of town.
She was wrong.
At the three-minute mark, Arthur finally reached the main square. The city of Camelot was entirely walled in. There were only two points of entry. The first was an incredibly well-guarded gate in the north, only used by castle residents and for the dispatching of soldiers.
The second one was just past the main square.
It was too open. Too exposed. But Arthur knew that there was no other way to get to the gate. The city had been designed like a funnel on purpose. Arthur frowned, looking past the well and the exterior of the Tall Tales tavern. They needed to move. Soon, their five minutes would be up. It would not be long before the place would be swarming with guards.
They had no other choice.
As soon as Arthur stepped into the open, the silence around them was abruptly broken by the sound of heavy warning bells. It was loud. Too loud. Arthur could see lights coming on behind windows everywhere as people stirred from their sleep.
They were out of time.
It was now or never.
“Follow my lead, Basil. Act like you belong.”
“A- all right.”
With his heart pounding in his chest, Arthur began to walk. His armoured boots sloshed through the mud, leaving heavy footprints as he walked.
It was fine. They had made it this far. The gate was right there on the other side. As long as they didn’t draw attention to themselves, they would make it.
They didn’t make it.
Arthur had almost reached the well in the middle of the square when a heavy male voice suddenly rang out.
Arthur whipped his head around – and his heart immediately dropped into his stomach. Two of the patrolling guards had caught up to them. And judging from the looks on their faces, they knew exactly who they were chasing. Arthur watched as both of their hands reached for the weapons on their belts.
The druid didn’t have to be told twice. Basil took off, clutching Yarrow to his chest as he sprinted towards the town exit. Arthur was right on his heels, actually overtaking the man as he looked back at the chasing guards. They were gaining on them fast. Too fast. They were faster than Basil was-
“We won’t make it!”
“We will!” Arthur growled, trying to hold in his rapidly growing panic. “Just keep running! Don’t look-”
It felt like he collided with a brick wall. Arthur smacked face-first into something hard. It instantly stopped him in his tracks, knocking him off-balance. He barely managed to keep himself from falling over. It took his mind a fraction of a second to process the sight in front of him – and then the Crown Prince realised that he had run headfirst into the town blacksmith.
The blacksmith – Arthur couldn’t remember his name – visibly went through the same process. For a fraction of a second, he looked just as taken aback as Arthur. Then that moment faded. As the blacksmith recognised the man in front of him, the Crown Prince could see his shock instantly getting replaced with outrage.
“What the- YOU! You got a lot o’ nerve, coming down-”
“Marcus, it’s them! The ones from the market!”
Time slowed down. Arthur could see the blacksmith’s eyes linger on Yarrow before trailing past him, landing on the guards that were giving chase. The Crown Prince could hear their heavy footsteps coming closer. He could feel the tremors of their armoured boots slamming into the ground. Arthur made eye contact with the blacksmith, panic turning into desperation.
“Let us pass- quick!”
Arthur could see the look of utter confusion reflected in his eyes. The shock, paired with sheer disbelief – and something else, something that the Crown Prince couldn’t identify. For a fraction of a second, Arthur was convinced that the blacksmith wouldn’t move. He instinctively began to reach for the weapon on his hip-
Before the man in front of him suddenly snapped out of it. He could see Marcus ball his fists as the blacksmith glared at Arthur…
… And nodded.
“Stop them! Don’t let-”
The guard never got to finish his sentence. Right as the pair of them reached Basil, the blacksmith shoved Arthur out of the way. His fist connected with the guard’s face so violently that it knocked him straight on his back.
“Marcus!” one of the other men yelled. Arthur could see Marcus glare at him over his shoulder as he snapped:
“Don’t just stand there, you wangrods! Get the other one!”
Arthur watched in shock as they pushed past him, intercepting the other guard just as he went for his weapon. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. They’d be jailed for this, they’d-
“Well?! What are you waiting for?!” the man barked at Arthur. “GO!”
That snapped him out of it. He could hear the bells ringing in the background again. They had to move. Arthur nodded at the blacksmith, accepting his actions for what they were.
“I won’t forget this-”
“Stop yappin’ and MOVE!”
He did. Arthur grabbed hold of Basil, pulling him along with him as they dashed around the corner. They sprinted towards the city gate as fast as they could, ignoring the sounds of fighting behind them. Arthur had to fight his instincts to turn around and help. He had never had to abandon an ally before.
He had also never been saved by a civilian. A strange sense of guilt spread through his chest as he led Basil through the gate and into the outskirts.
They won’t die, Arthur reminded himself as he ran. They will end up in jail. It’ll be all right. I will get them out.
I’ll get them.
It wasn’t until they reached the now-deserted tournament grounds that the Crown Prince finally slowed down. Basil wasn’t used to this level of exercise. The druid was panting, his breath ragged and irregular. Arthur could see beads of sweat pooling on his forehead.
“Are we… safe?” Basil wheezed, gasping for air. The Crown Prince gave him a nod.
“For now. It will take them a while to reach the tournament grounds. Most people hide among the farms and fields. They’ll look there first and then branch out.”
The druid nodded, slowly catching his breath. Arthur could see him looking around for a place to sit. The Crown Prince shook his head at him.
“Basil, don’t. This is your only chance to get away. You need to leave, and you need to do it now. Keep going until you reach the forest and don’t look back.”
“I will,” he panted. “We’ll… we’ll keep going until we reach Murkwood-”
But the Crown Prince cut him off.
“No. Murkwood isn’t safe, either. Camelot and Nemeth are at war, and that place is right in the middle of it. You won’t be safe there. Go North instead. You’ll be safe in Northumbria.”
