A Genius in King Arthur's Court - Ch. 10

A Genius in King Arthur's Court - Ch. 10

A Genius in King Arthur’s Court

 

Ch. 10 – The Madness of King Arthur

 

“Hold here,” Arthur said as his forces reached the edge of the woods.

“What next, Sire?” Bedivere asked.

“You and the men will remain here.  Merlin and I shall enter Camelot undetected and see if there is any truth to Mordred’s words.”

“Yes, Your Highness.  I pray he is merely trying to spread a falsehood.”

“As do I,” Arthur muttered, walking off with Merlin in tow.  “My friend, I had thought it might be prudent to speak with our visitor from the future about this matter.  What say ye?”

“A wise decision, I should think,” Merlin replied.  “Shall I go on ahead and let him know of our arrival?”

“No need; we go now.”

*****

Madeleine paced back and forth across her bedroom, just trying to come to grips with everything she had learned in the last two days.  She felt so hurt and betrayed by the secret Dave had kept from her about Camelot’s future.  For him to knowingly allow so many innocents to die through this was unthinkable!  Still, as hard as she tried to remain angry at him, she could not.  Though it would be easy to think that his only concern was for himself, she knew that was not the case.  He was concerned for her as well, but even more so, his concern had to be for history and its intended path.  With their mental connection, Madeleine found that she had access to vast amounts of knowledge and understanding from Dave’s mind, helping to bring everything into context for her.  As hurt as she had been by his revelation, she had to admit that she likely would have acted in the same way had the roles been reversed.  With a heavy sigh, she stepped out onto her balcony, watching the sunrise in the distance.

“Beautiful sight.”

Seeing Dave on his balcony as well, she replied, “Yes, I suppose it is.”

“The sun’s pretty, too,” Dave grinned.

Much as she wanted to brush off his obvious compliment, Madeleine did crack a tiny smile as she stifled her own giggle.

“There’s that smile I fell in love with,” Dave remarked.  After a moment of silence, he continued, “Madeleine, I really am sorry.  Believe me, I hated having to keep so much a secret from you, but you have to know that I wouldn’t have done so if there had been another way.  All I can do now is to ask your forgiveness.”

Damn you, David.  You truly are the best of men.

“I… I forgive you.  Can you forgive my anger?”

“Of course.”

Turning to face him, Madeleine was once again struck by his kindness.  Even after everything she had said to him the previous day, his eyes remained warm and full of love.  She could never harbor a grudge against this man.  With a running start, she took to the balcony railing and leapt into his arms, kissing him passionately the moment she felt his touch.

“I love you, David.”

“Love you too, Madeleine.”

Giggling, she replied, “I rather liked it when you called me Maddie.  Do you think you could call me as such from now on?”

“Sure, if you’ll call me Dave.”

“I will try, of course, but my heart shall always know you as David, my hero.”

“As long I have you, I couldn’t care less,” Dave laughed.

As they embraced, their passions began to take hold, and Madeleine’s nightgown soon found itself on the floor.  Her nude form was having its usual effect on Dave, accompanied by the anticipation of make-up sex.  After a few moments, Madeleine disengaged from him.

“Pardon me for a moment; I’m certain I must look dreadful.  I’ve not even brushed my hair!” she giggled.

“You look stunning,” Dave assured her.

“Thank you, but I would like to brush up a moment.”

“I’ll be right here.”

As she bounced off to the mirror in the closet, Dave sighed with content, smiling at how things were back on track.  He had been worried after their fight yesterday that she would not want to be with him anymore, but it seemed their connection was far stronger than either of them had thought.  Even though he had no idea when he would be able to return home, it gave him comfort to know that he had found the woman of his dreams in the midst of this misadventure.  Just envisioning their wedding and the family they would build together brought a goofy grin to his face.  Only the sound of someone at his door shook him out of his little daydream.

“David,” said Arthur, entering before Dave could reply.

“Oh!  Your… Your Highness?  I did not expect you back so soon,” Dave answered, his face certainly showing his surprise.  A quick glance at Merlin, who stood behind Arthur, confirmed that Arthur had barged in of his own accord.

“Mitigating circumstances have arisen.  I have returned to Camelot in secret, for I fear there may be additional traitors within these walls, and I seek your assistance to flush them out.”

“Dave… I’m ready,” came Madeleine’s sweet voice as she exited the closet.

“What is this?” Arthur gasped, seeing the girl as naked as the day she was born.

Madeleine had been so busy with prettying herself up that the new voices in Dave’s room had not registered in her mind.  She covered herself as best she could, reaching for her nightgown on the floor and hastily slipping it on.

“I-I can explain,” Dave stammered.

“Explain what?” Arthur asked, his tone becoming harsh.  “That you have done precisely what I warned you NOT to do?!  That you have defiled this poor girl, endangering all of Camelot to satiate your lust?!  It seems I was right about there being traitors in Camelot, and YOU are among them!”

“No!”

