Her Highness

Once, the Five Kingdoms of Albion had been at peace, but that peace had started to shatter when the Court of Camelot was broken by the treachery and evil of one Knight, Mordred, and his greed for power.
Now, it’s been almost ten years since Mordred slew Arthur Pendragon at Camlann, ten years since Ygraine and Duran fled Camelot in search of safety. It’s been six years since Mordred found and captured them.
But Ygraine Pendragon is bordering on twenty years old, and she is through with the whole of Albion thinking her and her brother are dead. She is the daughter of the great King Arthur, and she is done with allowing her cousin to sit on the Throne of Camelot, the throne which he usurped.
When bonds are broken, betrayal occurs, hard decisions are made, and lives are lost, who will lose and who will conquer? How will the Princess, a lost heir to Camelot, fair when this become more than just an effort to rid the Kingdoms of Mordred, and instead become a war between light and dark?

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“Father?”

    The one, singular word bounced and ricocheted off of every nerve in my body, in my mind. Father. But . . . it couldn’t be! Merlin, he couldn’t be Cyrus’s father! Could he? No, of course he couldn’t be, because Merlin looked . . . well he looked no older than when I’d seen him last, when he’d abandoned us. He looked completely the same, with his strong jaw line and high cheekbones, his dark hair that was pushed back and past the nape of his neck, his dark blue eyes. He didn’t even look forty: he had no grey hairs or obvious wrinkles around his eyes and mouth.

    He couldn’t be Cyrus’s father, it wasn’t possible, and yet . . . there was a resemblance. A faint resemblance, but still one nevertheless. It was present in the gold in Merlin’s eyes noticeable due to the reflection of the fire—so similar to the gold in Cyrus’s eyes when the sun caught his irises, as well as the blue. It was present in the shapes of their faces, in their noses, in the corners of their mouths—subtle resemblances, but they threw open a wide canyon in my mind between what I’d thought was true in my life and what was actually true.

    But he cannot be his father, because wouldn’t I have known Merlin had a son? Wouldn’t we have grown up together in Camelot? Wouldn’t I have sparred with Cyrus, fought with him with wooden swords as children like my brother and I did, played games and teased each other, if Cyrus was truly Merlin’s son? Wouldn’t I have watched his magik grow in amazement? Wouldn’t I have become best friends him? Would I then have lost him to Mordred’s men the same way I’d thought I’d lost Lochru?—or would I, if things had been different those ten years ago, courted Cyrus and married him and had—

    I stopped, unable to bear the questions whizzing through my mind at the speed of a hummingbird’s wing. I felt dizzy, I felt cheated. But this, this, it all had to be false, Cyrus had to be mistaken, because Merlin had never—to my knowledge—had a wife, never mind a son—

    Oh!

    I crawled my way out of my mind and glanced at Cyrus, my eyes assessing him as he continued to stare at Merlin. I was aware the room had fallen silent, even Lovell and Evan had gone still and quiet, and the silence was louder than the clamour and roar of battle. But I didn’t care about the lack of voices, and stared at Cyrus as one thought rose up in my mind like a brilliant flame against a canvas of black.

    Are you a bastard boy, Cyrus? An illegitimate child? The product of an affair? The babe of a prostitute that had been a particular favourite of Merlin’s? Is that why I never knew about you? Is that why I never met you?

    But that, those horrid thoughts in my mind, couldn’t and weren’t true. Because Merlin had never been one to be in the company of prostitutes, so Cyrus couldn’t be illegitimate. And he couldn’t be Merlin’s son.

    “Cyrus,” Robert’s voice broke the silence, “your father is called Frederick.”

    There. There was the proof that Cyrus was wrong. Merlin wasn’t his father, because Cyrus’s father was called Frederick. So, there, Cyrus had been mistaken. He’d been—

    “Actually,” murmured a deep yet soft voice. The voice that had whispered Cyrus’s name. The voice that belonged to Merlin. I slowly turned back to face him, to face the face I’d known practically my whole life. He wrung his wrists before dropping them to the side. “Frederick was—is—a pseudonym, but I am him and he is I.” He turned his head slightly to Cyrus and smiled with one corner of his mouth before saying, “Hello, son. I’ve been waiting to see you since Ygraine’s letter.”

    The world fell beneath me, crumbling and caving in on itself, and with it went all the truths I thought I’d known, leaving me floating above the void left behind. And I fell down with everything, down in blackness and lies and hidden truths.

    I was half aware that I’d taken to gripping Lochru’s sleeve with my hands curled like claws, which was the only thing keeping me upright. I was half aware that I wasn’t in the void, wasn’t lost in the blackness, but I couldn’t push away the fuzziness in my head caused by a thousand thoughts colliding into each other at the speed of whizzing arrows.

