A Genius in King Arthur's Court - Ch. 6

A Genius in King Arthur's Court - Ch. 6

A Genius in King Arthur’s Court

 

Ch. 6 – Camelot in Peril

 

In a flash, Morgan had summoned up an enormous amount of power, readying her assault on Merlin.  As she fired off a series of energy blasts, Merlin just smirked and defended with ease, conjuring a shield from his aura.  He prepared to retaliate, firing a blast of wind at her as she leapt into the air.  This blew her back against the wall, disorienting her for a moment, but she was soon back on her feet.

“You will have to do better than that,” Morgan hissed.

“I plan to.”

Morgan drew upon her aura, which appeared as black smoke around her body, and charged for Merlin at the speed of sound.  He replied by turning his body intangible, allowing Morgan’s assault to pass right through him.  She doubled back for another pass, but Merlin had already teleported to the other side of the room.  As she refocused her attention, Merlin took the opportunity to deliver a kick to the stone floor, turning a section of it to rubble.  He then magnetized both the stones and his body, forming a set of full body armor with them.

Merlin now went on the offense, attacking Morgan with great speed and strength at every opportunity.  She knew better than to try and face him head-on with his stone armor; she would have no reasonable chance.  Slowing him with a blast of wind, Morgan leapt back to give herself a bit of breathing room, concentrating on her favored element of fire.  As he moved to charge once more, Morgan launched a stream of flame directly into Merlin’s chest, stopping him dead in his tracks.  Though his armor protected him, the intense heat was already beginning to melt the stones at a rapid rate.

“Impressive,” Merlin muttered.  “You have been practicing.”

“Always the tone of surprise,” Morgan sneered.

Summoning his aura once more, Merlin fired off the stones protecting him in Morgan’s direction.  The stones peppered the wall around her, but Morgan herself was unharmed from the assault thanks to her own aura shield.  Before she could react, Merlin was up in her face, assaulting her with a variety of martial arts strikes from every direction.  She defended as best she could, but hand-to-hand combat had never been her strong suit, a fact that Merlin was well aware of.  Thinking fast, she teleported to the other side of the room, giving her a moment’s respite.

“What do you want with me?!” Merlin demanded.

“You shall see soon enough…”

*****

“Archers, take your positions!”

Gawain directed the men as best as he could, given the predicament they found themselves in.  How Mordred’s men had managed to infiltrate the walls of Camelot was beyond him, but not the most pressing issue at this time.  His focus was on containing the damage and lasting until Arthur could arrive with reinforcements.  Every so often, he glanced up to the central tower where Sir Ector was headquartered, giving instructions to the men below by waving different flags.

“Are we to fire at will, sir?” one of the men asked.

“No, hold our position for now.  We cannot risk hitting our own men,” Gawain replied.

As the archers spread out across the ramparts above the courtyard, Gawain could see that they would have an easy time identifying their targets.  The courtyard below was well lit with torches, but the ramparts were quite dark and hidden in the shadows.  If they could only get their own men out of there in time, Mordred’s forces would be easy targets for these men.  But alas, the battle continued below, and the soldiers of Camelot were having difficulty just keeping containment, let alone getting out of harm's way.  Mordred’s men, on the other hand, seemed to have a specific goal in mind, one that remained a mystery to Gawain.

Soon, a small contingent of Mordred’s men broke off from the main fighting and made for the large wooden doors separating the outer and inner courtyards.  As the archers were stationed on the walls of the inner courtyard, they immediately took aim at the ten men below.  Two went down at once, but the rest managed to raise their shields in time, forming a protective barrier as they ran.  After a moment, they began to use a nearby cart to hammer the doors to the inner courtyard, trying to break in.

“Prepare yourselves!  They come!” Gawain shouted at the top of his lungs.

Now forewarned, the men in the inner courtyard were waiting for Mordred’s men when they broke through.  Though the numbers of Camelot were smaller in the inner courtyard, they were some of the most skilled warriors in the kingdom, whittling the group of insurgents down to four, and another two being dispatched by the archers up top.  Still, the remaining two were ferocious fighters, each taking out three men in rapid succession on their own.  By the time the archers had turned their attention to the pair, they had made it almost to the entrance of the central tower.  By now, more of Mordred’s men had made it through to the inner courtyard, diverting the attention of the ground soldiers below.

