It had been a quiet day in the realm of Pendragon, up until noon when the previous day’s patrol report was delivered:
Poachers found------------- None
Missing persons------------- Two loose chickens, returned
Thefts -------------------------- Few
Domestic arguments------- One
The list of trivial matters continued, but the part that really stood out to King Uther was the last three categories:
Casualties -------------------- Several wounded knights
Events of Witchcraft -------- Sort of
This rather unusual and inexplicit report caught the King’s attention, so he rustled up a small court and called forth the patrol leader. Or at least he would have done, if the patrol leader and other seniors were not currently in the hospital wing nursing their various broken bones. A young knight, barely big enough to support his own armour stepped forward hesitantly and bowed before Uther. Uther took the piece of parchment and held it up.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“It’s… It’s a piece o’ parchment, your majesty.”
“Yes. Very well. But what’s on the piece of parchment?”
“Words, your majesty.”
“And what do the words say?”
“I dunno, your majesty; I can’t read, your majesty.”
The King took a deep breath. “Tell me, young sir, how exactly were you able to complete all the confidential paper work involved in becoming one of my knights?”
“Well you see, er, your majesty, me father’s a knight, and um, his father were a knight too and then old Uncle Percy, he were a knight and I mean when you go back so far it becomes the family business and you don’t need no confee- confeediality paper work and such.”
“So you were born into the role, yes?”
“Yes, your majesty.”
“You don’t actually have any personal qualifications?”
“Well… no, your majesty, me mam always said it’s in me blood.”
Uther shut his eyes in disappointment at the disgrace that was the knight selection process and instead returned to the matter in hand.
“In that case then, could you just describe to me what happened on your patrol yesterday?”
“Was that the one wiv’ the batty old woman or the one at the pub?”
“The elderly woman event, if you please,” Uther said, frustration rising.
“Well, we were going down the East path, as always, your majesty, and we came across the old Sword in the Stone. Thought it had shut down meself but must’ve been mistaken. So we went in and had a few in there and by then old William had totally gone and-“
“Could we just skip to the part when you made the arrest, please?” Uther made a mental note to instil some discipline into his knights.
“Oh, that bit. Well, we noticed smoke comin’ up through the trees in the part of the forest no one’s s’posed to go, so we followed the trail and we finds this old woman and two youngens. Took the old woman back wiv’ us and that was it really.” He sniffed rudely.
Uther shook his head in wonderment that someone could avoid the whole point of the conversation so expertly. “And what about ‘several wounded knights’?” he asked, reading from the parchment. “Where did they come from?”
“Ah well, you see, your majesty, them injured knights didn’t come from anywhere, see. They was already part of the patrol, but they weren’t wounded to begin with.”
“I see,” Uther responded slowly, feigning stupidity. “And so, er, these knights, um, how did they come to be injured?”
“Well, the youngens weren’t gonna come quietly or we’d have had all three. No, no, they were fightin’ and givin’ it all that…”
“Why were they to be arrested in the first instance?”
“Err… Max was sayin’ somethin’ about the boy being a unicaney rezemblans.” The phrase tested itself on the knight’s tongue for the first time before entering the atmosphere. “Is that a crime?”
“You mean he looked like somebody else?” said the King, mentally translating. “Did the boy, perchance, look anything like young George over here?” gesturing to the boy sat next to him.
The young knight cast his eyes over the royal figure. “Now yer mention it, I rekon ‘e did. Well I’ll be damned; like twins!”
“And then what happened?” the King prompted.
“They both had a fair ol’ bash at us lot – we were probably at a disadvantage cos of the drink, s’pose. They got away, your majesty, but the pretty lady didn’t follow them.”
“Pretty lady? What pretty lady?”
“Oh, did I not mention her? Well, when the oncunnee resemblues boy and the girl are fightin’, there’s this posh girl in the shadows, so I don’t see her face. She was posh though cos she had a real nice midnight velvet gown and forest green cape with a hood that kept her well hidden. She don’t fight or nothin’, just stands on the side lines lookin’ pretty – much like meself actually…”
“But before you go, can you once again describe to me, in detail, the appearance of this woman?”
