Disclaimer: Characters and situations owned by the BBC.
Timeline: Non-linear, fitting Gwen's state of mind, starting with the immediate aftermath of episode 5.09. and going back and forwards from there.
Thanks to: Kathy, as much a treasure as ever.
Gwen has known Tyr and Gelda Seward for most of the years she's spent as servant and then Queen in Camelot. They hadn't been among her close friends, but they'd always had smiles and nods for each other when passing, even on the busiest of days. When the Dorocha roamed the land, Tyr had pleaded to let his mother stay at the castle, which Gwen had succesfully argued Agrivaine into allowing. They'd cheered at her coronation, a rare outing for Gelda whose heart had remained weak ever since the Dorocha attack.
Sitting now in Gelda's house, Gwen feels ill. It is only a day after her mind and body were returned to her, and while a part of her wants to hide like a wounded animal until the memories have faded, she knows this is not an option. Not just because she's Queen now, and the Queen withdrawing from court would be noticed at once, causing whispers and speculations. More importantly, damage has been done, by her, and she won't rest until she's fixed what can be fixed, and offered atonement for the rest.
Maybe then the nightmares will stop.
„It wasn't your fault. There was nothing you could have done," Merlin had told her on the way back to Camelot, Merlin who had once been used by Morgana as an instrument against Arthur as well. But he doesn't remember what he did before Gaius and Gwen had disabled the spell. By contrast, Gwen remembers every second that passed from the moment Morgana led her to the Dark Tower to the moment she followed Arthur into the water. She remembers sliding the knife into Tyr's body, quickly and efficiently. Remembers how easy it has been. How it didn't even merit a second of hesitation, because any doubt in her had been burned away.
She's a murderer now, and sitting with the mother of her victim.
Arthur has already provided Gelda with the promise Tyr's wages will continue to be paid to her, that she will lack for nothing, and Merlin has arranged for one of the serving girls to look after her, cook and clean in the small house in the Lower Town where the Sewards have lived ever since Gwen can remember. It's been only weeks since Tyr's death, so unsurprisingly, Gelda is still numb and raw, barely reacting to a visit from the Queen when on previous occasions, she'd been flustered, never mind she'd known Gwen as a fellow servant. Gelda has no idea what truly happened, of course; the only ones who do are Arthur, Merlin and Gaius. She only knows her son had died as a prisoner, a suspect of a plot against the King's life, and being told he'd been cleared of suspicion after all must feel almost like mockery. It did to Gwen when holding her father's body in her arms. A life time ago, when Morgana was her friend, the King her enemy, and taking anyone's life with her own hands unthinkable.
„I still don't understand," Gelda murmurs. „He was so good, so kind. How could anyone hate him so much that they'd do this, first take his honour, then his life?"
Gwen doesn't remember hating Tyr. There had been a general hatred and disdain directed at anyone who wasn't Morgana, true, but Tyr himself had been too insignificant in the new state the Dark Tower had left her in to be hated as a person in particular; he'd simply been a convenient means to an end.
She tells herself these must have been Morgana's emotions, not hers. That's how the spell worked, Gaius has said, who is the only source of knowledge about magic she knows to ask. But Gaius has never experienced such a spell himself, and so Gwen can't be sure. And in any event, hers were the hands to do it, hers the mind that first came up with framing Tyr for her own guilt and then with his death. She has come here to confess, to be judged by the one suffering most through her actions.
Gwen opens her mouth, but before she can give voice to the guilt eating at her, Gelda says: „I'm glad you're here. Tyr so admired you. Did you know?"
Suddenly, even breathing feels like an effort. Gwen shakes her head. „Not in an untoward manner," Gelda hastens to add, and unbelievably, she's flushing a bit. „It's just, there was talk at your coronation. Some busybodies thought you wouldn't want anything to do with us, would want no reminder of your old life. But my boy, he set them straight. Not her, he said. She was kind and good when cleaning stone floors, and she'll be kind and good on a throne. She'll never forget where she came from. She won't turn her back on us, just you wait and see. And now you're here."
Gelda grips Gwen's hand. In three years, the callusses left by a life time of physical work have begun to fade on Gwen's fingers somewhat, though they're not entirely gone; Gerda's fingers, by contrast, feel as rough and bony as they'd ever done as she presses, and cries and does not let go while Gwen shifts towards her.
Gwen has always hugged people easily; sharing affection or comfort through touch comes natural to her. Now, however, she has to force herself to use her free arm and embrace Gelda, drawing her closer, feel the old woman's tears on her skin, running into the hollow of her neck.
If Gelda knew the truth, she'd….what would she do? What could she do? Scream to the skies that the Queen was a murderer, perhaps; and then live out her life, still alone, bereft of her son, with the added burden that there'd never be a punishment for his killer. That those she believed would protect Tyr, would be worthy of his loyalty, had instead destroyed him.
