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Morning came too soon. Harry was down at the exercise field at six, together with twenty-one other pages. He still didn't know who the knight he would have to serve was. But the physical training was the same for all of them. Thus, the knights rotated doing the morning drills. A second group, consisting of the squires, was in the neighbouring field doing their drills. One of the two knights that would observe the morning training stepped forward.
"Some of you are already used to this, some of you are new. For those who don't know me yet, I am Sir Percival," He was a tall man with dark brown hair and a moustache. He wore his hair in a ponytail and wore simple clothes that belied his status. The only sign was his sword that was at his right hip. "You are all hoping to one day achieve the honour of becoming a Knight of the Round Table. It is a long way until that time and getting in top physical shape is the base. Therefore, don't even think of slacking in your training. We will start with running three kilometres for warm-up. After that we will do stretching and muscle building exercises. Now, the ones that have been at this for some time know the route. You are running route 2 today. You have at most thirty minutes. As we have new pages in this group, we will refrain from strapping weights on you today to get to know the route. From next week on, you will each run with five extra kilos on your back. The weight will be increased over time. Get to it!" Sir Percival called out and the older pages took the lead.
Harry was now very grateful for two things. First was all the running away from Dudley and his gang, second the fact that Oliver Wood was a training maniac. Those two factors had given him decent stamina. He had a good level of endurance and was about average in this task. It was clear that the older pages were much better and used to doing this. In fact, most of them looked very relaxed while running at the head of the group and were talking to each other. The new pages were mostly trying to keep contact to the leading group, as they were the ones knowing the way. Still, he was the best of the new pages. He finished the three kilometres with about three minutes' time left. It was hard and he was trying to regain his breath while the others returned one after the other.
"You will have to do better in the future. Eric, you are normally faster, I expect you to show your full abilities again tomorrow. Don't hold back just because you didn't have to wear your weights today. Peter, you need to work on running at a steady pace, otherwise you waste too much energy. John, more steps that are shorter and quicker, your long steps hinder you more than they are useful. Richard, work on your breathing, in through the nose, out through the mouth, otherwise you risk stitches in the side," Sir Percival addressed the older pages and they all nodded.
"And while I know that today the morning run was actually very easy for you, as your are used to working harder, that should be even more reason to present your abilities much better. I won't pass that on to your teachers, as the new pages needed to get to know the route and thus profited from your relaxed training pace, but I don't want to see this repeated, just because you don't have to wear weight. I want to see your full speed tomorrow for morning training. After all, you basically only ran as fast as you did with weights."
The older pages nodded in acknowledgement and it was clear that they wouldn't repeat this low-performance attitude the next days. The second knight that was around now took over.
"Now to the new ones, you are a sad bunch and will have to shape up a lot to get anywhere. The only one to at least keep up with the older pages was Harold. Still, you need to work up your endurance too, Harold. Even out your breathing and run at a constant speed, otherwise you tire out too fast. Now start stretching, following the exercises we show you," The second knight said, He had long red hair that he wore open and a scar that looked like a jagged cut on his chin, "I will make sure you all learn how to not make a fool of you and Camelot, as sure as I am Sir Brian."
Sir Brian turned out to be a ruthless taskmaster. For twenty minutes the pages had to stretch each part of their bodies, and then Sir Brian barked out commands for strength and speed exercises. Thirty push-ups were followed by a fifty-metre sprint out of the crouching position, then fifty knee-bends, quick-paced side steps through wooden rings in a forty metre line, then thirty pull-ups on a bar. Harry sweated heavily under the harsh training. He wanted to fall down in pain more than once, but he saw how Sir Brian reacted to that when others did, so he bit through. After two hours Sir Brian finally let them rest for ten minutes, which included getting a large cup of water to replace the fluids they had lost from sweating, while he instructed them on the correct technique to use a staff, the first weapon they would be schooled to use.
He demonstrated the correct grip and how to spin the staff to move it through certain positions. Then he started the drilling on technique and the moves that had seemed so easy when Sir Brian had performed them were a lot harder to do themselves. Many hit their neighbours while trying to control the staff. Harry learned to keep an eye on his surroundings, because being hit by his neighbour during the exercise hurt. Thankfully they only had to perform four moves at the moment. A thrust with the staff forward, while holding it with both hands parallel to the ground, from that position turning it upwards and to the left, which would be needed to block attacks later they were informed, then upwards with both arms, again for blocking and last the staff turned upwards to block from the right.
