In the end, Morgana broke her promise.
She did not return home before daybreak. She didn’t even come close. Morgana probably could have made it, if she’d hurried away from her coven – but instead, the budding witch found herself stalling until the last possible moment, wilfully forgetting about her promise with Sarah until the rays from the morning sun began to crest over the hills.
Only when daybreak had well and truly passed, did she finally make her way to the nearest faerie circle.
And as it turned out… the second farewell proved to be no easier than the first.
“Be careful out there, all right?”
“I will,” Morgana mumbled, burying her head in Monoroe’s shoulder as the three witches hugged their goodbyes. The Huntress gently took hold of her, wrapping an arm around Morgana as she pulled her in. For a moment, Monoroe visibly struggled with herself. Then her hesitant expression faded, and a familiar, confident smirk appeared in its place.
“Don’t you dare take another six months to come back,” Monoroe grinned. “I’m warning you. If I have to, I’ll come get you myself.”
Morgana gave her a blank look in response. Her eyes lingered on her tattooed arms, the brown strips of cloth that she used for a makeshift top and the decorative skulls braided into her thick, golden hair.
“Monoroe,” she said. “I live in a city that burns witches. You do realise that, right?”
Her smile widened. The Huntress leaned in, gently touching Morgana’s chin as she whispered:
“Never stopped me before.”
The next moment, she was gone. Morgana could feel Monoroe’s arm lift from her shoulder as the Huntress let her go, turning around and darting away from the clearing. She rarely seemed to walk anywhere. Morgana always saw her scaling boulders, climbing trees and using her spear to clear cliffs and rubble. It reminded her of a wild animal.
For a brief moment, the budding witch tried to imagine Monoroe in Camelot, knocking the armoured guards aside as she scaled the castle.
Morgana had no doubt that she could.
It wasn’t until the Huntress had completely vanished into the forest that Morgana remembered there was another person in front of her. She quickly made eye contact with Morgause, who was looking down on her with a single raised eyebrow. The budding witch watched as Morgause’s lips curled into a strange, knowing smirk.
“Nothing… nothing at all.”
The witch took a step forward, reaching out and taking Morgana’s hands into her own.
“Are you sure that I can’t convince you to stay?”
“No,” Morgana replied, trying hard not to give in as she shook her head at Morgause. “I need to go home. Arth… my family is waiting for me. I can’t leave them for long.”
“Very well. Just make sure that you return soon, all right? There’s somewhere special that I want to take you.”
Her curiosity immediately got the better of her.
“You do? Where?”
Morgause’s eyes started to gleam in response. The smirk on her face widened into a giddy, almost gleeful grin.
“You’ll see,” she replied. “There’s only ten days left until the next sabbat. We’ll go somewhere special. I promise you it’ll be worth it- but I need you to be here on the night before Beltane, all right?”
Morgana cocked her head in confusion at the word.
“What’s with that face?” Morgause asked, raising a single eyebrow as she saw Morgana’s sudden dispirited, crestfallen expression. The budding witch shook her head in response.
“Nothing. I just… I don’t have good memories of May… of Beltane.”
“Oh? And why is that?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“I disagree,” the witch replied. “Especially if the name alone makes you pull a face like that. Beltane shouldn’t be associated with negativity.”
“What should it be… associated with?”
“Oh, it’s one of my favourites!” Morgause replied. The witch seemed to be oblivious to Morgana’s inner turmoil as she smiled at her, her eyes bright and gleaming. “Beltane symbolises life itself. It’s the celebration of light and love in all its forms. We welcome the coming of Summer and everything that the warm weather brings with it. Beltane is a day of passion, growth and every kind of love that you can imagine.”
The contrast with Morgana’s memories was so strong that it was staggering. The irony of it was not lost on her, either. Leave it to Uther to turn something that wonderful into—
“But I’m not taking you out for Beltane,” Morgause continued, breaking right through Morgana’s dark thoughts. “I’m taking you to the event just before that. You’re joining me for something way more fun!”
“What do you mean? What are we doing?” Morgana replied. Morgause just shook her head in response, her smile widening. The witch’s sudden, unbridled giddiness made her feel strangely curious and wary at the same time. Morgana disliked surprises. She thrived on information. She wanted to be able to plan in advance, even for pleasant events. But lately, she’d been pushed into one unknown after another. The budding witch was growing weary of constantly being left in the dark. Morgana cocked her head, taking a step towards her as she said:
“Morgause, tell me—”
But she never got to finish her sentence. Morgana could feel a single, gloved finger press up against her lips, effectively silencing her as Morgause draped an arm over her shoulder.
