Author’s Note: For those of you who are into title meanings, the explanation is found at the bottom.
“You are officially summoned to the castle. We are here to escort you. You are to depart for the west wing at once.”
“N-now? R-right a-away? It’s… it’s the middle of the night…”
“Yes, miss. Right away. Morholt of Northumbria has summoned you for questioning regarding acts of sorcery.”
“The Witch Hunter.”
It took Morgana and Lancelot a long time to emerge from the broom closet.
Despite Morgana’s recently reacquired calm, Lancelot could tell that the witch was still agitated. That red glow around her body had vanished. But much of the anger from earlier remained, still simmering beneath the surface.
The future Duke knew that she was in no state to play social games. Lancelot did not feel like having that same hallway scene happen to them a second time, either. He didn’t want to risk anyone seeing Morgana with that glow around her body. After lighting the nearest lantern, the future Duke sunk through his knees, plopping down on the dusty, worn-out floor without a single care for his spotless trousers.
“So?” he said, raising a single eyebrow. “I saw you with Morholt on the balcony. I’ve never seen you this out of control before. Not even during that mess at the tournament. What happened?”
The witch groaned, rubbing her fingers over the base of her forehead.
“That… that is not good,” Lancelot mumbled. Morgana shook her head at him in agreement.
“No. It’s not.”
“So that is what your performance in the ballroom was all about. You were daring him to overplay his hand.”
“Pretty much. He didn’t take the bait, though.”
Of course he didn’t.
The future Duke let out a long, weary sigh. He suddenly felt very tired. So far, nothing in their handling of Morholt had gone according to plan. Not the interrogations. Not the flow of information. Not even the timing of it all. Lancelot hadn’t planned for any of this. From the first move, they had had no control over what was happening. Things were getting entirely too complicated for him to manage, entirely too complicated to contain. Even with Arthur and Morgana.
No. Because of Arthur and Morgana.
But saying that to their faces wouldn’t help anyone.
“Very well,” the would-be knight muttered, rubbing the top of his nose. “So? What is the plan?”
“No. Not really.”
“Right, because murder has always been the top solution for every problem,” Lancelot replied, his voice dripping with wry sarcasm. At some point between stalking Pellinore, finding Morgana glowing with magic and stuffing the Princess of Camelot into a broom closet, his patience for gentle guidance had finally run out. The future Duke rolled his eyes at his friend, visibly displeased.
“Isn’t that why we got ourselves involved in this mess to begin with?” he said sharply. “To make sure that there’s less murder?”
“Morholt doesn’t count.”
“Morholt absolutely counts.”
“Lancelot, he knows too much,” Morgana replied, breaking eye contact with him as she angrily crossed her arms. “And I can’t anticipate his moves. He needs to be taken care of before something happens that can’t be undone.”
“And so you’d simply have him killed?” Lancelot replied, his eyes narrowed. “That isn’t like you, Morgana.”
“I don’t have a choice-”
But the future Duke didn’t let her finish her sentence.
“We both know that’s a lie. It’s simply the choice that seems most convenient to you. But what do you think will happen if our resident Witch Hunter is suddenly mysteriously murdered? Do you really think things will stop there?”
“Ugh. Fine,” she groaned. “What do you propose, then?”
Lancelot took a moment to think before he replied. The future Duke pondered, silently and carefully laying out the options that were left to them. His brow furrowed as he realised how narrow their path had become. How constrained.
But they still had a choice. There were still things they could do.
There were always things they could do.
“We capitalise on the risk that you took in the ballroom,” Lancelot eventually said. “We tell Arthur that Morholt is wrongly suspecting you. We let him and your father chew him out. After that, he won’t be able to go after you again without serious consequences.”
“Unless my father and brother believe him,” Morgana said, raising her eyebrows at Lancelot. But the future Duke shook his head in response.
“They won’t. Not if we sabotage whatever evidence Morholt might have gathered. It wouldn’t save a commoner, but without hard evidence, he won’t stand a chance against a Pendragon.”
It was the best they could do. Especially considering the circumstances. But Morgana did not seem to agree with his plan. Lancelot watched as the Princess frowned, her expression growing both clouded and distant. In a low, soft voice, she muttered:
“…it shouldn’t be different.”
“You’re right. It shouldn’t be. But today, it is, and we’re going to make use of that.”
