“Yes. This will do.”
The Jacoban priest frowned. As he turned to the Witch Hunter, his scowl was filled in equal parts with confusion and disapproval.
“Morholt, this is barely more than an office,” Agravaine protested. “Are you sure? We have much more suitable accommodations for formal interrogations that will—“
But Morholt interrupted him, cutting him off halfway his sentence. The Witch Hunter had an annoying habit of doing that. In a curt, final tone, he said:
“I do not need a dungeon. This will do…”
“Except for those. The flags need to go.”
“Wha- you can’t be- that is sacred Jacoban symbolism!” Agravaine sputtered. Morholt gave him a short look of disdain before turning his gaze back towards the flags on the wall.
“I am here for the truth,” he spoke. “Not to scare people into compliance. Take them down, Priest.”
The Royal Adviser’s scowl deepened even further. He couldn’t believe how badly he’d been tricked by the man’s reputation. Over the years, Agravaine had heard nothing but praises being sung for Morholt. He’d exposed more vile witches than most of the other Hunters combined. He’d even dealt with the Demon of Scarborough by himself. Agravaine had believed Mordred to be a kindred spirit, had thought that he’d be the sort of man that the Jacoban Priest could admire.
But he’d been wrong. The more Agravaine saw, the more he became convinced that he’d chosen the wrong man.
And Morholt hadn’t even started yet.
“…fine,” he sneered, glaring at the Witch Hunter. “I’ll see it done.”
“Good. Then we can begin. Fetch your King for me.”
“The… the King?” he asked, hesitantly. Morholt gave him a single nod in response.
“Yes. The King. Bring him.”
“Bring him… here?”
“Of course. I work thoroughly, Priest. And I intend to start at the top.”
“Wh- surely you are joking, Morholt?” Agravaine replied, barely believing his own ears. This had to be a misunderstanding. It had to be a joke. Even a man like Morholt could not be that delusional.
“He’s the King, Morholt. The Ruler of Camelot. That is completely unnecessary—”
But, once again, Agravaine was unable to finish his sentence.
“On the contrary,” the Witch Hunter explained. “An impartial investigation focuses on all aspects of a Kingdom. Including the top. This is how I work,” Morholt continued, a strange, steely look filling his eyes. “And I will not give any special treatment. Not to your townsfolk. Not to your knights. And definitely not to your King.”
Mad. This man was mad. It was the only explanation.
“Morholt, that is ridiculous—”
“I disagree. And you are not free of suspicion yourself, Priest. Now do as you’re told.”
Agravaine groaned. He was certain of it now. The man was insane. He could not believe that he’d made such a huge error in judgment, such a monumental mistake. This would not end well. The King was going to have his head on a platter. The Jacoban Priest could tell. He could feel it in the depths of his bones.
“Watcher’s mercy. Very well.”
This was going to be a disaster.
At the expression on Gawain’s boyish face, Morgana dropped her teasing act entirely. Something was bothering him. Something important. Morgana could understand that, too. The Princess led her friend to the other side of the hall, through the doors and into her bedchambers, making sure to firmly shut the doors behind her.
She’d never invited Gawain into an area this private before. It was his first time setting foot in her bedroom. Morgana could see the would-be knight look around in awe and disbelief. She knew why; until a few years ago, Gawain’s entire house would have fit in Morgana’s bedchambers.
“All right. We’re alone. You can say what you need to say, Gawain.”
“Wait, isn’t Sarah supposed to be here?”
She wasn’t. Her maidservant was off keeping an eye on Morholt in Morgana’s absence. But Gawain didn’t need to know that. The witch looked back at him, a grin spreading across her lips as she gave him a casual shrug.
“I lied. I do that sometimes.”
She expected him to laugh – he’d always laughed at her pranks and tricks when they were kids – but this time, her words seemed to have a strange effect on the person in front of her. Morgana watched in confusion as Gawain flinched. He halted in his tracks, eyes growing wide before clouding over, like she’d suddenly struck at him with a whip. She’d never seen Gawain react like that before.
Morgana didn’t like it. That wasn’t normal. It wasn’t supposed to happen. She instantly grew anxious, her mind jumping to the moment where Guinevere had shown a similar expression – right before running out on her.