“Shh. It’s no fun if you ruin the surprise.”
“I don’t like surprises, Morgause.”
Her smile widened.
“You’ll like this one.”
Arthur Pendragon was not an early riser. He preferred to lie in, taking the time to wake up on his own terms. The times that the Crown Prince had actually been able to do that could be counted on one hand, though. And today was no different. Though for a change, Arthur had actually gotten up of his own will. He hadn’t been able to sleep. Lancelot’s words had ended up haunting him, plaguing his mind all night. So had the thoughts that he’d had after their talk.
There was too much to discuss. Too much to investigate all on his own. Lancelot’s news had been five different kinds of disturbing, and he desperately needed a listening ear to sort through his suspicions.
That ear was supposed to have been back at dawn. The Crown Prince had planned to intercept her right at her bedroom door, skipping breakfast himself, just so he’d be able to catch his sister before she left her chambers.
That was the plan.
The plan failed.
Grumpily, Arthur made his way into the dining hall. He hadn’t been able to find Sarah or Guinevere, either. His lack of success, paired with his chronic lack of morning sugar, had placed him squarely in a bad mood.
At least he could fix one of those things. With a bit of luck, he could still catch Morgana in at the breakfast table, too- or so he thought as he made his way inside.
But the dining hall, too, was empty. Breakfast had been served – Arthur could smell the sweet, almost intoxicating scent of honeyed pancakes – but none of his relatives had actually made it to their chairs yet. The room was deserted.
A second glance around the dining hall proved Arthur wrong. The pancakes on the table had distracted him so much that he hadn’t even noticed Mithian at first. The Princess of Nemeth was standing at the window, silently looking out over the courtyard as she played with a lock of her hair.
She hadn’t noticed him, either. Arthur quickly cleared his throat, politely announcing his presence. She immediately turned around. The Crown Prince watched as a surprised expression crossed Mithian’s face, a look that was almost immediately replaced with elation.
“Oh! My lord!”
Mithian quickly fell into a bow, giving him a polite courtesy.
“I didn’t think anyone would be down this early,” she said. “The servant will be back- they forgot the butter and carob, sire.”
So that’s what happened. Agravaine would have had the servant’s head on a platter for leaving royal food unattended. Arthur probably should have been outraged, as well- but as he looked at Mithian, the Crown Prince could not stop thinking about his conversation with Lancelot.
“I know what, I saw, Arthur.”
Mithian was a gentle person. She knew how to play, like anyone at court did, but years of being stuck under Richard’s thumb had turned her from a social butterfly into a scared, docile wallflower. After Lancelot’s report, Arthur suspected her. But he couldn’t help but worry for her, too. Had she gotten herself caught up in something? Was someone taking advantage of her? Or was it something else entirely? Just what was going on?
He had to find out. But he couldn’t be straightforward about it. He’d scare her off. He’d have to be patient.
“Mithian. You look radiant today.”
“Thank you, my lord!” she beamed, smiling happily at him. He could see the Pendragon ring on her finger as she clasped her hands together. It looked incredibly well-cared for, shined and polished until it was gleaming.
The Crown Prince hadn’t seen her take it off once.
Looking down on her happy smile made Arthur feel a small pang of guilt. In his focus to spend time with Guinevere, he’d completed neglected the other side of his plan. Arthur had left it up to Morgana to break the news to Mithian. He hadn’t even checked up on her afterwards. Arthur hadn’t wondered what Mithian’s thoughts on the matter would be at all. As Crown Prince, he could do whatever he liked, after all – but seeing her in front of him like this did make him feel guilty.
Mithian was his responsibility. His selfishness affected her, too. Wasn’t it about time that he checked up on her?
“How are you settling in?” Arthur asked, trying to make small talk. The Princess of Nemeth responded almost immediately, her voice eager and high-spirited.
“Just fine, my lord,” she smiled. “Thank you for your concern. The servants in the castle have been incredibly accommodating. They’ve even tailored meals and decorations to my liking. I could not wish for more. Camelot has been incredibly kind to me.”