“After that, we keep a very close eye on him,” Lancelot continued. “We have him shadowed until he either leaves, or until he gives us something that we can control him with.”
“Ah, yes,” Morgana nodded. “Blackmail. So much more virtuous than murder.”
“I never said that it would be clean. Clearly, we’re beyond that point by now.”
A second later, Morgana finally realised how her words were coming across. The sorceress groaned, rubbing her forehead as she closed her eyes.
“…Forgive me. I know you’re trying to help. Tonight was… a bit much.”
“I know. If there was still a way of doing this cleanly, I would. But I think we’re too far past that point now. No matter what we do, someone is going to get hurt.”
“I just want to make sure that it’s not you.”
The future Duke knew that he was overstepping. But Lancelot couldn’t help himself. He couldn’t help but reach out. Even at his own peril. Ever since their moment at the tournament, the would-be knight hadn’t been able to leave her alone. He couldn’t abandon Morgana. Not after learning her secret. Not after earning her trust.
Not after realising just how much she reminded him of Leliana.
“…You’re a good man, Lancelot.”
The future Duke let out a soft, worn-out sigh.
“No. Not really.”
Eventually, their moment in the servant’s closet came to an end. Lancelot could feel Morgana’s rage finally subside. Other emotions seeped back in, together with a sudden sense of worry.
“Come on,” she said, looking up at the shelves above her. “We need to leave. The longer we stay here, the more risk we take.”
Lancelot had already gotten up and reached for the door, readying himself to peek around the corner, when he heard Morgana’s voice from behind him.
“Thank you. For everything.”
Stealthily, quietly, Lancelot inched open the closet door. They had to make their way back to the ballroom. And they had to do it without being seen together. As the future Duke took a step forward and poked his head around the corner, Lancelot immediately noticed two things.
The first one was the shiny, silvery master key sticking in the keyhole of the door to his right, locking the hallway from both sides. That definitely hadn’t been there before.
The second thing…
“Well, then. You better have a good explanation for this.”
He hadn’t felt her coming at all. Lancelot had been so focused on Morgana and her emotions that he hadn’t even noticed a completely different person standing nearby. He’d never messed up like that before. The future Duke was suddenly at a loss for words. He didn’t know what to say. His eyes kept darting between Morgana and her maidservant, completely aware of what their actions implied as he stammered:
“This- this is absolutely not what it looks like- I have a perfectly good explanation for – erm-“
“For emerging from a broom closet with the Princess of Camelot?”
“No- I mean, yes, I-”
“Sarah, is that your key in the door?” Morgana asked, completely unfazed by her maidservant’s presence.
“Of course it’s my key. And you two are extremely lucky that you were only followed by me. A broom closet does not drown out noise, you saddle-geese. If your father had passed through here—”
From what he could tell, Sarah hadn’t picked up on the actual content of their conversation. Lancelot wasn’t about to correct her on that.
Even if it did not make this situation any less awkward.
“I-I assure you, Sarah, this wasn’t- we did nothing of the sort—“
But Morgana interrupted him halfway through his stammered attempts to explain. The Princess placed a hand on her chin, tilting her head to the right as the pieces in her mind once again started moving. With a slight frown, she looked at her maidservant.
“Do you still have any aconite left?”
“Good grief. Who am I poisoning this time?”
After that, the plan was simple. Sarah would keep an eye on Morholt. She’d shadow him for the rest of the night, keeping Arthur, Lancelot and Morgana informed of what was happening. In the meantime, Morgana and Lancelot would wait for the ball to end, after which they’d go and find Arthur. They would let him know what was going on and get his help to deal with it.
Everything else would come later.
Lancelot and Morgana never made it past the first step.
Because when they returned to the ballroom, the entire hall was empty.
The court had vanished.
It did not take the two of them long to track down where everyone had gone.
A frown spread across Morgana’s brow as she entered the royal throne room. With a wary expression, the sorceress looked over the crowd that had gathered. She immediately recognised her father and uncle in the back of the room. Neither of them seemed particularly pleased to be there.
They weren’t the only ones. Morgana recognised the rest of the crowd, too. Most of them had been in the ballroom with her. All of them still wore their elaborate gowns and suits, clustering together and whispering among themselves.
But it wasn’t just the people that attended the ball that had gathered in the throne room. It wasn’t even just the noble court. Morgana’s frown deepened, a strange sense of dread filling the pit of her stomach as she saw familiar faces. Gawain. Gaius. At least a quarter of the servants that worked the night shift, together with way more armed knights than were supposed to be stationed in the throne room.
