Enchantress

" I curse you Arthur Pendragon. The day will come when you sit on the throne, but I will do everything in my power to bring you tumbling off it."

This is the untold story of Morgaine le Fey, the dark sorceress of Arthurian Legend. Living under the shadow of her step-brother, Arthur, later crowned King of Britain, Morgaine does her utmost to reclaim her right to the throne.

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1. The Storm

Darkness had fallen and with it had come the storm. Waves, fanned by monsters of the deep, pounded the base of the cliffs. Rain cut across the waters in diagonal swathes, vanishing into the sea. A wind that promised the coming of winter buffeted the landscape and sent the rain swirling into all directions. Salt that had escaped the punishing imprisonment of the sea hung in the air, releasing its distinctive tang. The air was alive with howls, hisses and shudders as waves hit their targets.

Inside the great castle, all the light and warmth of the world focused on the main hall.  Although the wind occasionally slipped through cracks and crevices, bringing icy drafts and gently flipping tapestries, its presence went unnoticed. Golden flames danced within great fireplaces and music swelled amongst the chatter of many voices. Duke Gorlois sat regally on the dais, his dark eyes sparkling with mirth and his loud laugh ringing the rafters. Beside him sat his wife, Igrayne, glowing with paleness. Next to her were her three daughters: Nimue, the eldest, sat muttering to her next of kin, Morgause. Both girls had the fair hair and alabaster skin of their mother and already had caught many an admiring glance. The youngest of the brood took after her father. Her hair was a deep chestnut, her eyes were huge and dark. Like her sisters, she too had the alabaster skin. Morgaine spoke little but saw everything. Her dark eyes watched and judged, whilst her ears heard and understood. She glanced over at him and as she did so, he too looked over. Their eyes met and Gorlois’ ruddy face cracked into a smile that reached his eyes. Without warning, he kicked his chair backwards and holding his goblet aloft demanded silence. Voices dwindled and the music came to an abrupt halt. An air of expectancy hung over the hall.

‘Let’s toast to the most precious things in my life. My beautiful wife and my three jewels, my daughters. Most men dream of a male heir to continue their line, but unlike those men, I am content with Nimue, Morgause and Morgaine. To them!’ His words were slightly slurred, no doubt due to the vast quantities of rich wine he had consumed but the passion in his words were clear to all. Cheers and bellows erupted as each man, woman and child present toasted to the health of their lord’s family. Morgaine’s heart swelled with pride.

Gorlois then turned to where his wife sat beaming at him. In a courtly gesture he extended his sweaty hand. Her long, pale fingers touched it and he led her to the dance floor, just ahead of the rows of tables. Taking their que, the diners shoved their last pieces of  meat into their mouths or downed their last drop of wine before servants came scurrying forth to create space. Music started once more and Gorlois and Igrayne moved closer and began to sway. The three girls on the dais watched in amusement as men spied solitary ladies and invited them to dance.

Before long, more couples joined the dance. Their parents lost in the crowd, the girls contented themselves with spotting who danced with whom. A tall, well - built youth of about fifteen boldly strode to the dais and bowed low before Morgause.

‘May I have the honour of this dance?’ he asked in deep, confident tones. Morgause saw the admiration for her in the youth’s eyes and nodded. Elegantly, she moved down to join him and soon, they too were lost in the swirling rainbow of colours. Taking his que, another youth, more gangly and sallow than the other nervously stood before Nimue. She accepted and soon Morgaine was left alone on the dais. A boy sidled towards her but the scowl she gave him sent him scurrying away in pursuit of a more amenable quarry. Morgaine leant back , ramming a small sweetmeat into her mouth.

Her father spotted his youngest child alone and muttered to Igrayne. They broke away and he crept up to her. Sensing a shadow falling over her, Morgaine looked up and saw her father bowing, hand extended. ‘Your lady. May I have the honour of a dance?’ Her mouth lifted into a smile and she giggled.

