“…and the fence in the backyard has broken again. Gawain, could you be a dear and come home early tomorrow to give me a hand? I’d really appreciate it. Oh, and we’ve run out of eggs again. I think we might need to go to the market and purchase some more hens…”
“Sure, mum. I’ll take care of it.”
“Thank you, sweetheart. I knew I could count on you.”
Gawain’s mother had a habit of doing this. During cooking, she’d make a list of chores for the rest of the household. Gawain knew that. So he often hung around the kitchen before dinnertime on purpose. He knew that his father was out working at the trading post at all hours of the day. So when he came home, he’d usually be too tired to do anything around the house. And Gaheris and Gareth were still too young to really rely on. That meant that most chores that Gisele came up with automatically went to Gawain.
The would-be knight didn’t mind. He liked looking after his mother and siblings. It made him feel proud. It made him feel reliable. Normally, Gawain wouldn’t even wait until after dinner, but walk off to do what was asked of him right away.
But not this time. This time, the young redhead could barely remember what it was that Gisele had asked of him. Something about eggs… probably. Gawain wasn’t paying attention. His mind was elsewhere, distracted and completely occupied by other things.
By other people.
Talking with Lancelot had helped. It always did. By now, Gawain knew what it was that he wanted to do. He’d finally reached a decision.
The young redhead just… didn’t know if it was the right one.
His mother must have been able to feel his eyes linger on her back. Without turning around, Gisele called out to her eldest son.
“Gawain, honey. Is there something you’d like to talk about?”
There was. But Gawain didn’t know how to begin. He couldn’t outright tell her. Lancelot might have been able to figure it out by himself, but his mother barely even knew Morgana. Gawain knew that he couldn’t tell her what he’d seen. He probably couldn’t tell anyone. Not without consequences. The young redhead shook his head as he looked down at the table.
“No. Not really,” he mumbled. His mother, glancing back at him over her shoulder.
“Are you sure?” she asked, clearly not believing him.
“Yeah. I’m sure. I’m fine, mum.”
As the young redhead stubbornly avoiding eye contact with his mother, he could see Gisele turn around. She’d finished cooking. Gawain watched as she placed a plate filled with Yorkshire pudding in front of him. The scent of freshly-baked pastry drifted through the living room, reaching Gawain’s nose and making his stomach growl with hunger. He absent-mindedly reached out and grabbed one.
Gisele carefully studied Gawain’s expression as he gobbled up the pastry. She didn’t say anything. She just watched, waiting quietly until he’d finished eating.
When half of the Yorkshire puddings on the plate had been reduced to nothing but crumbs, she finally spoke up. In a gentle tone, his mother reached out again.
“Gawain. I know you,” Gisele said. “You never sit at my table before dinner unless there’s something weighing down your mind.”
Gawain’s expression fell. His mum had read him like a book. As always. As long as he could remember, the would-be knight had never been able to keep anything from her. Gawain let out a sigh.
“It’s… some things happened,” he confessed. “Some things that I need to… make a decision about.”
“I see. Is it something that I can help with?”
The young redhead shook his head.
“I… I don’t know, mum. I don’t think so.”
“But you don’t know for sure? Then tell me anyway, honey. Maybe saying your worries out loud is already enough.”
Gawain hesitated. He wasn’t good at telling half-truths. He wasn’t good at keeping things from people he cared about, either. The would-be knight didn’t like complicated things. He wanted things to be simple. To be black-and-white.
But there was nothing simple about what he’d seen that night. Gawain still wasn’t even really sure how to feel, now that he knew. Angry? Hurt? Betrayed? Accepting? He didn’t know. Gawain wasn’t sure how to deal with the fact that one of his best friends, that he’d thought he knew better than almost anyone, had a side to her that she’d never shown him. Ever. Not in the five years that they’d known each other. Not once.
She hadn’t even hinted at it.
Why had she never told him?
As Gawain’s expression clouded over, his mother gently placed her hand on top of his.
“Gawain,” she spoke, her voice calm and patient. “Lingering doubts are like the air inside a room. You need to open a window and ventilate every once in a while. If you don’t, your mind will grow stuffy and cause all kinds of headaches.”
“I know,” he mumbled, avoiding eye contact with Gisele as he looked at a dark spot on the table. “I just…”
“Talk to me. What is it that you’re so worried about?”
Under his mother’s patient gaze, Gawain let out a long, heavy sigh.
He had to try.
“What would you do if… if you found out something about someone you cared for?” he asked, trying his hardest to dance around the truth. “Something really big? A side of themselves that… that they never told you about?”