That wasn’t good. The sorceress narrowed her eyes, looking over the faces in the crowd suspiciously. Something was not right. A mass-visit to the throne room wasn’t planned for that night. It wasn’t scheduled. Yet, someone had rounded up every member of the court, along with a good number of armed forces, without telling them why.
And it wasn’t her.
As Morgana and Lancelot reached the other side of the throne room, the sorceress could see her brother. Arthur was standing with her back to her, talking with her father in hushed tones. She couldn’t hear what they were saying over the sound of murmuring in the room. With quick, decisive steps, Morgana bridged the distance between her and the Crown Prince.
“What is going on? Why has everyone gathered here?” Morgana asked, keeping her voice down so the rest of the crowd wouldn’t hear. Her brother did not seem to like that question at all. Morgana watched as he Arthur crossed his arms, a scowl spreading across his face.
“I was hoping you could tell me,” he replied. “Morholt and his men used your name to summon everyone to the throne room. They said he had an announcement to make. What game are you playing this time, Morgana?” he continued, narrowing his eyes suspiciously. “Is this part of your ‘declaration’ in the ballroom?”
It wasn’t. This move was not hers. For the first time in months, Morgana didn’t have anything to do with what was going on – but the sorceress immediately realised who did.
Ah. So Morholt decided to gamble, after all.
Morgana smiled, bringing a hand to her lips as she forced down the feeling of dread in her stomach. This was fine. This was perfect. She’d been waiting for this.
The sorceress couldn’t wait to make him regret it.
“Ah. There he is. Took him long enough.”
Morgana turned around, a dozen strategies forming in her mind as she did so. A dozen different moves to make, different attacks to anticipate and thwart. A hundred ways to counter whatever Morholt could throw at her.
But what the Witch Hunter finally entered the throne room with… was not what Morgana expected.
It was so much worse.
Morgana barely registered the shocked gasps that travelled through the crowd at Morholt’s entrance. She didn’t hear her brother’s horrified gasp. She didn’t notice Lancelot immediately grab for Arthur, restraining the Crown Prince and keeping him from moving. Morgana didn’t see anything.
All the sorceress could focus on was Morholt. His gloved hand was clasped onto Guinevere, dragging her by the hair and forcibly hauling her into the throne room. Morgana could see her friend struggle against his grasp. She could see her limbs flailing around in a blind panic, her fingernails breaking as they frantically scratched at the carpet underneath. Her screams no longer sounded human. Instead, they reminded Morgana of a tortured, cornered animal. Morgana could feel her blood run cold as the sound of it cut her to her very core. Her heart began to race in her chest, the world around her slowly starting to lose colour—
“What are you doing?! Unhand her at once!”
He did. But not immediately- not before dragging her all the way to the middle of the throne room. Deaf to her tear-filled whimpers, he flung Guinevere in front of him, tossing her on the floor like one would toss a sack of potatoes. The dull thud that echoed through the throne room when her head hit the floor made a wave of nausea well up in Morgana’s stomach.
It can’t be.
This isn’t happening. It’s an illusion. It’s not real.
Please. Someone tell me that it’s not real.
“Behold. Your witch.”
“Are you out of your mind?!” Gawain yelled, immediately stepping forward from the crowd. “Guinevere isn’t a witch! She wouldn’t harm anyone! You’re lying!”
But the young redhead was ignored. His words fell on deaf ears. Uther slowly walked foward, straightening his back as he looked down on Guinevere’s quivering body.
“Morholt. Who is this?”
“Her name is Guinvere Farris,” the Witch Hunter replied. “She was one of the castle’s maidservants until recently, and is the root of all of your Kingdom’s hardships.”
“How dare you—”
Everything happened at once. As Arthur broke free from the crowd, Gawain sprinted to the middle of the throne room. Another round of gasps traveled through the audience as the would-be knight roughly shoved past Morholt, throwing himself directly in between Uther and Guinevere. In a raw, enraged voice, Gawain snarled:
“Poppycock! Guinevere is not a criminal!”
“Step aside, boy, before I have you removed—“
But Gawain refused to budge. He doubled down, balling his hands into fists as he squared off against the King of Camelot without fear.