Madeleine tried to protest, but it was too late.  Arthur had already drawn his sword, and Excalibur was fully cooperative with Arthur’s intentions this time.  As he raised the sword to strike, Dave was prepared to shield Madeleine from any attack that might come.  All the while Merlin stood in stunned silence, pondering the situation at hand.

How has it come to this?  Of course Arthur is unhappy, but to brand David a traitor?  It seems Mordred has already accomplished his goal: tainting Arthur’s mind.  By telling him of Lancelot’s betrayal, Arthur now sees treachery everywhere, even where it is not.  I suppose it is time.  It pains me to do this to my dearest friend, but David does not deserve to meet his end in this manner.

Just as Dave was about to conjure a shield from his aura, Merlin appeared between him and Arthur, causing his friend to recoil in surprise.

“Merlin?  What are you doing?” Arthur asked.

“You must cease your actions, Arthur.  This is not the way.”

“Stand aside, old friend.”

“I will not.  These two souls have fallen in love.  When David at last attains the means to return home, Madeleine shall go with him.”

“WHAT?!  Have you ANY idea the sort of damage that could do to history?!” Arthur shouted.

“It is the best solution available,” Merlin replied calmly.  “She does not belong here any more than David.  Thus, removing her from this time period altogether will prevent any deviations in history from now until David’s time.”

“All the same, he has still disobeyed my explicit orders!  He must face the consequences for his actions!  Even Excalibur understands that!”

“Ah, so because you have the power to strike at him, you now intend to strike at him?” Merlin asked with a grin.

“I do!”

“But Arthur, I did not think might made right in your mind?  I thought right made right?” Merlin countered with a knowing grin.

“You would betray me for him, Merlin?  After everything we have been through together?” Arthur seethed.

“I do this not to save his life; I do this to save yours, Arthur.”

“MY life?!  You suggest a whelp like him could be a threat to ME?!”

“Arthur, all of Camelot is in peril because of what Mordred has done to you!” Merlin replied.  “He has poisoned your mind with words of treachery, and now you see nothing but betrayal.  Even if he speaks true of Sir Lancelot, your actions are not ruled by your sense of justice.  You are now being driven by hatred, anger, and fear.  This is precisely Mordred’s wish.”

“So, you will not stand down?” Arthur asked.

“I will not.”

“I see… then it seems I am left with no choice.”

In a flash, Arthur raised Excalibur and attempted to strike down his mentor and friend.  Merlin was prepared for this, blocking Arthur’s attack with his aura shield.  As Arthur focused on the wily old sorcerer, he failed to notice Dave preparing his countermeasures.

“Now!” Dave shouted.

Merlin leapt out of the way just in time to avoid the blast of wind Dave had fired off.  The wind hit Arthur squarely in the chest, sending him flying against the bed and causing his sword to clatter to the ground.

“Go now!” Merlin said.

“Will you be able to find us?” Dave asked.

“Aye, now flee!”

Just as Arthur recovered and reached for Excalibur, Dave had Madeleine in his arms, teleporting them away from the castle.  Arthur screamed in fury, finding it inconceivable that Merlin would aid in their escape.

“How could you do this to me?!” Arthur wailed, clumsily attempting to attack Merlin.

“I am sorry, Arthur, but Mordred is the one that has done this to you.”

“SILENCE!  I am still King of the Britons, ordained by God Himself!  And I shall not be made a fool of by traitors and lechers!”

Merlin sighed, realizing how far gone Arthur really was.  “Very well.  I suppose this is goodbye, Arthur.  I pray you find peace.”

Before Arthur could reply, Merlin had vanished.  Arthur seethed in rage, attacking every piece of furniture he could reach, but none of it abated his anger.  For the first time in years, he felt truly alone in the world.  At that moment, his thoughts turned to his wife, Guinevere.  He had to know if she still loved him, for if so, she might be the only one who could calm the beast now raging about his heart.

*****

“Madeleine, are you hurt?” Dave asked.

“No, I’m fine,” she replied.  “That was so scary…”

“I know.  I never imagined Arthur would react like that.”  Seeing that Madeleine and he were still dressed in their sleeping clothes, Dave changed their garments into traveling clothes.  “Guess we can’t go back to Camelot…”

“But what of your things?” Madeleine asked.

“I’m not worried about my bag; that’s easily replaced.  But my bow and Incantus…”

“Worry not, David,” said Merlin, arriving at their hiding spot in the woods.

“Merlin!  You made it!” Dave said.

“Indeed.  Once Arthur left your quarters, I returned in secret to retrieve your belongings.  Here, your bow and satchel, and your Incantus is within.”

“Thank you,” Dave sighed.  “What exactly happened back there?”

“What you saw in Arthur is, I believe, the result of Mordred’s manipulations.  He has somehow learned of Sir Lancelot’s secret relationship with Guinevere and informed Arthur as such on the battlefield.  Though his immediate goal was to create an opening through which his men could escape, it has also caused His Highness to slowly lose his wits.  As a result, he now sees nothing but betrayal all around him, thus his reaction to your plans to bring Madeleine home with you.  Once he discovers that Mordred spoke the truth of Sir Lancelot, I fear he will descend into complete madness.”