“Like I said, she was a beautiful lady, young but not a child. She wore a sparkling clean gown with lace sleeves and embroidery on the bodice, nice long cloak that merged into the forest, and she seemed to be muttering to herself all the time, while watchin’ the fightin’. Very strange. She disappeared as we left with the woman. Couldn’t tell if she knew the kids or not. I would’ve thought –“
“Morgana,” whispered the King to himself.
“No, no, carry on.” But the King heard little of the rest of the knight’s gibbering account; too wrapped in his own thought stream. He had once made a promise to never become involved with the ways of sorcerers, witches and wizards. He believed that all magic was dark, and that all problems of everyday life must have a ‘real’ solution, as he called it: one that did not require cheating through the form of magic. The reason for this promise was not the story he led everyone to believe. His court and Kingdom were under the impression that an evil witch had approached Uther and tempted him with the gift of a son and heir through his own wife, who was unfortunate enough not to be able to bear children. The promise of a future for Camelot was undeniable, and nine months later, George was born.
However, like all good crooks (If there ever were such a thing), the deal from the witch had required a signature on a three-volume contract. Unknown to Uther, the small print stated ‘the balance of the Universe cannot be unbalanced by magical means.’ In other words, it was a case of ‘a life for a life’. With this fact, George’s birthday would always be the anniversary of his mother’s death.
This account was only partly true. The sole purpose of a King’s wife is to provide an heir, and indeed in that she alone had failed, but still Uther loved his wife dearly. They had a relationship unlike others, whereby, at the age of fourteen, Uther had been given the choice of two wives, unlike the traditional one-take-it-or-leave-it. This satisfied the King that there could only be true love between them as it was entirely his decision that brought them together. He was, therefore, a very sad man the day his wife died, but not because there was nothing he could have done.
While Uther knelt by his wife’s death bed, the witch appeared before him, identifying this as an opportunity for negotiation that could end in her having taken a King’s life rather than just his wife’s.
“I can see you are extremely emotionally attached to this corpse,” she said, noting the liquid silver sadness falling from the King’s eyes. “I can save her life, if you give me yours.”
The King remained bent over the cold body. The cries of newborn baby could be heard echoing down the corridor. His heart leapt at the opportunity. “Yes! Yes, anything to save this beautiful woman.” But the brain said, “No, I am needed for my Kingdom. Camelot needs me for a leader, I cannot leave a mother and baby in my place.” And no matter how hard the heart pushed its plea to the mouth, the brain always swallowed it down and the deal was not done. Little did Uther know, until later, that ten Kingdoms of Camelot were not worth taking if his darling wife was not by his side.
Not being able to forgive his own selfish disposition and cold outer shell, he banned all magic. After all, if the witch had never approached him, his wife may still be alive today. Anyone found guilty of magic or association with related crimes, was publically hanged to serve as a message (and entertainment) to peasants.
It came at a later date, a further disappointment to him: to learn that his daughter, Morgana, had been drawn into using magic, in a similar fashion to himself. The only comfort that Uther could draw from the unfortunate predicament was that the culprit was not the same person. Morgana had accepted drugs from an elderly man: cold remedy drugs. They were only of an herbal constitution, but this laid the foundations for a strong trust to be built on. This led to many exchanges of tips and skills until Morgana was learning small magic tricks from the old man, to help with everyday tasks. The matter would not have been brought to Uther’s attention were it not for a loyal maid, who walked in on the Lady Morgana one morning to find her hair was plaiting itself.
Uther had no choice but to stand to his reasoning and outlaw his own flesh and blood. He could not bring himself to watch her die, but was willing to let the world do it for him. It wasn’t a particularly great loss – she only reminded him of his first wife, who was not one you would wish to be reminded of too often.
At night fall, Uther accompanied a band of men. Their intent: to uncover the Lady Morgana, and strike a bargain with the witch.