The Lives That Weren'tRating:
Merlin/Morgana, Arthur/Gwen, Morgause/NimuehSummary:
What would have happened in S1, had Nimueh raised Morgause, Morgana and Merlin; in which Morgana is a priestess, Merlin is her irritating little brother and the crown Prince of Camelot is in love with his laundry maid.Note:
I actually finished this more than a month ago but have only just got round to proofing/beta-ing it; it's in twelve parts and I'll post one part every couple of days until they're all up. Enjoy!
The Lives That Weren't
Morgana does not remember when Uther’s men came to the sacred temple of the All-Mother, slaughtered the priestesses and trainees and children, smashed the holy relics, tipped over their alters, scattered the pieces and burned their living quarters to the ground.
She was two years old, and the only thing she really recalls is the bruising grip of Morgause’s arms as her ten year old sister held her tight and told her not to make a sound.
Morgause tells her that they hid in the crawl space beneath the floorboards of one of the smaller shrines just outside of the main temple. That the High Priestess Vivian put them under there and that that the next time she saw Vivian she was dead under a broken statue of the Goddess, with her throat cut out.
They crawled from under the floorboards after a very long time. It had been dawn when they’d first hidden and now night was falling. The air had smelled of tar and blood and smoke and the screaming and crying and roaring and clanking of soldier’s boots had finally stopped. Morgause had crawled out and pulled her little sister with her.
Then she had picked Morgana up and carried her out of the shrine, which was now missing its roof and one of its walls and had had its alter smashed into shards. They had walked across where the grass was thick with blood, and stepped over bodies and broken bits of the goddess. Their temple had been reduced to ruins; the world had been torn to pieces.
There was only one other left alive – they had found Nimueh lying on the flagstones in what was left of the temple, with the tip of a rapier in her stomach, bleeding.
There in the ruins, the girl Morgause had sat Nimueh up and sat her two year old sister down next to her. She had gone to the spring to find water, but found it full of blood. She had returned, and spat into Nimueh’s wound and cleaned it as best she could with what little magic she had – clumsy and unskilled but determined that her last protector should not be taken from her.
When Nimueh had rested for a day and a night, she pulled the rapier tip from her stomach and closed the wound with magic and got up. Morgause had picked up her little sister and put her on her back, and they had walked out of the pieces of their first lives and on into the wilderness.
Morgana does not remember any of this. She only knows because Morgause has told her. She does not know how long they walked for, until they found shelter with a druid village, or how many times they moved on afterwards, because Morgause wont tell her what happened in the year or so it took for them to end up in the ruins of another ancient temple, just outside of the boundaries of Camelot, near a village called Ealdor. Her memories only really begin to become clear after that point.
She remembers being snuggled up with Morgause in the little bed Nimueh conjured for them out of a fallen slab of granite. She remembers clinging to Nimueh’s skirts, pressing her chin to the woman’s thigh and gazing up at her as she hugs her leg – happily, childishly affectionate and not yet tall enough to deliver a proper embrace. She remembers Nimueh’s fond smile, tender fingers ruffling her hair.
She remembers learning to turn a candle flame blue, then pink, then green. She remembers Morgause trying to teach her the proper steps to a jig and getting impatient and shouting at her and making her cry, and Nimueh scolding them both for making a fuss.
She remembers the taste of honey, and the songs they sung at solstice.
But the first really clear memory she has is of Merlin’s mother, whom she and Morgause came across in the forest just outside their home, as they were collecting berries.
Morgana remembers quite clearly her muddy face – the blood in her hair – the arrow head poking out of her side and turning the cloth around it inky. The bundle of baby clutched in her thin hands; the whites of her wide eyes. She had collapsed against a tree, struggling to breathe, trying to comfort the crying infant. And there were people shouting, not far away, and raised voices with something horrible about them – something angry. Morgana had been afraid – of the voices; of the woman; of the crying baby. It all looked like a bad dream she had had the night before.
The woman had seen them and gasped – please!
And Morgana had wanted to run away but Morgause hadn’t let her.
“Please, take him!” The mother had gasped, holding out the baby, “take him and run – I can’t – I can’t – but take him to the old temple where the priestess lives! He’ll be safe there!”
She had meant Nimueh, of course.
Morgana remembered Morgause dropping her hand and reaching out to take the baby.