 

A feeble grey light seeped under Morgaine’s eyelids and she groggily lifted her lids. Fierce light momentarily blinded her. Cowering, she sat up, blinking, and listening to the sounds of the morning.  Waves were breaking on the shore beneath the castle with a gentle hiss and boom, and harsh bird song echoed in the skies. It was too irresistible to resist. Morgaine glanced at her sister who lay gently snoring beside her. Satisfied, she slipped out of bed, gasping as cold dawn air drenched her body. Her dark blue gown lay in a bunched heap on the floor from where she had thrown it last night. It would do. Elouise would no doubt scold her later but she wouldn’t worry about that. She never did.                                                        

With great speed, she took off her nightie and threw the dress on and grabbed her thick winter cloak. The door creaked loudly and Morgaine stole a glance at her sister. Morgause mumbled in her sleep and one bare foot slid out from under the warm covers. Relief slid over Morgaine and she slipped through the door, closing it quickly and silently.

   As she navigated her way through the castle, she was careful to avoid the sprawling, snoring bodies that littered the hall and corridors. It had been a merry night.  Passing through the hall, the stench of unwashed bodies, the bitter tang of split alcohol made her gag. Her progress sped up until she was out of the main doors, inhaling the crisp, freezing winter air. The guards at the door knew her morning habits and swung open the main gates without question, giving her smiles as she uttered her thanks.

   Nothing to contend with but raw nature. Morgaine beamed. This was her element. This was where she could finally feel like nothing else mattered.

   A heavy mist hung over the sea, which now rippled and swirled peacefully after last night’s storm. There was barely a sound apart from the soft whisper of water braising the sand. Morgaine smiled. This was her favourite time of day, when the whole world slept and she was the only one awake.  Dew was seeping into her shoes but the moisture was refreshing.  Breathing hard, she exhaled a plume of smoke into the air, before breaking into a run, her cloak spread out between her out-stretched arms. A dragon. Not a small girl. A beast of immense power, able to take out towns, scorch trees and soar through the skies, uninhibited by gravity. Her mother would have preferred her to enjoy singing, dancing, dressmaking but her father had given her the fascination in beasts and the real world.

As the dragon flew southwards, she was grounded, her eyes drawn to the long, silent beach, firing up an urge to walk among the damp sand. Veering off the grass-beaten path, she set upon the path that led down to the path. It was steep and in many places the sandy stone had crumbled away to leave small but deep holes. More than once, she stumbled and her hand had to shoot out to steady herself. The result by the time she had reached her destination was a slightly sore ankle and a hand full of tingling angry grazes. At least she had arrived in one piece.                                                                                   Walking to the water’s edge, she felt the sand rub gently against her feet and slip in between her toes. She sat down, drew the cloak closer around her and watched the gentle lap of the waves as they came and went. Her nose tingled with the abrasions of salt as the wind blew it towards her. Poking out her tongue, she could taste the sharp granules on her tongue.

Ahead of her, the streaky blue of the horizon vanished, shimmering away onto another scene, a curtain being peeled back. It was a view onto the courtyard, out there, in the middle of the ocean. Angry half-moons were imprinted into the flesh of her palms as she clenched her fists. Unable to tear her eyes away, filled with a rhythmic tingling that seemed to sing, she watched her father ride into the bailey. His dark curls slid free of his helmet as he heaved it off but as Igrayne came running to greet him, his face morphed and changed until Morgaine was staring at fleshy lips, eyes that were puffy and heavy – lidded and hair that was a pale sandy colour. Her mother, oblivious, flung herself carelessly. Morgaine tried to warn her mother, but something was supressing her voice. Her hand reached out, and then the image dissolved into a series of rolling, flying blurs. Blurs merged into images so fast and precise that Morgaine felt giddy and sick.  That man and her mother holding hands, kissing. Next came her mother holding a bundle in her arms that squealed, a pudgy hand came out of the cloth. Fire. Her father…dead, a hole where his heart should be…a shining cup…

‘Morgaine, are you alright?’ The images faded until the horizon was once again a streaky smudge. Aware of a gentle pressure on her arm, Morgaine turned and saw Nimue gazing at her with concern. Her limbs felt shaky and weak and her mouth was parched. Nimue repeated herself.

‘I…I…how long have I been here?’

‘It’s two hours after sunrise.’                                                                                       

I haven’t been gone that time, Morgaine thought, puzzled. ‘Look, you need to come back to the castle. Father’s received summons to Venta Belgrum from the king, Uther Pendragon. He’s invited us as well. It would do not to make him angry.”

  

 

 

 

 

 

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