“I don’t understand,” the druid said, baffled. “You’re a Pendragon. Your family created the laws against magick. Surely, you’ll be punished for this. Why are you going through such lengths to help us?”
He had asked himself the same question many times over. Arthur crossed his arms, looking down on the toddler that Basil was holding.
“Because I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t,” he said, answering honestly. “This is the right thing to do. It’s the only right thing to do.”
For a moment, Basil seemed shocked. Then Arthur could see a warm, genuine smile spread across his face.
“You’re a good man, Arthur Pendragon. My people will not forget this. I will let them know what you did-”
“You won’t tell them a bloody thing,” the Crown Prince warned him. “For all you know, a random guard defected and saved you in the process. It had nothing to do with me.”
“Of course. You were never involved.”
Basil stepped away from Arthur, slowly turning towards the treeline in the distance. It would be a long journey to Northumbria. The druid took a few steps forward. Then he changed his mind, and turned back to face the Crown Prince. When he spoke, there was an unmistakable sense of relief in his words… paired with something else.
“Perhaps there is hope for the future, after all.”
Halfway through traversing a clearing in the dense forest, Lancelot suddenly stopped dead in his tracks.
“Wait. Something’s changed.”
“What? What is it?” Gawain replied, on high alert and immediately reaching for his weapon again. Morgana could see Lancelot whip his head around, glancing left and right like a deer that sensed a predator.
“I’m not sure, but something is not-”
At that moment, all of the hairs in Morgana’s neck suddenly rose up. The sorceress could feel a horrible sense of dread overcome her as all of her senses sharpened. She could feel it, too. Something was close. Very close. Morgana instinctively knew that they were being watched. She could hear the sharp, piercing snap of a twig cracking. Quickly, the sorceress turned towards the source of the sound-
And froze on the spot as her gaze met that of something else. Something inhuman. Morgana could feel her insides grow cold. She could sense the malice in the creatures in front of her. It radiated off them in waves, a primal anger that resonated with the forest and made the thorns underneath them writhe and twitch.
They were surrounded.
Lancelot had realised that, too. The future duke began to back away, his voice a forced and fake calm as he muttered:
“Walk backwards… slowly.”
But there was no way back. Morgana watched as the path that they’d come from was rapidly covered in thorny vines, cutting off their escape. She could feel the temperature around them drop to an icy chill.
They were trapped.
“Lance, what do we do?! Lance?!”
Lancelot said something in response to Gawain’s panic – but the sorceress couldn’t hear it. Her vision was drawn to the darkness in front of her like a magnet. She could see a flash of movement, the flicker of fangs exposed by moonlight. She could hear the sound of growling. Her heart started hammering in her chest as, from the darkness, a large wolf crept forward-
“Cover the Princess!”
But the sorceress couldn’t hear them. All the colour drained from her face, her surroundings falling away as Morgana was trapped by the gaze of the creature in front of her. A fear that was not her own grabbed hold of her body. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t think. Her legs started to shake uncontrollably, gripped in the vice by a memory that had merged with her own.
It took Morgana a while to regain control of herself. She couldn’t remember what she had been doing. She wasn’t sure where she was. Her heart was pounding in her chest, her breathing heavy and irregular. She could feel herself shaking. Every inch of her body felt painful, like it had been hit by lightning.
She hadn’t felt that way in a very long time.
It wasn’t until she saw Gawain’s unconscious body on the ground that Morgana finally came back to herself. The sorceress blinked.
But he didn’t answer. Gawain wasn’t moving. And he wasn’t the only one. Morgana slowly glanced around the clearing, her eyes widening in disbelief as she saw the bodies strewn out across the ground.
Not one of them moved.
Morgana lifted her hands to her face. She was still shaking. Her fingers trembled, throbbing and painful from the effects of magic energy. The sorceress looked at them like she was looking down at a dream.
What… had just happened?
She didn’t get the chance to ponder it for long. Morgana felt it before she could see it. Another creature entering the clearing, its presence causing the trees around her to crack and groan. The children’s warnings suddenly echoed through her mind.
“You can’t cast magick. It’ll sense your spirit.”
The sorceress could feel the blood in her veins turn to ice as the creature drew close. An enormous, invisible weight pressed down on her body, crushing her lungs and forcing her down to the ground.
“I… I’m not bad!” Morgana gasped, the words barely managing to leave her mouth. “We’re trying to help, I swear, we-”
Her breath was cut off mid-sentence as a vine wrapped around her throat. Morgana could feel her entire body being entangled and pulled down by vines. The thorns tore through her clothes, drawing blood as they cut into her skin.
She didn’t have the strength to free herself. Morgana could feel her back painfully hit the ground beneath her as she was dragged down. She couldn’t break free. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t cast. The sorceress watched in horror as the creature reached her, its claws leaving deep gashes in the earth as it moved-
“No, wait! Please! I’m not evil!”
A horrific screeching suddenly rang out from in front of her as Morgana was blinded by a burst of flames. It impacted with the tree monster and everything else in a ten-foot radius, setting half the clearing ablaze in an instant. The sorceress instinctively covered her eyes to protect herself. She could feel the thorns around her writhe and twitch. Their grip on her body loosened as they recoiled from the raging flames. She could hear another screech, followed by something large crashing into the bushes.
And then… nothing. The raging flames died down. The groaning and cracking of trees stopped. The vines had recoiled. An eerie silence fell back over the clearing, filling it with an illusory calm.
It was gone.
She was still alive.
Morgana slowly picked herself up from the ground, trying and failing to calm her arrhythmically beating heart. It hurt. Her vision was swimming. Some vines were still wrapped around her body, and she could still feel the thorns tearing at her skin. Shakily, the budding witch rose to her feet-
It… can’t be.