Character: Morgana (& Morgause)
Spoilers: through 4x01; set between s3 and s4
Word Count: 2,000
Summary: There is always, always the matter of sacrifice.
Author's Note: YAAAAAY, MERLIN (A.K.A. The Morgana Show) IS BACK. Naturally, I have all the Morgana feelings.
And I know that you have an awfully big wound
And I wish, I wish
(Ghost Bees, ‘Tear Tassle Ogre Heart’)
She promises Merlin that this has only begun. She thinks only in beginnings; it keeps her going. This is just the start, the terrible start. We all must rise up from something.
She takes her sister’s body far away and does not mind the weight of it. When she goes, she leaves so much behind. All her lovely things. Uther’s glory turned to cinders. Gwen, who – of course – would never have chosen to stay by her side. (How foolish she was to think otherwise; at last, proof that dear sweet Gwen has always been a very good liar. Morgana had long suspected, and suspects she is alone in that. Lucky Arthur. He’ll find out in time.) She leaves the throne and Merlin. She will be coming back for them. Everything else can rot, for all she cares. Rot and decay, burn in on itself, gorge itself sick on chivalry and righteousness, valor and God. She would prefer to work with a blank canvas. She will have nothing of Uther dirtying up her kingdom. She will cut him out cleanly if she must, but (and no one ever took the time to ask her this) she would prefer not to. Beginning anew, she would make a better, fairer queen. One cannot step into the shoes of a tyrant and give their people paradise right away, easy as that. There is always, always the matter of sacrifice.
Morgana knows Morgause won’t open her eyes again without deep, dark, old magic. Bloodshed and guts. The willingness to invite darkness in, to grant it the right to every corner of your body. Every beat of your heart. She knows without anyone telling her that it will be much worse than, and entirely like, the nightmares. Waking with a start and hell in your bones; knowing that somewhere in there, something is lurking.
She thinks of Morgause – alive and brilliant, glinting like steel, like triumph. How she would soften to speak Morgana’s name. How sure she always was that Morgana would make her proud.
Morgana kisses her sister’s cold, still mouth and means to promise something. She cannot find the words, but she can invite the darkness in.
She slits the throat of a fawn that wanders her way, drawn by a softer enchantment that she seldom has use for. She holds it close to feel the dying. Its eyes are vacant to begin with. When it stares up at her, it’s with a dull lack of surprise, as though it had expected this all along. She tries not to let it bother her much.
Morgause’s eyelids twitch, Morgana swears it. She almost expects her eyes to open. Soon, love, soon, she imagines in Morgause’s voice. Her sister would never be so sentimental – not her silvery, upright, unflinching sister. She imagines it anyway.
Worse is the dog that wanders into the glen a few days later, God only knows from where. The nearest village is more than a day’s journey away, and surely it makes for a more comfortable dwelling place than the endless stretch of forest. But perhaps comfort is not always the most important thing. Perhaps it pales in comparison to a world big enough to tug you in all directions.
When Morgana was ten she wanted a dog more than anything. The closest thing she had was Arthur, and it went without saying that he was hardly sufficient. It was a wish Uther never granted. He gave her Guinevere instead, as if servants and canines were quite interchangeable. She wound up so thankful, and careful never to tell him so.
“Hello, boy,” she says, drawing the dog nearer. He’s a young, healthy thing, with a great deal of shaggy reddish hair and a happy tongue hanging out from between sharp white teeth. His tail wags madly at the sight of her, as if standing in this forest with her is a great unfathomable treat.
Why. It is not so much a thought as a terrible pang in her heart. If only she could keep him– he’s just a dog, just a stupid animal, just a tiny unimportant gift from a world that never sees fit to grant her any. She calls him into her arms; he bounds over merrily.
Morgause starts to breathe again. There has never been a sweeter sound.
Heartened, she journeys to the village. She wears a ratty black cloak and keeps to corners, mostly; she buys an apple and is surprised by its sweetness. She has not paid much attention to things like taste. She realizes she cannot remember the last time she ate and paid attention. To think that she is the same Lady Morgana who knew nothing but feasts and delicacies, fruit on silver trays.
Children are everywhere, great whirls of movement and sound. She means to pick one out, but one picks her instead: a tiny, sullen-looking blonde with bright, determined eyes spots her. Morgana learns, upon a little bit of conversation, that a quarrel with her mother has driven the girl – Tamsin – out onto the street, and she is never going home again, either.
“Come with me,” Morgana invites. She buys a second apple for the child.
They stop when darkness sets in; they gather wood for a fire, which Morgana then lights as inconspicuously as she can. Tamsin seems very pleased at the adventure she has stumbled into.
“Have you a sister?” Morgana asks.
“All sisters,” Tamsin says with a weary sigh. “Three. I wish I could have a brother. A big strong one, so the village boys would know to be afraid of me.”
Morgana laughs, and the sound startles her. “I have a brother,” she says, “and he isn’t much good for anything. You must make the boys afraid of you all on your own.”
“What’s his name? Your brother?”
