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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“You can’t just decide for yourselves if I fight or not!”  I shrieked as soon as I’d thrown the doors to the council chamber open, where the war council was having a meeting.

    That had been six days ago. For the most part of this morning I’d been playing games with Lovell and Ewan in their playroom, until Lochru had come to see me and accidentally let slip that Lothian’s council had decided I was not to fight.

    So that’s how I ended up here, interrupting a meeting in fury with Lochru trailing behind me and keeping to the door. I slammed my hands down on the edge of the table, which was covered by maps of Albion, slowly looking around the lords until they could no longer hold my gaze with theirs, until my eyes met Gawain’s. He was sat leaning against the back of his seat with his fingers steepled, a crown on his head, looking seemingly unconcerned.

    “You can’t decide that I’m not allowed to fight!” I half-shouted. “I thought that was why I was here, why you arranged to free me from my cousin’s grip, so that I could fight!”

    “You came here so you would be safe, we never had any intention of allowing you to fight,” Gawain said simply. “You have no need to fight.”

    “I have every need to fight, or are you forgetting that it was your brother who murdered my father?”

    “You’re being melodramatic, Ygraine. The decision has already been made, you will not fight. As the King and your guardian, my agreement to keeping you in this castle and not being in the battle that will ensure is final.”

    “I am the Princess of Camelot, I do not take orders from the King of Lothian even you are my guardian.” When I’d been brought in front of the Faith, my father, even though he’d had Merlin promise I would be safe, had pronounced Gawain as my legal guardian and protector if my father died when I was young. When my father had died, I’d automatically become Gawain’s Ward. “I am nineteen; I have been a woman for many years and have no need for a guardian, for a protector. You cannot make a decision for me and not tell me. I am a woman, and despite the social conventions I will make my own decision—and my decision is that I will fight when the time comes.”

    “Ygraine . . .”

    “You cannot stop me!”

    He stood up then, partial anger set in his face. I’d never wanted to have a confrontation with him, with this cousin, and never had had one. Until now, it seemed.

    “I can stop you, and I will. Even if I had to lock you in a tower.”

    I stared at him defiantly. “I will climb out of the window.”

    “You cannot scale down walls.”

    “How do you know I cannot? Hmm? And have you never heard of a rope fashioned out of bed covers?” I heard Lochru stifle a laugh with a throaty cough, and resisted the urge to smile. “My father locked me in my room once after I’d threatened to set my nurses skirts of fire after she took away my wooden sword, but I just threw all my covers together and climbed out of the window. You know what lesson my father learnt that day?—he learnt that locking me in a room, no matter how high, will not stop me from doing what I set out to do . . . though I didn’t set that nurses skirts on fire . . .”

    “Ygraine,” Gawain said, obviously not amused with my little anecdote of the day. “You are not fighting. You may have the ability to use weapons, but you have never been in a battle. And it will be dangerous for you.”

    “Is it because of my gender?—because I am a woman?” I asked, crossing my arms over my chest and shooting him a look with raised eyebrows.

    “Women are welcomed and encouraged to join Lothian’s army, so no. Instead the reason is one you have said yourself already, you are Her Highness the Princess of Camelot, an heir—if not now the heir—to the throne. If our side is successful in the foreboding battle, you will be crowned as the queen if your brother is dead, and so we cannot risk you dying in battle.”

    I hadn’t considered this. If my brother was dead, and if I died in battle, then Camelot, if Mordred was defeated, would be left without a Pendragon heir and some stranger would ascend to the throne. I couldn’t leave my family’s Kingdom without an heir to the throne, but still . . .

    “I want to fight. I—I wouldn’t feel right staying in this castle, sitting on my hands or twiddling my thumbs, whilst the rest of you are engaged in a battle to free Camelot. And Camelot is my family’s Kingdom, has been for over four centuries, and if I end up being queen then shouldn’t I have fought for the freedom of my Kingdom, my people?” I said, taking a step back so that I was not just addressing Gawain, but instead the whole council who were watching me intently.

