Pairing: Gwen & Morgana
Spoilers: through 4.09 - "Lancelot du Lac"
Word Count: 5,349
Summary: It’s always darkest before the dawn. (Or, Gwen and Morgana reunite at long last.)
You’re used to a bit of hard labor, but you’re also heartbroken and pulling the entire contents of your house behind you. As such, you don’t get as far as you would like. You make it to the forest beyond Camelot, and then you sink onto the damp ground and you cry. You cry for Arthur, and for Lancelot, but mostly for yourself. You meant what you said to Arthur about him being everything. Your parents are dead and your brother is still a stranger in so many ways; there’s something about Merlin that keeps you at a distance. Perhaps he thinks you’re Arthur’s now, and relinquishes all your attention to him like a faithful servant should. (You can’t quite believe that, not of Merlin, but he is so full of silence and secrets. Of course you’ve noticed, but you can also tell that you’re not supposed to have. And so you’ve always kept quiet.)
You were a faithful servant too, until this morning. You’ve been one for so long that surely it must run through your veins by now and keep your bones company. You like to make others happier, to make their struggles easier, and you’re good at it, and you were raised with the knowledge of how important it is to keep busy. So you’ve spent your whole life taking care of others, and now the only person you have left is you.
God, it’s terrifying.
You indulge in some self-pity, imagine curling up in the leaves and falling asleep and never waking again. You imagine one of the knights finding you. Taking the news, or maybe your limp body, back to Camelot, to Arthur. How sorry he would be – you know, you know he would be sorry. Uther taught him to be stern and cold and unforgiving, but you’ve taught him other things since, and unearthed so much goodness in him. Not enough, it seems.
But you aren’t going to think like that. Not even now.
You doze for awhile, and awaken to the sound of hooves; you’ve been through enough in this forest to be quick and cautious, so you take cover behind a tree and watch.
What you see is Agravaine.
Your first thought is that he searches for you – that Arthur has sent him out to find you, that you are pardoned and he means to tell you so – but then you wonder at Arthur not coming himself. For surely he would, if he had forgiven you. Besides, there is something about Arthur’s uncle that has never sat well with you, in spite of Arthur’s admiration for him. He lingers too long and can never quite hide his disapproval when he looks at you. Someone who truly respected Arthur would not look at you so.
And so you decide to follow him instead.
He unwittingly leads you to a shoddy hut in a glen – quite a strange place to frequent, considering how strongly he disapproves of peasants. He steps inside and does not seem to find what he wants, for he’s back out again in a few moments.
“Milady?” he calls. Only birds answer him. You lean against the tree that conceals you and hold your breath. “Milady?”
A twig breaks behind you. Your heart leaps. You mean to turn and investigate this mysterious lady of Agravaine’s, but before you can, she is pressed up close against your side, and something at the center of you knows exactly who she is already.
“Hello, old friend,” comes a velvety voice you haven’t heard in a very long time.
Morgana ties you to a chair inside her hut and stands over you with her arms folded. She is still beautiful as ever – shaken as you are, it’s the easiest thing to comprehend – but she is unraveling too, all coarse black fabric and tired eyes. You feel a stupid, out-of-place pang; it was your duty to take care of her, and look what she has become without you.
It’s not new, that guilt. You’ve felt some measure of it ever since she disappeared in a whirlwind in Morgause’s arms. You’ve never confessed it to anyone; you’re not sure there’s a person alive who could understand. They’d all say Morgana was to blame.
“She is banished from Camelot forever,” Agravaine reports, sounding rather proud. Sour dislike fills you. “Arthur himself informed her that if she ever returns, it will be on pain of death.”
A smile curves at Morgana’s mouth, but she doesn’t look at Agravaine. Her eyes are fixed on you. “Tragic.”
“Quite,” Agravaine chortles.
“Poor, poor Guinevere,” Morgana laments. “Where do you mean to go now?”
You say nothing. There’s some odd certainty left over from the days you were her maid, an unconscious knowledge of her. There is no better way to offend her than with silence. And if it’s not the best of ideas to offend an evil sorceress—Well.
“Come now,” Morgana coaxes, nearing you. “You can tell me. We were so very close, once.”