“Sir Ector!!!  They are breaking in!!!” Gawain shouted up to the tower.

“Understood!” came the distant reply.

Gawain sprinted along the ramparts and back towards the tower, intending to cut off the men that had just now broken through the door below.  A feeling of dread washed over him as he realized what they were doing: they had to be after Queen Guinevere.

*****

Ector dashed down the stairs with axe in hand and ready to tangle with any of Mordred’s men fool enough to engage him.  Though old, he was a seasoned warrior, even as far back as before Arthur was born.  He took great pride in his physical condition, and never backed down from a challenge, no matter how young and strong his opponent.  Still, he had wisdom enough to avoid a head-on fight if unnecessary, but with Gawain’s warning, that seemed a lost cause by this time.  Rounding a corner, he saw a familiar face.

“Sir Lancelot!”

“Sir Ector!  They are coming up this way, we must head them off!”

“Right behind you!”

The two men hurried down the remaining flights of stairs as quickly as they could, soon arriving in the foyer on the ground floor of the tower.  Five of Mordred’s men had broken through and were now battling a trio of Camelot soldiers.  Seeing them outnumbered, Lancelot and Ector rushed into the fray to help.  But almost the moment they arrived, two of their fellows were struck down, keeping the numbers at five against three.  As the remaining three members of Camelot backed up together in a defensive formation, Ector noticed something out of the corner of his eye.

“Lancelot, two men just ran up the stairs!  After them!”

“Right!”

Lancelot disengaged his current opponent with a kick to the chest and sprinted after them.  Though the remainder of Mordred’s men tried to stop him, Ector stopped them dead in their tracks, intercepting them and killing one with a swift strike to the abdomen from his axe.  At this point, the only remaining soldier of Camelot in the room attempted to assist, but was struck down by one of Mordred’s men.

“You bastards!  Die!!!”

Ector roared in fury at seeing his fellows murdered, taking the head of Mordred’s soldier clean off with his axe.  At this point, he could hear more of them attempting to enter the tower, so he rushed to the doors and barricaded them shut with a large wooden beam.  But as he did so, a searing pain suddenly penetrated him in the stomach.  Ector looked down in disbelief; the last soldier he had forgotten about had run him through with a spear.

“It… cannot… be…”

The older man gasped his last, falling to the ground in a lifeless heap.

“ECTOR!!!”

Gawain shouted in grief from the second-floor balcony, having just arrived on the scene.  With little regard for his own safety, he slid down the railing of the staircase and engaged Ector’s killer with his sword.  Though the soldier was good, Ector and Lancelot had worn him out significantly, and all it took was a few angry strikes for Gawain to throw him off balance.  At that opportunity, the young knight made a precise slash to the man’s throat, spilling his blood and avenging his fallen friend.

“Ector!  Ector, please speak to me!”

Gawain knelt beside Ector, praying that by some miracle the man survived, but he was gone.  A flame of righteous anger began to burn inside Gawain; he longed to see as many of Mordred’s men die at his hand as he could.  Still, he knew what Ector had given his life for.  Collecting himself, Gawain ensured that the door was properly barricaded once more before ascending the stairs back to the ramparts.  With Lancelot nowhere to be found, he was now in charge of defending Camelot.

*****

Merlin drew on all the power he could, working to maintain his speed and keep the fight with Morgan at close range.  That is where he would have the advantage, due to her weakness with hand-to-hand combat.  Seeing his strategy, Morgan countered by freezing the floor, slowing them both down considerably and allowing her to maintain her distance.  Still, Merlin persisted, continuing to try and close the distance between them.

He has not weakened in his old age; that much is certain.

Again drawing on her aptitude with fire as Merlin drew close, Morgan ignited her arms in flames, waving them in every direction to keep her adversary at bay for the moment.  This had the unintended effect of melting the floor around them, allowing Merlin to gain better footing and summon up his rock armor once more.  The two traded blows for several minutes before Morgan decided to throw him a curveball that she knew he had not seen from her before.  Stunning him with a blast of wind, she summoned up her aura and fashioned a staff from it.  As she turned to attack Merlin, the staff then ignited, forcing Merlin to take a defensive stance.