But the witch hadn’t snapped at Gawain. She hadn’t done anything. What was going on? Morgana needed Gawain in the exact same way that she needed Guinevere. She didn’t want him to look at her like that. Ever. Had someone said something to him? Was somebody at court trying to turn him against her? Her mind immediately began to make a list of possible suspects, re-tracing every conversation that she’d had in the past month with Gawain as a subject—
“Are you a faerie?”
For a second, Morgana was dumbstruck. She had not expected that question; to her, the accusation had come like a bolt from the blue. The witch watched as Gawain straightened his back, his expression suddenly dead-serious as he repeated his question.
“Morgana, are you one of the Fae?”
“Wh- no. Of course not.”
“Are you sure?”
Morgana could not finish her sentence. Not because she didn’t want to – but the sorceress herself still had lingering doubts about that exact question. Doubts that had not completely been silenced. Not even by Monoroe’s explanation.
Morgana wanted to say yes.
She really did.
She didn’t know.
She didn’t know if saying yes…
Would be a lie.
As Morgana faltered, she could see Gawain suddenly taking a step forward. The witch watched as he moved right beside her and placed a hand on the side of her arm. She could feel the warmth through her dress. She frowned in confusion, trying to catch her friend’s gaze – but Gawain wouldn’t make eye contact. The would-be knight stubbornly looked down, focusing on the floor as he spoke.
“It doesn’t matter, okay? It doesn’t matter.”
At that moment, their conversation was interrupted by the familiar creak of a door opening. Gawain and Morgana turned to see Sarah, the sorceress’s sole remaining maidservant, quietly move into the room. She closed the door behind her.
And her expression spoke volumes.
“I have some news. Guess who’s about to have an official audience with Sir Witch Hunter?”
“Witch Hunter?!” Gawain replied, alarmed. But Morgana had stopped paying attention to him. She narrowed her eyes at her maidservant, immediately shifting to the more pressing threat.
But Sarah shook her head in response.
That same evening, interrogations began. They lasted for more than a week. Morholt’s suspects entered hourly, ranging from the lowest farmer on the outskirts to King Uther himself.
And Morholt kept true to his word. Not a single person was harmed. Agravaine’s dungeon cells and torture devices remained untouched. Nobody was detained, the door even remaining slightly ajar to provide an exit. Water was provided. Schedules were kept into account. The chair that Morholt chose to place opposite of him even had a small cushion for comfort.
Not a single person was inconvenienced in any way.
It was completely unheard of.
And it scared Arthur, Lancelot and Morgana more than any other Witch Hunter could have.
Because Morholt was impossible to read.
“I’m not sure what I’m doing here. Explain yourself, Morholt.”
“I am trying to get a grasp on how your Kingdom is run, Uther,” the Witch Hunter replied calmly. “I have studied your doctrine and laws regarding magic-”
“There is nothing wrong with those laws.”
“So you say,” he nodded. “But the degree of violence against people that have been accused in the past is a bit out of proportion, is it not?”
“Of course not,” Uther said. “Such measures are necessary. You cannot save a Kingdom from oblivion without cutting away the parts that are corrupted. You will find that any Kingdom in Albion will do the same.”
“So it seems.”
“Well? Is that everything you need?” Uther scoffed, looking towards the door. “I have more important business to attend to than this.
Morholt leaned forward on his desk in response, bringing hand up to his chin as he stared the Iron King down.
“No. There is one more matter.”
“Why does no one in your castle mention the Queen?”
Uther crossed his arms, his eyes narrowing as his expression immediately became hostile.
“…That is none—”
“-absolutely none of your business!” Agravaine bellowed, outraged by the accusation that the Witch Hunter had just sent his way. But Morholt was unfazed. He glared at the Royal Adviser from the other side of the desk.
“It is exactly my business,” he said, speaking in a low, commanding tone. “Hatred to the degree that you display is always personal. It is not magic that drives your crusade, Priest. It’s trauma.”
“You have no right-”
“Your rage is aimed at a person, isn’t it, Agravaine?” Morholt continued, coldly cutting him off. “Someone important. Someone that you once cared a great deal for. Who was it? A lover? A mother?”