You are silent, and meet her gaze. She leans down over you, her arm resting on the back of your chair, and considers your face. You turn to meet her eyes properly. You remember being this close to her before, in her bedchamber in the dead of night, holding her and promising that the nightmares couldn’t touch her. The thought is nearly too much on top of everything else, and a wave of feeling overtakes you, just for a moment. It must show on your face, because there is a kind of flicker on hers—
“Leave us,” Morgana says briskly.
“Lady Morgana, are you certain--?”
“Quite. Arthur will be wondering where you are.”
Agravaine exits with reluctance hanging on his face. The closing thud of the door makes you flinch. Morgana stares at you with that new hardness in her eyes. It hurts too much, this close, and so you consider your surroundings instead. You did not know any place could look so bleak. It isn’t just poverty and grime that makes it so miserable; it’s as if its owner’s bitterness and unhappiness have seeped into the walls, and watch over the place now like household gods.
“Have you missed me, Gwen?” Morgana asks, tilting her head with an impartial curiosity that brings birds of prey to mind.
“Have you missed me?” The first words you have spoken to her in well over a year. You force your eyes back to her.
Her mouth twists slightly. It’s nothing like a smile. “I asked you first.”
“I’ll always miss you,” you say. Because it is true, and because instinct tells you it’s the surest way to hurt her. You must make use of the weapons you have; there’s no use lamenting that a sword would be much handier. “As you were once.”
She scoffs, a mean little sound that intends to be dismissive but doesn’t quite manage it. “That’s right. I suppose you’re feeling rather sentimental. Banished by one true love, and betrayed by the other. Not that he had much choice, poor dear. Every bit of him wished only to please me; a consequence of my being the one to raise him from the dead. Did you like my bracelet? I picked it out and enchanted it especially for you.”
To raise him from the dead.
You’d known it. Somehow, you’d known. He said all the right things and looked handsome as ever, but his warmth – his soul – was not there, reaching out to seek yours. Your heart aches, and you hope as hard as you can that he is resting peacefully now. He so deserved to live on honorably in legend – Sir Lancelot, the knight who rose from nothing and gave his life to save you all – and now his name will be forever linked with yours, and betrayal, and lust.
Morgana is watching you with smug anticipation on her face. She waits, you’re sure, for the pain to spread across your face. For anger to follow it, maybe. You were always the calm to her storm. She loved that once, and she’s become so devoted since to destroying what she loves.
“It was a little plain,” you say calmly, “for your taste.”
She masks her disappointment with more smooth mocking, but not quickly enough. “Ah yes, but simple things were always more to your liking.” At your silence, she laughs softly, right into your ear. “What? Did you think I’d forget?”
“I think you have forgotten everything that matters.”
“And you’ve lost everything that matters. My, don’t we have a lot in common. I suppose you’re very angry at me for what became of your Lancelot.”
“I don’t like seeing my friends turned into soulless monsters, no,” you answer evenly.
She stands up quickly at that. Paces back to the center of the room to stand before you. She doesn’t say anything, but her gaze is steel-sharp and dangerous.
“If you’re going to kill me, do it.” You are as brave as any knight, after all. The words come easy.
“I will,” Morgana says crisply. “When it suits me.”
“What time could suit you better than now?” You have a point, and Morgana knows it. You see that knowledge in her eyes. Danger may run rampant in Camelot, but heroics are always on its heels, ready to vanquish it. The longer you are kept alive, the more likely it is that Arthur and Merlin will burst in here to save you. And the throne she wants so much will be more yours than hers all over again. You may be banished and called an adulteress, but your crimes are nothing next to hers.
You are half-prepared for death when she asks you, “Do you regret it? Falling in love with Arthur?”
She must be mocking you, but her voice is empty of that silken cruelty. She sounds like your Morgana, your dead Morgana who you haven’t seen in years and will never see again.
If you say Yes, maybe she will come back to you – but that’s a foolish thing to think, and not worth the risk.
“Why would I?” you answer.
Her eyes darken. The echoes of your friend disappear. “I have things to do. Don’t go anywhere.”
Morgana returns hours later, waking you from what is perhaps history’s most uncomfortable nap. With a flick of her hand, your binds loosen.
“Follow me,” she says.