Gisele took a moment to reply. Gawain could see her consider her words carefully before she answered.
“This person is very important to you, aren’t they?” she asked, guessing at a truth that Gawain had barely acknowledged himself. The would-be knight nodded at her in return.
“Do you love her?”
It was the second time that someone had asked him that question. Gawain didn’t answer. He didn’t have to – he could sense the way his mother interpreted his silence. The young redhead could see Gisele hesitate for a second. She could have questioned him further. She could have demanded an answer. But she chose not to.
Gawain was strangely grateful that she didn’t.
“And this… new side, that they’ve shown you,” she continued. “Is it harmful to you?”
“No,” Gawain replied, shaking his head. “I don’t… I don’t think so. It’s not… it doesn’t hurt anyone.”
“So, what you found out about them – it’s like a personality trait that you didn’t know about?”
That wasn’t it. Not really. But it might as well have been. His mother’s interpretation came close enough to the truth that the young redhead just nodded, not bothering to try and correct her.
“I see. And you want to know what I would do, if I were in your situation?” Gisele concluded, summarising his words up to that point. She was good at that; getting to the heart of a problem even if she didn’t have all the details. Gawain nodded at her again.
“Well, in that case… if it were me…”
Gawain watched as a smile spread across his mother’s face.
“I think I’d love them more.”
For a moment, the would-be knight was convinced that he’d misheard her. Or that she’d misspoken. But his mother did not correct herself. Gisele merely smiled. It was a strange, distant smile, hinting at a layer of experience that only those with age could possess.
“I know that sounds strange, honey,” Gisele said. “But it’s the truth. It’s what I would do.”
“Why? I don’t get it,” Gawain replied. His words caused the smile on his mother’s dimpled cheeks to spread even wider. She looked at her son with a gentle, patient expression.
“Because people are complex creatures, Gawain,” Gisele explained. “Especially those who have lived for a while. The older you get, the more complicated your personality becomes. That goes for everyone. Even you – you’re not the same person today that you were as a boy, are you?” she asked. Gawain shook his head at her.
“I don’t think so.”
“It’s like that,” Gisele nodded. “At your age, everyone already has many layers to them, like an onion. Or a layered cake. And most people only show one or two sides of themselves to the outside world. All the other layers remain hidden.”
“If that person is a good friend, then they might trust you enough to show you more layers,” his mother continued. “And if they are your family, then they might let you see a deep layer that strangers never would. Like Gareth and his plushies. Does that make sense?”
“I… I guess so,” Gawain said, looking hesitant. He knew how horrified Gareth would be if any of his friends ever found out that he still slept with a teddy bear. But the would-be knight didn’t really understand what his mother was trying to say. What did Gareth’s teddy bears have to do with Morgana?
But Gisele was not done with her explanation. She smiled at him, her eyes gently telling Gawain to be patient.
“When you love someone,” she continued, “it means that you’re close enough to have seen many sides of them already.”
“It means that you already value every layer of them that you’ve found. Every part of them.”
“They’ve probably revealed more of themselves to you than they’ve shown to anyone else in their life. And you’ve shown more of yourself to them than to anyone else, too. It’s a sign of deep trust. That’s what love is, Gawain. Opening yourself up to the other person completely. And with a bond like that…”
“If you then find another side to them, even accidentally…”
“A side that even you didn’t know existed…”
Gisele smiled, looking at her son with an expression that was full of gentle, motherly warmth.
“Wouldn’t you love them even more?”
Not two days after Arthur’s decision, Agravaine’s Witch Hunter reached the castle of Camelot.
“Presenting!” the royal usher yelled. “Morholt of Northumbria! Professional Witch Hunter, Liberator of Scarborough and Bane of all Sorcerers!”
Arthur, Morgana and Lancelot fell into a bow, formally greeting the man that had just entered. Their gesture was not reciprocated. They could feel the Witch Hunter’s eyes travel through the room, lingering on each of them individually before finally settling on the King of Camelot.
“Uther,” he said, greeting the Iron King. His low, baritone voice outmatched half the men in Camelot. Uther cocked his head in response, looking down on the man with a curious expression.
“Morholt,” The Iron King spoke. “I’ve heard much about you. You seem to have quite the reputation to your name. Was it you who exposed the demon witch of Scarborough?”
Morholt looked up at Uther without bowing. Without courtesing. Without even lowering his head, standing tall as he coldly maintained eye contact with the King of Camelot.