“Enough of this poppycock!” the Royal Adviser snapped. “I assure you, Morholt, my disdain for magic—”
“-Is completely justified. I have seen the damage it can do if left unchecked,” Arthur spoke. “I’ve seen enough of the destruction it can cause to know for sure. Magic is dangerous.”
“Indeed. So you believe that your Kingdom’s rules are just?”
“I do,” Arthur nodded.
“You believe that magic deserves to be outlawed on punishment of death?”
“That those who practice it deserve to be burned on the pyre, with no chance at peace?”
“I do,” the Crown Prince said, lying through his teeth. He watched as Morholt’s eyes narrowed in response.
“Then why did you insist on funeral rites for the sorcerer boy who died in your last witch hunt?”
“He… he didn’t deserve to die,” Gawain admitted, timidly looking up at the Witch Hunter. “None of them did. They didn’t do anything wrong.”
“So they were innocent?”
“Yeah. They were.”
“Even if they did have magic?”
“Even… even if one of them had magic, they… they weren’t using it to hurt anyone,” the would-be knight mumbled. “They shouldn’t have to die for it. That’s wrong. They’re just trying to help.”
“You sound oddly familiar with them.”
“So you don’t believe that magic is dangerous?”
“Wait, I didn’t mean—”
“You don’t think that magic can cause damage without repair?” Morholt continued, ruthlessly pushing Gawain. “That it’s wickedness incarnate? That it corrupts all it touches? That it turns honest people into vile monsters that would kill a man in broad daylight?”
“NO! She wouldn’t do that!”
“I… I didn’t… I don’t know—”
“-what you’re talking about.”
Lancelot had cursed the day that he’d made a deal with Nimueh a thousand times over. He would probably curse it a thousand times more in the future. But on the day he needed it the most – on the day that his insights could mean the difference between life and death for the ones he cared for – his uncanny insight utterly failed him. It brought him nothing. No fear. No hatred. No grudge, or greed, or any other deep-seated feeling that Arthur and Morgana could exploit. Lancelot could not sense a single emotion. The man in front of him might as well have been an empty shell.
For the first time in years… Lancelot could not read his opponent.
“If I may… how old are you, Lancelot?”
“Nearly twenty, sir.”
“You seem wise beyond your years. In fact, the entire castle appears to be rather amazed by your sense of wisdom. It’s very unusual for someone so young to be this insightful.”
“I disagree, sir,” Lancelot replied, choosing his words very carefully. “Not unnatural. Just unlikely.”
“Well said. I agree with you. And on that note…”
“It is even more unlikely that someone like you, with such uncanny insight, would not know exactly what is going on in this Kingdom.”
“I have duties to attend to. Thank you for your time.”
With that, the future Duke of Henford left Morholt’s chambers. He softly closed the door behind him. It did not take long for Lancelot’s footsteps to vanish into the distance, disappearing into the castle’s many corridors.
Morholt did not make an effort to chase after him. The Witch Hunter let him go. He simply leaned back in his chair, gazing at the door as he allowed a silence to fall in his chambers.
The future Duke of Henford been the last person of the day.
After Lancelot, there would be no more interrogations.
There didn’t need to be.
They’d told him all he needed.
Uther had commanded that life at Camelot was to continue as normal while Morholt’s investigation progressed. Nobles continued to visit court. Public petitions resumed. Decisions about the future had to be made. Arthur and Morgana still had a castle and Kingdom to run, a fact that gave both of them considerably less time to spend on Morholt than they’d liked. Sarah once again proved to be invaluable. The maidservant stuck to the shadows, reporting back to Morgana with everything that she saw and witnessed.
And Morgana despised what she heard.
The sorceress was lost in thought, looking down at the dance floor from the shadows of the balcony. Every piece of information that Sarah gave her made Morgana more frustrated on what to do.
They couldn’t get a bead on him.
Morholt had seen through Arthur like the Crown Prince had been a piece of glass. Lancelot had been completely unable to read him, failing to come back with anything that the sorceress could use. Even Gawain had suddenly changed from an invaluable asset to a possible danger. Morgana hadn’t been able to speak with him at all. Not since their moment in her bedchambers.
Her friend’s words had taken her completely by surprise. She’d told him to wait until she’d come back – but by the time she’d returned to the hallway, Gawain had been nowhere to be found. She hadn’t seen him since.