It still took a lot of concentration. They kept doing training with the staff for nearly an hour and Harry really felt his arm muscles. They were aching horribly. But there was still one more hour of training to go. And by now he was hungry. He would need to make sure to eat something light before starting training in the morning. The only thing they were allowed between exercises was a cup of water each.
None of the pages realised that other knights were watching to decide which of the new pages they would take up as a student. To make this possible, there were intentional holes in the tall wooden fence that separated the stables from the training fields for the pages and squires. Those candidates that were absolutely hopeless after a week of training would be pushed into the normal training to become skilled foot soldiers. The others got until the end of the month to prove themselves. Only the best would continue to train becoming knights.
"There are a few talented ones in the beginners group, but more than half are lacking," Sir Gawain commented, tying his blond hair up again.
"True, I miss the fierce determination in some of them. Without that they won't go far," Sir Edmund agreed. He was shorter than the others by a head, but muscular. He had short black hair and a full beard.
"That or sheer stubbornness. Some can make up natural talent with that and hard work," Sir Lancelot added.
"True, but those are really rare to find. If you have such a student though, he normally goes far," Sir Gawain admitted.
"What do you think of Lady Morgaine's son?" Lancelot asked.
"Not bad. He seems to have good basic endurance and the will to see this training through. Though it is clear that beyond physical training he didn't learn anything about fighting yet. Probably he was trained more in his powers than fighting. That wouldn't be strange for a student from Avalon," Percival now spoke up.
"Who is going to train him?" Gawain asked.
"We aren't sure yet. The king is considering three choices. Percival, Edmund and Robert," Lancelot answered.
"At least they will have a good chance to get him to a proper level fast. The boy is driven and doesn't think anybody owes him because of who he is related to," Gawain grunted thinking about two boys he didn't like because of their arrogance.
"That's true, my squire Daniel told me that Harold has helped one of the king's mares with giving birth to her foal and reacted properly when the birth sack didn't tear on its own. Shows that he doesn't hesitate to get dirty when needed. Something those spoiled brats should learn quickly, or they won't last long," Lancelot agreed with his friend.
Harry wanted to sleep. He wanted to sleep so much, but he still had work to do. Of course, on the first day of him becoming a page the stables were due for a complete cleaning. And he was sure this was a test to see if the pages would complain about the dirty and stinking work. After having got a good late breakfast, they had been taken to the stables. The older pages led the horses outside so that the younger ones could start clearing the stables of the dung. Two carts were used to bring the dung to the dung-hill and the older pages were the ones manning them, so the younger ones had to work getting the dung out with pitchforks.
Harry privately thought that the dung smelled better than Dudley's room, which he had been forced to clean up more times than he cared to remember. Thanks to the high number of horses, clearing up the stables took the full three hours till lunch. Today, as it was known that the stable duty always took longer than other things, the early morning training had only been done until nine, then some breakfast, and then they all had to work in the stables. On other days the morning training would take an hour longer. After that they had to put fresh straw into the boxes before being allowed to go cleaning themselves up which was needed for them to be allowed to eat in the kitchens.
Lunch was a fun affair. Harry got to know the other pages better. He made two friends in Cameron and Frederick, who were also just starting out. Wilbur and George, also new pages, he couldn't stand though. They thought they were so high and mighty, because their fathers ruled over big baronies. They all exchanged some stories and wondered which knight would be in charge of them. Normally it would be decided once the first month was over. Wilbur and George were sure they would impress one of the most famous knights. After all their names were important. Harry just wanted one, who would teach him properly, so that he wouldn't be killed at once when he had to face Voldemort again in his time. Though he didn't say that.
Weapons training consisted mainly in teaching about how to properly care for a sword the first day. A sword needed to be in top condition for the knight to rely on it in a fight. Hence, rust, shards and dulling of the blade needed to be dealt with regularly. The pages were relieved that instead of strenuous training this time they had to do more precise work in repairing as much damage as possible with sharpening tools, putting oil on the blades once that was done and exchanging leather at the grips. After the weapons master, today Sir Gawain, dismissed them Harry went to his mother's rooms to get started on his magical training.
When he knocked at her door he was called inside.