“So, this is it?” Dave asked.

“I believe so.  Camelot will fall this day,” Merlin replied.

“You told Merlin?” Madeleine asked.

“No, he figured it out on his own,” Dave replied.

“Indeed.  During my conversations with David, a vision came to me that showed what would happen to Lancelot, Arthur, and even Camelot itself.  It saddens me, but there is no alternative.  History must remain intact above all else.”

“Where do we go from here, regarding my training?” Dave asked.  “Am I close to being able to return home?”

“By my estimations, yes.  However, we have far more pressing matters to attend to before that,” Merlin replied.  “Tell me, what do you know of Morgan le Fay as she relates to the fall of Camelot?”

“Morgan le Fay?  Let me think… she plays a role in Arthur’s end, but beyond that does not do very much.  Her importance in the Arthurian Legend is early in Arthur’s reign, where she deceives him into impregnating her with Mordred.  But in the end, I believe she ultimately comes back to Arthur’s side.”

“I see… then I shall require your assistance, David.”

“My assistance?  With what?”

Merlin said, “I believe Morgan is in mortal peril from an unseen force.  In our battle with Mordred’s army, she and I dueled once again, and in the course of that duel, there came about a sudden change in Morgan’s demeanor.  For a brief moment, her bloodlust was replaced with fear and desperation.  She begged for my help and swore that she had no choice in her actions against Camelot.”

“Wait, that seems familiar somehow… yes!” Dave realized.  “In our skirmish with her in your workshop, she showed a look of intense fear for a moment before she fled.  Could they be related?”

“I believe so…”

*****

Arthur stormed through the hallways, drawing ever closer to Guinevere’s bedchambers.  As powerful as his rage was, a part of his mind held out hope that it was not true, that his wife had remained faithful to him.  After all, Mordred had long proved to be a master of deception.  What reason should Arthur have to believe him?  Perhaps there was a traitor keeping Mordred informed of the happenings in Camelot, but the story of Guinevere could still be a fabrication in spite of that.  Soon, he approached the door to her room.  As he was about to knock, his heart sank at hearing a moan coming from the other side.

“Oh, Lancelot…”

No… no, it cannot be!  Mordred spoke truly?!  My wife has betrayed the sanctity of our marital bed… and with my finest knight no less!  Treachery… there is treachery everywhere, and I shall snuff it out.  And it starts NOW!

Unlatching the door, Arthur threw it open with a mighty kick.  Ahead, the two writhing bodies on the bed froze, the occupants turning to see who had intruded upon their joining.  Both Lancelot and Guinevere wore expressions of shock and terror at seeing who had discovered them.

“Arthur!” Guinevere gasped, her voice barely a whisper.

“So, it is true,” Arthur seethed in reply.

Exiting the bed and quickly covering himself with a robe, Lancelot said, “Your Highness, I know how this must look, but if I may explain-”

“Explain what?!  That you have defiled my wife in my own bedchambers?!  That you have committed an act of betrayal against your King?!  NO, YOU MAY NOT EXPLAIN!”  Drawing Excalibur, Arthur continued, “Sir Lancelot of Camelot, you have been caught in the act of fornication with Queen Guinevere.  Will you submit yourself for judgment of your actions?”

Hanging his head in resignation, Lancelot replied, “I suppose… I will not!”

Grabbing a nearby candelabrum and wielding it as if it were a staff, Lancelot turned the fiery end on Arthur, keeping him at bay for a few precious seconds.  He saw the look of fury in his eyes, and Lancelot knew he would have only one chance.  While continuing to keep Arthur at a distance, Lancelot made his way over to the window.  There, he had tied a long rope on the outside of the windowsill just such an occasion.  As Arthur lunged, Lancelot tossed the candelabrum to make good his escape.  Arthur managed to slice through the metal object with ease, but it was too late.  Lancelot had already disappeared out the window and swung down to the ground below.  Much as he wanted to follow the traitor, Arthur knew well his aging body would not be able to handle it.  Thus, he turned his attention back to Guinevere.

“Queen Guinevere, you are under arrest for the crimes of adultery, deception, and high treason against the crown.”

Guinevere said nothing at his accusations, merely slipping her dress back on and hanging her head in sorrow.

“Guard!” Arthur called down the hallway.

“Ah, Your Highness!  I did not realize you had returned!” the man said.

“Yes, never mind that.  Get a crew of men together and build a gallows out in the courtyard right away.”

“Sire?”

Arthur explained, “Queen Guinevere has been discovered in bed with Sir Lancelot, and an example must be made.  She is to be burned at the stake.”

“I… of course.  At once, Sire.”

At hearing this, Guinevere fell to the floor and wept without end.

“I am… so sorry… Arthur,” she managed.