“Combining your favored element with an aura weapon?  Most impressive,” Merlin admitted.

“This is only the beginning.  My power has grown to heights you could only dream of in the last year.”

“We shall see…”

Evading another swing of her fiery staff, Merlin summoned up his own aura and produced his favorite weapons: his twin aura whips.  He worked to turn the momentum of their battle by spinning them at high speeds to defend against her onslaught.  Morgan retreated for a moment at this, but was not deterred.  As soon as she saw an opening, she thrust her staff into the path of one of his whips and yanked as hard as she could, flipping Merlin over her head and onto his back.  Before she could act to immobilize him, the wily old sorcerer had already leapt to his feet and teleported to the other side of the room.

Sensing an opportunity approaching, Morgan began to fire off a series of fireballs at him, forcing Merlin to evade with a variety of acrobatic maneuvers.  Even as he avoided her attacks, Merlin was beginning to tire, a fact that had not gone unnoticed by Morgan.  She maintained her assault, soon backing Merlin into a corner.  As he defended against another barrage of fireballs with his whips, Morgan enacted the technique she’d been waiting to use.  With a wave of her hand, several thick tree roots burst through the wall and floor around Merlin, wrapping around his limbs and waist.  He was trapped.

“Too slow, old man!” she crowed.

Merlin attempted to escape by turning intangible, but to no avail.  Morgan had managed to enchant the roots so that such a spell would be ineffective against them.

“So what now?  Kill me in cold blood?” Merlin said defiantly.

“Kill you in cold blood?  How barbaric!” Morgan replied with a grin.  “No, old friend.  I have something far better in mind.”

As Morgan approached, the stone in her choker necklace began to glow a brilliant red.  This glow only intensified as she placed a hand on Merlin’s pendant.

“As you can see, I have labored to increase my power and knowledge in the last year,” she continued.  “I have learned many things that I could only dream of during my time studying under you.  Perhaps the most incredible thing of all is a nasty little spell I learned during a journey across the seas: the leech spell.  Observe.”

Merlin’s eyes went wide with shock as she gripped his pendant tightly, a searing pain entering his mind.  It felt as if he was dying.

“Do you feel it, old man?  Do you feel your channel beginning to turn against you?  Invading your mind, killing you from the inside out?  Such is the nature of our power.  The one thing that allows us to achieve our feats of wonder… can be the instrument of our destruction.  Through your channel, your life force flows into me, making me stronger and imbuing me with your power.  Shhh, it shall only last a minute more.  Soon you shall be no more than an empty husk.  Goodbye, Merlin.”

“Stop!”

Morgan spun her head around, startled by the unfamiliar voice.  She had only a moment’s notice to react to the glowing arrow flying in her direction, back-flipping out of the way at the last instant.  As she landed, she now saw that her assailant was a young man.  She at first thought him a soldier of Camelot, but the glowing blue ring on his finger told her the truth.

“Ah, it seems you have taken a new apprentice in your old age,” Morgan said.

“Merlin?  Are you hurt?” Dave asked, not taking his eyes or bow off the strange woman for an instant.

“I… will be fine,” he croaked.

“Let me help with that.”

In a flash, Dave fired off a trio of arrows into the roots that bound Merlin, causing them to tremble and release him at last.  Even before Merlin hit the ground, Dave’s weapon was aimed at Morgan once more.  Merlin stumbled to his knees for a moment, but soon regained enough of his strength to stand with Dave.

“David, allow me to introduce you to Morgan le Fay, my former pupil.  Morgan, this is David of Brighton, by far the most talented student I have ever taught.”

“I would say it is a pleasure, but it would be an outright lie,” Morgan sneered.

“Likewise,” Dave replied coolly.

“Behave yourself, Morgan.  You are outnumbered now,” Merlin said.

“Ah yes, how unfair.  If only there were some way I could… even things up.”

A sinister smile formed on Morgan’s face as she eyed something out of the corner of her eye.  With a snap of her fingers, a nearby statue of King Arthur began to shake until it seemed to come to life, stepping off its pedestal and turning to stand beside Morgan.