You figure you have very little choice, and so you do. Your limbs are stiff; you feel old. It’s darkening outside, but not entirely dark yet. The cart full of your possessions is waiting there, though probably not for you.
“Bandits had gotten to it,” Morgana reports, courtesy mixed with ridicule, “but I put a stop to that. I think I recovered everything.”
“How considerate,” you say shortly.
That earns you a little laugh from her, full of something that might even be approval. She begins to go through your things; you watch, and make sure not to let your face betray even a hint of feeling. She considers the blue dress you wore when Arthur filled the room with candlelight and asked you to be his queen.
She smirks. “You’ll have little need for such finery here.”
“I noticed,” you retort, eyeing her ratty black garments.
She tosses the dress aside. In time, she gets to the sword your father gave you for your eighteenth birthday. He called it ‘Guinevere’ after you, insisting that it could have no worthier namesake. You laughed and protested and hugged him a dozen times at least, and always left it under your bed: at first because it seemed so silly for clumsy, harmless you to have a thing like that, and then (as the years went by) because you liked the idea of keeping it close while you slept. You’re quick with a blade.
“Your father made this,” Morgana says.
“Yes,” you say. “For me. He always wanted me to be able to protect myself, should it come to that.”
As soon as you say it, you wonder whether she might impale you with it. It seems too tempting to resist.
“He was a good man,” she says instead, utterly Morgana again – for a moment. “I wish he had not died as he did.” You wonder if maybe she is a little mad, rather than just evil. You wonder if your Morgana is buried somewhere inside of her, screaming to get out.
She sets the sword aside. She goes through more things that do not catch her interest, clothes and pots and pans and food supplies, and then suddenly goes very still. The nighttime darkness has nearly swallowed you both by now. She lifts her hand. She’s holding a handkerchief. One that she embroidered for you, poorly but triumphantly, under your tutelage. You’ve had it for years. Both of you were not yet thirteen when she did it.
“What are you playing at?” she asks, the threat of a quaver in her voice. She keeps staring down at the handkerchief.
“Nothing,” you say, apprehension prickling.
“I mean it,” she says, turning vicious. “Tell me. This is a trick, isn’t it? You and Arthur are in on this together – you mean to bring me down with my own scheme. If he thinks you will return to him alive after this—”
“It isn’t—” You realize you have no idea how to make her believe you.
“I have ways to make you confess,” she says, blazing. “Ways so painful words can’t do them justice. I warn you, I will not hesitate to use them. Do you really think that because we were friends once I’d show you even the faintest hint of mercy? Are you that foolish?”
“Your scheme was successful, Morgana,” you say, louder than her almost-seductive hiss of a threat. “Arthur wants never to see my face again. If you don’t want to believe me, then don’t, but it is the truth.”
“Then why do you keep this?” she demands.
“You.” You were my best friend once, you do not say, not wanting to waste such true words on unsympathetic ears. Do you think that Uther and Arthur were the only ones who lost you?
She goes so still. You can think of nothing to do besides watch her, and maybe wait to die.
“I’m going to bed,” she says abruptly and coldly. “If you walk beyond that tree there, you’ll feel such pain it will burn you up. If you don’t want to believe me, then don’t, but it is the truth.”
She drops the handkerchief on her way inside. It flutters, angelic, down to the dirt. You pick it up and fold it neatly, then tuck it into your pocket. You wait until you cannot hear her moving anymore inside. Then you go right to the forbidden tree, the one that marks your captivity. You take the smallest of steps forward, so that only the tips of your toes cross the invisible line. It hurts like hellfire, just as she promised.
You take the bracelet off before you sleep. It’s foolish; Morgause would chasten you for it if she weren’t so dead. The dreams will bring you pain, you have no doubt of that, but you’ve gotten much better at pain over the last few years, now that your life is not all feather pillows and fine dresses and secrets. There are things more important than pain, and certainty is one of them. You had thought that everything would come into focus once Gwen was out of Camelot, out of Arthur’s proud heart, but being with her has left your mind more muddled than ever. You need some glimpse of the future to cling to.
