Two years. It’s been two years now to this day since the world died, and in all that time I’ve thought hundreds of time about returning to Camelot. I know, it’s disgraceful, but somehow I couldn’t find the strength to actually go there. Too many sad memories… I sometimes wonder if there is a Camelot left, and if there is, will the knights remember me? Probably not, most of them, all of them, died at Camlann anyway. I’m not worthy of being a knight of Camelot anymore, I’m a disgrace to Arthur, to myself, to the whole knighthood, to Gwaine… Not a day passes by without me thinking of him. Why did he have to die… The greatest, bravest knight who ever lived.
I tried to return to Camelot some weeks ago, but there were too many Saxons roaming the countryside. Their numbers are slowly but surely increasing, more and more are coming to our shores, invading our country. I’m not recognisable as a knight of Camelot anymore, far too dangerous. So now I drift from village to village, hoping to get some work so I can buy some food. How glamorous the life of a knight is…
They sat huddled around a small fire, Morgana and the three sisters, its thick yellow smoke slowly curling upwards and filling the small cave with an almost unbearable stench. They had clasped each other by the hand and their eyes were closed as the sisters in a low and murmuring voice chanted their spells. They had been chanting for hours now, throwing many different herbs into the fire, and all kinds of dried bits like claws and ears and legs of strange creatures not found in all the lands of Albion and beyond. They were repeating the same words over and over again until all four had fallen into a trance. Time had stopped as the words became almost alive, filling the cave with one thought and one thought only: seize Camelot and kill Arthur. Morgana’s lips moved soundlessly, forming the words in her mind: “Hergian Castel Camelot, ábredwian Arthur”, and the words formed themselves into a powerful spell, burning itself into her brain, ready to cast without even needing to think about it. New words now formed, words intended to give pain and suffering to Arthur, both in this world and the next: “Aþrówian, hearmcwalu! Déaþcwalu!”; and now the sisters chanted spells to increase Morgana’s magical powers, to give her magic she should not possess, invoking all the evil creatures from the Shadow World: “Unrihtlyblác”. And so Morgana’s mind was poisoned with magic more evil than she had ever had, made even stronger with the words the sisters had spoken to her earlier: how it was Arthur who had caused her death, how he should be revenged, and how Morgana was the rightful ruler of Camelot; and they bound their minds to Morgana’s, making sure she would do as they commanded.
They had not forgotten all the cruelties Uther had done to them and their kind, and all the things Arthur had done; and they had not forgotten how they had almost succeeded in killing Arthur on the fields of Camlann, for it had been them who had guided Mordred’s deadly sword into Arthur’s body; and they had not forgotten how they had been thwarted by their nine sisters of the Isle of Avalon, snatching Arthur from right under their noses, bringing him to Avalon to heal, the one place where the three sisters could not reach him.
And Morgana saw in her mind the lifeless bodies of Arthur and Merlin; and she saw Mordred. Very vague, as he was walking through a thick and wet fog, but see him she did; and she called out to him, but she could not yet reach his mind. Then, with a piercing scream, Morgana and the sisters woke up from their trance, and she felt both immensely tired and immensely powerful.
“There is still good in him, there is still compassion in his heart. I see it, I feel it.”
“Yes, but there is so much blackness in his soul, that too you can see.”
“I cannot agree, the goodness is still strong, it will drive away the evil in time.”
“We do not know that, nor do we have the time, for we have seen the future unfold.”
“That was but one possible future, its outcome may never come to pass.”
“What more can we do, we have done all that was in our power to do. We must now let the future unfold itself as it were meant to be.”
“But we can still shape that future, the killer need not kill again.”
The three ancient druids sat in a circle around a blazing campfire, although the sun was high in the sky and the heat was oppressing. They were looking at the young man who was chopping wood, his long black hair obscuring his face, sweat pouring from his muscular torso disfigured by a huge white scar across his abdomen, and with great force he let the heavy axe fall, splitting yet another log in two. He hooked his damp hair behind his ear, revealing two dark eyes, cruel and kind at the same time, and said: “Is this enough for you?” indicating at the huge pile of firewood.
“For the moment, yes,” Galvin, the smallest of the three, said.
“Is there ever enough…,” Calder remarked, and he shivered, for there was always a chill in his old bones, no matter how hot it was.
“When will we make him remember?” Dinsmore asked softly, still looking at the young man as he pulled a plain, brown tunic over his head. No-one spoke, for they themselves had been asking that very same question for the last five years, ever since the day they had found him, on the plains of Camlann, the one with one last breath in his dying body; and they had taken him to their island, far from Camelot. “There is still some goodness in him, some loyalty,” they had said, “we can heal him, we can heal his body, we can heal his soul, and we can heal his mind,” and with their magical powers they tried to block all that was evil in him, and nurture all that was good; but his hatred was strong, and the magical walls were fragile at best.
And on that same day they also found another survivor of that gruesome battle where Arthur had fallen, a boy of not yet twenty summers, but already a Knight of Camelot, who sat there, cradling the head of a fallen knight, crying. “Don’t worry, we will take care of him now,” they said, laying a comforting hand on his shoulder, for they sensed that the soul of that fallen knight, whom they instantly had recognized as Gwaine, was still clinging to his body, but the diaphanous threads of life were all but severed and could break at any moment. The youth stumbled away, and the druids immediately performed their healing magic on Gwaine, hoping they were not too late; but then they felt another life-force flowing through Gwaine trying to heal him, and instantly they knew: the youth who had walked away had druidic powers, healing powers, and he had given all he had to Gwaine. They longed to know who he was, this young knight, but to this very day they had never been able to find out. And so for the last five years they had nursed Gwaine, slowly giving back his life, magically healing as much treads of his life and soul as they could, but he still had not woken, and was lying on his bed, his face serene, his breathing calm; and in time the wounds on his body healed, leaving nothing but ugly scars, the wounds on his soul had been too severe, and they had never been able to heal it completely.