“Now… shall we continue?” she asked with a smirk.

*****

Guinevere sat alone in her room, the sounds of the battle echoing through her window.  She dared not look, for she feared what she might see.  Without Arthur here, how long could Camelot hold out?  Suddenly, she heard voices coming from the hallway, and there came a banging at her door.  Before she could react, the door burst open, revealing two men with golden dragon insignias on their uniforms.

“Queen Guinevere?  You are coming with us,” one announced.

As she stood in petrified fear, the men began to advance upon her, their eyes glazing over with lust.  She tried to keep the sofa between herself and them, but the pair split up and each managed to grab her by the arm.

“Release me!”

“Come now, make this easy on yourself.  It will hurt far less.”

The two men drug her over to her bed, forcing her to lay sideways on her back.  One went around to the other side to pin her down by the shoulders while the other began to untie his pants.

“Just relax.  It will be over soon enough.”

At that moment, the door burst open once more, and all in the room were shocked to see who it was.

“Lancelot!” Guinevere cried.

“Kill him!” the lead soldier shouted, retying his pants.

The two men advanced on Lancelot with swords in hand.  The knight replied with a flurry of slashes, throwing the invaders off balance as they worked to defend.  As they engaged him, they found Lancelot’s short stature to be of benefit to him, as he was more easily able to evade the attacks by the taller men.  He also kept the fighting quite close, preventing the soldiers from using their longer reach to their advantage.  Still, this gave one of them an opening to punch Lancelot in the gut, stunning him and knocking him to the ground.  As he fell, his sword clattered across the room.

Lancelot at first thought to dive after his sword, but one of the soldiers had already moved to block his path in that direction.  He stood, his back to the open window, and saw the other soldier charging his position.  Waiting until the last instant, Lancelot managed to evade the solder’s thrust and pin his arm behind his back.  With a swift kick to the ass, the knight sent his adversary falling to his death out the window.

“Now you are dead!”

Turning, Lancelot saw the other soldier preparing to attack him once more.  This time, there was a bit more distance between them, giving Lancelot time to pull a pair of daggers from his belt.  Before the attacking soldier knew what had happened, the knight had closed the distance between them and ducked under his wild sword slash, stabbing him in the stomach with both daggers.

“No… now you are dead!” Lancelot growled in victory.

The soldier gasped and struggled as best he could, but the pain was too great.  Seeing him still alive, Lancelot twisted and pulled on his daggers, slicing the man across the belly and beginning to spill his innards on the floor.  At last, after a final attempt to speak, the soldier passed out and succumbed to death.  Lancelot smiled; how he loved achieving such a dominant victory.  He then rose to his feet and wiped his daggers on the dead man’s uniform before retrieving his sword.

“Your Highness, are you injured?” he asked, turning his attention to Guinevere.

“I am not.  My thanks to you,” she sighed, appearing from behind the bed.

“I am glad,” Lancelot said, approaching her.  “I could not have lived with myself had I failed to stop those pigs.”

“Sir Lancelot… you truly are the bravest man in all Camelot.”

Their eyes met, their breathing deepened.  Both could feel the electricity in the air as he took her hand in his.  This was wrong, and they both knew it, but they did not care in those moments.  Lancelot had harbored a secret love for Guinevere for years, and she wanted nothing more than to reward her savior.  Inch-by-inch, their faces began to draw closer.

“Lancelot!  Where are you?” came a voice from the hallway.

“Damn,” he muttered to himself.  “In here!”

The pair composed themselves as a soldier of Camelot entered.

“Sir, I… I must tell you… Sir Ector has been slain,” the man stammered.

“What?!”

“In the foyer… there were too many of them.  I am sorry.”

Lancelot sighed at the loss of a dear friend.  “We must ensure these bastards pay for this.”

“I agree.  Sir Gawain is now leading our men.  He is out on the ramparts attempting to rally the troops, but will need your help as well.”

“Very well, I shall go to him.  You must remain here; I just killed two men after Her Highness.  Guard the queen with your life, soldier.”

“I understand.  Good fortune to you, Sir Lancelot!”

“And you as well!”

After a manly head-slap, Lancelot sprinted out the door.