Gelda holds on to Gwen, sobbing. In the Dark Tower, between the never ending screams, Gwen had been surrounded by the images of everyone she loved, their faces twisted into taunting hatred, destroying her ability to know what was true and what was false, turning even the memories she tried to hold onto inside out. If she confesses to Gelda now, it might create a Dark Tower for Gelda as well. It will not help anyone but Gwen's own sense of guilt.
Or is this just an excuse she tells herself? A justification?
„Who was it, then?" Gelda asks later, after she has composed herself somewhat. „Who killed my boy?"
„A serving girl," Gwen says, and hears her own voice like a stranger's. „The Lady Morgana had put her under a charm so she might kill the King. She was supposed to remain undiscovered until Morgana ruled in Camelot again, and that was why she made your son the scapegoat. But now, the charm has been lifted and the truth was revealed."
Silence falls between them, though Gelda is still holding Gwen's hand. Then the older woman says: „Was it truly a charm, though? Maybe she's just claiming that to escape punishment."
„I don't think she'd ever have had done what she did out of her own free will", Gwen says and desperately hopes she's speaking the truth. Gelda sniffs.
„That's what we all thought about the Lady Morgana herself."
The first time Gwen sees Morgana is from afar, the King and his entourage riding through the Lower Town. She catches a glimpse of dark hair and hears laughter as Morgana, who can't be older than fourteen, turns her head to the prince who rides next to her. That is it, the moment is over. The sole reason why it is memorable to Gwen is because she felt miserable in those days, glad for the distraction the spectacle of the Royal entourage afforded. Her brother Elyan has left after an argument with their father, and the sadness of her mother's death is still everywhere. Gwen loves her father and gladly helps him as much as she can, but she also feels the urge to escape. Not by leaving Camelot, as Elyan had done; just to be somewhere, to do something, that isn't burdened by loss and silence.
Her mother has trained her as a lady's maid, intending for Gwen to follow her footsteps in the household of Sir Leon, once he married, as Gwen's mother has served his mother. Gwen has never minded the prospect; she has good memories of Leon as a boy, and does not doubt his wife, whoever she will be, will prove a worthy lady. But Leon has only just been knighted by the King, and it would be years before he'd want to leave court and establish his own household. Gwen doesn't think she can wait this long and do nothing until then but stand by in the smithery and feel like a replacement for Elyan. The sight of the Lady Morgana provides her with an answer, or at least some hope. There is no Queen in Camelot, nor has there been for as long as Gwen can remember. There are some female servants in the Royal household, of course, but most of the staff is male. But in recent years, the King's ward, the Lady Morgana, has started to appear in public at the King's side during feasts and tournaments. Evidently, as she grows up, she's in the process of becoming the lady of the castle no one else has been ever since the Queen had died.
She will need a lady's maid of her own, then. Maybe she already has one, but the King had dismissed all of Queen Ygraine's personal servants when she had died, not wishing the reminder, and when the Lady Morgana joined his household as a child, her retinue had been sent back to Cornwall as well. Maybe there is a chance she'd want a servant her own age. If Gwen didn't feel so miserable at home right then, she wouldn't dare to try, but as it is, she puts on the last gown her mother had made for her, cleans up as best she can and goes to the Castle, seeking out the sole person in a position of authority already familiar to her, the stablemaster who sometimes uses her father's services.
In later years, as she grows familiar with the complicated hierarchy among the servants, Gwen comes to understand that he could not have helped her. But as it happens, the Lady Morgana loves to ride, and she is visiting the stables just as Gwen approaches. When Gwen, gathering all her courage, steps closer to address the King's ward, one of the horses shies and might have trampled Gwen if Morgana hadn't managed to pull it aside and calm it in time. It is an expert bit of horse management from a girl that leaves everyone who watches in awe, Gwen herself included. The admiration must shine from her eyes as she professes her gratitude, and as ever when her emotions get the better of her, her tongue runs away and causes her to babble. Morgana smiles at her.
„It was nothing," she says. „Now, how can I help you?"
Morgana was her heroine then, in addition to being her hope for a better life. If someone had told Gwen a day would come when she would wonder whether Morgana would have noticed her if they hadn't met in circumstances allowing Morgana to be admired, she'd have despised the person making such a cynical suggestion. She'd never have believed herself capable of it.
„Isn't this better?" Morgana asks as the incessant screams fade in Gwen's mind, blotted out by Morgana's presence. She offers Gwen food again, and Gwen isn't capable of turning it down any longer. Gwen doesn't know how long it has been since Morgana brought her to the Dark Tower, hours, days or months, even. All has become the present, and the present is pain that is only interrupted when Morgana is there. She tries to cling to her memories of what is real and what is not, but it is harder with every moment.
„All I ever wanted", Morgana says, and try as she might, Gwen can't hear a false note in her voice, „is for you to come back to me. For us to be as we were."
There is a memory belying this assertion, a memory of Gwen being condemned to burn by Uther Pendragon while Morgana, to Gwen's horrified disbelief, is ismiling/i. But that way lies madness and the screams and Gwen can't go back there just yet, not yet, she'll use this reprieve a bit longer to gather strength.