"Hello Harry, how are you feeling after your first day of training?" Morgaine asked kindly.
"Exhausted. I knew it would be hard work, but this was much more than what I had expected. I'm still happy that I managed to get through it. I just fear that I will be sore tomorrow," He answered and rubbed his shoulders.
"That's normal in the beginning. Just persevere and you will be fine in the end. Now we will start your training in the magical arts of Avalon. Before you can learn spells that have a chance to help you in a fight, you need to get in harmony with your magic. Therefore, you will start with meditation. I want you to undress until you only have your underwear on," She instructed, and he followed her orders, "Good, now sit down in the circle I drew on the floor with herbs. Look at them and tell me which ones you recognize from your studies and which you simply know."
Harry looked concentrated at the herbs before naming the ones he knew. He got nods for those he could name correctly, others he was corrected on.
"The mixture consists of twenty-one herbs that have either calming effects or induce trance. The reason that there are twenty-one of them is that the number has power as it is three times seven. Both three and seven are powerful magical numbers. Now I will pour hot water over the herbs which over time will let them set free their effects. I want you to control your breath. Close your eyes while sitting in a lotus position and count to four before breathing in, then count to four before breathing out. Once your breathing is smooth and in the rhythm I told you, try feeling your magic. Feel its flow, feel its warmth and feel its power. It will take some time to reach that state, but you have time," She instructed, and Harry did as he was told.
He lost feeling of time while breathing in the fumes of the herbs and trying to feel his magic inside of him. He could sometimes feel sparks of it, but never the flow his mother had described. Too soon he was called out of his meditation. He felt refreshed to his surprise.
"A good attempt. It should have helped you to smooth out some knots that were caused by your training. This kind of meditation actively relaxes your muscles and gives them time to heal from over-exposure. Now let me put some healing salve on your muscles so that they will be ready for another day of training tomorrow. I will also teach you how to make the salve. From what my visions showed me of your life, to let me prepare your training here properly, your teacher in Potions so far was an idiot to not teach you and your classmates proper techniques. That will be one of the first things I remedy until you are ready to use magic actively. Which will probably be in about three months. Before you don't find a balance of your magic, I won't start you on that," She stated.
Harry just nodded and let her rub the salve onto his back, legs, chest and arms. A warm feeling spread from the salve and he enjoyed it. He was told to apply the salve each day after practicing meditation.
That night Harry didn't have duties, so he accompanied his mother to dinner. From what he had been told, he was on dinner duty on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. With twenty-two pages in the castle, nine of them had to serve during dinner each evening. As today was Tuesday, he could enjoy sitting with the adults and listen to their stories.
Harry really enjoyed his time in Camelot. The first month was the hardest, as he had to get used to his training schedule. The group didn't learn many new things besides basic skills for pages that would come in handy later as knights, but next to fighting with a staff and, in the last week of the month, wooden knives to simulate real ones later on, they all learned how to ride a horse properly. They had two training horses that were used to not give beginners too hard a time. They learned to keep balance in the saddle if they couldn't already ride, which was true for most of them. Harry and four others were the only ones not being able to properly ride a horse. They could stay on the horse's back in the slower gaits if the route wasn't difficult to follow but didn't have experience for more. The main reason for that, as Harry learned, was that their families didn't have many horses. Those that they had were normally needed for farming or their fathers used them all the time, not giving them the chance to practice a lot.
While knights were generally horsemen that governed some estates for the king, it didn't always mean that they had a lot of land to call their own. Some only had a few farmer families living on the land and didn't gain a lot of income from that. Meaning, they couldn't afford to keep lots of horses. One reason why some of them tried to have their sons trained in Camelot to become knights. It was a lot more cost efficient. If a boy was accepted as a page by a knight, the costs of the training were paid by the king. Sure, the lords had to pay taxes to the king, which in the end also paid for this, but it was still a lot cheaper than having to do it on their own. But the boys learned quickly enough, even if they didn't have a lot of previous training. After the month was over, Harry had no problems at all keeping upright in the saddle no matter how fast his horse went.
His trainer was content with that and told him he would start learning jumping over obstacles next. Two others would also learn that, while the last two needed a bit more training. Of course, the arrogant twats Wilbur and George made fun of those just learning to ride, but Harry and Cameron shut them up quickly when they sparred with the staffs. Cameron had learned fighting with one from his uncle, who was a master with that weapon, and Harry had a knack for learning new things. And his hand-eye coordination was unparalleled by any of the other pages. Probably why he was so good at playing seeker.