“They say he is the devil’s child, but he is not – he is not – he’s a good boy!” The mother had wept, “but my neighbours saw him turn their chickens green and now they say he must be drowned in the well – he was only playing!”
The infant had screamed as his mother kissed him and gave him away. Morgana had stayed back, shaking and wanting to run. She had said Morgause. Morgause, I want to go home.
“His name is Merlin,” the mother had told them, as Morgause tried to steady the squirming thing in her arms, “he likes his back rubbed after baths and he likes chickens and he’ll be a year in two months and – tell him his mother loved him. Tell him I loved him so much.”
And then there had been more shouting, and the woman was telling them to run, run now, and they were, and they ran home – and Morgana remembered hearing the woman scream one last time and how the sound was cut so horribly short. But she didn’t look back.
Morgana remembers that Merlin cried a lot, the first few weeks. She didn’t like it. He screamed and he often smelled bad, and Nimueh didn’t pay her as much attention anymore because Merlin always needed feeding or holding or everything else. She remembers once giving him a spiteful little pinch whilst he was sleeping in the cradle that Nimueh had coaxed a little sapling to grow into, and he woke up screaming and she felt mildly better, even if Nimueh made her scrub the cooking pots for being so naughty.
But when he got a little bit older, she discovered all sorts of interesting uses for him. Unlike Morgause, because she was all sophisticated and big and twelve whole years old, and unlike Nimueh because she was a grown up, Merlin thought that Morgana knew everything. By the time he was two, and walking about and starting to say things and making little logical connections between actions like smacking himself in the head with a spoon and consequences like pain, he was also spending long periods of time gazing at Morgana like she was the Goddess herself. He followed her everywhere. He laughed at everything she did. He listened intently to everything she said. He did everything she told him to do.
Which was useful.
He stole honey cakes from Nimueh’s kitchen for her. He brought her blankets when she was cold. He fetched her interesting looking pebbles and feathers and bones. He did a funny little dance when she demanded that he entertain her. And in return, she occasionally deigned to let him sit next to her whilst she was studying Nimueh’s magic book, or gave him a corner of her blanket. Sometimes she even shared the honey cakes.
Merlin had continued to adore her until he was about twelve years old. Then he went through an odd, sullen, sulky phase and began saying mean-spirited, spiteful things to her. Morgana, who was half way through her fourteenth year, found the abrupt change in his demeanour disturbing, and more than a little hurtful. For over ten years he’d been her closest confident and happily obedient young sidekick. Morgause was her sister; they’d survived a massacre together and Morgause remembered their father. And Nimueh was the only mother Morgana could ever remember having. She loved them both dearly – but they were both so much older than her; they both treated her like a little girl, still. Merlin had been her friend, the only person in the world who looked at her as something other than a child. His sudden wrench away from her stung her deeply.
Morgause had told her that it was because Merlin was growing up.
“He’s trying to understand what it is to be his own person, away from us,” she’d told Morgana, kindly, “he’s a very talented boy but he’s not a priestess, like us. He’s destined to be a warlock – one of the most powerful that this world has ever seen. We’ve raised him the best that we can but at some point he needs to form his own identity. One day, he’s going to leave us completely – he wont survive if he hasn’t worked out who he is before hand.”
The idea of Merlin leaving filled Morgana with a strange kind of dread. That night, she had had a dream about a great open meadow, in the rain – and with the sky grey and wet overhead, she had shrugged off her clothes and somehow Merlin had been there, kissing her – an older Merlin, taller than her, with slightly longer hair and a warm grin and those ears turning red when he looked at her. He’d taken off all his clothes too and they had – they had –
She’d woken up with a strange feeling between her legs, and the desperate determination that Merlin could not be allowed to leave before that had happened.
Whatever it was, she wanted it very badly. She had lingered over the dream for days afterwards, and shied away from Merlin when he came anywhere near her, because it felt too odd, to see the boy who was going to be her lover. But she had thought about how, in the dream, there had been nothing so exciting and strange and lovely as what they had done in that field in the rain. She wanted that so keenly that it frightened her a little – and she was sure that she couldn’t have it without Merlin. It had to be him, no one else.
But how could it be, when he was being such an ass?
Merlin had continued being horribly distant for some years. He would go down to the edges of Ealdor, where he had been born, and glare into the village as if trying to pin point the members of the population responsible for his mother’s death. He wondered the perimeter of their ruinous home, throwing balls of energy about and blasting bits of rock to pieces. He devoted a lot of time to studying magic, trying to hone his powers, getting stronger, and angrier.