And maybe, just maybe, she's remembering wrongly. Doesn't it make more sense that Morgana, who'd always argued with Uther, would have been horrified at the prospect of Gwen's death? Isn't it more likely that Arthur, forever unable to truly forsake his father, doing his father's bloody work instead, had been the one to stand by and smile?
No, that hadn't been right, that wasn't what had happened, not then, and Gwen tries to find the true memory again, but it mingles and mixes ever more, Morgana angry at Uther with Morgana smiling behind Uther's shoulder, Arthur doing nothing in silence with Arthur screaming at Uther, and then there's Morgana, here and now, holding her hands.
„Do you believe me?"
She hasn't believed anything Morgana says for a long time, Gwen remembers this much, but she believes Morgana is standing between her and pain inow/i, and she knows, she knows there was a time in the past when this used to be true.
„Yes," she whispers, and she feels Morgana's arms around her once more.
„If the spell hadn't been broken", Gwen asks Gaius, „what would have happened to me, in the end?"
„That I cannot say," the old man replies, and there is something measured and cautious in his gaze, as if he's still unsure about her state. Or maybe she's putting her own doubts in his expression. „The people bound to the High Priestesses in the old days the way you were eventually discarded like run down candles. It's not natural, living solely with another's will in your mind. It burns you out. Yet Morgana might have intended for you to live, if only because she has been removed from Camelot's throne twice before. She might have concluded it was easier to rule through you than openly rule herself."
There, Gaius is wrong. Or rather: it would have been the smarter course for Morgana to pursue, that is quite true, but Gwen happens to know it is not what Morgana had intended to happen. Because Morgana wanted that crown on her own head, one way or another. Still wants it. It is, to her, the ultimate proof that she has been right and justified in doing all that she's done.
„Once Arthur is dead and you've been accepted as regent," she has told Gwen, „you will, of course, declare that only a Pendragon is worthy of ruling Camelot, and only a Pendragon can truly make peace and unite all the divided parties of the land. And thus, for the good of all, you will step down and hand over the crown to me."
At this point, there is nothing left in Gwen to protest and question, and so she just nods obediently.
„You never wanted the crown anyway", Morgana says. „I know you, Gwen. You used to be so sweet, so loving, with no ambitious thought in your head. Serving me was all that made you happy, do you remember? And we never, ever argued, because we always wanted the same. Not like…"
Abruptly, she falls silent, and when she speaks again, it is to tell Gwen to brush her hair. Because she has missed this so much, she says. Gwen brushing her hair, taking care of Morgana.
This, Gwen thinks, every thought sounding like Morgana's soothing voice, is her true purpose in life. There can be no other.
Mordred's having joined Arthur and Merlin on their quest to free Gwen from her enchantment had come as a surprise to her, if only because Mordred is one of the few knights, if not the only one, whom Merlin goes out of his way to avoid, and Gwen herself has had no contact with him beyond Mordred's presence at court gatherings. Then again, Arthur likes Mordred, likes him a lot, and is proud of Mordred having proved himself as skilled as any of the knights who'd been trained to fight since early childhood. Once or twice when Gwen had watched them practicing together, she's thought that this might be what Arthur will be like in future years if ever they have a son. Or daughter. Which they will. Three years have passed without a child, true, but they are still young. There will be time.
„Sir Mordred," she says, seeking him out and finding him polishing his armor, which he does himself because he has refused to take a servant, „I want to thank you for your help and kindness."
„You helped saving me once," he replies, regarding her with the huge blue eyes she has not recognized until this moment. „I was only returning the favour."
The druid boy. That silent child Merlin had brought to Morgana, whom Morgana took to with a passion Gwen had not witnessed in her before, the child Arthur, in the end, smuggled out of Camelot. Back then, saving a child had been so self evidently what Morgana would choose to do, and Gwen had felt cowardly and selfish for the doubts nagging at her, those fears wondering whether the King, once he found out, would not punish his ward the same way he'd punished his son for disobedience earlier that year, by making an example of her servant.
How strange, though, that the man this boy grew into should choose to come back to Camelot, where he'd witnessed his father's execution, and where magic was still forbidden. True, not all druids had magic, and Gwen could not recall the boy displaying any while hidden in Morgana's chambers. Still, in his place, she would have stayed far away, and probably would not have saved Arthur's life, never mind helping him against Morgana.
The distrust in her is instant, and laced with self loathing. It hasn't been Mordred who'd murdered Tyr, put Merlin in prison, tried to murder Arthur in recent weeks. It was her. If Mordred was still with Morgana, Gwen would have known once her subjugation to Morgana's will had been complete. Is she now seeking to share the blame, to shift it on whomever she can find, even someone who'd done his best to help her?
And yet, and yet. There had been Sefa, whom Gwen had been right to suspect. Agrivaine. And Morgana herself, after her return from Morgause. And Gwen has sworn an oath at her coronation. To protect and guard the realm, always.
„All I did back then was to keep quiet," Gwen returns. „You, on the other hand, rode with the King and Merlin and protected them, so I was told."
