Darkness on the Edge of Town

Morgause, Morgause, what have you done?

Morgan did not shout this – not now, at least. She had already shouted it, again and again, both to her sister’s face and to empty room after empty room. Now, standing on the parapet and watching Morgause, Lot, and the two younger boys leave for Orkney, the time for shouting was past.

Of course more left through the great gates of Carleon than just Morgause and Lot and the boys. There were the numerous servants, men-at-arms, and “escort” of Arthur’s knights supposedly for the additional security of Orkney but in reality to keep a close eye on its king and queen. There were wagons and wagoners, most carrying the luggage Morgause and her boys had brought with them, but a few empty for the astronomical tribute Arthur and his Table had demanded of Lot. There was one wagon set aside for mementos of the troops had died serving Lot. And in Morgause’s litter rode one extra passenger. Not a strange man, nor a strange woman, either.

Morgause was carrying a child.

Its father was not Lot.

Morgause, Morgause, what have you done?

Morgan wanted to turn from the balcony in disgust, but that would not send any message to Morgause. In truth Morgause did not even know she was up here. They had barely spoken since Morgause had returned from her tryst from Arthur and they had had the initial shouting match. Morgause had been taken a bit off guard, not even dreaming that Morgan would know about that tryst the instant it occurred, not understanding about the horrifying visions that would seize her the moment Arthur and Morgause had coupled.

Morgause carried a monster in her womb.

Morgause, Morgause, what have you done?

But of course, as soon as the thought struck her, she was ashamed. How could she call a child, an innocent child as yet unborn, a monster? It didn’t matter how the babe was begotten. The child had not asked to have such a sin staining his birth. And the child had Arthur for a father, Igraine for a grandmother (twice over!), and Gorlois for a grandfather as well as Morgause for a mother and Uther for a grandsire. Surely, surely there was enough good blood in that child to dilute and sweep away the bad? Surely what she had seen was only a possibility – a probability, even – but not the true future, already set in stone?

Morgause, Morgause, never mind what you have done – what will you do?

Morgan closed her eyes. She did not need to be a Seer to see how Morgause would raise this child.

Strange, how she had always known that tragedy and triumph would dog Arthur’s footsteps in equal measure, but now that tragedy had struck she was still numb with the shock. A long time to remain numb, too, with it being a month and more since Morgause—

She wouldn’t think about it too closely. Not only because she knew what would, or might, come from it. But because to do so would turn her stomach.

And Morgause—Morgause, who had always hated Arthur, as well as knowing of their true relationship—how did she manage to complete such an act?

Well, Morgause certainly had more practice than Morgan at bedding a man she hated; one only had to mark the existence of Gawaine, Agravaine, Gaheris and Gareth to know that. As for the rest … the Seer in Morgan knew why, though the sister in her would never admit it.

Morgause was mad.

Not mad in the usual way, not even mad in the dreamy, mirror-bespelled way of Igraine. Not, perhaps, even strictly mad at all. Surely Morgause would be able to manage her life and her affairs and live day-to-day without raising the least suspicion of insanity.

But in this affair – the affair that, the Seer knew, would soon become all-consuming for Morgause – there was something not right with Morgause’s mind. Something had gone wrong when Mark’s sword had struck Gorlois’s head from his shoulders; it had gone more and more wrong since. In a way, it was just as well that the sister refused to believe that that wrong thing could exist. If the sister believed that, she would have blamed herself for it.

Never mind that Morgan had been only a child, as Morgause had been a child, when things started to go wrong. Never mind that this wrongness should have been caught by Igraine, or Merryn, or any one of a number of adults who saw Morgause almost every day. Never mind that Uther’s ham-handed marriage and Lot’s cruelty had only exacerbated the wrongness. Never mind that Morgause had always had the capacity to heal herself, simply by letting go of her anger and hatred, yet had never taken it. Never mind even that Morgan had troubles of her own, troubles that she had to fight lest she be sent down the same path Morgause had so willingly trod. None of that would matter to the sister in Morgan. None of that would matter because the sister would be convinced that she was the only one who could have found it and stopped it. The sister in Morgan would know that Morgan was the only one who could help, because Morgan was the only one who cared enough to try.

And the saddest thing, the Seer in Morgan knew, was that the sister was right. Not that it was Morgan’s fault that everything had gone wrong. Not even that she was the only one who could set it right. But that she was the only one who cared enough for Morgause, Morgause as she truly was, in order to try.

But the Seer would not let Morgan dwell too much on Morgause, except in anger. The Seer knew that Morgause was past help. No, what of the other victim of Morgause’s plans – what of Arthur?

Morgan buried her head in her hands. Sweet Mother, what am I to do about Arthur?

A shadow crossed over her—Morgan jumped—she turned around, to see Merlin standing behind her, back from his trip to the North.

He smiled at her, that gentle, quiet smile that he always smiled when he saw. As if, every time their paths crossed, he was truly happy to see her. But his smile disappeared almost instantly, and Morgan almost thought, for a moment, that he knew what had transpired at Carleon in his absence.

But he did not know that; his words proved that. “Goodness, Morgan, you look—forgive me for putting it like this—but you look awful. What is the matter?”

In the month and more since Morgause had trapped Arthur in her web, Morgan had not wanted to weep. Not once. Oh, she had wanted to scream, to rage, to throw things and shriek abuse at her sister. But not to weep.

Seeing Merlin, though—so concerned, so sympathetic, so utterly clueless that Morgan had been unable to prevent that very tragedy that Fate, if not he himself, had sent her here to stop—that very nearly opened the floodgates.

“Morgan?” he asked again, coming forward. He put a fatherly arm around her shoulders. “Morgan, are you well? Should I send for a doctor?”

A doctor? No, no simple physic could cure this—

A pair of shadows danced over her—Morgan looked up, her heart in her throat, only to see a pair of crows disporting themselves on the breeze.

Crows …

“Do you remember, Merlin,” Morgan asked, her voice growing stronger, “how you once told me that Arthur’s reign would be one to bring light and life to our island – and how I told you that there would be shadow as well?”

Merlin started. “Do I remember?” He laughed. “My dear, I am surprised that you remember! You were so young!” But soon all mirth faded. “Is there a reason why you mention this now, Morgan?”

One of the crows made a pass between them and the sun, throwing its outline, huge and in sharp relief, onto the parapet before them. Slowly, the crow crossed the length of the castle, its shadow dancing over tower, wall and bailey.

Morgan swallowed, her eyes not leaving the crow’s shape. “I believe, my lord, that the shadow is now upon us.”

Merlin’s eyes followed hers. “So it is.” She had no doubt that he meant more than the harmless crow’s shadow. “But look, Morgan.” He pointed to the bright blue bowl of the sky, at the sun that had been, after all, unimpeded enough to cast the crow’s shadow all the way to them. “The day is still bright, and sunny, and warm. It will be a long day, and a good one.”

Morgan looked – and saw more than the simple literalism of his words. “You are right, Merlin.” She chuckled, and for the first time in this long month, a smile came to her face. “For once and for always, you are right.”