Arthur sighed, turning to leave.  “As am I.”

*****

Lancelot crept between the buildings, hearing a commotion of some sort ahead of him.  Almost the entire garrison that had been left behind to defend Camelot was now hard at work in the middle of the courtyard.  Soon, it was clear that they were preparing for an execution, which Lancelot could only surmise was meant for Guinevere and himself.  Remaining hidden, he saw a familiar face approaching his hiding spot.  It was the captain of the garrison, a man who had remained a longtime friend of his.

“Brandon!  Brandon, over here!” Lancelot whispered.

Seeing him, Brandon rushed to Lancelot’s side.  “Sir Lancelot!  What is happening?  We received word that His Highness has returned and ordered the immediate execution of Queen Guinevere!  He also instructs us to hunt you down!”

“King Arthur has gone mad, I fear,” Lancelot replied, knowing he had no other choice but to lie if he was to save Guinevere’s life.  “Something has afflicted his mind, and now he sees treachery in places it is not.”

“I see… His Highness did seem more distressed than I had ever seen him before,” Brandon admitted.  “Still, he gave explicit orders to arrest you on sight.  What reason should I have to disobey him?”

“He intends to execute his own wife!  I ask you, what man in his right mind would do so?” Lancelot pressed.

“I… I can think of none.”

“Precisely.  Listen, I have a plan, but I shall require your aid.  It is the only chance of saving Queen Guinevere’s life.  Will you help me?”

Brandon studied his face for several moments.  “You swear to God that His Highness is not in his right mind?”

“I swear it.  I care not if I am killed in the midst of all this, but Her Highness does not deserve to meet her end like this.”

“Very well, I shall help you,” Brandon sighed.

“Thank you, old friend.  Here is what I require…”

*****

“Wow… that is definitely not a part of the Arthurian Legend,” Dave said.  “Let me see if I understand this.  About a year ago, Morgan le Fay was comforting her mother, Igraine, on her deathbed.  As she was dying, Morgan attempted to merge minds with her, is that correct?”

“Yes, that is what the vision I experienced showed,” Merlin replied.  “But as she performed the spell, two things went horribly wrong.  First, Igraine was not focused solely on the person she was to merge with.  Even as she loved Morgan for this act of kindness, her thoughts still drifted to Uther Pendragon.”

“The man who killed Igraine’s husband and took her as his wife, resulting in Arthur being born,” Dave realized.

“Precisely.  The second thing that went wrong was that Igraine passed away before the spell could be completed.  As there is no record of this happening before, I can only surmise as to what occurred next.  By what I witnessed in Morgan’s memory, Igraine’s soul became separated from her body, yet did not transition into the afterlife.  The combination of Morgan’s spell and Igraine’s desire for revenge tied her soul to Earth.  But a soul cannot exist on its own here on Earth; it requires a living body.”

“So Igraine’s soul latched onto the only living thing present: Morgan le Fay,” David said.

“Yes!” Merlin exclaimed, pleased at his apprentice’s understanding.  “From what Morgan showed me in her memory, Igraine’s personality immediately exerted itself upon Morgan’s mind.  In essence, there are two individuals now residing within her.  The talented young lady I first trained years ago still lives, yet she has only managed to regain power over her body for brief moments.  Beyond that, she has become a slave within her own mind, subverted by Igraine’s lust for vengeance.”

“But that does not explain Igraine’s fixation on eliminating you, Merlin,” Madeleine offered.

“To be honest, I am but a means to her goal,” Merlin replied.  “Igraine’s ultimate goal is Arthur, for he is the last descendant of Uther Pendragon.  Thus, she holds Arthur accountable for all his father’s ills, regardless of how he has lived his own life.  Were she to destroy me, Arthur would be defenseless against Igraine’s use of Morgan’s sorcery, even with Excalibur aiding him.”

“But Mordred is a descendant of Uther Pendragon also, is he not?  Why does she desire him to rule so badly, yet wishes death upon Arthur?” Madeleine asked.

“Because Mordred is born of Arthur and Morgan le Fay, his half-sister.  In Igraine’s eyes, his direct relation to her daughter gives Mordred legitimacy that Arthur could never possess,” Dave replied.

“Precisely.  I believe Morgan le Fay intended to use this as a means to heal the damage done by Uther Pendragon, but Mordred’s dark heart and Igraine’s insatiable bloodlust have made that impossible,” Merlin said.

“Merlin, I do wonder something.  Is there any chance that all this is an elaborate deception in itself?” Dave asked.

“None,” Merlin replied firmly.  “The magic that allows the sharing of memories is not one that can be altered.  The memory conveyed is precisely as the user of the spell experienced it, nothing more or less than that.  Rest assured, I have seen it as it actually happened.  Morgan le Fay is in great danger of remaining enslaved by Igraine for the rest of her life.”

“How could a mother do such a thing to her own daughter?” Madeleine wondered.

