Robyn and Arthur pressed on in the heat of the day, trying to put as much distance between them and Camelot. Once again, the made camp, this time in a sheltered part of the woods; a decision that stemmed from the light wind that had picked up and the clouding over of the skies, not to mention that neither Robyn nor Arthur wished to be camped like sitting ducks in the middle of nice open clearing. The only downfall of this sheltered camp was that Arthur felt more than a little tired in the morning as he couldn’t help but be disturbed by every small sound of the forest.
Robyn had been up since dawn and discovered a fresh running brook a short walk away. Arthur was a little disconcerted that he had been left alone for the duration of her search but was glad to have a little privacy for a quick wash. He was getting dressed again when he heard soft singing drift across lazily from the other side of the stream. He didn’t know Robyn could sing. She wasn’t that sort of girl. The sweet voice drew nearer, and the leaves parted to reveal a delicate female figure, cloaked in green velvet which blended in perfectly with the forest.
Arthur watched, transfixed by her natural beauty, as she wandered aimlessly, weaving in between patches of wild flowers, her cloak brushing the ground behind her. He stepped a little forward without noticing until a branch snapped beneath his foot, as a branch always does when you’re trying to go unnoticed.
The porcelain face shaded by the hood snapped up, and large brown eyes rested on Arthur. “Good morning, young sir,” she said in a dreamy voice. “I see you have come to rescue me.” She held a delicate flower, growing on a bush and smelt its heavenly perfume. “I knew that, before long, he would miss me too much. Forgive me. And search for me.”
She skipped over the brook with a ballerina’s poise and landed right into the arms of a blushing Arthur. “Do excuse me,” she said drawing slightly away. She smiled and took his hand. “So, are you going to take me to the castle or not?”
Arthur suddenly realised that he and Robyn had not planned where they were going or indeed if they were to go back in pursuit of Mrs T. Wordlessly, he led the lady back to Robyn, and delivered her to sit on a rock. Looking up, Robyn stared at the young women, but it was not surprise that washed over face, it was anger. Arthur was immediately dragged away for ‘a word’.
“What on God’s earth do you think you’re playing at, Arthur Ridley!?”
“She is lost. She wants to come with us.”
“Well, for your information, she is the Lady Morgana: publically disgraced and outlawed by the King two years ago for meddling with magical folk. Goodness knows she could be magic herself. We’re not taking her with us, and that’s final!”
Within the hour, Robyn found herself scowling as she trudged along behind Arthur and Morgana, listening to the boy’s besotted utters and the lady’s syrupy laughs. She felt distinctly left out and undermined. She was winning the argument until little miss fairy face had butted in with something like: “Sorry if I’m intruding on a discussion of a personal level, but I do know another way back to the castle, if it is secrecy that you require.” Arthur had weakly stated that they couldn’t pass up on such an offer, and that this way they’d be able to rescue Mrs T quicker. Robyn knew that this decision was influenced heavily by a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman, but Robyn agreed this would be a quicker way to get to Mrs T.
As they walked, Morgana commented on her past; how she had been wrongly mistreated by her chamber maid and forced to resort to extreme help methods. She had acquired the healing assistance of an old man who gave her sleeping herbs to aid her rest. This practise had been misinterpreted by her guardian, King Uther, and in an uncharacteristic rage, he had banished her on charge of magical conspiracy. Arthur was enchanted and appalled at her unfortunate past life, but Robyn was less than happy with the situation. She dragged her heels along behind them, thinking of a way to get away from the ‘witch woman’.
Morgana had offered to lead them right out of the forest into the dry lands and back round into the side of Camelot, a route that Robyn had heard of but would not risk following her own instincts on, at the risk of Mrs T’s life.
As night began to cover the sky in a shroud of soft darkness, the trees thinned and the ground grew rockier with every step. The air grew cooler and Arthur’s thighs started to burn as they continued up a gradual incline. There was some discussion as to how long before they should take camp for the night, but Morgana kept waving the issue away, promising that not much camp building would be necessary if they carried on.
The forest hummed peacefully as they trod on up the hill for half a mile more. A parting in the trees appeared ahead and every painful step drew it steadily nearer. They finally reached the summit and took in gallons of air as they absorbed their surroundings.
The path stopped abruptly and gave way to a gaping valley enclosed by sheer cliff faces. Some brave and determined trees could be seen clinging into the rock, exposing their gnarled roots. Between here and the horizon there was nothing but sparse shrubbery and the occasional protruding boulder, casting long shadows in the failing light.
Morgana led them down a set of stones steps carves into the cliff. At forty feet down she pulled away some branches and parted the overhanging vines to reveal a deep cave. After gesturing for Arthur and Robyn’s entrance to the shelter, Arthur stepped inside without hesitation, but Robyn was less than eager.
“How do we know it’s safe?” she directed at Arthur. Her voice bounced back at her several times from the dark, followed by Arthur’s curt reply:
“Have a little faith!”
“Come on! It’s fine.”
She scowled but followed nonetheless, making a point of giving no acknowledgement to Morgana as she entered the coolness.
Later that evening, while Arthur had gone for firewood, Robyn aired her doubts and complaints to Morgana. “I sometimes wonder at your motives, Morgana, for we are meant to be headed back to Camelot and since you joined our party we’ve done nothing but trek further away! And now we’re sat, staring at the moon, in a cave that could be full of wild bears for all I know.” She went back to hugging her knees while Morgana, with her gaze still fixed on the cave entrance, replied: “If you do not need me, then I shall go. Yet I was led to believe my services were to be of great help to you, specifically in rescuing a particular old woman.”
Robyn gritted her teeth, struggling to remain calm. “And yet you first acted as if we were your rescue party.”
“I misinterpreted the situation,” she said, rather smartly.
“You really think Uther would have you back? After what you did?”
“When left alone in the forest to fend for one’s self after being banished by one’s own family, one has little choice but to hold on to that single hope, no matter how extraordinary it seems, or one risks turning… ill.”
“And by ‘ill’ you mean-“
“Insane.” The soft glow of the moon highlighted Morgana’s pale cheeks and yet her unblinking eyes did not glisten in the light. The fire crackled, filling the silence between them. “I understand I am not wanted in Camelot. Until the magical ban is lifted, none of my kind are.”
“If you know you cannot return, why are you taking us there?”
She laughed. “I am not a bad person, you know. I will supply a remedy to problems which I can cure. I know these lands well, and can lead you easily to Camelot on a path where no person of any consequence will meet us. If I cannot sit in the court of the King, where I belong, I must serve a purpose in a different way.”