From Morgana, she does not say, whom he owes gratitude so much more than to Gwen. Mordred still seems to understand what is not said.
„When I was a child," he says slowly, „I dreamt of finding Morgana again. But I also dreamt of your husband. Both of them, together, as they had saved me. But when I found them together as a man I saw that I could only be loyal to one, not both. I chose the one who does not hate the other, because that one is still whom I remembered." After a slight pause, he adds, with a quiet intensity that makes her wonder how she could ever have failed to recognize him, because it was the very same intensity with which the silent child had watched them all, Morgana, Arthur, Merlin and herself: „Didn't you?"
He's a near stranger to her who has no right to be this observant. And yet, with just a few phrases, he has expressed what she has struggled with for the better part of a year, between Morgana's return to Camelot and that moment in the throne room, Uther condemming her to death for the second time, and Morgana's mouth curling into a smile.
Early on, there isn't just one reason why Gwen doesn't confide in Morgana about her growing feelings for Arthur; there are several, all ill defined and hard to articulate. First, Morgana's nightmares are getting worse all the time and she, who used to be such a vivid presence at court, is withdrawing to her chambers more and more. Besides, Gwen keeps telling herself that there is nothing to confide, not really. Gwen is sensible, Gwen is sane; she knows nothing can ever happen between a prince and a servant, nothing, at any rate, beyond a quick tumble, and she does not want that. She doesn't know what she wants. So she says nothing of Arthur, though she tells Morgana about finding Lancelot again only to discover he's left without as much as a word of goodbye after vowing his love, and Morgana, who in earlier times would have made a cutting remark about men and their vows and made Gwen laugh despite herself, just smiles weakly and tells her to ask Gaius for a stronger potion.
There is another reason for Gwen's silence as weeks become months and still the memory of one kiss, a single kiss, refuses to go away. She's assumed for years that Morgana and Arthur would marry one day, not just because it was a popular guess among most people in Camelot as an explanation for why Uther does not marry Morgana to one of the many lords seeking her hand, but because Morgana and Arthur, as much as they bicker with each other, are more comfortable in each other's presence than with any of the other noble ladies and lords occasionally attempting courtship. Simply put, Morgana might be ready to list each of Arthur's flaws in great detail at any given opportunity, but she trusts him, and trusts that he truly cares for her. It might not be the passion the bards sing about, but it is certainly stronger and more steadfast than the emotion Morgana has shown for any other man. The King, Morgana hates and loves in equal measure, but she does not trust Uther at all, and she's never sure how she stands with him, whether he sees her as a daughter or an obligation, whether he loves her or would, as he has threatened once, treat her as he does any subject if she continues to defy him. Gwen believes in love and passion, but for a marriage, she considers trust most important of all, and that is why right up to the moment he kisses her, she doesn't doubt Morgana will one day marry Arthur. Afterwards, she's still not sure Morgana doesn't continue to assume the same thing, and Gwen's silence in this matter carries some guilt with it. Then Princess Vivian comes to Camelot, proving to Gwen once and for all she's fooling herself if she assumes she sees Arthur as nothing but her future sovereign, but at least Morgana's utter disinterest in the affair seems to indicate Gwen's old assumption has been wrong, and Morgana really regards Arthur as nothing but a foster brother. Then again, Morgana doesn't show much interest in anything and anyone at that point, fading as if drained of vitality day by day, right until the day Gwen wakes up from a magically induced sleep along with the rest of Camelot and finds Morgana gone, taken, Arthur says, by the witch Morgause, with no one knowing why.
When Morgana returns a year later, her vitality is back, and so are her powers of observation. This time, she seems to spot Gwen's feelings for Arthur almost instantly. But she doesn't say anything definite out loud for months, and nerve herself as she might, Gwen can't bring herself to say anything, either. Because Morgana has changed. She never argues with Uther anymore and flatters him instead. She never says a critical word about him to Gwen in private, either, and that never, ever happened before. Nor does she speak about her time with Morgause. Then there's the odd new way Morgana and Merlin treat each other; where there used to be mutual fondness and respect, there's now tension and unspoken hostility. Morgana's conversations with Arthur are virtually the only ones which sound as they did before her abduction.
„Same old Arthur", Morgana says when the four of them are riding back from Fyrien, having saved Gwen's brother Elyan from Cenred and Morgause, and she appears utterly unaffected by having confronted her old captor. She's observing Arthur bantering with Merlin when she adds with a touch of her old sarcasm and some new element that almost sounds like venom: „Just a bit more fond of servants than he used to be. More with the common touch. Isn't he, Gwen?"
For a moment, Gwen's heart stands still, because from anyone else, she'd have regarded it as a sly, malicious dig. But it can't be, not from Morgana. Gwen must have had misunderstood.
„I owe him my brother's life now", she says as neutrally as possible. „And you. And Merlin. I'm so grateful, Morgana."
Morgana doesn't look at her but continues to watch Arthur with Merlin as she replies, in that sweet tone which is almost a mockery of her former affectionate way of talking to Gwen: „I'm sure."