Overall his trainers were happy with his progress, as was his mother. He had made a lot of progress with getting in harmony with his magic and the spells he had learned during the past two years at Hogwarts were much easier for him to do now. While the real magic of Avalon was still out of his reach, normal wizard magic wasn't and once every week Morgaine would test how much he had improved with his control over the spells by making the use of the spells harder by having Harry train using the spells without the incantations. She wasn't a friend of the crutches as she called the incantations. They were good for learning the spell, but as soon as a student was capable of using a spell, he should work on doing the spell wordless. After that, once the magic was in harmony, he could work on using the magic without a wand.
From her lectures Harry learned that using magic was all about intent and connecting with one's inborn magic. For example, making things levitate only needed a thought from her. No hand gesture, no incantation, only a simple thought. She didn't even need to concentrate on it because her magic knew her so well that after the initial command it kept doing her bidding until she told it otherwise. It took years to get to that level, but Harry would be able to do it in the future. She revealed to him that she wasn't the most powerful witch ever; she just was the first one to be completely in harmony with her magic. The same was true for Taliesin, the current Merlin. He was powerful, but he surpassed all others before him, because he was in complete harmony with his magic. Harry had only met him once when he came to Camelot for a short visit, passing through on a journey. Harry had liked him immediately. He was like a kind and wise grandfather and he was sincere about his wish to help people.
To Harry's joy the foal he had helped being born grew well and was the pride of Queen Guinevere, whose mare was the mother. It turned out that the father was King Arthur's stallion, and everybody hoped that the foal would also grow into a powerful battle horse like its father. For now, the young stallion was happy to follow his mother around the paddock and the meadow where the mother mares with the foals were kept.
Hedwig had also become very popular with the women of the castle. Not only was she beautiful, she kept the mice and rat populations down. Arthur had decided to get some more owls and a few cats, as with keeping a high number of horses, rats and mice were a real problem in the castle. Harry also offered to get a few snakes for the grounds, but his uncle decided to leave that for when there was no other option. Snakes were feared by many and while they would quickly get the upper hand, they would not make life at the castle more peaceful.
Though whenever a snake got lost in the castle, Harry was called. It was put down positively in his reports as a page. Sir Edmund, who was responsible for Harry's training, kept a book where he marked down Harry's progress in the fighting arts, his stamina and his performance during his duties. So far that report was good. Harry did as he was told, didn't complain about the difficulty of training and did whatever jobs Sir Edmund had for him. Harry thought that even if the work he had to do was hard, at least Sir Edmund didn't emotionally abuse him, beat him for things he had no control over and if he really messed up, he would be doing additional harsh training instead of being starved, so it was at least productive. Sir Edmund was known to be the strictest knight in regard to training somebody. Harry thought it might have to do with Uncle Arthur wanting to stop any rumours that Harry didn't earn his knighthood once he was ready.
Anybody who managed to pass Sir Edmund's training, deserved to become a knight.
Harry was currently working through the new balance exercise Sir Edmund had given him. It was meant to both teach balance and strength. He had to walk over a plank which was just wide enough for one of his feet and he held a two metres long pole which had a one kilo heavy stone tied to each end. He had to hold up the pole while walking over the plank. The plank was about a metre above the ground. So far, that didn't sound too difficult, but after mastering the first stage, he was being pelted with small sand filled sacks by the other pages. It was much harder to either dodge, while keeping balance, or ignore being hit, while still keeping his balance. And, to make things more interesting, there was a one metre deep pool of water under the plank, meaning, whenever he fell, he would get wet and the plank got more slippery with each new attempt.
Each page had to go through this kind of training and during the last month they had done so with the basic exercise. Now that they were declared fit to become knights one day, if they kept up their training like before, the exercises they had to do were getting harder. For example, they all had to run with weights in the morning, their physical exercises increased in numbers of repetitions and some harder ones were added. Their duties also added to their working out schedule. Carrying heavy sacks of flour down into the cellars of the kitchen was hard, as was chopping wood for the fires of the castle. While in summer there wasn't as much that was needed, they were storing a lot for winter.
They also got to do exercises that tested their dexterity and their endurance. Their riding skills were constantly improved and sometimes they got to deliver goods from the castle to the surrounding villages on horseback.