“Guinevere hasn’t done anything!” he screamed. “She’s innocent – she wouldn’t harm anyone if her life depended on it! Damn it, we are not doing this again!”
“Agravaine’s witness to magic-”
“Was a dollophead! A stupid, pig-nutted wagtail that doesn’t know what they saw! Magic isn’t hurting anyone! She’s not evil!”
He didn’t realise what he’d done.
“As you can see, we have multiple testimonies of guilt,” Morholt spoke, calmly twisting Gawain’s words against him. “I have gathered sufficient evidence to accuse this girl of witchcraft. Personal statements paired with uncovered evidence will prove condemning enough to convict her.”
“You lying, pig-nutted-“
“SILENCE! Speak up again, and I’ll have you thrown in the dungeons! Morholt, continue – what have you found?”
“Enough to be damning,” the Witch Hunter replied. “The events that happened at last year’s tournament. A man-made faerie circle in the nearby woods, not twenty minutes from the town outskirts. Sudden behavioural changes in multiple individuals at court. Evidence of magic cast on members of the royal family, including Arthur Pendragon—”
“That is ridiculous!” the Crown Prince bellowed. “I am not under any spell!”
The Iron King glanced over at his son, his frown deepening for a moment before turning back towards the Witch Hunter.
“Morholt. Explain yourself,” Uther commanded. Morholt gave him a single nod in response.
“These two are involved, sire. I highly suspect that they’ve both been bewitched by the girl and are acting against their will.”
“That is a lie!” Arthur screamed. But his father wasn’t paying attention to him. With narrowed eyes, Uther pondered the Witch Hunter’s words.
“Both of them?”
“To what end?”
“Unknown,” Morholt replied. “I suspect that she means to assassinate you.”
“I see. Knights. Detain them both.”
“Wha- stop! Get your hands off me!”
Within seconds, four knights had descended on Arthur and Gawain, forcibly restraining them both. Morgana watched in shock, frozen, as the young redhead was wrestled to the ground right in front of her. His struggles and slurs of profanity very quickly turned to pained gasps when they twisted his arms behind his back, pinning him down and cutting off his air supply.
“S-surely this isn’t necessary?” Morgana stammered, her voice barely above a whisper. But her father heard her anyway.
“To the contrary, Morgana,” he said, shaking his head. “One cannot be too careful when sorcery is involved. If Arthur and his squire are under her spell, then they need to be detained for their own safety. At least until we deal with this sorceress—”
“She’s NOT a sorceress! She’s my friend! LET HER GO!”
Gawain might as well have been howling to the wind. His frantic words fell on deaf ears. Not a single member of court was listening to him. The would-be knight was dragged off to the side, held down and restrained together with Arthur.
They couldn’t help.
They couldn’t do anything.
“Guinevere Farris,” the Iron King spoke, his voice carrying heavily across the throne room. “You stand accused of the crimes of witchcraft and sorcery. The punishment for these crimes is death. How do you plead?”
At Uther’s words, Guinevere finally raised her head. She was barely able to look up. The girl cowered before him, shivering on the floor, instinctively protecting her face with her hands as she pleaded with her King.
“P-please, I’m not- I didn’t do anything, I—”
“You have visited the Crown Prince several times in private. Do you deny this?” Morholt asked.
“You were seen performing a ritual in the cemetery with him. You are confirmed to have lured the Prince into the woods multiple times, causing him to miss several war meetings. You have walked into his bedchambers in broad daylight. Do you deny these allegations?”
“Th-that’s not what—”
But Morholt did not let her finish. The Witch Hunter took a step forward, drawing the attention of everyone in the throne room.
“Uther, your son has been increasingly inattentive and absent-minded over the last two months,” he spoke. “He has missed meetings. He has shirked duties. Under normal circumstances, I would discount this as hormonal infatuation – but he has also expressed a disturbing change in stance on the topic of magic,” Morholt continued, glancing over at Arthur. “One that directly clashes with Camelot. These signs are symptoms of bewitchment. His mind is not his own. Neither is that of his squire. Their extreme reactions to this trial only further proves my point. Gawain of Camelot and Arthur Pendragon have been enthralled by a witch.”
“You lying bastard! That’s NOT TRUE!”
“Father, listen to me! It’s not like that! You’re making a mistake- Morholt is just looking for a scapegoat!”