“Then your fame precedes you,” Uther nodded. “I am pleased to see that you’ve wasted no time in answering our summons. All of Camelot thanks you for your expedience.”
It was high praise. Especially coming from the King himself. But Morholt barely reacted to it. The court watched in silence as the Witch Hunter raised a single eyebrow.
“Not all of Camelot, Uther. Or you would not have this problem.”
In the silence that followed, Agravaine quickly took a step forward.
“It is an honour to receive you, Morholt,” the Jacoban Priest said. “The sooner this evil is burned out of Camelot, the better.”
“I have taken the liberty to go ahead and prepare anything you might need,” he continued. “You and your companions are welcome to take up residence in the guest suite in the east wing. Our servants are preparing an interrogation room as we speak, and naturally you will have access to any and all tools that you would require in order to—“
But Morholt interrupted him, cutting him off halfway his sentence.
“No. Not needed.”
The Royal Advisor had not expected that. Agravaine immediately backtracked.
“Ah. Of course,” he spoke. “Forgive me – of course you’ve already gathered all of the interrogation tools you would need to-”
“I’ve brought nothing.”
“I… see,” he replied, confusion slowly starting to creep into his voice. “Not to question you, Morholt, of course- but then how do you plan on obtaining a confession? You need the proper equipment to put the right pressure on-”
But for the third time in a row, the Jacoban Priest was rudely interrupted. And this time, the cold disdain in Morholt’s tone of voice was unmistakable.
“You mean torture. It will not be needed.”
The entire court watched as Agravaine opened his mouth, then closed it again. The confusion on his face was clear for all to see. And he was not the only one: the sudden confrontation between the Jacoban Priest and the Witch Hunter had come so far out of left field that it left most of audience speechless.
The two people that stood behind him – a mercenary and a man in robes that looked oddly Peteran – shared a moment of eye contact. They seemed to have witnessed this kind of scene before. The man in robes quickly stepped forward to clarify.
“Contrary to popular belief, sir, torture is an extremely ineffective way to gather information,” he explained. “Once the pain starts, the subject will say anything to make it stop. Regardless of whether or not that is the truth. Even if they don’t actually know the answer. It tends to muddle any attempt to find the actual culprit. Morholt never uses any form of torture because of it. In short, it’s—”
“It’s barbaric, unnecessary and a complete waste of time that has no place in any decent Kingdom.”
If the court had expected anything from the Witch Hunter, it was not this. His behaviour was unheard of. Multiple sets of eyes flicked over to the Jacoban Priest – but Agravaine himself seemed to be just as baffled as the rest of the court was.
“I- that’s- very well,” he said, trying not to let his confused frustration show and failing miserably. “What is it that you require, then?”
Morholt crossed his arms, letting out a sound that was somewhere between a scoff and an amused chuckle.
“Simple,” he said. “I need a room, a table, and two chairs.”
As the sun set, Morgana Pendragon had retreated to safety of her chambers. It was rare for her to withdraw from court that early. Usually, the Princess stayed in public until long after nightfall, enjoying herself and gathering as much information as possible on her opponents.
But not this time. This time, the sorceress wasn’t ready.
How could she be? Morgana had no idea what was going on.
She’d never encountered a person like that. Not once. Every single Witch Hunter that she’d seen in Camelot had been the same type as Agravaine: biased, arrogant, infuriatingly self-righteous and quick to jump to whatever means they wanted to in order to hunt down her kind.
Torture was expected. Bystander casualties were normal. Innocence proven in death, only after drowning in the lake or burning to death on the pyre, was seen as completely acceptable.
It was simply the type of world they lived in.
She’d never met a Witch Hunter that held the same opinion as her.
How did you deal with a Witch Hunter that shared your views?
Morgana didn’t know. The witch slowly took a sip of her wine, lost deep in thought as she pondered her moves. She knew barbaric. She could handle barbaric. Morgana had had more than a decade to learn how to outsmart it.
But the sorceress had no idea how to handle Morholt. She didn’t even know where to begin. And that scared her more than she wanted to admit. The witch took another sip of her wine, forcing down her anxiety in the same way that she forced down the contents of her glass.
Morgana could sense it. Something was off with this game board. Her opponent’s pieces were not acting the way they should. The way she could anticipate. The way she could win against.
Something… wasn’t right.
The witch was drawn out of her thoughts by the sudden sounds of a commotion outside. She could hear voices. They were far away; Morgana could tell that they were coming from the end of the hallway. Like any member of the Pendragon family, she had guards placed outside of her chambers to guard her. And as part of her door was see-through, Uther had demanded that they’d leave an entire hallway between her and them, for ‘modesty’.