For the first time, but not for the last, Gwen wonders how on earth Cenred, who never visited Camelot in all the time Gwen served there, and Morgause, whose only interactions with servants in Camelot was to kill five guards, would have known that Gwen existed, let alone that Gwen had a brother who could be used as leverage against her.
It had been frighteningly easy to accuse Merlin of having poisoned Arthur, to turn all of Camelot against him. No one but Gaius had spoken in his defense, which retrospectively makes Gwen wonder whether the rest of the court is either that afraid of or that trusting of her. Why didn't more people question her judgment? This court is supposed to be different from Uther's, with people standing up against injustice, no matter whom it comes from. Yet she hardly can accuse Leon of having been too loyal to her, to have trusted in her integrity too much. To not have seen that something was deeply wrong for her to accuse her dearest friend of something as horrible as this. Leon has known her since she'd cleaned his mother's chambers at her own mother's side. He would never consider her capable of turning against her husband. But what about Gwaine? She knows for a fact he feels closer to Merlin than to anyone else at court, save, perhaps, Percival. Why did he not protest and suspect her of wrongdoing?
You're trying to shift blame again, her inner voice murmurs, and so Gwen seeks out Merlin himself. He tries to stop her apology from being voiced, and she explodes.
„I did this," she cries, „I did this to you, don't you see how awful it is, the lot of you pretending nothing has happened? How can I ever look anyone in the face again when I can't even be sure how much of it was me, and how much Morgana?"
Merlin's face changes. He takes her hands, and suddenly she remembers the first time Uther had put her in a cell and threatened to kill her, how Merlin visiting her had gladdened her heart and made her hope again. She got over her early crush on Merlin pretty quickly, but never over the deep affection she has felt for him ever since he came to Camelot and showed her nothing needed to stay the same.
„Gwen," he says seriously, „if anyone should blame themselves, it's me. I should have realised what was wrong faster, and then I should have sought a remedy at once. You did, when it was me. And that's how I know it was all Morgana, and none of it you. Because I know iyou/i. You'd never turn your back on a friend. You saved me from killing Arthur and him from being killed when I could have easily killed you myself, because that's the kind of friend you are. And you didn't even want Uther dead when he killed your father. You're one of the few really good people I've ever met. That's what Morgana used against us all, true. But even with all her magic, she couldn't destroy the core of you. Otherwise Arthur could never have reached the real you, and the spell would never have been broken."
This is less reassuring than Merlin evidently means it to be. If there has been a core in Gwen left to be reached, why hadn't she been able to fight against the spell longer? Why had she given in?
Merlin must sense she's not convinced. He frowns. „It's… remember Lamia?"
Gwen remembers. Remembers how the knights had turned against Merlin and herself while under the spell of the creature masquerading as a girl. Even Elyan, even her own brother. The realisation that he'd be ready to kill her if Lamia desired it had been one of the most disturbing moments of her life.
„You didn't hold it against Elyan then," Merlin says, „or Leon. You knew it wasn't them."
That is true. She'd been utterly confident in her knowledge of them, her trust in them unbroken because she'd known they'd been used like puppets by an outside force. She'd even been indignant on their behalf, because it had struck her as the kind of vileness worse than that which tyrants like Uther could enforce. If you had to obey a king you hated, you still had your own thoughts. Not so, Gwen had thought, watching brother and friends turn into strangers, with magic.
„What an evil thing magic can be," she murmurs, and Merlin lets go of her hands.
„You understand now how hateful they all are," Morgana says, meeting Gwen in the woods outside of Camelot, and Gwen nods. „They made me hate myself."
„Did I as well?" Gwen asks, stricken, because ever since leaving the Dark Tower, nothing is more important than pleasing Morgana, nothing worse than hurting Morgana. This is how it always was, always is, always must be.
Morgana tilts her head. She's yet again different from the way she used to be. More vulnerable, less angry, at least when with Gwen, but also prone to stare into nothingness for long moments, and laugh without cause at others. Perhaps due to those two years locked in darkness which she'd told Gwen about.
„Yes," Morgana says slowly. „Yes, you did. Not as much as Uther, of course. And at least you didn't poison me. But you stopped trusting me, Gwen, you started to turn away, and you did that because you must have guessed I had magic. You must have. Otherwise you would have asked me about my dreams. You would have told me about Arthur. But no, you turned away, you treated me differently, when I hadn't done anything to you but love you and defend you and trust you."
Gwen falls to her knees and asks for forgiveness, and means it. She is also profoundly grateful. At last, she has been given an explanation as to why Morgana has been ready to see her dead ever since returning from Morgause. Clearly, Gwen must have deserved it.
„I forgive you," Morgana says. „I couldn't while you were still betraying me, of course, you understand that, don't you? When I came back, I thought you'd be the one I could count on, other than Morgause. I would have given you the chance, despite your earlier behavior. But then I saw you'd done just what Uther did. You'd chosen Arthur over me."