Sometimes he would stare so intently at Morgana that she would get up and move out of his line of sight. She didn’t like the look he got in his eyes at times like that – as if he could see into the dreams she was having about him more and more regularly. She felt protective of those visions: the Merlin in them was different to who he was now. He was gentle and sweet and kindly. He pressed his mouth to her neck and told her how beautiful she was; he blushed when she ran her hands over him, and he wasn’t angry all the time.
She wanted that Merlin – the one she already secretly thought of as hers. She didn’t want the cold, stand-offish, lanky young lad who was learning how to make rocks burn.
“You must not let your rage consume you, Merlin,” Morgana had once heard Nimueh tell the then-fourteen year old, sagely. “Those of us with great power cannot afford the luxury of allowing our emotions to consume us. If I had allowed such a thing to happen to me after Uther murdered everyone I knew I would have gone mad; I would have done something terrible – but I had to be stronger than that, for Morgause; for Morgana. You have responsibilities too, and there are people who love you. Never forget that.”
Morgana had turned seventeen a year later, and developed an affection for a Druid man called Aglain. The Druids had made a small settlement not too far from their ruined temple – they knew of the presence of the three last priestesses of the Old Religion there, and a number were always coming and going, paying tributes and seeking blessings.
Aglain was at least ten years Morgana’s senior – a tall, impressive, dark skinned man, mild mannered and intelligent but passionate about his craft and his people. He spoke to Morgana with the same deference and respect as he did Morgause and Nimueh, which immediately warmed her to him. Most newcomers, seeing that she was clearly the youngest and least experienced of the three, tended to ignore her. But Aglain seemed genuinely interested in her views. And he didn’t leer or look sideways at her the way the druid boys her own age did – although, she fancied, there was still something respectfully admiring about the way his gaze lingered on her.
He gave her her first kiss, very chaste and gentle but nonetheless on the lips, by firelight just outside his village as she had accompanied him back. She’d wondered home feeling lighter than air, flopped face down onto her bed and grinned stupidly into her pillow for the rest of the evening.
Merlin had, of course, immediately decided to hate Aglain with a passion.
“He’s a clotpole,” was all he would say on the subject.
Morgause and Nimueh had exchanged wry smiles and eye-rolls and Morgana had haughtily informed Merlin that she had no need for his opinions on her choices in friendship, thank you.
Aglain and his community had moved on after a few months, however, and Morgana had tried very hard not to cry in front of her family. Merlin had caught her once, though, when she was out gathering firewood.
“Why d’you want someone so tall anyway?” He’d offered, in his own clumsy attempt at consolation, “kissing him must have made your neck ache.”
She’d laughed, damply.
It was the first time he’d been truly kind to her in years.
On her eighteenth birthday, Morgana is formally inducted into the sisterhood of Priestesses of the Goddess.
Twenty years previously it would have been a far grander affair, performed in the old Holy Temple, with every priestess in the land in attendance; a lavish celebration; hours of dedications, prayer, rituals, blessings –
As it is, there is just Nimueh and Morgause, who cobble her a ceremonial robe together from snow and cobwebs and wildflowers and an old piece of linen, dress her in it and take her down to the nearest lake. Merlin stands on the shore as they take Morgana out until they are all waist deep, and then dunk her under, rub cleansing oils into her hair and skin, then cut her hair back to the nape of her neck.
Out of the water, her lips starting to turn blue from the cold, they kneel her in front of the alter they have set up for such purposes, crown her with a wreathe of may flowers, bless her and beg the Goddess to protect her.
Morgana lays her newly-shorn locks of hair on the alter as an offering; they burn incense and chant and chime bells and invite the Gods to bless their newest human conduit.
For all it is happening without the power of a community behind it, Morgana can feel the hum of the earth’s power being drawn to her – feels the Goddess stirring in her veins. The night before, she had a vision of a woman without a face reaching for her through a brilliant storm of light; she knows she is being called to this.
When she gets to her bare feet, muddy and wet and cold, she feels the strength of the All Divine rising in her chest and she is abruptly dry; warm. When she opens her eyes they are full of the Goddess, and for the first time since he was a little boy she sees wonder in Merlin’s gaze as he looks at her.
Part two can be found here.