“Are you certain, Morholt?”
“Yes,” the Witch Hunter replied, ignoring Agravaine’s look of disbelief as he placed his hands on his sides. “Our hunt has ended. We leave immediately.”
“This is highly unusual,” the Jacoban Priest frowned. “We’re planning to hold a feast in your honour, Morholt. Arrangements have already been made. Surely, you’d want to-”
But the Witch Hunter cut him off, unwilling to let him finish his sentence.
“I do not. I have urgent business to take care of.”
“As do we all, but surely that can wait a day, Morh-”
But for the second time in a row, Agravaine was interrupted. The Witch Hunter didn’t give him the Royal Adviser a chance to finish his sentence. He didn’t even give him the chance to finish saying his name. With a curt, almost impatient gesture, Morholt cut Agravaine off mid-speech.
“No. It cannot. Our business here is concluded. Besides…”
“I have something I need to confirm. Urgently.”
The fire in the courtyard had burned for three full hours.
After the flames finally died down, the castle’s servants had dismantled what was left of the pyre. Sarah’s remains were quickly removed. The ashes, scattered across the cobblestones, got swept away with wooden brooms. Arthur had watched in silence as the courtyard was carefully cleaned, inch by inch, scrubbed bare with brushes and water.
By the time that the noon church bells rang out, not a trace of Sarah’s death remained. Nothing was left. The castle courtyard looked the same as it always did. It was bathed in sunlight, its rays warm and heralding the start of summer. The sight of it was such a staggering contrast with what had just happened that it twisted Arthur’s stomach into a hard, painful knot. It didn’t feel right. It wasn’t supposed to be this sunny. Not now – not today of all days. The bright, blue skies above him made last night’s events feel somehow unreal. Like all of it had just been a bad dream. Like Arthur had imagined the whole thing.
Like nothing important had happened.
But by now, the Crown Prince knew how to look past illusions.
He’d never be able to look at that courtyard in the same way again.
Part of what had happened… was his fault. Arthur realised that, too. He understood that he’d failed – He’d known from the start that his actions would have consequences.
But it took until the next day for Arthur to realise how heavy those consequences really were.
Arthur wasn’t sure where he’d gone wrong.
He’d done everything. Everything that he could think of. The Crown Prince had used every single asset that he possessed, every bit of influence that was tied to his name. He’d ignored his own duties. He’d stomped on toes and angered his uncle. He’d risked the destructive ire of the Iron King. He’d even gambled with the safety of two of his greatest friends. And in the end, none of it had made any difference. Someone had still died – someone that he was supposed to have protected. Someone that had helped him countless times in the past, when he’d needed help himself.
Arthur had still failed her. He still hadn’t been enough.
Why was he never enough?
“Do you want to protect the people you love?”
“Then do nothing.”
Arthur had listened. He’d done exactly as Sarah had said, trusting her instructions over his own instincts to break her out. She’d explained why. The maidservant had gone into great detail on what would happen if he freed her – letting her fall had made sense. At the time, it had seemed like the only option. The only choice that would keep Guinevere safe, and keep other casualties to a minimum.
The only option that Arthur could take.
So then… why did even that feel like a mistake?
As the Crown Prince stared at his feet, the weight of his failure relentlessly pressing down on him, he could hear the sound of footsteps approaching. Arthur didn’t have to look up to know who it was. His second-in-command had always had an uncanny ability to find him when he was at his lowest. For as long as he’d known him, Lancelot had always known exactly what to say to make Arthur find his focus again. What words he’d need to say to make sure that Arthur could take the next blows with his head held high.
The future King fully expected his friend to do that this time around, too. He relied on it. Arthur needed Lancelot to get him back on his feet.
But this time, no words came.
Slowly, Arthur looked up at his second-in-command.
“Any advice to undo this?” he asked, knowing that there was nothing they could do. The future Duke took a while to answer. For a moment, Lancelot just stood there, quietly looking down on Arthur.
Then, he slowly exhaled.
The future Duke stepped forward, letting himself sink down next to Arthur. Neither of them said anything. Neither of them had to. Even without words, they both knew what thoughts the other was grappling with.