    “Go on, Your Highness,” one of the lords, an aging man with greying hair, prompted.

    I took a deep breath, I had shouted and argued, but now was my time to be mature, to not act like a petulant child until I got what I wanted. I had to show that I could be calm and diplomatic, and create my point that I would be more helpful actually doing something other than sitting behind the walls of a castle relearning how to work a loom or dance and entertain. I was a Pendragon, after all.

    A thought occurred to me then, something that had been told to me what seemed like an age ago.

    “My friend Robert’s mother mentioned something to me when I was in the small town of Ash. She said that my being alive gave Camelot hope and a reason for them to raise arms against Mordred. If that is true, and they make their way here, will it not be better if I not only fight for my people but also with them? I will be able to rally the people, call them to arms as not only their Princess, but also as a civilian of Camelot.”

    The table fell silent for a few moments, before another lord turned to my cousin and said, “Her Highness has a good point. And we have already had many refugees from Camelot; with more to come I am sure—refugees that haven’t come here due to coincidence, but rather because an heir to Camelot is here.”

    Gawain seemed to consider this for a moment before he shook his head. “The risks of sending you to battle, Ygraine, outweigh the benefits and I will not risk your life for the sake of rallying people. Not when you can do that here, not when you can help somewhere where you are safe. Being behind the walls of this city is the safest option for you—”

    “That is what you think, but by telling me I should stay behind these walls you are making decisions for me. I am my own person; I am able to make my own decisions. The walls of the city are strong, yes, but all walls break down with enough time and force,” I argued, placing my hands on my hips. “It is the safest option for me as of right now, to be here, but what about when you men and your armies go off to a battle and we women, the ones unable to fight and ones you will not allow, are left here to sit and wait anxiously for your return but you do not—do I have to remind you that only seven of my father’s army survived Camlann, you yourself included, dear cousin? What if you do not make it back here, and Mordred brings his forces to Lothian?—who will protect us then? Our servants, our guards? I may have my sword and my dagger, but they can easily be taken away from me, and I would not be able to protect myself never mind anyone else. I would rather fight and die on a battlefield than in a castle no longer protected.”

    “You say it as if you are sure we will lose.”

    “I would rather be realistic and think that we could lose, than be overconfident and underestimate our enemy.”

    “Our enemy is my brother, who is a mad, egotistical, power-crazed idiot.”

    “And he just happens to be one of the most powerful Warlocks in Albion! A mad, power-crazed Warlock is harder to defeat than an ordinary power-crazed usurper.”

    “Are you forgetting that we have two Warlocks, one of whom happens to be the most powerful Warlock, and our two just so happen to actually be father and son?”

    I threw my hands away from my hips, if only to ball my fists instead. “And are you forgetting that the son is currently not speaking to the father?” To be honest, neither was I, but unlike Cyrus I wasn’t openly avoiding Merlin—I just hadn’t seen Merlin since I’d expressed my own anger. “And you are getting so far off point, since this conversation was originally about my fighting. I want to fight and I will fight, that is the end of it.”

    Gawain crossed his arms over his chest. “It doesn’t matter if you want to fight, a lot of people want to fight but they never get the chance. You will just be another one of those people. If you weren’t who you are, if you weren’t Ygraine Pendragon, then I would allow you to fight—but you are who you are, and I will not allow you to risk your life, even if I have to lock you in a secluded cottage in the middle of a wood, with guards posted at every exit and window.”

    I let out a deep sigh and brought a hand up to massage my temple. This was going nowhere except around and around in circles. I desperately needed a new tactic, if he was adamant that he wasn’t going to allow me to fight then . . . “Then allow me to retrain instead, until I find some way to convince you that allowing me to fight is a good idea. Let me retain, because even if I’m good with a sword and dagger, I am weaker with some weapons and rustier with others.”