There is something not right there, because in the way Gwen regards the past now, she never loved Arthur, couldn't have, because there never was anyone but Morgana for her nor ever could be. Anything else must have been a ruse to prepare the way for Morgana. But if that has been the case, Morgana would not feel hurt by Gwen's past behaviour now. Gwen can't reconcile these contradictions in her head, and so she asks Morgana to solve them for her. Morgana frowns, takes a step back, and for a moment, her gaze is cold and searching. But evidently, she is satified by what she sees in Gwen's face, because she stretches out her arm to caress Gwen's face with her hand. Gwen is still kneeling; Morgana hasn't told her she could rise yet.
„No, you never loved him," Morgana confirms. „Though you were… flattered. Misled. For a while. When I wasn't there. He – he is a fool, and he chose Uther to believe and follow, again and again, but he has this effect, him with his stupid blue eyes and his idiotic code. He makes you laugh and believe the world isn't what it is and that he'll make it better, and you trust him, and then he lets you down. Everyone has led me down, everyone but Morgause. But you won't again, will you, Gwen?"
„Never," Gwen vows, and is finally told to get up.
Arthur must have used the shortened version of Gwen's name only twice or thrice in all the years she's known him. She's always been Guinevere to him, and the way his voice sounds when he pronounces her name has always made her believe he sees her, truly sees her. Not a tool to be used, not a maid to be saved. Her, the woman she wants to be, the Queen she can be.
She has been avoiding him since they returned to Camelot, and because they both have duties and a lot of work that had been piling up in their absence, it has been relatively easy at first. Having Tyr's blood on her hands, knowing what she did and almost would have done to Merlin has been terrible enough. But not only did she attempt to kill her husband, she succeeded, she gave him poison which she knew would not only kill him but make him suffer for a long time. That he recovered from this was sheer chance, that and Merlin's determination, but it could have gone so easily a different way. She used Arthur's trust and his love for her to bring him death, and she remembers the sick satisfaction she felt when he drank, when he was lying in the bed they'd shared, suffering.
„Guinevere," he says, coming up behind her, and Gwen who has been climbing up to the battlements in order to breathe thinks her heart breaks at little at the sound of it.
At the lake, when he'd held out his hand to her, he'd sounded like this, and it had broken through the reality she'd been living in ever since the Dark Tower.
„I would have killed you," she says. „I did kill you, without hesitation. It happened, don't say it didn't. How can this not be between us every time you look at me? Every time I touch you? I remember it, Arthur. Elyan never remembered what happened with Lamia, nor did any of the other knights. But I remember what I did. Every bit. And if there was enough of me left for you to reach, then that means it wasn't just the enchantment and Morgana, it couldn't have been. You reached the part of me that loves you when you broke the spell, but there must be a part in me which hates as well, and this enchantment brought it out."
He'd banished her once. She still recalls the misery of it, the loneliness, the sense of having lost herself along with him, for she truly had not understood why she had done what she did. The last, at least, will not be the case this time. She knows how, and why. She just isn't sure she can live with it, and wonders how he can.
„There have been times when I hated my father," Arthur says. „I loved him, more than almost anyone, save you and M… – and I felt both. I nearly killed him once, I had my sword at his throat, and I was not enchanted, not even a little bit. And when I saw…" He hesitates, then continues, speaking of it for the first time since their reconciliation, „…when I saw you with Lancelot that night, a part of me hated you, too. I wanted to hurt you. When I sent you away from your home and your friends, it wasn't just to spare myself the pain of seeing you each day. It was because a part of me wanted you to suffer. Because I did." He swallows. „Do you really think I don't know what it is to love and to hate, Guinevere? To have darkness inside?"
He's not a man easily voicing what he feels, more prone to tell it in jest or by deeds. There are exceptions. That terrible day he's just mentioned has been one of them; his words that broke the spell another. Gwen looks at him, and she sees all of him, the boy who'd loved nothing better than sparring with Morgana, the prince she'd observed from afar who could often be a bully to his servants yet felt bound to protect beggars as well as nobles, the rude noble oblivious to all the trouble taken to make his life easier, the hero ready not just to face monsters but also his father whom he loved when he thought his father acted unjustly. The awkward youth who'd rather fight ten dragons than admit to needing the friend he'd found in Merlin whom he couldn't live without, and the man asking her to marry him the second time, leaving the past wounds they'd dealt each other behind. The King he tried to be, each day of his life, not modelled on his father or any the Kings before but on what he'd come to believe should be.
„I know that you do," she says.
There had been many times in the past when she has been angry with him. Over smaller issues, as when he'd turned up his nose at the food poor villagers like Hunith served, or large ones, as the fact he stood by and did not save her father from death. She'd buried that anger, because all the good things she'd felt for him were always stronger, and Gwen does not believe in living her life holding on to rage in any case. But now she recognizes Morgana must have found the remnants with her spell, just as she'd found something in Gwen that still resented Elyan for leaving her alone with their grieving father, that resented the way Merlin at times seemed to manage her life along with Arthur's.