Merlin sighed.  “Remember what it is that ties Igraine to this Earth: her hatred and desire for vengeance.  She feels nothing except this, not even remorse for her daughter’s fate.  Were she to let go of these feelings, I imagine she would be able to pass to the afterlife in peace.  But alas, Igraine is too far gone.”

“So what can we do?” Dave asked.  “Based on what I know of the Arthurian Legend, Morgan le Fay is to have a change of heart during the final battle for Camelot, resulting in her attempts to aid Arthur in his last moments.  In her current state, that could never happen, upsetting the intended path of history.”

“And if Igraine retains control over Morgan’s powers, there is no telling the destruction she could bring upon the world,” Madeleine agreed.

“There is but one thing that you and I can do, David.  We must perform an exorcism to draw Igraine’s soul out of Morgan’s body.  It is difficult, even with both of us performing the spell, but will achieve our desired goal.  Once Igraine’s soul has been extracted, she will once again attempt to latch onto a living being, but will have great difficulty in doing so, since she previously had an open path into Morgan’s body due to the mind merge.  In addition, if she does not possess another within a few seconds, her soul will disintegrate, unable to be sustained without a physical body.  To accomplish this, I shall trap her soul within a field of my aura energy.  Are you agreeable to my plan?”

“I am.  Just tell me what to do,” Dave replied.

“Good.  With me, then,” Merlin said.  “We must find our opportunity to snatch her away from Mordred’s army so that we may perform the exorcism.  Madeleine, if you will remain in this clearing.  You should be safe here.”

*****

Without a word, Guinevere walked through the hallways of Camelot for the last time, escorted by a trio of guards on her way to the courtyard.  Every citizen had been summoned for the public display, and Guinevere could hardly blame her husband for it.  She had betrayed him, made a fool of him.  This was the only logical consequence for her actions.  With a heavy sigh, she accepted the hand of one of the guards as she climbed onto the gallows.  A few moments later, she was bound to a wooden stake in the center of the courtyard.

“Hear ye, Camelot!” the herald announced.  “On this day, Queen Guinevere has been found guilty of the crimes of deception, adultery, and high treason against His Highness, Arthur, King of the Britons.  She was discovered sharing her bed with Sir Lancelot, who has also been branded a traitor and shall be hunted down and brought to justice.  As she has since refused to deny the crimes of which she is accused, her guilt is assured.  Thus, this day she is to be summarily executed by fire.  May God have mercy on her soul.”

Guinevere at last began to weep as three soldiers began to surround her with bundles of sticks.  As painful as it was to watch, Arthur refused to avert his eyes even once.  In truth, he regretted that it had come to this.  Even after giving the order for Guinevere to be executed, he had spoken with her at length, affording her every opportunity to place all the blame on Lancelot and save herself, but she had steadfastly refused.  She felt remorse for harming Arthur, but truly believed that she and Lancelot were in love, leaving Arthur no other choice.

Soon, the masked executioner marched onto the scaffold with torch in hand.  He first glanced at Arthur, who nodded in confirmation.  As he turned to face Guinevere, she managed to catch a glimpse of the man’s eyes through his mask.  He seemed familiar somehow, perhaps someone she knew.  Alas, she would never know for sure; this was the purpose of his mask, after all.  But as she was about to squeeze her eyes shut, the man suddenly turned and tossed the torch across the courtyard, setting a group of barrels on fire.  Pandemonium ensued as the soldiers of Camelot raced to extinguish the flames and keep the peace at the same time.  This provided exactly the opening the executioner desired, and he threw off his mask, revealing his identity to Guinevere.

“Fear not, my love.”

“Lancelot!” Guinevere gasped.

As Lancelot pulled a dagger to free Guinevere from her bonds, Arthur at last realized what was happening.

“It is he!  Lancelot!  Arrest him at once!”

Though a few soldiers turned towards the scaffold, most were still distracted by the general chaos in the courtyard.  Thus, it was quite easy for Lancelot to hoist Guinevere onto his shoulder and dash to his awaiting horse.  As he rode towards the main gate, none in the guardhouse were able to react in time, as the flaming barrels were right next to them.

“Stop him!  Someone stop him!” Arthur roared from his podium.

“I have him, Brother!”

In a flash, Sir Kay zoomed past Arthur on his mount, having been prepared for this possibility.  Even with a head start, Kay knew that Lancelot would not be able to escape him.  Kay was the best rider in Arthur’s court, and Lancelot had a passenger in tow besides.  As he galloped across the drawbridge, Kay caught sight of Lancelot’s white horse heading into the woods.

“YAH!  Faster, Peter!” Kay urged his horse.

Approaching the edge of the woods, Kay had to slow his horse to a canter, but seeing Lancelot in the distance, surmised that he had to do the same.  Kay weaved deftly through the trees, never once allowing his mount to break stride, and soon started to gain ground on Lancelot.  As he rode up behind the pair, Kay produced a small throwing dagger from his belt.  Waiting for a straight stretch, he flung the dagger ahead, lodging it in the hindquarters of Lancelot’s horse.  The white stallion cried out in pain and staggered off the beaten path, throwing Lancelot and Guinevere off in the process.  But by the time Kay had circled back around to finish them, the pair had disappeared into the brush.