    Gawain kept his eye trained on me as he sat back down, resting his elbows on either side of his chair and exposing his palms. “That I will agree to. No one can ever do too much training. But I will not change my decision on you fighting unless you give me a good reason to. Now, you are dismissed.”

    I scowled but left the room, slamming the doors shut behind me.

 

X

 

“Why are you brooding?”

    I started and turned away from the merlon I’d been leant against. When I hadn’t been able to find Lochru, after searching for five minutes, I’d grabbed my cloak, wandered up the one of the towers and found myself on one side of the inner curtain wall, watching over the lake that was frozen over—small ships were docked on the other side, stuck in place, and on the land across were some of the manor houses of the Kingdom’s lords.

    I had no idea how long I’d been up in. Half-an-hour maybe?

    Stood a few metres away with his hands behind his back, dressed in a thick cloak that half concealed his jerkin and trousers, was Cyrus. His hair blew in the chilly winter breeze. He still looked tired, but better. I hadn’t seen much of him the past few days, when he hadn’t been actively avoiding his father he’d been in his room, or wandering about the city with Robert, because unlike me he had more free time and no outside expectations to uphold.

    I was relieved the see him. I’d admit that I’d missed his presence, given he’d been a constant for the past few weeks.

    Even if he hadn’t spoken, I would have realised he’d been near because, a few seconds after turning, Aconitum swooped down and come to rest on the merlon I’d been leant against. I pulled out a hand and ran my fingers, almost absently, down his feathers.

    “I was not brooding,” I said. “I do not brood. I look intently and frustratingly into the distance.”

    Cyrus barked a short laugh. “Oh. So why are you looking intently and frustratingly into the distance, pray tell?”

    I rubbed my eyes. “My cousin.”

    “Mordred?”

    “For a change, no. Instead it is Gawain.”

    “And why has the King of Lothian caused you to look intently and frustrating into the distance?” He took a few steps closer, holding out his hand for Aconitum. Immediately his raven jumped onto his hand and walked up his arm, coming to a stop on Cyrus’s shoulder.

    I sighed and turned to lean my elbows against the merlon again. “Gawain is not allowing me to fight in battle, and after a heated debate I’ve only managed to be allowed to retrain. He doesn’t want to risk Camelot’s throne, doesn’t want me to fight in case I die.”

    Cyrus was silent for a moment, looking out across the sprawling city to the south of where we stood. In the centre sat Lothian City’s Temple of the Faith, a huge fourteen-sided, domed-roof building of pale stone and painted motifs. “Your cousin is looking out for your safety,” he said after a while and glanced at me. “He doesn’t want to see you be hurt. He doesn’t want to see you be killed.”

    I was cut off from responding by the door suddenly swinging open, and a servant standing into the centre of the doorway. “Ah, Your Highness, I’m glad I found you,” he said, panting slightly.

    “Have you been searching across the Keep for me?” I asked. “And take a breath before you answer, I don’t want you collapsing or anything.”

    The young servant leant against the doorframe for a moment before straightening back up. “Most of the Keep, yes. Then one of your maids told me they’d seen you walking to here.”

    I nodded. “Is there something of an urgent matter? I assume there is, if you’ve come to find me.”

    “The King needs you to come to the council chamber; it is a matter of urgency. A cart arrived in the city, being pulled by a horse without a horseman, with two boxes that smelled like death and a large mirror.”

    “From whom?”

    “No one knows, but they have been brought to the council chamber. Everyone of importance has gathered, they are just waiting on you.”

    “Alright,” I said. I was both intrigued and scared of what these mysterious items were, especially the boxes that smelled like death. “Go tell my cousin that I shall be down in a moment.” I waited until the servant bowed and left before I turned to Cyrus. “So much for a trip into the city. Will you come with me?”