*****

“Take this!”

Dave launched several blasts of fire at the statue that Morgan had brought to life, but the hunk of stone just shrugged them off.  As it advanced, Dave attempted to slow it down by levitating a nearby tapestry to wrap itself around the statue’s head.  This had no effect, though, as the statue was not dependent upon sight to function.  Dave barely had time enough to roll out of the way of its sword strike a moment later.

Shit… there’s gotta be some way to beat this thing.  Let’s see… it’s a statue made of stone, stone is an element of earth.  Wait… didn’t Merlin say that wind scatters earth?

Meanwhile, Merlin was once again engaged with Morgan at close range, each having summoned up their respective armors of earth and fire.  Though Merlin had the advantage in hand-to-hand combat, Morgan’s previous attempt to drain his life force had weakened him enough that they were on equal footing.  Merlin was able to defend against her with ease, but could not muster the reaction time to counterattack with a finishing blow.  Morgan picked up on this and maintained her offensive in an attempt to wear Merlin out.

“You are growing weak, old man.”

“You and I… have very different definitions of what is weak, madam,” Merlin snorted.  “You think it strength to steal from others the power you could never attain on your own?  You are a fool, Morgan le Fay.  I pity you.”

This last comment enraged the woman, and she began to assault Merlin with a barrage of fireballs.  The wily old sorcerer disengaged and summoned his aura whips once more, defending at blinding speeds.  As the room began to fill with smoke, he charged Morgan’s position and began his own assault, attempting to end the fight as quickly as he could.  She countered with her flaming staff and just managed to keep him at bay, though she knew her defenses would not last long.

Across the room, Dave continued to work on his strategy to beat the statue now assailing him.  Remembering Merlin’s description of the elements, he attempted to use the element of wind to slow the statue down.  This had very little impact, though, as the heavy stone automaton could not be so easily blown away.  Ever so slowly, it began to back Dave into a corner.  He knew the statue would finish him if he did not figure out a way to damage it.  Racking his brain, Dave finally came up with an idea crazy enough to work.

Focusing his power of wind directly in front of him, Dave began to spin the air so fast and in such a small space that it began to form a thin, horizontal arc in front of him.  He kept intensifying this air, waiting for the best opportunity to strike his opponent.  At last, as the statue raised its sword overhead, Dave let loose his attack, the wind so concentrated that it managed to slice off the head and forearms of the statue in one strike.

“YES!!!”

Dave did a bit of a victory dance, but the statue was still advancing, intending to pummel him now that its weapon was gone.  He ducked under the first punch, forcing the statue to lodge what was left of its arm in the wall.  As the statue tried to free itself, Dave readied another gust of wind, this one in the form of a vertical blade.  He formed another, and then another, and at last crossed the three blades of wind into the shape of a snowflake about half his height.  Soon, the statue pulled free of the wall and turned to face Dave once more, but it was instantly sliced to pieces as Dave unleashed all three blades of wind.

“That takes care of that.”

“David, look out!”

In the nick of time, Dave heard Merlin’s warning and summoned his aura shield, managing to block an incoming fireball from Morgan.  She could not follow up with another attack with Merlin bearing down on her with his whips, so Dave took the opportunity to draw his bow and nock another glowing arrow.  He watched as they tussled, keeping his weapon trained on Morgan the whole time, yet had no opening to strike her with Merlin being so close.  But after she forced Merlin back with a wall of fire, Dave saw his chance.

“Try to score a cheap shot with my back turned, eh?  Nice knowing you.”

Drawing on all the precision aiming he could muster, Dave let the arrow fly.  It spun and shimmered, and time seemed to slow in those moments.  Just as it was about to strike Morgan square in the chest, she managed to get out of its path, resulting in the arrow striking her hand and pinning it to the wall.

“Excellent shot, David!” Merlin shouted.

“I aim to please.”

Morgan gasped in pain as she struggled to get free.  Dave eyed her with intent and nocked another arrow, ready at a moment’s notice.  Then, for a split second, her arm turned ghostly, freeing her and healing her wound in the process.  As Dave prepared to attack, something changed in Morgan’s face.  Where before she was fearsome and full of rage, she now appeared afraid and concerned.  Before either he or Merlin could reply, Morgan had vanished.