    “I certainly never thought I’d see you ever again, father,” Cyrus muttered. I glanced over at him, took in his posture, his hands that were curling and uncurling into fists, the muscle that worked in his jaw, the glint of anger in his eyes. I wanted to step towards him, to twine his hands with mine or pull him away before he did something, but instead my hand moved to twine with Lochru’s. Going to Cyrus might not be wise at the moment. “Or should I even call you that?”

    “Wait, wait, let me just get on the same page here,” Robert said and placed a hand on Cyrus’s shoulder. “Are you saying Merlin is your father?”

    “I guess that I am, though I did not know.”

    Robert’s eyes widened. “How in the name of the goddesses did you not know your father is Merlin?”

    Cyrus’s eyes hesitantly met his friend’s. “You’re the one who said my father’s name is Frederick, so I’m sure you understand how I didn’t know,” he growled. “So it turns out I’ve been lied to my entire life. I wouldn’t mind knowing why that is.” Slowly he turned back towards Merlin—no, his father. Who is Merlin. By the Faith! “I’d also like to know why you left me, without a word of warning. I’d like to know why I was brought up in a shabby little house, when you were the advisor to the King of Camelot. I’d like to know how you kept your identity from everyone. I have hundreds of questions racing through my mind, but there’s one I’d really, desperately love to know—who is my mother? Because you’d told me she’d died after I’d been born, but I rather think you’d been lying to me about that as well as everything else. What haven’t you lied to me about, father?”

    I couldn’t quell the nagging feeling that this was a conversation best left in private without eavesdroppers, yet at the same time I felt it was better to be here in case Cyrus did anything stupid. Not that I’d really be able to stop him, because, honestly, what can a human do to stop a Warlock? Knock him out with a blow to the head from my sword, maybe. Kick his legs out from underneath him, that could work. The only ways I knew of incapacitating someone was by injuring, and I wouldn’t do that to Cyrus. 

    Cyrus’s words seemed to have caught Merlin by surprise, which had probably been the intended effect, for his eyes flew wide and the smiled transformed into a downward pull of his lips. “Cyrus, please,” he pleaded, reaching a hand out towards his son, only to drop it when Cyrus stepped back. “I can hardly say that this was my idea of meeting again, but you’re here now and I am happy to see you, son. May we take this conversation to somewhere of a more private surrounding?—my study, perhaps?”

    Cyrus merely shook his head. “Anything you have to say to me, Merlin, you can say in front of the same people you’ve lied to by not telling them I existed.”

    “Son, please—”

    “Why did you seem to keep me a secret, father?” Cyrus asked and took a step forward. Robert’s hand fell from his shoulder. “Were you ashamed of me, is that it? Did you abandon me just so you could be rid of me?”

    “All I did, raising you in a secluded house, leaving you when you were only fourteen, I did to protect you,” Merlin said defensively.

    “Forgive me if I don’t believe you,” said Cyrus, “because, at this moment, I’m having a hard time believing anything you say. What did you have to protect me from?”

    “I have any number of enemies that would have hurt you, or killed you, had they known about you.”

    “You should have taken me with you, or at least have left me some sort of letter to explain why you left me!” This wasn’t like our confrontation all those hours ago, that had been all anger, whereas this—this was stemmed from hurt and rage. “Six years, father, I have spent thinking you were either ashamed of me or you were dead. But it turns out no, you’re here, and you’re Merlin!”

    “Am I the only one seeing the positives of that?” Robert muttered, obviously in a way to try and diffuse the ever-growing tension in the room. I hazarded a quick glance at Gawain and Aoifa, who looked incredibly uneasy and as if they were about to leave the room.

    “How did you do it? How did you keep up the appearance that you didn’t have a son?” Cyrus carried on. I looked at him, and saw that his eyes had turned a deadly shade of purple. That was also something I had never seen before; his eyes must change with his mood. “Did you act as if you were throwing yourself into your magik studies? We live an hour away from the city, how did you do it so that you never seem to be away from me but also never away from the castle?”

    Merlin let out a sigh and leant against the table’s edge, running a hand through his hair. “Arthur knew.”

    I felt another cold shiver run down my spine.

    “What?!”

    “Arthur knew about you. He was my best friend; it was always hard to keep secrets from him.” A sad smile quirked the corners of his mouth. I’d all but forgotten that I hadn’t just lost a father that dreadful day; Merlin had lost a best friend and Camelot had lost a great King. “He did offer to make you his ward, but I declined.”