You dream of Gwen – just Gwen, Gwen by your side, and you cannot tell the past from the future. You wake crying and she puts her arms around you, soothes you like a beloved child, and murmurs, “It’s no good with only the three of us. Camelot needs all four, don’t you see, or it will never rise to glory as it’s meant to. We’re all of us broken as long as we’re without you. Two kings and two queens. Shh, shh. Queen of the Old Religion.”
When you wake truly, you’re alone and shaking. You get out of bed and wrap a shawl around you, then go check to make sure your prisoner hasn’t killed herself in an attempt at escaping. Just as you’d expected, she’s too smart for that. Gwen has made a bed of her dresses and sleeps on top of them, her breath a mist in the crisp air. The door creaks slightly, and she whimpers in her sleep. You make sure to keep it silent as you close it again.
“You could make breakfast,” you suggest later, when she is up and full of stony silent rage and asks what she ought to do here. “I can cook but not very well, and it goes without saying that I’ve got more important things to do. You, on the other hand – it’s your area of expertise.”
“So you want me to just – just stay here? Be your servant again?” she demands, incredulous.
“I want breakfast,” you answer primly.
“You know this cannot last forever,” she – threatens? Gwen making threats. It’s practically charming.
“Of course I do,” you say. “Nothing lasts forever. But it will do quite nicely for now.”
Gwen prepares eggs and dried fruit, and you insist that she join you in eating. You could starve her to death, but it seems a terrible waste of a very good opportunity.
“Perhaps I’ll enchant you and send you back to Camelot,” you muse. “You can be my eyes and ears.”
“You’ve got Agravaine for that,” Gwen points out. She has a good appetite, you notice. That’s Gwen, dear Gwen. Far too sensible to waste away even when her heart has been broken.
You scoff. “Don’t remind me. He’s faithful, but inept more often than not, and no doubt harbors delusions that I’ll make him king of Camelot once I am queen.”
“I never felt easy around him.”
“With good reason. I expect Camelot will be much easier to bring to its knees now that you’re out of the equation. You’ve got more cleverness than all the men put together.”
“Not enough cleverness to puzzle out that my dear friend was risen from the dead to bring about my downfall,” she answers sharply, “a vacant shell now stripped forever of the honor he deserved.”
Your words to Agravaine, and the feeling behind them, come back to you: I thought it would please me, molding his mind. Instead I feel curiously sad. He was once so mighty, and now he’s nothing but a shade.
You think you will keep that to yourself.
“Nor clever enough,” Gwen finishes, “to know that I was being cursed.”
“But maybe clever enough to figure out at last that Arthur is not all he seems to be?” you suggest. It is an epiphany everyone in the kingdom deserves, but no one more than Gwen.
“I know Arthur,” Gwen answers briskly. “I know his faults every bit as well as his virtues. Believe me, no one has dealt with his faults more often than I have.”
“Do you doubt his love?” you ask, interested.
“No,” she says. “But his duty to Camelot is everything to him – it is a joy, not a burden, never mind how heavy it weighs on him at times. It lights his whole heart and soul. His love for me is confined to one corner of his heart. His kingdom has the rest.”
You, for one, can’t imagine settling for such treatment from a man. Then again, you’re no Gwen, thank God. “And you’re willing to accept that?”
“I know that I’m at my best helping others,” she replies, “and Camelot needs a new age, led by a great king. I bring kindness out in him, and I give him something to fight for. If I can help, in that way, to bring an end to the Camelot that took my father’s life, then I will have accomplished all I could have ever hoped to.” You watch the sadness dawn on her face as she remembers that this destiny has been torn from her.
“You could be so much more than that,” you say – unwisely, for you certainly don’t mean to egg her on. You, who are tormented daily by the jewel-toned memory of Gwen new-crowned and smiling at Arthur’s side. Her hand in Arthur’s, for everyone to see. How the whole room cheered.
“It was enough,” Gwen says simply.
“And now?” you urge, and she does not have an answer.
You make her help you in the garden. You can’t plot revenge all the time. A girl has to eat. Two girls, now.
“Do you always wear that bracelet?” Gwen asks, dirt streaking one cheek as she pulls up carrots. She has a knack for pulling only the best-looking ones, whereas you seem to have an instinct toward the gnarled and deformed specimens. How perfectly fitting.
“Morgause gave it to me soon after we met,” you answer, picking thyme, ignoring the embarrassed, stupid impulse to pull your rolled-up sleeve back down. “It blocks the nightmares.”