The group of new pages had assembled after morning training was done, to be informed which duties they would have to perform for the morning. Harry was allowed to go with a group to a village that was about three hours on horseback from Camelot. He had only been given general clearance for this type of duty after his riding skills had been declared adequate by Sir Brian. The village had been hit by bandits and the villagers had asked for help from the castle. While the three knights that had accompanied their group had gone to search for the bandits, the pages and squires were tasked to help with the rebuilding of the houses that were burned down.
Listening to the villagers, it became clear that many had suffered burns from tying to extinct the fires. Seeing how they were in pain but still had to get their homes rebuilt, he turned to the leader of the village.
"Sir, would it help if I brewed some salve to treat the burns that many villagers have got when they tried to extinct the fires?" he asked politely.
"It would certainly help, but do you have the knowledge for that, young man? I mean, even our village's best-trained healers didn't know of a way to treat the burns, except for cooling them in water whenever possible," answered the old man, "not to mention where would we get the things needed for something like that?"
"The ingredients are actually very common and can be found in any wood. My mother and the druids on Avalon taught me how to make it. If you could provide me with a cauldron and a place to set up a fire safely, I will set to work as soon as I have collected the things I need," answered Harry.
"You are in training with the druids? Then you might actually be able to help us. I will see to it that you get the cauldron you need for this. What is your name by the way? I'm Jacob Finning, the major of the village."
"I'm Harold of Ceredigion, page to Sir Edmund," Harry introduced himself.
"It's nice to meet you," nodded Jacob and then went to get things arranged while Harry set out to collect the ingredients for the salve.
The other pages and squires looked at him with wide eyes when he started brewing competently and quickly created a salve that truly helped with the burns the people had suffered, once it was finished and had cooled down enough to be useable. They seemingly hadn't known that he could do that. Harry didn't pay them much attention. He used his rudimentary knowledge of healing, which had also been part of his studies with his mother to help with problems some people had. After hearing that he had training from the druids of Avalon, many approached him for help with their ailments.
Mild colds and infects were the most common. He told the villagers which herbs they should collect in the woods and described them if they didn't know them. He explained how to brew herbal teas for common ailments and how to clean wounds to prevent infections. One man was suffering from an infected wound at his leg and Harry had to do a small surgery. He gave the man some herbs to numb the wound as best as he could and to make the man slightly dazed and then cut it open. It was still painful, but not as much as if he had done it without the herbs. The infection went deep, and Harry had to clean a lot of pus from it.
To the utter shock of some people he asked them to get him some maggots to put into the wound. When asked why on earth he would put maggots into a wound he answered that they lived from rotting flesh. They would only eat the rotting flesh and leave the healthy flesh be. On top they would only stay for a short while until they were ready to pupate and shortly after that leave the now cleaned out wound as fully developed flies. It was a painless way to heal the wound, as otherwise he would have to cut out a lot of healthy flesh with the rotten parts. After all, he didn't have anything to disinfect the wound properly, as these villagers didn't have anything like alcohol to use for that. When one of the squires accidentally stuck his foot into a snake nest, Harry called the snakes that had attacked to defend their nest back and quickly treated the bite wound that the squire had got.
Overall the respect everybody had for Harry rose immensely from that day on. The villagers told the tale of the young page Harold, who was willing to help the common people and taught them basic healing techniques that they could practice without having to consult a trained medic. Those were rare after all. The pages and squires told how he could control snakes and helped with dealing with the bite wound. The bitten squire had only needed two days of rest before he could start training again once he was back at Camelot. He didn't suffer a fever or an infect, just the wound needed a bit of time to heal.
After taking care of the medical issues, Harry helped cleaning out burned houses and repairing roofs. The knights needed four days to find all the bandits and either arrest them or kill them if they didn't want to give up. Of the ten bandits only two were that stupid. They weren't well-trained and after those two died, obviously the leaders of the group, the others were easy to overwhelm for the knights. When they returned to the village, it looked much better than before and Sir Percival noticed that many gave Harry admiring looks, especially girls around his age. They were witnesses when an old woman begged him to help with a complicated birth. Harry blushed horribly and told her that he wasn't trained as a midwife, but it was to no avail. The villagers obviously believed that Harry was the one with most knowledge about medical treatment.