“I see,” Arthur replied, phrasing his next words very carefully. “So, you have no issues with… current arrangements?”
Mithian shook her head in response.
“No, sire. I am perfectly happy.”
He was a little surprised at her answer. But Mithian seemed completely sincere, looking up at him with eyes that gleamed with adoration. She really didn’t mind, he realised. She really was fine. Arthur exhaled, visibly relieved at her answer. He had been dreading what would have happened if she’d disagreed.
But she didn’t. She was perfectly happy.
He really was free.
The corners of Arthur’s mouth pulled into a smile. Just like that, it felt like another massive weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
“I’m glad to hear that, Mithian. I really am.”
He didn’t have to worry about anything. Arthur been right about her, after all – just like him, Mithian had been forced into this engagement. Of course she’d be all right with casting it aside. Of course she wouldn’t mind. After all, by doing what he did… Arthur had given her the closest thing to freedom that he could give.
“You know that you can come to me with any concerns you have, right?” he asked, his voice soft and gentle. The Princess of Nemeth gave him a nod in response.
“I know, my lord. Thank you.”
“You don’t need to thank me. You’re in this situation because of me, after all. I feel responsible for your wellbeing, Mithian. If you have any concerns at all, do not hesitate to let me know, all right? I will help you in any way I can. And if I can’t, I’ll send you to Morgana-”
That last word had a strange effect on the woman in front of him. It was like she had been struck with a whip. As soon as Arthur uttered his sister’s name, Mithian flinched. Her eyes grew wide. She shrunk into herself, recoiling from him like a frightened rabbit.
“To…to my lady?”
“…Yes?” Arthur replied, confused at the sudden, intense look of dread in her eyes. The Crown Prince watched as Mithian took a step backwards. She placed a hand over her mouth, shrinking into herself even more as she slowly shook her head at him.
And Arthur suddenly realised.
…You’re afraid of her.
Why are you afraid of her?
“Have… have I done something to upset you, my lord?” Mithian muttered, her voice barely audible.
“What? No,” Arthur replied, baffled. “Why would you say that?”
“Your sister- the lady Morgana, she…”
“She what? What’s going on?”
For a moment, the Princess of Nemeth hesitated. Arthur could see the doubt and worry in her eyes, piercing his chest in the same way that a blade would. His eyes narrowed.
“Mithian. Tell me. Please.”
“She… she scares me,” the young noble confessed, grasping onto the sides of her dress. “She came to talk to me a few days ago, about… about your wishes. I said I would comply, I did- but she… she threatened to…”
As Arthur looked at the woman in front of her, the Crown Prince could feel his heart drop to his stomach. His insides grew strangely cold as he remembered his conversation with Lancelot.
“Does Mithian know about this?”
“No. I was planning on having Morgana persuade her.”
“Right. That should go fantastically.”
It couldn’t be.
“Threatened to do what?” Arthur asked, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. “What did she do?”
“She… she approached me in my chambers,” the girl muttered. “She told me about your intentions. My lady threatened me to agree to it all, or else she’d… she’d…”
“She’d send my head to Richard in a box.”
Arthur could feel himself flinch, his eyes opening wide in shock. At first, the Crown Prince was convinced that he had misheard her. That he’d imagined the words that came out of her mouth. But as he looked at Mithian, Arthur could feel any possibility of an ill-chosen prank evaporate along with the seconds that ticked by.
She absolutely would.
As Arthur looked at the girl in front of him, the Crown Prince could feel a new emotion begin to form, rising up from the depths of his stomach and slowly spreading through his chest.
“Yes?” she asked, looking up at him timidly.
“Relax. Such a thing would never happen. You have my word.”
“Truly. You are my guest, are you not? I will not let any harm come to you while you’re in my charge.”
“But… but lady Morgana—”
But Arthur cut her off, his voice having lowered to a cold, sharp tone.
“Don’t worry. I’ll deal with Morgana.”
Arthur watched as the girl in front of him relaxed. Her shoulders sunk as she slowly exhaled, an expression of grateful relief spreading across her face. The sight of it made his stomach twist into a hard, painful knot. The Crown Prince instinctively knew why.
That pain… that was his fault.