“Where do they go?”
“What do you mean?” You narrow your eyes.
“Nothing,” she says. “Never mind. I’m wary of bracelets at present. That’s all.”
For a spilt-second, you imagine the nightmares twisting and writhing, begging entrance into – your mind, your heart, your soul, wherever they resided once. And once they were denied, perhaps they raged and raged and filled the rest of the gaps in you, an act of vengeance. Sneaked into your bones and blood, your every inch. Infected you with violence and bitterness and doubt and so much fear—
Then you remember Morgause, all white and gold, extending her hand to give you the first of her gifts. Its metal cool against your fingertips.
“She was my sister,” you say, defensive. Morgause was the one great beloved thing of your life, your savior, and you should not have to speak of her to someone who finds love so easily and nurtures it without even having to try. “She was the only person who ever loved me truly.”
“No she wasn’t,” Gwen says plainly, and pulls another carrot up with more force than necessary.
“Perhaps if I had gotten it sooner,” you continue, fingering the bracelet coyly, “you wouldn’t have come to resent me so.”
“What do you mean?” Gwen says. “I never—”
“You worked so hard during the day,” you say, four years behind schedule. “The last thing you could have wanted was me screaming my way through every night, begging you to stay with me like a scared child.”
“You were my dearest friend,” Gwen says; she looks offended, and seeing an expression that dark on her face fills you with the strong and unwise desire to keep talking. To keep it there. “Do you really think I would ever consider you a burden, ever?”
“Am I no burden to you now?” you ask, faux-sweetly.
“Now everything is different.” She returns her attention to the vegetables. You don’t like that one bit.
“Oh, so you would have held my hand and told me it was all right that I was seeing the future?” you challenge. “That I was a witch?” She looks up at you again at the word. It still has such power, that one little word. To quiet a room. To stop a heart. “I knew you would figure it out if I kept you as close as you had been before. Quick, clever Guinevere. And then …”
“And then what?” Gwen demands. “What did you think I would do?”
She must be playing dumb, you decide. “Tell Arthur, of course. Who knows what you weren’t telling Arthur, then? The pair of you making eyes at each other across the room every day. Just because you never told me about your feelings for him doesn’t mean I didn’t notice. Both of you used to pay much more attention to me, I’ll have you know. Did you really think I wouldn’t figure it out?”
It’s easy enough to say now – it’s a relief to say it, honestly – but something in you still twists uncomfortably at how awful it was to live it. It’s been so many years, and still you flinch inside at the loss of their devotion. You liked playing Arthur like a song, making him drool over you and yield to you and be maddened by you. (Another reason to hope your father rots in hell; you know very well that Uther would never have stopped a marriage between the two of you, had it come about. Perhaps he would have called you witch when your babies came out gnarled and deformed as the carrots you pick.) And Gwen –
Gwen was yours. Your constant and your confidant. Your everything. Your first Morgause, to be less romantic and silly about it.
And now she stares at you, offended still – or no, perhaps that isn’t quite the right word. Wounded? You almost hope so. “I wouldn’t have told Arthur.”
“Oh, really?” you ask with all the sarcasm you can muster. You can’t afford to believe for a second that she’s telling the truth. “You’d have kept my secret for me, even if it meant letting evil run rampant within the castle’s walls? Even if it meant burning at the stake for aiding and abetting sorcery?”
“I would not have thought you evil,” Gwen insists. “Not then. I knew you.”
“It must be very easy to say that now,” you say, and go back to your herbs.
After a bit of silent labor, she begins again. “Did anyone know? Gaius—?”
“I imagine the old man suspected,” you answer, sneering. There are few people you’d like more to tear apart limb from limb. Slowly. “Why else would he keep me drugged and docile all the time? He was trying to dull the magic in me. He needn’t have bothered. It was stronger than he gave it credit for. I was stronger,” you add, though you certainly hadn’t felt it in those days: the whole world an ugly too-white dream around you, everything and everyone drifting out of your reach. The one clear thing you had, the one thing tethering you to earth, was the nightmares. Until Morgause.
Gwen’s face is sweet with pain; she never could resist the chance for sympathy, and apparently that even extends to wicked and dreadful you. “Did anyone else—?”