It was true as well. Their squires and pages told the knights about Harry's actions over the past days and they were impressed to say the least. Thus Harry, for the first time in his life, witnessed the birth of a child. From what they could find out, the normal midwife of the village was out to help with the birth of another child a day ride away from the village. The young woman hadn't been due to give birth for another two weeks, so nobody had expected it. Harry found that helping a child into the world was put down in the family library, hence he followed the instructions he was subconsciously given. The child was too big for the mother to press it out normally, so he asked for a bit of space. He knew he would have to use magic for this.
Thankfully this could be achieved with a small transfer of magic into the birth channel. He only needed it to widen for a while to give the baby space to come out. And this was something he knew how to do wandlessly and disguise as a massage. The basic principle was similar to his meditation techniques. He needed to channel his magic for five minutes until the child was finally out. Other women took the child and took care of the mother. Harry was overwhelmed with what he had achieved. He had helped bringing a child into the world. He felt elated about it.
Though when the happy new father asked the knights who Harry's family was, their awe of him increased tenfold. They didn't connect the name Harold of Ceredigion with the name of Morgaine of Avalon. The news that the king's nephew had started training as a squire in Camelot had spread around. Just not a description or his name. Though worship of his mother Morgaine as the High Priestess of Avalon was far greater than his relationship with the king. To honour his deed, the young father decided to name his son Harold. It really touched Harry. The knights congratulated him on helping here in the village and it was another very positive report for the file Sir Edmund kept on his training.
Morgaine watched happily while her son trained in the inner bailey. He had now been here for four months already and it showed. He had hit a growth spurt and, thanks to being rid of the leech and getting proper meals and physical training, he was becoming very interesting for the younger girls in Camelot, be they maids or noble daughters. She had heard giggling more than once and hushed whispers when her son passed a group of girls. She was sure it would be similar when he returned to Hogwarts in eight months. Time magic was really incredible. For the people in this time, Harry would only be gone for two months, in which he would accompany her to Avalon for some rituals she needed to perform and wanted him to learn. The rest of the year he would be training under Sir Edmund. She had to return to Avalon again in a week and would leave Harry here to continue his training. His magic was now in harmony with his body and he was starting to practice the easier skills Avalon taught. He could influence the wind to change direction as long as it was a soft breeze so far.
It was nothing on her control over the elements, but everybody needed to start at the bottom and work his way up. Harry knew he needed to continue practicing both his magical and non-magical skills. According to Sir Edmund's estimations Harry would be ready to be promoted to squire after one year of training. That meant he would start after returning from his third year at Hogwarts. She would tell him how he could continue with his training even when he was at Hogwarts, as it was essential. Sir Edmund would be most displeased if his student, after just getting ready to train as a squire, fell back in his physical strength.
His skills in brewing had shot up impressively. She had found out that with good instruction and a relaxing atmosphere while brewing Harry was really good at this art. He now could make the herbal salve that helped with sore muscles all by himself, could make simple pain-relieving potions, some basic potions for common illnesses like colds, menstrual problems, morning sickness and disinfecting salves for wounds.
Contrary to Harry's positive development, Arthur and Guinevere still didn't manage to conceive a child. For some reason, no matter what she tried to help Guinevere, she couldn't get pregnant. She knew it wasn't Arthur's fault, as his fertility was proven by Mordred's existence. But from her examinations, Guinevere was healthy and should be able to get pregnant. The only other possibility was a curse, but she couldn't determine it yet. It was one reason she needed to return to Avalon. She wanted to address the goddess with the problem and see if she showed a solution. While nobody was pressuring Arthur and Guinevere so far, if they didn't have an heir to present to the lords within two years, they might be told to simply try having Arthur have a child with another woman. Something that would break Guinevere's heart. Not to mention Arthur's, as he loved Guinevere deeply.
Hence why, for now, they had thought up a solution that would satisfy the lords and make them shut up. It was well-known that Harry was Arthur's nephew and, as he was her 'official' oldest son, he would take the position of crown-prince until the problem with Arthur and Guinevere was solved. Not that they would tell Harry very soon. He should concentrate on his training and she knew he disliked too much attention. He was already confused how to take the deserved praise for his accomplishments in training. Nobody knew that Mordred was Arthur's son and the real heir, thankfully that included Morgause, but she knew how her son would turn out under Morgause's tutelage and there was sadly nothing she could do, as she had given up all rights to her son in her distress about having been used by her aunt Viviane to get a powerful child. At that time, she hadn't realised that Morgause was far worse than Viviane.