“I am not,” Morholt said calmly. “I do not make others take the blame. I do not search for convenience, Pendragon. I search for guilt.”
As he spoke those words… the Witch Hunter looked directly at Morgana.
The sorceress knew why.
“You’re right. It is not you who killed them.”
“But it is you who let them die.”
“Witch. How do you plead?”
Slowly, agonisingly slowly, Morgana’s best friend raised her head.
It was a pitiful sight.
“He… he said he loves me,” Guinevere mumbled, her face streaked with tears. “That’s w… why. Arthur said… he said…”
“You lie, witch. My son would never say such things.”
“It IS true!” Arthur howled, kicking and struggling against the knights that had pinned him to the wall. “I DO love her! Guinevere hasn’t bewitched anyone! Leave her alone- this is a set-up! Don’t listen to him! FATHER!”
As Morgana looked at the man in front of her, she could see something change in Uther’s expression. Something hardened. The Iron King straightened his back, raising his head as he came to a conclusion.
“I see. I understand the depths of your treachery now, witch.”
To the worst conclusion that he could reach.
And… she couldn’t stop it.
Morgana couldn’t do anything.
“My son would never fall for a commoner,” Uther spat, his expression filled with hatred as he looked down on Guinevere’s small, quivering form. “Seeing his behaviour from him is no different from an admission of guilt. I need no further evidence. You are exactly what Morholt has accused you of.”
“You will pay dearly for this, witch. I will make you regret the day you ever set foot in Camelot.”
It was too late.
All the sabotage in the world… would be useless now.
The sorceress could feel her blood run cold. There was nothing else they could do. No trump card to use. No other move that she could play to get all of them out of this deadlock.
Morholt… had beaten her. And Morgana couldn’t run.
She had nowhere to go.
No… that wasn’t true.
She could run.
Easily. Effortlessly. Without needing to lift a finger.
Morgana only had to sacrifice Guinevere to do it.
The sorceress only had to close her eyes.
“Lives are continuously lost for this charade of yours, Princess. Can you live with that?”
“Could you really live with that?”
The sorceress couldn’t move. Morgana stood frozen, her body refusing to respond to her as the memories flashed by faster than she could process. They assaulted her mind, torturing her with images of burning pyres and reaching to her deepest, most primal instincts. For a moment, Morgana couldn’t see the room around her anymore. She couldn’t hear Uther’s voice. The Crown Princess was blind to her senses as, on the inside, fear and compassion violently fought for control.
I can’t let her die.
I can’t stop him.
I can’t kill them all.
The sorceress could suddenly feel a sharp, biting pain on the back of her neck.
The next second, Morgana Pendragon felt nothing.
The crowd gasped in shock as Morgana’s body suddenly gave out underneath her, crashing to the ground with a loud thud. One of the knights immediately rushed to her side. He quickly removed his gauntlet, placing his finger in her neck to feel for a pulse.
The Iron King ignored that, too. He was no longer paying attention to the rest of the room.
Uther had found his target.
“Guinevere Farris. Look at me.”
“As King of Camelot, I find you guilty of witchcraft and sorcery. The punishment for this crime is death.”
“At first light tomorrow, you will be burned at the pyre for your crimes. By the power given to me by the Watcher, I hereby sentence you—“
But Uther Pendragon never got to finish his sentence.
“Oh, shut up, you crusty, crooked-nosed wangrod.”
At the crowd’s baffled expressions, the old servant let out an amused chuckle. Sarah spread her arms to her sides, smirking as she glared at Uther without a single shred of respect.
“Hello, Uther,” she grinned. “You look disgusting as always. I must ask- do you ever torture someone of your own size?”
“You?! What are you- what is the meaning of—“
Sarah’s laughter echoed across the full length of the throne room. It bounced eerily against the walls, landing between them with all the weight and subtlety of a drawn gauntlet.
“You mean it’s really not obvious yet?” the maidservant smirked. “Your brain has really rotted with age, hasn’t it? Let me make it as simple as possible for you. Uther—“
“It’s me. I’m your witch.”
“…Well? What are you waiting for?”
Title meaning: Blackburne’s Mate (named after Joseph Henry Blackburne) is a very rare method of checkmating that uses the enemy’s own pieces against them to block the enemy’s sideways escape. Breaking through a threatened Blackburne’s Mate can be done to weaken the attacker’s position, but often happens in conjunction with a Queen sacrifice.