And so the druids walked the path of utter caution, knowing the man who was chopping wood and went by the name of Mordred was the one who had put the sharp steel through Arthur’s body; and they also knew it was Morgana who had filled Mordred’s head with an all-consuming hatred of Arthur, driving away all that was good in him.
And so they kept Mordred in the dark as to who he was and what he had done until they had managed to transform some of his hatred into kindness, and they also had instilled some loyalty to Arthur back into him, loyalty he already possessed, but the druids fount it was buried very deep within him, hidden under layers of accumulated hatred; but the druids created pathways in his mind, trying to unlock some of that loyalty, thus piece by little piece hoping to replace the hatred.
And the druids also with much concern said: “We must shield Gwaine’s brain too so he will not remember Mordred, lest he wakes up and do Mordred grievous harm, for he knows it was Mordred who killed Arthur. We must cast the spell of forgetfulness on him too,” but they dared not, fearing it might damage Gwaine, for his mind was still very fragile, and the powerful spell might do more harm than good, destroying Gwaine’s mind forever; and so they used simple spells to weave a veil of forgetfulness, knowing full well it would not conceal all his memories for long, but it was all they could do until Gwaine would be stronger.
But they were unaware that Mordred had heard a voice in his head, the voice of Morgana calling out to him, and Mordred was very confused, for he did not know who it was that was calling him or why; and so Morgana’s words pounded against the thoughts and feelings and barriers the druids so carefully had made.
Has it really been five years already? Five long and tortuous years of roaming the far and wide of Albion and beyond. I even crossed the waters to Brittanny once, selling my sword to all who would pay, and competing in a mêlée or two, hoping to win me some armour and perhaps even a horse. And coin of course, lots of coin. Make no mistake, I can fight, my cousin Lancelot taught me well. I actually did win a few times: I defeated a knight and took his arms and armour and his destrier, and a very good horse it was too. And I managed to ransom another knight, the son of some wealthy ruler. I got a shock as he removed his helmet, because for a moment I thought I was looking at Gwaine. Same face, same hair, but it wasn’t him. I must have looked quite stupid, standing there like a statue, mouth open like a fish on dry land… The coins are all gone now, spent on food and lodgings and other things. The armour is dented all over now, but at least it gets used and it still offers me good protection. The wealthy can afford to have good armour made.
I’m in a little village now, and a farmer had directed me to a tavern where I hope to get lodgings for the night. He talked a lot about Saxons, there are rumours everywhere of them coming here, he said, but so far the village was safe. I’ve seen those Saxons a bit too often now. Yes, I’ll be careful, I promised him. He looked at me as if I were the one to protect the whole village single-handedly. Must be the armour I suppose.
I got another shock as I entered the tavern, for there I saw Percival sitting in some dark corner, all alone. My mind didn’t play tricks on me this time, it really was him. How could I ever forget the face of the man who held a dying Gwaine’s head in his hands. I would recognize that face anywhere. He had changed, though… lost a lot of weight, and his hair was longer and unkempt and he hadn’t shaved for weeks. I’m sure he didn’t know who I was, he had hardly glanced at me on that fateful day. He just sat there, drinking, minding his own business. I thought for a moment of trying to talk to him, but then a man came storming in, shouting something about the Saxons coming and Camelot falling. My worst fears came at that moment to life. Camelot had fallen, he said, and queen Guinevere captured. Well, at least there was still a Camelot. I heard Percival muttering he had to join the army of king Ban, and he walked straight by me as he left the tavern, almost knocking me over. It turned out Ban was the ruler of this little kingdom. I decided to follow Percival to the castle, joining the army to recapture Camelot might be just what I need.
Not long afterwards we marched to Camelot, and, having no horse and no coin to buy one, I had to walk all the way. Me and hundreds more, including Percival. We didn’t meet, however, me being in a different group, but I saw him in the distance. I hate walking. Meet Sir Galahad, the Horseless Knight… Great… I had to leave my heavy plate armour behind, and swap it for a good coat of mail. Lighter and more flexible. I still hate walking and my feet hurt.
Arthur lives! I still can’t believe it, but it is true. Arthur is still alive, he managed to survive the massacre at Camlann somehow! I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am. We all are. We met him in a forest somewhere, some knights were with him, and an old man, and someone whom I think used to be his servant, I’ve forgotten his name. He didn’t look too good though, pale and skinny, Arthur I mean, not the servant although he didn’t look too hot either, but at least Arthur lives! We marched the final leagues to Camelot with more hope in our hearts than ever before!
Tomorrow we will attack, and rumour has it Arthur himself will lead a detachment of knights!
Well, we won! Camelot is no longer a Saxon stronghold. I did manage to somehow lose my helmet by the way, and a Saxon sword almost decapitated me. Luckily some knight of Camelot saved me and the sword only bit into my mail shirt. Good mail it was, still is, all I got was another hole in my now trusted coat of mail, and some severe bruises. What happens next I don’t know. Most of the armies have gone back home, but lots of soldiers wanted to stay behind. I’m one of them, I’ve got nowhere to go anyway, and besides, I am still a Knight of Camelot. I think… Lots of things going on in Camelot right now…
to be continued…