“Merlin knew,” you say shortly. Speaking of people you’d like to kill.
“Merlin can’t have been cruel about it,” Gwen says – thinking, no doubt, of his sweet smile and big ears and puppyish devotion to Arthur. It is the best disguise for a rotten heart you’ve ever seen, that’s for sure.
“Oh, Merlin was very kind,” you say to the dirt. “As kind as could be, until he poisoned me and held me in his arms to keep me still while I died.”
Gwen looks as if she’s been slapped. Good. Anything to wake her up to the truth. “Morgana—”
“That kingdom has evil at its heart,” you say fiercely, and wish you could sound as calm as she nearly always does. It’s no use. There is something on fire in you, always, and you know it makes you sound mad. Perhaps you are mad. But you are also right. “And I will save it from them if it’s the last thing I do.”
She’s quiet for a long while.
“You might have gotten rid of Merlin,” she says at last. “Or Arthur. Why did you start with me?”
“I didn’t start with you,” you say, and it is a surprise to you as much as it is to her. “I got you out.”
She looks at you with some feeling you don’t dare name. “Maybe the dreams aren’t something to hide from. Maybe they’re just part of who you are, and what you’re meant to bring to the world.”
You laugh bitterly. “Tidings of doom?”
“Are they only nightmares?”
You think of her, only her, cutting Arthur out. A room full of red and gold and tranquil sunlight; Guinevere in lavender and jewels, gold crown against dark curls, and that smile. So serene and good and sure.
“No,” you say, in spite of the fact that it’s like plunging a knife into your own heart. It seems you’ve gotten so good at betrayal that that you can’t even be loyal to yourself. What was it you said to Merlin? Something about having nothing, no one left to be loyal to.
You watch Gwen dig her hands into the dirt.
You let her sleep inside. (‘Let her,’ you think, as though she’s your pet.) You stay outside, and stare up at the stars for a time. Then you walk the perimeter of your land, lifting the curse in gentle murmurs. You put an enchantment on her cart that renders it all but weightless.
You shake her awake well before the sunrise. When she first opens her eyes, there’s a dim smile on her face. She’s used to waking up happy. She looks pleased to see you, in those too-brief moments before memory and sorrow set in.
“Leave,” you say. “Go and begin your life. I’ll keep you here no longer. I have work to do, and you’re a distraction more than anything. You may follow your heart back to Camelot, if you wish it, but I warn you, I will show no mercy if you do. You’d be better off venturing forward, and choosing somewhere new. You could go back to Ealdor, perhaps. Merlin’s mother was a kind woman. You might be happy there.”
You remember it so brightly, though the years ought to have dimmed it; sleeping by Gwen’s side, scared at the enormity of the battle that loomed before you, comforted by the warmth and the nearness of her. Standing in Arthur’s army like any knight, Gwen and Merlin with you, all of you determined to do good, all of you brothers in arms. The sweet, clear clash of steel, and throwing your arms around Gwen in clumsy, joyful triumph. How invincible you seemed, as long as the four of you stood together; how big and brilliant the future promised to be.
“Thank you,” she says later, once she’s gathered the few belongings that have scattered around your house.
“You have nothing to thank me for,” you answer truthfully. It seems insufficient, but it is all you can bring yourself to say.
She is all the way to the door when she turns.
“If my luck should change,” she says, “and I am ever queen, I’ll see to it that you’re welcome in Camelot. I promise you that.”
“Likewise,” you say, the word like a lump in your throat.
She smiles at you – the first smile you’ve had from her in years – and she leaves you behind.
You find the handkerchief left on your table, folded with a neatness that is uniquely Gwen’s. You clutch it in one hand and your eyes burn hot. This small, ugly hovel seems vast as a cathedral and empty as your heart. You leave the bracelet on the table and take the handkerchief with you to bed. Sleep is not easy. You half-dream of standing at the head of the sun-kissed throne room with Gwen by your side – radiant as ever, clever and selfless and good, the calm to your storm, and all your subjects smiling up at you with trust and without fear. You wait for the real dreams to come.
You leave your heart behind you. You vow to keep your eyes on the bright new horizon, and to follow where it leads. For now.