- February 28, 2021
The Incarnations: The Mortal King Chapter 1
Chapter One: The Conquest of Camelot
Nothing astounds me more than evolution. Through evolution, life, without any grand design, happens on its own. Mortal life has become sentient with a guiding hand and without. This tells me something important about the Creators and the Incarnations, we are not necessary. And while that makes me less prideful, it makes me proud, that life can happen all on its own.
Then I watch over certain men, I watch them rise to the occasion, I watch them be given the chance to do what is right and fair above all else, and choose to do the wrong thing.
The future is always changing, I’ve seen so many futures change before just by knowing that they come, but sometimes time will not be stopped.
Sometimes Time is a cruel and negligent father. Sometimes the future seems almost set in stone.
“Your sense of propriety… is the word proprietary…? Yes, your propriety is fading, General, demeaning yourself to these Terrans,” his Lieutenant General tells him, but only his eyes pay him any attention.
Vortigern ruffles his muzzle, and curls his tongue against his teeth. What Lt. Oberon must be thinking right now, he has seemed off to the General. If only the General knew what is to come.
“Oberon,” Vortigern says, as his hands remain folded before him on the table, “I don’t think you know what Terran means.”
The eye Oberon sends his way is shocked and confused. He looks at Vortigern as if the General were a fool and not the leader of what remains of their race. “We are Terrans.”
It’s a flash in the pan, Oberon’s long muzzle opens a bit. “Ah,” as if he had just heard that for the first time, “yes, we are.”
Vortigern turns towards his Lt General, concerned. “Are you-”
“It seems I don’t know what Terran means,” Oberon laughs, sounding like his usual self, but not.
Vortigern doesn’t press, he lets his underling laugh. It’s improper behavior, especially as they wait for this planet’s leader to meet with him. They should be formal, but it’s been so long since the General has heard anyone laugh.
Vortigern elects to ignore what he would otherwise question, just to hear what it sounds like to hear another Lupian laugh again. No one has much need for laughter after losing their home, and the vast majority of their race.
The trip from their home planet to this one was long, it was cramped, and it haunts Vortigern even now, especially now as he sits alone with nothing but Oberon at his side. His fur has never been so ruffled, his chops never so dry, and his claws never so dulled.
He’s never felt so short, and yet so tall over his people. I cannot imagine how heavy the fate of his race weighs on his shoulders as he waits for a king.
No, not one of Good or Evil, one of glory, of power, of-
“Stand for King Uther Pendragon! Of Camelot!” Men play a trumpet to herald his arrival, it makes the sensitive ears of the canines jerk.
Oberon watches Vortigern, he watches to see if the General stands.
He grows a foul scowl, when he sees how he does.
King Uther is the epitome of a Cameloanian man. They remind me a lot of humans, but memories of silver slavers and flying ships burn Vortigern’s memory instead.
The humanoid form, the furless skin, the naked face, and how they stand, despite, being so much shorter… it all reminds Vortigern of the silver slavers.
And like a silver slaver, King Uther’s mere presence makes Vortigern feel like a beast. The Lupian’s muscle, truly honed, could tear Uther apart even in his worst form. Yet it has left Uther appearing as he was sculpted, and Vortigern drawn in pencil.
But that is not Uther’s fault, it is Life’s, so Vortigern bows to the King in respect.
Uther’s golden hair glimmers around his pointed ears. He waves his hand over Vortigern’s head as he tells him, “Please, don’t do that, you are no subject of mine.” More than that, King Uther is no fool, he’d be blind if he didn’t recognize how small he is next to Vortigern.
Vortigern is a born predator who has bowed his neck like a man, a step in the path towards his next prey. The Lupian is a sentient being just like Uther and his Cameloanians, but Uther has the hands of mankind, and Vortigern’s are halfway between beast and man.
Yet, they are both still sentient creatures. Uther must treat them as such, for as Vortigern lifts his head, Uther can see the pain behind Vortigern’s eyes, much like his own
Lest a fool forget, regret is the mark of a Lord, and that Lord’s name is Guilt.
Uther and Vortigern stand alone, there are other bodies in the room, but they stand alone, so the King presents the table only to the General. Everyone else will stand.
King Uther sits across from General Vortigern. He has room in his chair, but Vortigern fills his.
“I want to ask how your people are doing,” Uther asks, reaching out a hand, an offering of some kind, but he has nothing to offer him but useless condolences. “That would seem insulting.”
“The intention means the world, nonetheless,” Vortigern assures him, the weight feeling heavier for what comes later.