“Shit!  Where’d she go!?”

“Calm yourself David, important matters first.  Are you injured?” Merlin asked.

“No, you?”

“Nothing that shall not heal, thanks to you.  Excellent timing, by the way.”

“I do seem to have a knack for these dramatic entrances,” Dave chuckled.  “Now where did Morgan run off to?”

“I would imagine wherever her son is.”

“Then we have to go after her!”

We shall do no such thing.  I shall go after her, you shall return to your quarters.”

“Merlin, you need me!” Dave protested.  “If anything happens to you, my hopes of returning home die with you!”

“Do not worry.  I shall explain later, but suffice to say that it is clear to me that Morgan now intends to gather what remains of Mordred’s army and get them out of Camelot.”

“What do you mean?”

“The battle outside was a distraction, meant to draw the attention of the soldiers of Camelot while Morgan went after the real target: me.”

“You?”

“Indeed, but we have not time enough at the moment.  Return to your quarters.  I shall find you there once all is quiet.”

*****

“Lord Mordred, we have movement outside the gates!”

“Hmm… it appears Arthur and his men have returned.  Ah, but they shall be unable to assist their brethren so long as we maintain control of this guardhouse,” Mordred sneered.  “Have we any archers up top to attack them?”

“None, sir.  Those ramparts are quite well defended.”

“As I expected… what of my mother?  Any word from her?”

“Nothing as of yet.”

“Very well, keep me posted.”

Mother, I know not what you aim to accomplish in all this, but you had best do it fast.  We cannot last much longer, and you are our only hope of escape now that Arthur has returned.  Blast, why will you not tell me what it is you are after?  Why must you be so secretive?  When we get out of here… IF we get out of here, I must have a talk with you about this.

*****

“Sir Gawain, what is our status?”

“Sir Lancelot!  Our men below are beginning to gain a slight advantage, but the battle is far from won, and may well cost us too many men for a victory.”

“What options have we?”

“At this time, I am uncertain.”

“Sir Gawain!” a guard shouted, sprinting towards the two men.

“What is it?”

“His Highness has returned!  They are just outside the gates!”

“Then open them!” Lancelot ordered.

“We cannot.  Mordred’s men have control of the guardhouse.”

Lancelot and Gawain peered over the edge of their parapet towards the guardhouse below.

“What say ye, Sir Gawain?  How many men are in there?”

“Three, if the shadow count holds true; likely Mordred and his elite personal guard.  I doubt there are any on the upper floors, as all the torches are extinguished,” Gawain replied.

“Can it be taken?” Lancelot wondered.

“Perhaps, with the element of surprise,” Gawain grinned.

“Now that look I am familiar with.  What are you thinking?”

“Are you still as good a shot as ever?”

“Aye.”

Gawain took a bow and arrow from a nearby soldier and tied a thin rope around the end of the arrow.

“Fire this arrow to land just above the guardhouse window,” Gawain instructed.

“What?” Lancelot queried.

“Do it!  We have little time!”

Sighing, Lancelot did as he was asked, firing the arrow with precision into the wall of the guardhouse below.  So intense was the fighting in the courtyard that none took notice of the rope trailing behind the arrow.

“Good.  Now, tie our end of the rope to the wall.  Make certain it is good and tight,” Gawain said.

As Lancelot finished securing the rope, he, at last, realized what his friend was up to.

“You intend to assault them yourself?!”

“Indeed.”

“Then I come with you!”

“You will not,” Gawain replied.  “Lancelot, this is a mission with a high probability of death.  I do not expect to survive this, but I shall at least be able to open the gates for His Highness.  Our men need you and your courage.  You must live, for you give us the best chance of victory into the future.”

“I shall not allow you to kill yourself!”

“There is no other way!  If my death can have meaning, then I know my life will have been worthwhile.  Look no more to me, Sir Lancelot, for Camelot looks to you now.”