Eventually, the Crown Prince let out a long, exhausted sigh.
“Me, too, Lance. Me, too.”
“Have you talked to Morgana yet?” Lancelot eventually asked, crossing his arms as he turned to face him. Arthur shook his head.
“No,” he replied. “I’ve tried, but… she won’t speak to me.”
Lancelot didn’t say anything in response. But his silence spoke volumes. Arthur knew that he could have tried harder. He could have followed her. He could have waited at her door for his sister to come out, or demanded that she’d stop and talk to him.
But… he couldn’t. Deep down, Arthur knew that he couldn’t face her.
“It’s… it’s my fault,” the Crown Prince muttered. “I let them burn her. If I didn’t, they would have killed Guinevere instead.”
“I know,” Lancelot replied softly. Arthur shook his head at him, trying to convince himself more than anything.
“I tried everything, Lance. I really did. But it still wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t good enough.”
There was no answer. Arthur could feel a heavy weight pressing down on his chest. It had been too much. With another sigh, the Crown Prince finally admitted defeat.
“I don’t know what else to do.”
He’d reached the end of his rope. Part of him knew how selfish it was to reach out to Lancelot at this moment – the future Duke looked as rough as Arthur felt- but he couldn’t help himself. He had to lean on someone. He couldn’t shoulder this all by himself. No matter how hard he tried to convince himself otherwise.
Arthur was only human, too.
As he grappled with himself, Arthur could see his friend frown at his words.
“What to do?”
“You do better, Arthur.”
If it had been anyone else, a comment like that would have felt like a gut punch. A deliberate dig at his failures, calling Arthur out for the disappointment that he was. But Lancelot’s words were different. There was no judgment in the future Duke’s voice. No malice, no sense of frustration at his failure. Lancelot’s words were calm. Collected. Gentle, almost – and they cut to Arthur’s very core in a way that very few people could.
“I’m… I’m trying, Lancelot.” Arthur whispered, clasping his hands together as he looked down at the floor. He could see his friend lean back against the wooden seat.
“I know,” Lancelot replied. “We all do. We know that you’re doing all you can.”
“It’s just not enough.”
“No. It’s not.”
“But it will be.”
Arthur opened his mouth, then closed it again. He knew what the future Duke meant with those words. He knew what kind of future Lancelot was looking at. The Crown Prince remained silent, listening quietly as his friend spoke.
“Uther’s reign won’t last forever, Arthur,” he said softly. “Sooner or later, your father will step down. He’ll hand the throne to you. And when he does, you’ll remember what happened here. You’ll have learned from it. When you become King, you’ll be better than he was. You’ll be a King that does right by his people.”
“All of his people. I know you will.”
Lancelot’s words, calm and without a flicker of doubt, rang oddly familiar in Arthur’s ears. Like he’d heard them somewhere before. Recently. The Crown Prince frowned – and then he suddenly remembered where he’d heard those words in the past. It had been less than a year before, right after they’d come back from Scarborough. He remembered a conversation in the middle of a dungeon cell, held with a different person that was just as important to him as Lancelot was.
It reminded Arthur of a promise that he’d made.
“Promise me that you won’t become like that. You have to be a king that does right by his people.”
He had to.
He’d never let this happen again.
Arthur finally understood. It wasn’t enough just to thwart his uncle. It wasn’t enough to go against his father. Something in the heart of Camelot had to change. Something fundamental. Arthur knew that it was magic that was at fault. If not for existence of magic, none of this would have happened. But the people that got caught up in it, the people that were hurt by it, none of them were to blame. They were innocent.
Sarah had been innocent.
Somewhere along the way, his father and uncle had forgotten that. The knights had forgotten. Camelot itself had forgotten. And now it saw victim and culprit as one and the same.
But Arthur could see the difference. He knew. He had to be better than his father, had to see more than his uncle allowed the country to see. Arthur had to do better. He’d promised.
And the Crown Prince had no intention of breaking that promise.
When Arthur became King, he’d make things right. He would never let something like this happen again. The Crown Prince silently vowed to himself, right then and there.
When he became King…
He’d finally do better.