Morgause had thought that Mordred was her first-born son, and, as Arthur and Guinevere didn't have children at the time, they were still just engaged back then, she had taken the chance to have a possible heir to the throne under her direct control, to raise him the way she wanted to. At the question of the identity of the father, Morgaine had thankfully managed to just tell her that it had been her last partner during the Beltane rites and that the magic had prevented her to know. Her complaints about her aunt messing around with her life were explained by ensuring that Morgaine got pregnant for sure this time around, probably because her partner was specifically chosen by Viviane.
As long as Arthur didn't acknowledge Mordred, he had no claim to the throne, except as her second son. In this time there was no way to prove who the father of a child was, and Mordred didn't look a lot like Arthur, he looked more like her father. That was why in the future he would duel Arthur for the throne, stating it was his birth-right. She didn't know if bringing Harry here to learn was changing things, but she hoped some things could be avoided. The future would be a much better place if Arthur lived longer. Sometimes having the sight wasn't all that great. It was as if she had already lived through this life several times and even if she tried to make things better, she always failed at some point as if she was cursed. The main problem was that no matter what she tried Guinevere didn't get pregnant, which left the throne open for usurpers and those thinking they could bully their way to the top.
Camelot was surrounded by white fields. It had started to snow in mid-November and by now everything was hidden under a thick blanket of snow. The morning training of the pages now consisted of regularly cleaning the bailey of the snow. Some also had to use their horses to create a basic path to the closest village in case somebody needed help from the castle. As shovelling the snow to areas where it didn't hinder people was really taxing, the normal strength exercises were replaced by it. Thanks to the stored wood, the castle was kept warm all the time. Though transporting the wood to the rooms with the big fireplaces still took some time.
The knights that had stayed at Camelot, most were only spending a few months of the year at Camelot, the other time they lived at their own estates, were getting very creative to keep the pages busy. Right now, only Sir Brian, who didn't have a big estate, Sir Edmund, who was courting the daughter of one of Arthur's advising lords, Sir Gawain, who had just returned from patrolling the borders and Sir William were staying at Camelot. As winter was the least likely time to be attacked, as the attackers would have lousy conditions to get to the castle, there was no need to keep as many knights at the castle as usually.
Many had taken their squires and pages with them too, so the remaining ones had to do more of the duties that they normally shared with the others. But the overall number of chores had gone down, therefore it was still manageable.
Harry was mostly studying the books his mother gave him. He helped shovelling the snow each morning and then helped with carrying the wood to all the fireplaces in the castle. After that he studied more to learn the magics of Avalon. He was getting better and better. But there was still so much to learn. Next to learning small elemental manipulations, he learned how to create water from the very air by manipulating the tiny water molecules in it, a feat that needed utmost concentration and a very intricate knowledge of how air was built. It wasn't simply one element, there were many different gases that combined the air everybody breathed.
Harry was surprised that chemistry was so useful to know in magic. His mother explained that a lot of knowledge had been lost over time. Magic and science didn't oppose each other, magic built up on basic scientific facts. The best Transfiguration masters knew the objects they transformed down to their very elemental structure. Transfiguration was, as Harry learned, changing of one matter into another through influencing the materials one had available with magic. But there were limits. It wasn't possible to conjure food, because food was created from living beings, be they plants or animals, and magic, while being able to give spark to life, wasn't able to copy it. It was possible to duplicate existing food though by splitting the tiny spark. The best ones using those spells could multiply a basic meal that was enough for three persons to feed three thousand.
Hence why, even if one transfigured a cup into a dove, it wouldn't be a real dove. It would be a cup, which's structure was transfigured to look like a dove and take its mannerisms, but it didn't live. Life needed a soul and that was only achieved by natural reproduction. Harry learned a lot about biology and natural balance. How predators and prey kept each other to a limited number. If one kind was too numerous, there wouldn't be enough prey and more predators would die from hunger. That would allow the prey to grow in numbers again, which would lead to more predators. Nature had a way to keep balance and humans needed to be careful how much they took to not destroy that balance.