“Your people, I’ve been told you have been drifting across the stars for years in that… miracle of science,” Uther says, flinging his hands around with nothing to do but gesture to the beyond. It’s the beyond that escapes him, but one Vortigern knows so well.
“It’s a ship,” Oberon interrupts to tell him, drawing an eyeful from his General. The auburn Lupian shrugs without a care. “It’s what it is.”
“A ship,” King Uther repeats. The lifeboat of what remains of Lupian kind… is called a ship.
King Uther calls piles of assembled wood ships, they sail on water. Vortigon calls a miracle of science, a power known only to the Incarnal gods above, the ability to cross space and swim with the stars… a ship.
Vortigern can see how King Uther wants to laugh at the insanity, but he can’t, not in front of the alien. But he finds it so very extensionally funny, who could blame the poor mortal?
“It must be strange for you,” Vortigern posits to the King with an open gesture.
“Of course, but for you it must be… a child’s education.”
Uther makes Vortigern smile. Vortigern wonders why Uther couldn’t have been vile.
“Not quite,” Vortigern admits, “our children haven’t been learning much of anything after they exited cryostasis.”
Uther’s eyes flutter with bewilderment, much like the knights who stand as his guard. “Cryo-what- I’m sorry.” He waves his arms in front of him. He holds the bridge of his nose between his fingers as he comes to terms. “I ask that you forgive me, we have always had stories about there were others the Incarnations held as subjects, but…” He never finishes that thought.
“I must control myself,” the King says, “I cannot waste our time trying to understand the terms of technology so far above my land’s. Not when your people need aid far more than I need lessons.”
Vortigern’s fingers crane up and into the wood. They threaten to shake, by all of his will he won’t let them.
He’s fought against Sins, he’s seen Incarnations do battle, and he’s seen hundreds of his people die. None of that makes his head shake like it does when he must face down an honest man.
“What can Camelot do to help you and your people?” Uther does what any benevolent negotiator does when they pose a question, answer the question themselves. “There is land we can give you, land you can grow food or hunt on.”
Uther does not mean to, how could he know, but his words cast a dark shadow over the General. He echoes the words of silver slavers, before him, it is not his fault, but Vortigern cannot control when the past chooses to haunt him.
“If that’s not what your people need, I’m sure we can find somewhere else,” King Uther continues without knowing. “We can offer clothing, it might take some time to get the measurements right, but Camelot is strong, we’re in an era where we can take care of you.”
Vortigern remembers the last time his people were cared for, the last time a race of smooth, furless skin offered to take care of them. It’s a tale told through the ages, recorded for all time.
‘We’ll care for you,’ the silver slavers said, but when Evil and his Sins came upon them, the silver slavers were nowhere to be found. They were caught in the Black Night.
But Uther cannot know this. Uther cannot possibly know just how he fuels the rage and the wrath that Guilt keeps at bay. If only he knew…
“Camelot has not always been the peaceful planet it is today,” Uther admits in such a fashion that he drags Vortigern from his internal storm. Vortigern looks across the table, and sees a man who wears a crown that fits. His heartbeat slows, and his ears listen.
“That makes it all the more imperative now that we are at peace, that we do the only thing one can do to further it. Spread it around.”
The General can’t help it, he can’t fight the smile that such kindness inspires.
King Uther does not pretend as if this is an easy task, that would make it meaningless, but he will burden Vortigern with more guilt. Vortigern will do that on his own. “We cannot cure a disease by spreading it around, as the saying goes here, but I’ve always wondered if we can make a cure? It seems so much harder, why don’t we prove that notion wrong, General?”
Vortigern almost forgets that Uther is talking to him, almost. There is no one else in the room with them, not in his eyes, not yet.
King Uther extends his hand, waiting for Vortigern to stand, to take it. Vortigern considers that Uther may be a liar, he may be saying what he needs to. Maybe this planet isn’t as peaceful as the King would have him think, that Cameloanians are much like the silver slavers in more ways than one.
Their heartbeat gives away their truth, the organ whispers it right into Vortigern’s pointy ears, and they say Uther means every word.
That’s why when Vortigern stands, the weight is almost too much. When his knuckles lie against the table, his head cowed in sorrow, Uther’s hand twitches.
“Dear King, your Majesty, your…” Vortigern’s throat tires of words he wants to mean.
King Uther has worried that the Lupians are something akin to wolves more so than dogs. They look it, but Uther had hopes. By the guilt in the twitch and the shake of this man’s hand, he thinks it modesty and thankfulness that accurses the General.
But one cannot become the lone surviving leader by harboring feelings of modesty and thankfulness.