He hadn’t meant to scare her. He hadn’t meant to hurt her at all. All Arthur wanted was for the three of them to be free. Arthur mentally cursed at himself for letting Morgana anywhere near Mithian in the first place. He knew what his sister was like. He knew exactly what kind of games she played. He’d seen it at court for almost two decades. Even Lancelot had warned him in advance.
But Arthur hadn’t listened. He’d been completely occupied with himself and Guinevere. But if this was to have any chance of succeeding, then Mithian needed to be protected just as much as Guinevere did. Maybe even more so.
He’d been a fool. As Arthur been strategizing in his head, desperately trying to think of every possible threat in the castle…
He hadn’t for a second considered Morgana to be one of them.
“You’ll really protect me?”
She looked so fragile. Like a strong breeze would knock her over.
She reminded him so much… of Guinevere.
Gently, Arthur placed a hand on her shoulder.
“I will. You have my word.”
The effect was instant. In the blink of an eye, Mithian had crossed the little bit of distance between them, throwing her arms around him with reckless abandon. The Crown Prince had not expected that. He hadn’t anticipated it at all. Arthur stood frozen, unable to move his arms as he tried to figure out what to do.
Engaged or not, Arthur knew how being caught in an embrace like this would look. He wriggled out from Mithian’s grasp, gently pushing her back by her shoulder.
‘I… appreciate the sentiment, but… please. Mithian.”
The Princess of Nemeth stepped back. But she didn’t let go of him completely. Arthur could still feel her arm around his waist. He could feel the warmth of her skin seeping through his clothes. He could smell the sweet fragrance that drifted up from her body. For as long as he could remember, Mithian had always smelled like hydrangeas. It had been a pleasant fragrance, if somewhat dull.
When had she started smelling like honey?
Arthur could feel her sigh, placing her head against his shoulder.
“Please forgive me. I… I know this is inappropriate.”
He let it happen. The Crown Prince suddenly felt very tired. He’d only started this ruse a few weeks ago, but he could already feel the strain of it draining his mental reserves. He wouldn’t be able to play this game for very long.
But he had to. It was Arthur that had dragged them all into this mess, using four people for his own selfishness. Arthur had to be the one to keep them safe throughout all of it.
He had to protect them. All of them.
She’d dropped the butter.
Guinevere staggered through the castle hallway, swaying back and forth on unsteady legs as the maidservant grasped at her head. She couldn’t hear the world around her. She couldn’t hear the sound of her own footsteps.
She couldn’t hear anything.
The space inside of Guinevere’s mind had turned into a raw, chaotic frenzy that violently drowned out everything else. It hurt. The noise was debilitating. Guinevere couldn’t breathe. She could barely move. Her hands started to tremble, her skin turning cold as the maidservant slowly began to lose all sense in her fingers.
She couldn’t hear.
She heard too much.
She could hear everything.
Burn it. Burn it all down.
She doesn’t know! He didn’t tell her anything! Hahahaha!
He lied. He lied he lied he lied he LIED-
Guinevere groaned, clutching at her forehead as the pain gradually worsened. She could feel herself getting nauseous; the whirlpool of emotions inside her growing more unmanageable with every step she took. She couldn’t control it. She couldn’t regulate it. In a small, barely audible voice, the maidservant muttered:
But they never stopped. The second Guinevere opened her mouth, the chaos in her head grew even stronger, pushing on the fringes of her consciousness and slowly twisting the world around her into an incomprehensible blur.
Of course he lied. Of course he’s playing games! Does she really think that she’s worth more?
That she’s worth anything? Stupid, stupid, stupid!
He doesn’t care. None of them care. And why would they? She’s just there to scratch an itch-
“Be quiet. Please-”
There to be discarded!
There to be forgotten!
Stupid, stupid girl. Why does she keep letting them? Why does she keep getting hurt?
Burn it all.
The maidservant fruitlessly clasped her hands over her ears, desperate to drown out the cacophony of voices that assaulted her mind. She couldn’t hear her own whimpers. Her legs started to shake under the mental strain of it all; her limbs trembling beneath her as Guinevere fought to stay upright. As she fought to keep control.
And the maidservant was losing.
He’ll use you. He’ll discard you when he’s done, the voices hissed, scorching her mind and making Guinevere groan in pain.
Like they all do.
Like they’ve always done!
It hurts so much. Don’t you want that to stop? Don’t you want that to end?
We love you. Don’t you want us to make it end?
“Shut up. Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.”
But they never did.