Before Lancelot could protest further, Gawain had thrown a leather strap over the line of rope and leapt off the ramparts.  He soared over the courtyard at high speed, hearing the sounds of the battle below him.  As exhilarating as the ride was, Gawain knew he had only moments before he would have to react.  He had no room for error if he was to succeed.  As he approached the window of the guardhouse, the arrow lodged in the wall began to give way, popping out just as Gawain drew near.  As luck would have it, this was the best thing for him, as the sudden drop flung him directly into the guardhouse with no warning whatsoever.

Gawain instinctively dropped his shoulder and rolled forward as he landed, feeling little pain from the impact.  In a flash, his sword was out, and the three men inside were dumbfounded as to what had just happened.  Gawain targeted the nearest guard first, managing to puncture him in the side as the man was reaching for his mace.  His cries of pain and the copious amount of blood pouring from his wound told Gawain that he was no longer a threat.  Turning, he saw the second guard charging his position, his mace at the ready.  Avoiding his first clumsy swing, Gawain managed to wing the man in the bicep.  While not doing immense damage, the wound weakened the guard enough that he could no longer wield his mace with efficiency.  He attempted to hold the weapon in his off-hand and spin his body to assault Gawain, but the knight simply kicked a nearby chair into the man’s path.  He toppled to the ground, allowing Gawain an easy strike to the back of his neck to end the man’s life.

“YAH!”

Gawain barely had time enough to remove his sword from his victim and turn to face his final attacker.  Relying on instinct, he spun into a defensive stance and found his blade locked with none other than Mordred’s.

“Gawain.”

“Mordred.”

“I must say I am impressed.  I would have expected such a foolhardy act of aggression from that buffoon, Lancelot.  But the fact that you have done so is… most intriguing.”

“This war ends tonight,” Gawain growled in reply.

Disengaging and spinning to gain some breathing room, Gawain began to size up the situation.  When Mordred had broken from Camelot, Gawain had been the second-best swordsman in Camelot, but only just edging out Mordred.  He could not rely on pure skill to win this fight, and had to assume that Mordred was more than willing to fight dirty in order to win.

As Mordred attacked, Gawain focused on defending his strikes, countering with parries and deft footwork to move the fight in the direction he desired.  After a few moments of this, Gawain suddenly attacked, forcing Mordred to retreat for a moment.  This gave Gawain the chance he had been looking for.  He sprinted across the room and activated a lever on the wall, beginning to lower the drawbridge and open the gates.

“NO!”

Mordred seethed at realizing Gawain’s goal in all this.  He engaged the knight once more, pummeling him with a show of his superior strength and knocking him to the ground.  Though Mordred would have normally finished his foe then and there, he instead pulled the lever on the wall once more, stopping the drawbridge at about a third of its descent.

“You must do better than that,” he laughed.

Turning to face his opponent once more, Mordred saw that Gawain had already risen to his feet.  Where Mordred had previously taken an offensive approach to this fight, he now waited by the lever in a defensive stance.  If Gawain wanted to lower the drawbridge, he would have to go through Mordred to do it.  Seeing this, the knight took matters into his own hands and bounded off the table in the middle of the room.  Mordred was caught off-guard by this sudden show of aggression and was driven back a few steps from Gawain’s assault.  As the men traded blows, their swords became a blur of motion, each attempting to find a weakness in the other’s defenses.  After a moment, Mordred managed to strike Gawain’s sword in such a way that the weapon flew from his hand, clattering to the floor just out of reach.  But rather than go after his sword, Gawain managed to stun Mordred with a punch to the gut and a cross to the face, knocking him back against another wall.  Seeing his chance, Gawain rushed to the lever and pulled it, beginning to lower the bridge once more.

“AH!”

Before he could turn to locate his sword, Mordred had already recovered and attacked, slashing a nasty cut from the shoulder to the elbow of Gawain’s left arm.  With Gawain forced to retreat, Mordred was able to stop the bridge once more, leaving about a third of its journey still remaining.  Gawain managed to retrieve his sword, but was immediately forced on the defensive as Mordred moved in for the kill.  He fought back with courage for as long as he could, but Gawain was soon struck in the chest.  While the wound was not fatal, it was incapacitating, knocking him to the floor.  As Mordred prepared to finish him, he became distracted by one of his men entering the guardhouse.

“Sir!  It… it is Madam le Fay!”

“Mother?!  Where is she?  What has happened?!”