    He shook his head. “The servant said it was just those of importance who had gathered: royalty and nobility, council members. No place for tag along Warlocks.”

    I walked over to him, and placed my hands over his chest. “You are of importance, you’re important to me.” And it was true, it was so very true. Even though we’d only known each other a few weeks, I already knew he was important to me. And I couldn’t, as best as I tried, ignore the way my heart sped up when I was near him, or the way I felt calmer when we were together. Chances are I would never tell him, though, because even if I wanted it to there is nothing that could ever happen between a princess and a Warlock—if I completely felt that way about him, anyway, since that I did not know. I just knew he was important to me.

    “So, come with me to see whatever these boxes are about,” I beseeched.

    “Don’t forget the mysterious mirror.”

    I laughed. “Oh, I better not forget that.”

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A/N: the changing of the chapter lengths, adding parts, and changing the format of this has taking me, in total, almost two days. I changed it because (with the page sizes I use for writing) 12 chapters had already come to a total of 240 pages - that's a lot for just 12 chapters - and I was having writers block with this latest chapter. I was going to add in a new character, but then realised that it would be best if she was introduced later . . . 

Also, a note on the Faith. I'm that dedicated to this story (series really, I have three books in mind) that one of my notebooks in essential half full with notes on the Faith; from the names of the gods and goddesses and what they represent, minor gods and goddesses to the Temples and shrines, the roles of priests and priestesses, and the religion itself. So, even though I'll mention some of them in later chapters, I'm gonna let you know what the names of the gods and goddesses of the Faith are and what they represent (as well as little notes in brackets about the inspiration for them):

The Faith of the Fourteen:

The Triple Goddess - maiden, mother, crone; queen among the Faith. Maiden represents purity, innocence and unmarried girls; Mother represents womanhood, marriage, child-bearing, fertility and mercy; Crone represents old age, the past, wisdom, and the later stages of life (inspiration comes from the Celtic Triple Goddess - who I nearly got a statue of whilst in Cornwall last week)

Three-Faced God - the boy, the father, the warrior; Boy represents childhood; the Father represents fatherhood and manhood; the Warrior represents battle (inspiration came from me wanting a sort of male equivalent to Triple Goddess)

Silva - Goddess of the Woodland (inspiration came from the name Silva, which means woodland)

Ashra - God of the Sun; cursed to die everyday to allow for night to fall (inspiration for his name came from Ra, the Egyptian God of the Sun and the name Ash, which means happy - the happy part flows into the cursed part, as inspiration for this curse came from the line of a poem 'tell me the story about how the sun loved the moon so much, he died every night to let her breathe')  

Nyxia - Goddess of the Night and the moon; also represents mourning as she is in love with Ashra but he dies for her every night; also known as the Blind Goddess (inspiration came from Nyx, Greek Goddess of the Night with 'ia' on the end)

Brookla - Goddess of Streams and Rivers (I just stuck 'la' on the end of 'Brook')

Atalantia and Herna - twin sister and brother of hunting and fighting; Atalantia also represents wildlife, whilst Herna represents vengeance and healing (inspiration came from Artemis and Apollo, as well as in Greek Myth a character named Atalanta was a virgin huntress, and Herne the Hunter is a ghost associated with Windsor Forest in Berkshire - I just changed the names and ideas a little)

Valsha - vicious, four-armed Goddess of War, but also safety in childbirth; is the wife of Morphea (loosely based on Kali, with the four arms)

Morphea - God of Magik, sleep and dreams (inspiration came from Morpheus who is the god of dreams)

Nikina - Goddess of Victory, and healing (inspiration from Nike, Greek goddess of victory)

Thanis - God of Death and Battle (inspiration from the Greek god of death Thanatos)

Lancia - God of Land, farming, livestock and the sky (honestly, I can't remember)

Ambudha - God of the Seas and Ocean, protector and destroyer  of seamen, storms, and waves (and, can't remember)

that was a lot of writing!

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