But there are always feelings on which one chooses not to act, Gwen knows this. This is what it means to be free, privilege and burden both. To constantly make a choice. Which impulse to heed, which to deny. The spell removed that choice from her, and gave it to Morgana.
She can't keep giving those choices to Morgana, and this is what she'll do if she continues to dwell on what has happened without moving forward. She might as well have never left the Dark Tower.
„I know you," she says, holds out her hand to him as he'd done to her and feels his fingers, warm and strong.
She has hope now, hope that she'll be able to live her life again. But there is still something she must do first.
Roping Merlin into helping her hasn't been easy. He keeps pointing out the flaws in her plan, and Gwen isn't Arthur. She can't just tell him to shut up. She wouldn't. But, she finds, she can use shameless blackmail. Again.
„You said you should have figured out what was going on and stopped it earlier. Well, now I'm giving you the chance to."
„No," Merlin replies, and it's one of the few times Gwen has seen him furious. Not indignant over Arthur being impossible or upset over a wrongness. Just furious. „You've just asked me to kill you."
„Only if it goes wrong, Morgana is able to renew the enchantment, and you can't take me out in another way," Gwen says. „I don't ever want to be that woman again. The worst I can be, and her puppet. But don't you see, that's why I have to do it. You saved me, and Arthur saved me, even Mordred helped saving me, and he barely knows me. If I don't save myself, then I'll never stop being afraid that this is all a dream and I'm still in the Tower. There were so many illusions there, and when I stopped knowing what was real, that was when she started to win." She hesitates, then adds: „There's even an outside chance we can defeat her for good this way."
„She won't buy that you're still under her spell," Merlin says, shaking his head. „Or she'll ask you to prove it by doing something you won't be able to do."
Now, Gwen has considered trying to lure Morgana somewhere where they could take her prisoner, but she has quickly disregarded the idea. Morgana's powers have grown to the point where the only way to hold her captive would be either by her voluntary cooperation, or by killing her. Trying to imprison her would only get more people wounded or dead. Killing her the way poor Tyr had died, with a knife used under the pretense of friendship – Gwen thinks she might be able to do that now, given all that has happened, but she also knows what Morgana has told her: that Morgana no longer has to fear the steel of weapons.
„It's not what I have in mind," she returns.
„No, what you have in mind is me killing you if all goes wrong," Merlin mutters. „There's no way that's going to happen, Gwen."
„Yes, it would," Gwen says, and steels herself, because she really needs to extract this promise from Merlin, even if it means hurting him. „And you know you'd do it, to protect Arthur, if he'd die otherwise. You've done it before."
Something in his eyes shuts down, and they become shielded, like blind mirrors. „I don't know what you…"
„Morgana told me about the poison," Gwen says.
She raises her hand. „You don't have to explain. I know you, just like you know me. You wouldn't have done it if there'd been another way to save us all that day. But that's what I'm asking of you. To promise me this. Because I know you're capable of it. I need to be sure, absolutely sure, that there is no way she'll be able to use me against my will again."
They look at each other, and all that passed ever since she saw him pick up a quarrel with a prince only to save his life later hangs between them. Finally, Merlin nods. She has his promise.
Morgana had provided her with several ways to set up a meeting in an emergency, and Gwen uses them all. Three days later, she's in the woods, no knights with her, because Morgana would have noticed them; given Morgana's encounter with Mordred and Merlin, she knows what Arthur was attempting to do, and has to suspect a trap. At the very least, she'd have used all her means, magical and non-magical alike, to sweep the area. On the other hand, Gwen is betting on the fact that Morgana won't be able to resist the possibility that her spell wasn't truly broken, that Gwen is still hers.
Gwen has to wait for an hour, an hour during which she is able to imagine, in great detail, the number of things Morgana could do to her if this goes wrong. But her determination only hardens. She has to confront Morgana, she has to do this, or she'll never have peace again.
At last, Morgana steps out of the shadows. Her hair is an unruly mass again; a detached part of Gwen observes that Morgana, who used to mock Arthur for his inability to dress himself without a servant, apperantly never learnt to live without one, either.
„Gwen," Morgana murmurs, „is it really you? Or have they broken you? Have you become their plaything again?"
The temptation to hug her and slip a dagger between her ribs, no matter how futile the gesture would be, is unexpectedly strong. For a moment, Gwen can't breathe. Then she gets a hold on herself again.
„I wanted to thank you," Gwen says. This at least genuinely catches Morgana by surprise. In the moonlight, Gwen can see that her face grows still.
„I used to wonder why," Gwen replies. „Again and again. What I'd done to you to make you hate me so much. Why you were able to turn your back on us so completely. Not on Uther. On everyone else in Camelot. And now I understand, at last."
Sounding a bit impatient, Morgana says: „Gwen, we've talked about this. You betrayed me first."
Morgana is only a few months younger than Gwen, but to Gwen, she's always appeared as wiser, more mature, while they were growing up, and for years after. Now she realizes that in a way, Morgana never did grow up. For all her power, she never did.