Morgana had no idea how Gawain had found out, or who had told him. She trusted that he wouldn’t betray her – but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that Gawain was abysmal at lying, at a moment where letting he truth slip would be catastrophic.
And she hadn’t been able to stop him from being summoned by Morholt until it was too late.
The sorceress had to find out what he’d said to Morholt. And she had to do it fast. But Morgana couldn’t focus solely on Gawain. She had to think about the big picture. She had to consider every angle. If she got stuck on individual chess pieces, she’d lose control of the game board entirely, and her body would end up on the pyre – or worse. She couldn’t allow for that to happen. Morgana had to regain control at all costs. She had come up with a strategy. And she had to do it quickly.
The sorceress had absolutely no time to lose.
As she pondered on which pieces to advance, Morgana could hear the familiar sound of heavy boots coming up behind her. She didn’t have to look back to see who it was. The sorceress knew exactly who had approached her.
Morgana could tell. Morholt had entered her ballroom without any regard for his physical appearance, breaking some of the most basic unspoken rules at court. He hadn’t changed into a formal suit. He hadn’t disarmed himself of his weapons before he walked through the door. The Witch Hunter hadn’t even chosen to take off his disgusting, mud-covered boots.
Without the slightest bit of respect, he had dragged his filth right through her beautiful, polished ballroom.
Through her lair.
Somehow, that fact angered Morgana more than anything else.
The sorceress turned around, masking her feelings of outrage behind her tell-tale mask as she smiled at him; a sweet, saccharine layer of deception.
“Do you dance, Morholt?”
The Witch Hunter looked away.
“I do not.”
“Would you like me to teach you?” Morgana asked, her grin widening. She watched as Morholt shook his head at her.
“Very well. Suit yourself, my lord.”
Morgana had done what she could to find information on Morholt in advance. It wasn’t hard to find her uncle’s pathetic attempt at a hidden library. For a Royal Adviser, he was incredibly predictable about his hiding spots – but the sorceress hadn’t known about all of Morholt’s deeds, all of his achievements, until they had received him at court.
And one deed in particular stood out to her.
“Was it you who exposed the demon witch of Scarborough?”
Morgana had witnessed, first-hand, what the result of that achievement had been. What scars it had left. Before, Morholt had just been a peculiar Witch Hunter. Not anymore. The board had changed. Their dance was now personal. Morholt had harmed one of her people. One of her coven – someone that belonged to her.
And Tyronoe was not the only one. Morgana had finally learned that. After connecting with them all on Walpurgisnacht, after feeling their hopes and fears and joy like it was her own, Morgana was no longer able to differentiate. They were all her people. They were all her coven.
They were all one.
The sorceress could feel the rage simmering just beneath the surface. It was only barely contained, tempting her and whispering to her to hurl Morholt over the nearest balcony.
Disobeying that voice was slowly becoming difficult.
“If you’ll excuse me,” Morgana smiled, “I’ll go find someone who is willing to dance.”
Distance. She needed distance. Morgana knew that she was teetering on the edge; she had to leave before her magic became visible. The sorceress turned her back to Morholt, graciously strolling away as her eyes were drawn to the nearest staircase. That would work. She needed distance from him. As much as possible, so she could think of a way to turn this back into her favour-
But the Princess hadn’t made it more than three steps before Morholt called her back.
He was done playing.
“I will not dance,” Morholt spoke, his voice low and commanding.
“But we do have something to discuss—”
Just like that, it was too late. Her carefully cultivated mask cracked. Morgana could feel the outrage, the wrath, in the depths of her chest overflow at Morholt’s words, rapidly filling the rest of her body. All thought of retreating disappeared. Every notion of evading his accusation vanished, fading into oblivion like early morning mist. If it were anyone else, Morgana would have run. She would have retreated, dancing circles around them before spinning a web of manipulation that would leave them confused and entangled.
But as the Witch Hunter faced her back, his cold, grey eyes piercing into her naked skin, Morgana suddenly realised.
She didn’t want to run from Morholt.
She wanted to tear him apart.
It had been too much.
Her kind had suffered too much.
Because of people like him.
Because of him.
You want to burn a witch?
Come, then. I’m right here.
What are you waiting for?
Come burn a witch.