“Where are you?!” Kay shouted.

Knowing they would be unable to escape without a horse, Kay remained mounted on his, so as to deny them the opportunity to flee.  With sword drawn, he searched carefully through the bushes and trees, looking for any sign of the fugitives.  A moment later, Lancelot suddenly burst from a bush, frightening the horse and knocking Kay to the ground.  Before Peter could gallop off, Guinevere took the reins and calmed the animal.

“Lancelot, we must hurry!” she said.

“Aye!”

“I cannot allow that!” Kay replied, leaping to his feet and cutting Lancelot off from the animal.

“Sir Kay… please do not make me do this,” Lancelot pleaded.

“You have betrayed my brother, defiled his wife, and now you have the gall to suggest I make you to do this?!” Kay spat.  “You have brought this on yourself, Lancelot!  You made your choice, and now you reap the penalty!”

With righteous fury, Kay lunged at Lancelot with a flurry of slashes.  Lancelot replied with nothing but defense at first, looking for any opportunity to end this fight without violent means.

“Kay, I have no desire to harm you,” he protested once more.

Kay gave no reply to this, continuing his offensive.  With a few power strikes, he attempted to end the fight quickly by using his superior size and strength to overpower the smaller Lancelot.  He managed to evade most of Kay’s attempts, soon finding their blades locked together.

“Guinevere, go!  Flee this place!” Lancelot called out, knowing there was no escape for him.

“No!  I shall not leave you behind!”

“Do as I say!”

Before either of the men knew what was happening, Guinevere had ridden into the fray, charging for Kay.  He rolled to the side of the horse, intending to strike at the creature’s belly to take him out of the fight, but Kay’s foot caught on a tree root before he had a chance.  Falling hard on his back, Kay now looked up into the face of his old friend.

“Yield,” Lancelot said, holding his sword to Kay’s throat.

Gripping his sword tightly, Kay replied, “Never.”

Before Kay could summon the strength to swing at Lancelot, his throat had already been pierced by Lancelot’s blade.  He hacked and gasped, trying desperately to reply in kind before his life ended, but to no avail.  With a final heave, Kay breathed his last and collapsed dead to the forest floor.

“I am so sorry, my friend,” Lancelot sighed.

*****

“Bedivere, are we ready?” Arthur asked.

“Aye.  The flames have been extinguished and every soldier and guard in Camelot is armed.”

“Good.  Move out all available men at once.  We must give chase, lest the traitors escape!”  Turning to a squire of about eighteen, Arthur continued, “Boy, you have command of the guardhouse.  None go in or out until we return, understood?”

“Yes, Sire!” the young man replied eagerly.

As Arthur and his men rode off in pursuit of Lancelot and Guinevere, the squire gave the order for the drawbridge to be raised.  Alone in the guardhouse, he felt a sense of great pride in being given his first solo assignment.  Granted, it was due to dire circumstances, but it was a chance for him to prove himself nonetheless.  After a few minutes, his ears perked up at a soft knock on the guardhouse door.  Opening it slowly, he smiled at the pretty blonde on the other side.

“Hello, William.”

“Audrey, wonderful to see you again.  Please, come in.”

“Are you alone?”

“I am,” he replied.  “His Highness has left me in charge of the gate until his return.  My first duty on my own.”

“How wonderful!”  Drawing closer, she whispered in his ear, “But not as wonderful as last night was.”

William shuddered in arousal at remembering their lovemaking.  “Indeed… that was most enjoyable.”

“Might you be agreeable to another round?” Audrey asked, twirling a strand of her hair between her fingers.

“I would love that, but I am on duty.”

“None shall know!” she giggled.  “Perhaps if we were to adjourn to the roof?  That way you shall be immediately alerted when His Highness returns.”

“I suppose that would work,” William nodded, his desire for Audrey beginning to override his better judgment.

Audrey took William’s hand and led him up the stone steps to the top of the guardhouse.  Upon arrival, she immediately wrapped him in a tight embrace, kissing his lips passionately.  William was not one to protest, not with so beautiful a young lady practically throwing herself at him.  But as they kissed, Audrey slid one hand down to the inside of her leg, withdrawing a small knife she kept strapped there for emergencies.  Before William could notice this action, she pushed back from him a bit and plunged the knife into his throat.

“So sorry, William, but another man has promised me the world as his queen.  Nothing personal, of course,” Audrey cooed in reply to his shocked expression.