When Guinevere had first come to castle Camelot, she’d been a complete embarrassment.
Her rapidly growing limbs had turned the girl into a safety hazard. In that first week, she’d broken more plates, dropped more glasses and and knocked over more vases than she dared to admit. Guinevere had tripped over her own feet. She’d ruined an entire set of ballroom gowns by somehow mistaking bleach for washing soap. She’d dropped clean uniforms right into the mud. Guinevere had made a complete fool of herself at every turn – and in the end, Sarah had still decided to hire her.
Out of everyone lined up that day, she’d still picked Guinevere.
She’d chosen her specifically.
“That one. I want her.”
The maidservant had never explained her choice to her. Not once. But since that first day, Guinevere could feel that Sarah been on her side, more than anyone else in the castle. The girl had lacked so many life skills when she first came to the castle. And Sarah had helped her catch up on all of them. It was Sarah that had taught her how to bake. Sarah that had showed her how to patch her clothes. That had explained how to fold clothes, how to hide in the background, how to care for her hair – she’d even tried to teach her how to handle a knife in a fight. Guinevere had often wondered why Sarah knew how to do that.
She’d wondered about a lot of things.
She’d never get to know the answer. Sarah was gone. The young redhead would never be able to talk to her again. She’d never be able to ask her for advice, or watch her cook, or grin through her bouts of teasing again.
The maidservant could no longer help her.
But… for the first time in a while…
Guinevere wasn’t the one who needed help.
The girl would never be able to talk to Sarah again.
But she’d never forget what her mentor had taught her, either.
Guinevere didn’t have the strength to stand up to a Kingdom. She did not have the power to sway anyone. The girl didn’t have the strength to defend the people she cared about, or the skills to make any real difference at court. She didn’t even know how to take care of herself very well.
She’d never be able to stop the source of everyone’s pain.
But that didn’t matter. Not really. It wasn’t about what she couldn’t do.
It was about what she could.
It was about what little difference she could make. Just like Sarah had. Just like she had always done.
Guinevere just had to help. That was enough.
And, much like Sarah on that first day… Guinevere knew who needed her help the most.
Guinevere knew that she’d mourn her mentor for a very long time. That pain would not fade for years to come.
But for now… that was all right. She didn’t have to work through that. She just had to keep them from going hungry.
She just had to keep them alive.
For now, that was all she needed to do.
With Sarah gone, Guinevere didn’t have anyone to look out for her.
But neither did they.
And this time, Guinevere was different. Older. Wiser. She didn’t have to beg for handouts, or watch from the shadows, unable to do anything as others starved. She wasn’t a child anymore. This time, Guinevere could make a difference. A real difference. She could be better. Do better – much better – than last time.
She would be better.
She’d do whatever she could, too.
“Who do you want to be?”
Morholt of Northumbria had not made an error this grave in a very long time.
Immediately after leaving Camelot, he’d parted way with his companions, leaving them to find their own way to safety. It was crucial that they did. Neither of them knew what Morholt did – but regardless, the target on their backs had to be kept as small as possible. It was crucial that at least one of them survived, and would be able to tell the others what had happened.
Because Morholt knew that it would not be him.
He knew that Sarah Elias, Morgana’s maidservant, had not died from the heat of the flames. She hadn’t even felt it. Her heart had stopped. Right before they lit the pyre. Where magick was involved, Morholt did not believe in lucky coincidences. The Witch Hunter was painfully aware that it had not been the Watcher looking out for her. No – the second he saw her head slump down, Morholt knew exactly what had happened.
He’d never seen such a horrific display of magick before. Not once. Not in thirty years of witch hunting. And it terrified him. More than Fae, more than witch covens, more than dragon myths- more than anything he’d ever faced.
For the first time in decades, Morholt felt afraid.
He couldn’t leave this be. Morholt was sure of it. If he did, it would grow to turn into the biggest threat that Albion had ever faced. He couldn’t let that happen. Not on his watch. Not to his people. Morholt had to do better this time. He had to come back with reinforcements, he had to let the others know, to plan and take her down before—
So that’s how she did it.
It was the last thought that Morholt of Northumbria ever had.