    “Why?”

    “You would have been thrown straight into the public eye as the Ward of the Crown if I’d accepted his offer, and that couldn’t happen,” Merlin murmured. “As soon as I told him the reasons he agreed that it was better for as little amount of people as possible to know about you, and that a hut just outside Ash, the town being an obscure one not many people are aware of, was the best place for you to grow up.”

    “Let me guess, for my protection?” Cyrus asked with a roll of his eyes, sarcasm layered in his voice. “See, the thing is you keep repeating that I needed to be protected but you have yet to explain why. And don’t say that it’s because you have enemies, because I really don’t believe you. If you want me to believe you, father, at least do me the courtesy of telling me who, exactly, you were protecting me—”

    “Your mother!” Merlin burst out, rather abruptly and violently if you were to ask me. My eyes flew wide. Merlin slumped into a chair, and dropped his head into his hands. “You have always needed to be protected from your mother.”

    I let go of Lochru and moved to stand beside Cyrus, sliding my hand down his arm and entwining my fingers though his, pressing our palms together firmly. “My mother?” he asked. He seemed unaware of my presence. “My mother is dead; you told me she died after I was born!”

    “She is not dead.”

    I saw Aoifa take Lovell by the hand, still whilst holding Ewan in her other arm, and ushered them silently out of the room. I should probably leave too, we all should to give these two space, but I couldn’t help thinking that if we left then Cyrus would do something stupid and regretful. Maybe it was better if the others went but Robert and I stayed, Robert because he was Cyrus’s best friend, and I because . . . well, I didn’t have a particular reason, I wasn’t his best friend, I wasn’t courting him . . . I had no good reason to hold his hand and witness all of this.

    But I stayed, as did Robert and Lochru. Even Gawain, though that might have been because he was King and this less-than-friendly family reunion was happening in his home.

    “She isn’t dead?” Cyrus whispered and took a step backwards. I squeezed his hand again, and this time he pressed a little pressure back. “Why lie to me all my life and let me believe she was dead?”

    “She isn’t alive, either.”

    “What?” both Cyrus and I exclaimed.

    Merlin’s eyes caught mine for a second, but I failed to read the emotion in them before he looked straight back at his son. “Things happened. She is neither dead nor alive, but in a state of limbo.”

    “What happened?” Cyrus asked.

    “Nothing that concerns you. Nothing that has anything to do with you. And you are better off not knowing.”

    “I am better off knowing who my mother is, since you’ve lied to me about her.”

    “She is none of your concern, and she will not care for you. She is not worth your time. And you cannot access where she is, where she belongs.”

    “This woman, whoever she may be, is still my mother even though you seem to hate her,” Cyrus murmured quietly. “If you will tell me nothing of her, at least tell me why you hate her?—that may ease a little of the wound in my heart caused by your lies.” He seemed calmer, though I didn’t know how long that would last.

    “Your mother is nothing more than the women who gave birth to you, if you were to meet her she would not care about you, at all. All she cares for is power, and it drove her insane, to the point of mass murder to attempt to achieve what she wanted. She was—is—a manipulative temptress who lured me to her just so her punishment for her crimes was delayed. You were the product of one night of pure weakness, just so she could worm herself out of being exiled like the snake she is. But as soon as you were born she met her fate.”

    Cyrus paled. “So . . . I was a mistake? What you’re basically saying is that I was a mistake that should have never happened?”

    “Cyrus . . .”

    His hand dropped from mine. “Great, you can’t even deny that because we all know it’s true. I wouldn’t be surprised if all you see me as is one huge mistake, no wonder you left me alone. Do you hate me, father, because I am the reminder of your weakness?”

    “Cyrus, please.”

    He merely shook his head and took a few more steps away. “Save it. I don’t want to speak to you. I don’t even want to see you. I was better off when I thought I’d never see you again.” With that said, he turned abruptly and threw the doors open without actually touching it, slamming it shut behind him.

    An eerie silence followed the slam of the doors, but in my head white noise was buzzing incessantly. I scrunched my eyes shut and brought my fingertips up to soothe the ache around my right eye. When I opened them again I saw that Merlin had pushed himself out of his chair and had taken to moving towards the doors, but Robert was stood defensively in front of him, his shoulders straight and his legs parted in a power stance.

    “Robert, please, he’s my son,” Merlin said. “Allow me to go after him and talk.”

    Robert crossed his arms over his chest. “No can do,” he murmured. I moved to stand beside him; he gave me a quick glance before returning to look at his best friend’s father. “You may be Merlin, so you can easily just cast some magik to knock me out of the way or whatever, but at this moment you are not going after Cyrus. You’re the reason he just stormed out of this room, after all.”