William tried to utter a reply, but could not due to the gurgling of his own blood in his throat.  After another moment of struggling, he slipped backward over the parapet, his lifeless body landing in the moat far below.  Meanwhile, Audrey wiped her knife clean on a nearby uniform and sheathed it beneath her dress.  Following the instructions Mordred had given her in his reply from Alexander, she lit a torch to signify that Camelot was unguarded and vulnerable.  Sure enough, soldiers began to emerge from their hiding spot in the woods, making their way towards the gate.  Returning to the ground floor of the guardhouse, Audrey pulled the lever to lower the drawbridge for them.  Soon, the men burst into the courtyard, setting fire to buildings and slaughtering any citizens bold enough to resist.  Amongst the chaos, Mordred himself entered the guardhouse, finding Audrey waiting for him.

“My love, you have returned!” she cried, rushing into his arms.

“Indeed, and Camelot shall be mine this day,” he replied with a smile.  “You have done well, Audrey; far better than I had hoped you would.  I see fit to reward your efforts in aiding my victory today.”

“Thank you,” Audrey breathed, anticipating a marriage proposal.

“Audrey, I hereby name you to be… the chief Madam of my royal cathouse.”

“Wha… what?  But… you promised I would be your queen!” she replied, tears beginning to well up in her eyes.

“Oh, my dear… did you really believe I would ever make a simple whore my queen?” Mordred asked with a chuckle.  “My wife will meet kings and emperors!  She must be a woman of grace and sophistication!  As lovely as your charms are, Audrey, you are neither graceful nor sophisticated.”

As Mordred turned to leave, Audrey’s sadness began to give way to a different emotion: pure, unbridled rage.

“You evil bastard…” Drawing her knife, she prepared to use it for the second time that day.  “You evil, lying bastard!  I SHALL KILL YOU!”

Lunging to stab him in the back, Audrey’s momentum was suddenly stopped by an unseen force.  Frozen with her knife hand in the air, a woman with long black hair soon stepped into the guardhouse.

“Thank you, Mother.  You seem to have a knack for arriving at just the right moment,” Mordred said with a grin.  Sauntering up to Audrey, he slipped the knife from her grasp.  “I shall take that, thank you.  Such behavior is quite unbecoming, even for a whore.  I gave you every chance to secure the best future you could hope for, and it seems you have thrown it away.  Alas, so sad…”

Without another word, Mordred slit Audrey’s throat in one swift motion, her body falling limp to the floor.

“Well, that messy business taken care of, how is the assault progressing?”

“Everything is proceeding as you wished,” Morgan replied.  “Supplies are being appropriated, everything else is being burned.”

“Excellent.  Prepare the men for battle.  I suspect Arthur will realize our ploy very shortly,” Mordred said with a grin.

“And what is your plan for this battle?”

“First of all, my scouts tell me that Merlin was nowhere to be seen at Guinevere’s execution, nor was he in Arthur’s company as they gave chase to Lancelot.  It may be the case that he is no longer a factor in all this, which would of course give us the advantage.  Still, if Merlin should arrive, he is your responsibility.  But if he does not, you and I shall team up against Arthur himself.”

“Ah, yes… you will need my assistance against Excalibur,” Morgan said.

“I fear not Excalibur,” Mordred replied.  “With the enchantments you have given my armor and my superior swordsmanship, I can best Arthur on my own.  But the scabbard presents a problem, if what you have told me about it is true.  Thus, I want your focus to be on separating that scabbard from Arthur’s person, so that I may have a fighting chance against him.  If he can heal from any wound I give him, the entire battle is pointless.”

“It will be done.”

“Good.  Now then, let us get the men in position…”

*****

“Sir Bedivere, any sign of Sir Kay?”

“Nothing yet, Sire!”

“Your Highness!  Over here!” a soldier called out.

Arriving on the other side of some bushes, Arthur saw it: Lancelot’s downed horse and the lifeless body of Sir Kay.  Bedivere dismounted and began to inspect the remains of his fallen brother.

“Lancelot, you bastard…”

“Single stab to the throat, Sire.  Given the state of Lancelot’s horse, I presume he murdered Sir Kay and took his horse to escape,” the solder said.

“What is their most likely escape route?” Arthur asked.

“This trail leads southward, eventually arriving at a large ravine.  The only means of crossing it is a single rope bridge,” Bedivere replied.

“I know the place!  Lancelot, you shall not escape me!”

“Wait, Sire!  Wait for us!” Bedivere called out, but Arthur had already disappeared into the woods.

Riding as fast as he was able, Arthur seethed with fury.  Lancelot had taken his wife from him, and now his brother also.  He would be caught; of this Arthur was certain.  None in Camelot would rest until Lancelot was brought to justice.  He spurred his horse on as the trees began to thin out and the trail began a steady incline.  At last emerging from the woods, Arthur saw Kay’s black horse ahead of him, a pair of riders on its back.

“LANCELOT!!!” Arthur screamed.

Lancelot was not deterred, careening towards the rope bridge that would mark his escape.  Arthur further increased his speed, knowing if he could catch Lancelot in the middle of the bridge, he could cut the ropes and end him.  As the black horse began its crossing, Arthur knew it was going to be close.  Lancelot might have just enough time to make it over before Arthur could arrive.  Just as he arrived at the edge of the ravine, Lancelot and Guinevere landed on solid ground on the other side.  Slowing his horse, Lancelot then removed his sword and cut the rope bridge from his end, preventing Arthur from giving any further chase.