But they were making enough noise that Morgana could hear them anyway. Her curiosity was instantly peaked. She turned around, taking her wine glass with her as she moved towards the source of the commotion.
It was unusual for her to receive a visitor this late at night. It was even more unusual for the guards to refuse to let them pass. That could only mean one of two things. Letting whoever was on the other side reach her would either be dangerous, or incredibly indecent.
To Morgana, both options were equally interesting.
As the sorceress approached the end of the hallway, she could hear the knights arguing with a voice on the other side of the archway. A male voice.
A familiar one.
“Sir, we can’t let you pass—”
“C’mon! You know me!” Gawain complained. “Look, just step out of the way for a second-”
The young redhead tried his best to slip past them, but failed. Morgana watched as the two knights blocked off the doorway.
“Sir, we cannot compromise the lady’s safety.”
“Wha- It’s me!” he protested. “Gawain! David, we drink together ever Wednesday! Come on, I just need to pass here so I can talk to—”
“Mor! Hi!” Gawain yelled, instantly changing his tone when his friend came into view. The sorceress raised a single eyebrow at the sight of him.
“Gawain. What are you doing?”
“Huh? I’m trying to get through. I came to see you. Sorry. I know it’s late.”
It if were anyone else, their blatant disregard for proper decency would have annoyed Morgana, or even if not sent her into outrage. But with Gawain, all she could feel was amusement.
She couldn’t help it. His innocent cluelessness was hilarious.
“Yes. It is late,” she smirked, placing a hand under her chin. “Gawain, are you aware of the message you’re sending right now?”
“Huh? What do you mean?” Gawain asked, making Morgana’s impish grin spread even wider.
“You’re trying to visit me after sundown.”
“Yeah? I know what time it is.”
“In my personal chambers.”
“Alone. At night. With no chaperone.”
“Huh? Chaperone? What does that have to do with…”
“OH! NO! No, that’s not- I didn’t mean-!”
Gawain turned away, beet-red and covering the side of his face as Morgana bellowed with laughter. It had been a while since she’d made someone blush that much. Morgana knew that Gawain hadn’t had intended it like that. She’d never seen him express romantic interest in anyone to begin with. But the setup had been too perfect. She hadn’t been able to resist.
Sometimes, messing with her friends was just too much fun.
Eventually, Gawain pulled himself together. Morgana’s laughter turned into amused chuckles, then stopped. With the shadow of a smile still playing on her lips, she turned to the knights in front of her.
“Guards. Let him through.”
“But, my lady-”
“My maid is present,” Morgana said, not allowing them to protest. “No virtue will be harmed. Now do as you’re told.”
“…yes, my lady.”
They parted, letting an awkward and still blushing Gawain into the hallway.
And the sorceress couldn’t help herself.
“So?” Morgana asked, wanting to tease him just a little bit more. “What are you risking a castle-wide scandal for to come tell me?”
“I didn’t mean it like that, I swear-”
“I know you didn’t, Gawain. Be glad that they stopped you in the hallway, though. Imagine what kind of gossip would have started if you’d walked right into my bedchambers?”
Morgana watched as his cheeks began to burn even redder. Her friend visibly cringed, covering his entire face with his hand as he shied away from her.
“I- I didn’t think- I’ll just… I’ll just come back tomorrow,” he mumbled. The witch let out another chuckle as she took a step towards him.
“I’m just teasing you, Gawain. You don’t need to leave. Stay.”
Morgana begrudgingly reined herself in. She knew that she had to stop. Besides, Gawain’s visit was unusual. He’d never come all the way to her chambers just to find her. There had to be something important this time. The witch pushed the impish side of her to the back of her mind, focusing on her friend.
“So?” she asked, this time in a much more gentle tone of voice. “What’s so important that it couldn’t wait until morning?”
“I… I need to ask you something. Something important.”
His expression fell.
“Something really important. About you.”
That was odd. Morgana frowned, subconsciously mimicking Gawain’s expression. She could tell that whatever he wanted to talk about was really bothering him. Did it have to do with the Witch Hunter? No, that didn’t appear to be it. Morgana doubted if Arthur had even told Gawain about that yet.
But then what could it be?
Her frown deepened. None of her chess pieces were moving the way she expected them to.
“What happened?” Morgana asked. The sorceress watched as her friend’s face clouded over even more in response.
“Mor… can we talk?”