Harry also learned a good number of basic runes and how he had to carve them to charge them magically. His mother explained that a skilled Rune Master could theoretically create a runic array that encompassed a whole castle to heat it from one common source. Harry liked the idea and worked on creating such arrays for use in larger areas. It was complicated, as he needed to have the runes strong enough to contain the power from the source of warmth, but also give it out to keep a stable temperature in the rooms. It took him a month to get an array perfected that would work for three rooms. He was allowed to test it with the study of his uncle, his bedroom and the salon where Uncle Arthur greeted guests. The main fireplace in the study was the source for powering the runes. After one failure, the second attempt worked, and it saved some firewood as only one fireplace needed to be kept going.
Soon Harry installed those runes in key areas of the castle. After all, a castle was really cold during winter. He also started keeping a journal where he wrote about his experiences and his learning progress. He wanted to have something to look up things if he forgot some details. The residents of Camelot were very grateful for the indoor heating. It made working much easier. Morgaine was really proud of Harry's achievements. He was learning quickly, and it would definitely help him in the future.
Harry was working in the stables, cleaning all the horses and making sure that they got exercise. With the grounds being completely covered in snow, there were many possibilities. The younger ones could go and play on the meadows. The thick snow blanket would prevent that they hurt their legs from the frozen ground. The older ones he normally took for twenty minutes into the indoor riding arena. Thankfully one of the old barns had been remodelled, as Uncle Arthur had realized that, if the horses didn't get proper training during the winter, they would need much more work in spring to get into full battle-readiness. And that wouldn't do, in case an emergency came up or anybody wanted to wage war against Camelot. Peace was still shaky and there were regular fights that Uncle Arthur had to deal with.
With as few pages and squires as there were, the ones that were there had to take care of all the horses. Harry basically had six horses each day, which he had to ride to keep them in training. While twenty minutes weren't much, with the number of horses and riders it was all they could do. There were only four pages and three squires living at the castle at the moment, and some needed to keep doing jobs in the castle too, so they normally did the riding in shifts. Harry, Cameron and Euan were riding their horses in the morning, Richard, Walter, Simeon and Charles in the afternoon. With each horse taking up twenty minutes of riding and ten minutes of getting ready before and after working with them, they were each using three hours to get everything done. Thankfully clearing the bailey of snow wasn't a problem currently, as it hadn't snowed for a week. Therefore, the cleared parts of the ground stayed in that state for now.
"We will be in good form for the Beltane Race with all the training in the saddle that we get," Euan commented.
"Definitely. I doubt the others at the estates of their teachers get as much practice. I don't think that they have an indoor riding arena like Camelot has," Cameron agreed.
"I think Sir Gawain and Sir Lancelot have small buildings where they can let the horses run around in a circle. They use them to train young horses who haven't been trained to carry a saddle yet. It is quite a good idea to not give the young horses much space to run away," Harry told them, "They might be used for limited riding practice too. I think they have cleared the inner area of some straw storage buildings for that."
"That would make sense. You only need dry ground to practice and if they have sand in the middle they could use it like you said," Euan agreed pondering how that could work, "Still, we are better off, even if we have a lot more work than during summers. I so hope that I win that race. Not only are the prizes always really great, you get a kiss from one of the prettiest girls around. Last year Daniel won and got a kiss from Lady Georgina."
He had a dreamy look in his eyes. Euan was fifteen and Sir William's squire. His short red hair reminded Harry a bit of the Weasleys, but it was another shade, more a reddish-brown. He was currently the oldest boy at Camelot. It was a well-known fact among the other pages and squires that he was horribly taken with Lady Georgina and had been crestfallen when she had kissed Daniel after he won the last Beltane race.
"We won't make it easy for you," Cameron promised and the three got a good laugh out of that.
Basically, every page and squire dreamed of winning the Beltane race. It was a great honour and the winner always got a privilege granted. Daniel had got the assistance of the king in courting his chosen bride. The father had been a bit apprehensive that the young soon to be knight had wanted to court his fifteen-years-old daughter, but with the king supporting it, he would have been a fool to not accept the obvious honour he was given. Now Daniel, who had been knighted by now, and Rachel were engaged and planned to marry next spring. Sometimes the privilege was set up beforehand, sometimes you could ask for a favour that wasn't too far-fetched. Harry wondered what the prize would be next year.
That's it for today, the next chapter will come out on New Year's Eve. Until then.