“COWARD!!! COME BACK AND FACE ME!!!” Arthur roared.

Lancelot said nothing, not even offering a glance over his shoulder; he knew he had won.  As he rode off, Guinevere gave one last look towards her husband.  Though she was happy to be alive, she felt nothing but regret and shame at her actions.  Even knowing that she would likely never see him again, she prayed that Arthur would find peace in his life.

“I am so sorry… Arthur…” she whispered.

As Arthur seethed from atop his horse, turning every which way in a vain attempt to find a quick path across, something caught his eye.  From atop the ravine, he could see across the woods he had traveled through, seeing what appeared to be black smoke coming from a distant area.  After a moment, his heart sank at realizing what was on fire.

Camelot!

Arthur now saw it.  Even in telling him the truth, Mordred had deceived him all the same.  He had brought Arthur into a rash state of mind, causing him to make decisions he never would have otherwise.  He cursed himself for leaving Camelot unguarded for the sake of hunting one man.  In that instant, it seemed as if all his senses as King of the Britons returned to him, and he rode off into the woods to meet up with his men.  Arthur’s thoughts were no longer of Lancelot and Guinevere, but for the innocents in Camelot that he had neglected.  Mordred now came to slaughter them, and Arthur would not allow that.

“Your Highness!” Bedivere called as he rode up.  “Where is Lancelot?”

“Got away,” Arthur huffed.

“We shall keep after him, Sire.  We shall not rest until he is brought to-”

“Never mind that, Sir Bedivere.  We have more pressing issues,” Arthur said, cutting him off.

“Sire?”

“From atop the ravine, my eyes saw the most dreadful sight imaginable: our beloved Camelot ablaze,” Arthur sighed.  “Mordred was lying in wait for this chaos, and now seeks to take the throne for himself in the midst of Lancelot’s betrayal.  We must stop him by any means necessary!”

“Aye!  I shall make the men ready for battle!”

As Bedivere rode ahead to prepare the troops, Arthur wondered if this could truly be the end for them all.  Mordred had played this game with brilliant efficiency thus far.  Shaking those thoughts from his head, Arthur focused solely on the citizens of Camelot now in need of his protection.

“I only pray it is not too late…”

*****

Reaching a secluded area on the other side of the ravine, Lancelot slowed the horse and dismounted, tying the animal to a nearby tree.

“Alone at last,” he said happily, helping Guinevere to the ground.

“Thank you…”

“My love?  Are you alright?” he asked, seeing the look in her eyes.

“Forgive me, but I simply despise myself for what we have done to Arthur.”

“I share your feelings, but we did this for love, Guinevere.  There is no greater power in this world than love.  Someday, perhaps Arthur shall understand our actions.”

“Perhaps… wait, do you see that?  In the distance?”

Shielding his eyes from the late afternoon sun, Lancelot replied, “I do.  It appears to be a dark smoke cloud.  It seems that Arthur let the flames grow out of control.”

“No, that would never happen,” Guinevere said firmly.  “Even in his distraught state, the rest of Arthur’s men would have never allowed those flames to endanger the citizenry of Camelot.”

“Then there is only one other explanation: Mordred.”

“What?!”

Lancelot sighed.  “He is cunning and intelligent.  I would not be surprised if he was lying in wait for an opportunity to strike a divided Camelot.”

“This… this is our fault.  We did this,” Guinevere gasped in realization.

“What?  My love, we did no such thing,” Lancelot replied, trying to downplay her concerns.  “Arthur is the one who left Camelot in such a vulnerable state, not we.”

“Aye, but we pushed him to it.  Our betrayal led to this.  Were it not for our actions, none of this would have happened.  Alas, Camelot will fall this day, and it falls because of us…”

“I suppose there is nothing left for us except a life together,” Lancelot mused.

Guinevere hesitated before replying, “No.  As wonderful as that would be, it is more than I deserve.”

“More than you deserve?  Whatever do you mean?”

“I love you, Lancelot, but ours is still a love born of lust and betrayal.  Our actions have brought this ruin on Camelot.  I know not what lies ahead, but I know that I must do penance for my sins.  I wish for you to take me to a convent.  There, I shall live out the rest of my days in the service of God.  Perhaps that will be enough to redeem my soul.”

Lancelot gazed into Guinevere’s eyes.  “Are you certain this is what you want?  Once you enter into such a service, there is no turning back.”

“I am.  If I cannot make right my wrongs, I can at least make the ultimate vow of servitude in atonement.”

“I see.  Very well, if you would make a vow of penitence, so shall I.  I know of a monastery in the lands to the south.  I shall live out the remainder of my days in their hermitage.  Perhaps there can be redemption for us yet.”

Guinevere sighed, turning towards their horse.  “I suppose only God the Father knows for certain…”

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