    “I’ll go,” I said and they both looked straight at me. Merlin looked at me as if he’d almost forgotten I was here, with wide-eyed and a guilty expression—he must have known that I had just as many questions to ask him as Cyrus had. “I’ll go and find him, it shouldn’t take me long.”

    Robert smiled with one corner of his mouth before shaking his head. “I would agree with you, but given the circumstances I think it is best that I go find him. This has happened before, when he left all those years ago, so I know what to do.”

    “But you don’t know your way around here.”

    He simply shrugged before flashing his signature smile. “Neither does he, so we’re bound to bump into each other at some point, probably after he’s calmed down.” He reached a hand up and ruffled my hair. “Don’t worry, I’ll find him and later I’ll make sure he comes to you, because I know you’ll want to talk to him.”

    “Thank you,” I whispered.

    “Besides, you have your own best friend to catch up with.”

    I glanced sideways at Lochru, who had moved to sit down on one of the benches. When he looked up and caught my eye he smiled, and it was a smile that made his scar more prominent. Robert’s hand brushed my shoulder, and after a moment one of the doors swung shut behind him.

    “Ygraine . . .” The voice made me freeze for a few seconds before I was able to look at the man it belonged to. Merlin was watching me, hesitation in his eyes and weariness in his posture. He looked as if he was ready for yet another person to shout at him, for me to shout at him, but I’d already shouted at someone today and did not have the energy to do it again.

    “Yes, Merlin?” I said calmly, and clasped my hands together.

    “I . . . I realise that you’re probably angry with me for allowing you to become Mordred’s prisoner, and you have every right to be, but you must understand that even though you were---are—important to me, my son is more so . . . and I left you to keep him safe, before realising that it would have been safer for him if I left him also.”

    I nodded slowly. “I do understand. We must protect our own blood, even if that involves breaking promises.” I half turned away from him, and made to move away with that being the only thing I had to say, but when I glanced back at him I couldn’t stop the words that spilled from my mouth. The words I needed to say. “But you have lived here, in comfort, for almost six years, whilst my brother and I lived in cells with beds that shouldn’t be called beds. You have lived here and eaten delicious food, whilst my brother and I starved on gruel once a day. I am here now, that much is true, but my brother is more than likely dead, and I . . . if he is dead . . . I blame you, Merlin.”

    “Ygraine,” Gawain whispered.

    I ignored him; I had much more to say to the man in front of me before I, too, walked away. “You can say you left us to make sure Cyrus was safe, and I can say I understand your reasoning behind it, but you still abandoned us and allowed Mordred to capture us. You could have taken us with you, but instead you chose to break your last promise to my father. So, if my brother is dead, rest assured that I will blame you and I will never forgive you, because if you’d stayed or taken us with you when you left, we would not have been taken by Mordred and would have not been thrown in cells.”

    Hands wound gently but firmly around my wrists and pulled me backwards towards the door. “Enough, fireball,” Lochru whispered in my ear and pulled me further to the door. I allowed him to walk me out the room, where he leant against the wall after closing the door, giving me enough space to calm down whilst he was still in my presence. And I needed him near to me, because he was like a calming beacon and knew me as well as I knew myself.

    I took to pacing the length of the corridor, my hands curled into my hair.

    “You’re limping,” Lochru murmured after a couple of minutes of silence. He moved to step in front of me, putting his hands on my arms to still me. “What happened to your leg?”

    “I injured my leg today, you see, but Cyrus couldn’t heal it properly so it’s still partially unhealed.”

    “What do you mean, ‘Cyrus couldn’t heal it properly’?”

    I bent my right leg slightly to take the weight of it. “Things happened. Circumstances. I . . .” Markus’s face flashed in the forefront of my mind, I shut my eyes for a moment whilst I built walls in my mind to keep him, and the events of earlier today, trapped behind and locked the door. When I reopened my eyes Lochru was watching me worryingly, his head cocked slightly to the side. “I don’t want to talk about it. Not yet.”

    The fingers of his left hand came up to brush away strands of my hair from over my face. “Alright,” he whispered. One of the many good qualities of Lochru was that he knew when not to push things, especially when it came to me—that worked both ways, we knew each other’s limits and weaknesses.

    I leant into his touch when his hand moved to cup my cheek. I looked right into his eyes when I murmured, “I’ve missed you so much.”

    He smiled softly. “I’ve missed you so much too, fireball.” He dropped his hand then, but only to twine it with mine. “Now how about I show you to your rooms, and you can rest your leg?”

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