„I should have tried to talk to you about your nightmares," Gwen concedes. „In this, I failed you as a friend. But that is not why you were ready to see me dead when you came back. And Arthur, and the cook who used to slip you honeyed cakes whom you had shot in the courtyard along with so many others. Anyone who ever loved you. Save for Morgause. I understand now how you could do it. She did to you what you did to me."
Morgana scoffs, and her voice grows harsh. „Don't be ridiculous. Morgause was the only one who truly loved me, who opened my eyes to the truth. It needed no more than that. I had hoped you might be another, but clearly, you're too weak. Clinging to delusions even now."
In her time as Queen, Gwen has often counselled and used mercy. But not always. Sentencing Sefa had been meant as a trap for Sefa's father, true. Yet it hadn't been the first time she had pronounced a harsh judgment. The girl she'd been, who'd adored Morgana and utterly believed in her, that girl would not have considered herself to be capable of it, but the woman she'd become has discovered otherwise. And Morgana had never known that woman. Nor will she.
„When did you learn about the Dark Tower, Morgana?" Gwen asks softly, the way she used to ask Morgana whether she'd slept well, and how Morgana was feeling on any given morning.
The irritation in Morgana's voice grows. „Well, of course Morgause told me, if this is what you're aiming at. I learned everything from Morgause. But she would never have put me there. There was no need, because I saw the truth as soon as I was away from all who'd enslaved me in Camelot."
„Why wouldn't she have put you there?" Gwen asks, still using her most soothing voice. „I thought you did it only to save me. Wouldn't she have wanted to save you?"
„She did save me, and there was no need to…" Morgana retorts, and falls silent.
„To hold you prisoner? To torture you? To drive you mad?" Gwen suggests.
At last, Morgana discards any pretense of civility. „I don't have to listen to this," she says coldly, and raises her hand. Gwen barely keeps herself from running. Despite all resolution, she can't help being afraid. Morgana once changed her into a deer with just such a gesture. But she meant what she's told Merlin: if she doesn't defeat Morgana with her own means, she'll always be her prisoner.
„I could tell you how to break the spell," she says, forcing herself not to speak quickly, to babble. „But it would be of no use to you."
„There is no spell! There never was. I chose Morgause," Morgana hisses. Her hand remains raised, but for now, she does nothing.
In truth, Gwen does not believe Morgause has enchanted Morgana. From what Gaius has told her, all previous people this particular spell had been used on had burned out. Besides, any enchantment surely would have ended when the witch who cast it died; this was one of the first things children growing up in the Kingdom of Camelot, as Gwen has done, learned about magic. But it doesn't matter what Gwen believes. What does matter is what Morgana believes. What Morgana fears. What Morgana depends on.
„That, of course, is what Morgause has told you to remember," Gwen says. She's sweating, she can feel her blood pumping through her veins, every instinct tells her to run, but outwardly, she manages to retain her calm. „Just as you told me what my past was, what I felt, what I would ever feel."
Morgana's face, already pale in the moonlight, grows paler still.
„Morgause iloved/i me," she insists. As she would never bother to, if she truly had no doubt of it. But Morgana has been raised by Uther Pendragon, who managed to love her without ever telling her so, who kept her close yet pushed her away the whole time, who lied to her for most of her life while insisting he was the sole authority on truth. And Gwen knows, knows all too well, what kind of traces Uther has left in his children.
„As you loved me," Gwen says. „I think you must have done, once. When I loved you. I can't be sure now. That is why the way the spell was broken for me would not be of any use to you. You took my memories and gave them new form to your liking, and now I don't know whether we were ever close, or whether you just told me that we were."
The hand with which Morgana has put Gwen in chains and dragged her all the way to the Dark Tower falls down. „Stop talking," Morgana whispers.
„I can't help you anymore, Morgana," Gwen says. „I can't do for you what Arthur did for me because there's nothing left in me which knows what is true about our past, and what is not. But maybe I'm wrong, and you're right, and Morgause never put an enchantment on you, never used you against your will."
When Morgana told her about Merlin poisoning her, less as a long delayed explanation and more as a warning to be wary of him, she'd also described Morgause as her saviour, who gave up the chance to conquer Camelot for Morgana's life. This, in turn, had included an aside about the sleeping spell, because Gwen had asked why Morgana didn't use it inow/i. And thus Gwen knows Morgause has put an enchantment on Morgana without informing her of it at least once.
Morgana actually takes a step back now. And something in Gwen finally loosens, and lets go. It hasn't been a kind action, or a good one, this: poison the memory of the one relationship Morgana has built her life after Camelot on. But in this moment, it feels like a sentence proclaimed and dealt. Justice.
It doesn't change the fact that Tyr is dead, and his mother is still alone. It won't bring Elyan back to life. And yet, Gwen thinks she might be able to sleep again now, without dreaming of the Tower.
„Goodbye, Morgana," Gwen says, and step by step, aware that each could be her last, she leaves the past behind.