“Like the prince!” Tamsin exclaims, delighted by the coincidence. “Who will be king someday soon, now that the real king is so ill and mad.”
Mad King Uther, news of his brokenness sweeping the land. She thinks of him lying still in a room. Still as stone, with Arthur standing over him.
“My Arthur would make a very bad king,” Morgana says.
Tamsin has, it seems, grown bored of this line of conversation. “You’re very pretty.”
“Thank you,” Morgana says, with a smiling, graceful incline of her head that is still habit. She hasn’t been given a compliment in awhile, but that doesn’t mean she’s lost the knack for responding to them. “So are you.”
“Do you live out here, all by yourself?”
She thinks of Morgause. She has taken to worrying, foolishly, that she will awaken without Morgana, find herself alone and terrified. Wait for me, sister, Morgana thinks, eyeing Tamsin. Wait just a little bit longer. “Yes.”
“My mum says only witches and mad people live out in the woods by themselves.”
Morgana smiles slightly. “What if I told you I was both?”
“I wouldn’t believe you,” the little girl says decisively. “You’re young and beautiful. You ought to get a husband instead.”
“A husband is the least of my worries.”
“But don’t you get lonely?” Tamsin persists. The forest whispers around her words, as if it means to taunt Morgana until she confesses.
“Sometimes,” Morgana admits.
“Well,” Tamsin says, “don’t worry; I don’t expect my mum will ever want to see me again, and I’m sure I don’t want to see her. I’ll stay out here with you. Maybe we can become bandits. They do all right, bandits. And no one would ever think to expect it from girls.”
Morgana imagines it. It makes her smile, in spite of everything.
“What’s your name, anyway?” Tamsin adds, as if the thought has just occurred to her.
If word of Uther has spread this far, then it certainly must be known that the Lady Morgana was his ruin.
“Gwen,” Morgana says.
It takes nearly a day, after she does it. She waits until she thinks she has gone mad with waiting. Her arm aches from cutting Tamsin into careful pieces and offering each one graciously to the gaping dark that looms in and out of her. To get through it she imagined how it might be if it were Uther instead, how glad she would be to chop him up, feed him to the hungry panting force he has spent his whole life damning. She has never seen a naked man (a husband, after all, is the least of her worries) but she doubts she would blush. She would relish it, reducing his body to muck and mush, until there was nothing left to shape her out of; until she was just her dead mother’s daughter. She told herself this over and over again, and did not think of Uther lying still and Arthur standing over him. Waiting, just as she is now. Waiting like a fool.
Then, suddenly, flying across the room to meet her in the dark – a gasp! A breath! Morgana stands on tingling legs and runs to Morgause’s side, her heart beating so hard she thinks she might faint.
“Where—?” Morgause says, staring blankly up into her face.
“We’re far away, sister,” Morgana says, “and safe. No one will find us here.”
“And Camelot?” Morgause asks.
“Never mind all of that,” Morgana says, her voice a pathetic joyful wail, Morgause’s cold hand clutched in hers. “You’re here. With me.”
“And Camelot?” Morgause repeats, as if she had not heard.
The dream grips her mercilessly, like a punishment, like once-trusted arms pulling you in to make sure you die quietly.
Behind the curtain, there is a sick child. Mordred, she thinks, but she sneaks a glimpse – just a glimpse – and that is all it takes to know that the child has blonde hair instead.
Merlin stands beside her, close, keeping her secrets even before she’s told them.
“We can find another way,” she begs. Her fingers are slick and red; she can feel that much. She will not look down at her hands. As long as she doesn’t look down, they are not hers, not really.
Merlin circles her wrist with his fingers. Does he mean to wrench her hands up so she must see them, or only to share her guilt, to smear his hands with it? She wishes she could tell. “There is no other way.”
She wakes, Morgause’s head in her lap, blonde hair fanning out. She runs her fingers over the ruined flesh on Morgause’s face, determined to cherish it the most of all.
The dead queen’s brother Agravaine is asleep in his bed, snoring lightly, unhandsome in slumber. Morgana recalls his visits to Camelot in years past. His sworn loyalty to Uther. According to Morgause, his faith is not the steadfast thing he would have the king believe.
She stands above him, dressed in black, limned only by moonlight. She suspects that to a just-awakening man, she will look quite unearthly. A pretty shadow slipping in, no servant to guards and stone. She likes this new grace. Stabbing knights does get so tiresome.
She puts a hand to his face. Digs a fingernail into his cheek.
He sits up abruptly, drinks the sight of her in, mouth agape. “Lady Morgana—what—”
“You lost a sister to Camelot,” she says, pulling her hand back, wasting no time, “so that Uther and his line might prosper.”
He looks so confused – not at all the dashing, gallant man she had absently thought him when she was young. But he is what she has. She knows she must make use of him. “Y—yes.”
(When Morgause sleeps, and that is most of the time, she does not breathe any longer. She is like a statue, sometimes possessed by a spark of life, sometimes empty unfeeling marble. Where does she go when she is not awake? Why does she go, seeing how hard Morgana has fought to keep her?)
“That gives us something in common,” Morgana says.