“She says to gather all our men together; she is taking us out of here at once.”

“Very well, make preparations.  What is this?!”

Mordred turned at hearing a sound behind him.  Despite his injuries, Gawain had managed to crawl back over to the lever and pull himself to his feet, lowering the drawbridge once again.  With his bloody arm tucked behind him, Gawain faced Mordred with sword in hand and fire in his eyes, ready to defend the lever until the bridge had lowered.  Mordred wasted no time in assaulting the knight, knowing time was now against him.  Gawain was just as aware of this fact, and focused on nothing but defending and drawing out the encounter.  He did not expect to survive, but if he could delay Mordred long enough, Arthur would be able to arrive and finish off the last of his forces.

Mordred swung wildly at hearing the drawbridge hit the ground outside, allowing Arthur’s men to begin filing across.  Gawain continued his last stand, intentionally allowing his arm to appear more injured than it actually was.  It hurt, yes, but was still usable in a limited capacity.  Deciding to play his final gambit, Gawain slipped his left hand into a pouch he kept concealed at his back and pulled out a small throwing knife.  Eying Mordred, he swung his sword in an arc that forced him to take a step back, creating the perfect distance for a knife toss.  Without warning, he flipped his left arm up and tossed the knife at Mordred.

“Look out!”

Under any normal circumstance, Mordred would have found that knife lodged in his throat, but for the timely arrival of his mother.  She saw the attack coming at the last instant and, being unable to stop Gawain altogether, blew her son aside with a gust of wind.  He did not escape unscathed, though, as he now bore a nasty gash on his left jawline.  As Gawain was processing this, Morgan le Fay flew through the window of the guardhouse, knife in hand.

“I believe this belongs to you, Sir Gawain,” she grinned.

Before Gawain could have any hope of reacting, the knife was flung straight at him, stabbing the knight in the throat.  His eyes bulged in shock, and soon his body collapsed back against the wall like a ragdoll.  Sir Gawain was dead.

*****

“Quickly!  Now is our chance to finish them!” Arthur bellowed, leading his troop across the drawbridge.

“Look there, Sire!  The guardhouse!” Bedivere called out.

“Mordred… open fire!” Arthur commanded at seeing his son fleeing the building.

The archers of the group targeted him at once, but their arrows either bounced off him or missed altogether.  Soon, it was clear to Arthur that this was no coincidence, as he saw a tall woman with raven hair trailing just behind Mordred.

“After them!”

By this time, Merlin had emerged on the ramparts of the castle, and began assailing Mordred’s men with energy blasts from above.  The remnants of the invading forces gathered together in the center of the courtyard as Mordred and Morgan le Fay arrived.  Soon, she had enveloped the group in a ring of fire, which exploded up into the air.  When the flames had dissipated, the group had vanished without a trace.

“Damn,” Arthur muttered.  “Sir Kay, Sir Bedivere, sweep the area.  Tend to the wounded first.  I must speak with Merlin posthaste…”

*****

“FAILED?!  WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU FAILED?!” Mordred roared.

“It could not be helped, my son.  There were mitigating circumstances that prevented me from accomplishing my goal.”

“And what goal is that?!  You have been nothing short of secretive and mysterious in all this, asking that I trust you, and this is the result?!  We lost half my men!  HALF!  And after all that, you still did not get what you needed?!”

“We shall be victorious, I simply need more time,” Morgan protested.  “If I can but end Merlin’s reign, I shall be able to fight Arthur’s army openly and without opposition.  I was so close to doing just that, but-”

“But WHAT?!”

“Merlin seems to have taken an apprentice.  A young… talented apprentice.  His interference was the reason I could not succeed tonight.”

“Humph… my supposedly all-powerful mother could not beat a withering old man and his greenhorn apprentice?  Pitiful and shortsighted.”

“Mordred, do not say such things!  Everything I have done is for you, my son!  I vowed to you that I would make right the injustice you have suffered in being denied the throne of Camelot.  Nothing has changed that!”

“Touching, but not as effective as you had promised.  All your scheming, manipulating, and guerilla warfare has wrought nothing but failure.  No, it is time for me to take matters into my own hands.  I shall take what is mine in the proper way: by force.”

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