Vortigern lifts his head, and he casts a shadow that looms over the table, and over the king, as a new reign does Camelot.
“My people,” Vortigern tries again, “we had patronage in a race called the Regamorphs. They look so much like you, save for the hair, the markings on your face, and the clear value you put into honesty.
“My people, Lupians as you will come to call us, we made the same mistake you have now.” Vortigern’s hand clutches before his chest, and he holds it to his heart as the cries of millions haunt him. The ash of a planet long reduced to chaos. “We, we trusted, we became subservient. Then the most powerful of the Incarnations, of the hellish gods who deemed Regamoprhs so special…
“The King of Evil and his Sin of Sloth destroyed my people. Now we have no home.”
As King Uther listens intently, Oberon choses to watch. He listens so very closely at the edge of his seat. He grins in wait and basks in compliments.
“I thank you, General,” King Uther says, his hand still out in offer, “we would be happy to give you and your people a place among us.”
Vortigern looks at the King’s hand, wishing he could take it. He leans back, and he tries to stand half as tall as the King sits, but he can’t, he stands with fists.
“You misunderstand,” Vortigern informs him, a statement that causes a creak in the armored knights behind the King. “While I know that the relationship between a master and servant is impossible to maintain, it’s all my people know.”
When King Uther takes his hand back, his knights lay their hands on their swords. “What do you mean?” he asks the dreaded question, this time with no intention to answer himself.
Vortigern looks over to Oberon, who’s mere glance cannot hide his smirk as well as he does the weapon so close to his hands.
The General does not nod, he will not pay the King that insult. “You see, my people used to have a patron race, the Regamorphs as I said, they… it doesn’t matter. My apologies.
“It’s really simple how we must progress from here. My liege, my people believe in a system of patronage…”
“We do as well, in some form,” King Uther states, “do you think we cannot accommodate you?”
“I know you can, I know you will, but what you must understand is that this time… we will be patrons.”
Oberon takes out the gun from his coat. It’s so unfair, Life is so unfair. These men haven’t fought a real battle once in their lives. This experienced dog of war could have dashed to them and ripped their throats and severed their necks in seconds.
But Oberon doesn’t do anything half-heartedly, he must shine innovation in their face.
It takes a second for what appears like an oversized pistol to most, to fire two green bolts that look like magic to their victims. He blows a hole in each chest.
King Uther stands to his feet, he asks for what most monarchs would. “What is the meaning of this?”
“Meaning?” Oberon asks, as he hands the smoking gun to his leader, and takes out another, larger rifle. “The same thing as everyone else. It’s about power, but more than how Lupians want it, they don’t want you to have it.”
To say he’s mortified as he finds himself alone is an understatement. It doesn’t matter that soldiers are running down to the door, coming to protect him. They won’t matter.
One man with a gun that fires energy, will defeat however many who only have swords. It doesn’t matter that the man was born stronger and faster than them.
“General,” the King turns to Vortigern as he begins to beg. “Why are you doing this?! Mine was an offer of peace!”
Vortigern takes the pistol in his hands, and with a click pops the weapons energy magazine into his hands. He won’t look at the Cameloanian king, he can’t.
With a flick of a switch, from the weapon’s clip, energy shoots from it in a blue blade of burning plasma.
The General is so cold with how he turns to Lt. Oberon, brandishing his plasma blade. “I doubt we will have the resources to make more ammunition clips for the foreseeable future. A clip can only fire a few dozen shots, but let the clip expunge energy from its point…”
The blade extends, not only with the loose form of the plasma but with the strength of the General’s swing. It extends and cuts the table perfectly down the middle.
“… the blade will last for years of use.”
“Steel can’t cut so cleanly,” Oberon gloats.
Oberon stands at attention and salutes with his fist upon his head. “Yes, General,” and removes the clip from his rifle, to create a broadsword of plasma, one all his own. “I will test it.”
King Uther steps before Oberon, knowing what this beast will do to the men who bang on the door. He pleads, “No, stop! I beg you, I will command them to surrender, lest they be slaughtered!”
Oberon responds by knocking Uther and his royal gown to the ground with a slap.
The wind is nearly knocked out of him as he lies on his side. He coughs, listening for the door to open, but he hears a buzz instead.
Blue shines in his eye.
Uther slowly turns his head, to look up at the beast staring down.
“This is something you must understand,” Vortigern says down to him, as the blue light of the hottest star illuminates his face. “I am a general, I live to serve, where you are a king, you were selected by blood and decree. I live and die in the service of my people, and my people… want to own the world.
“I must give it to them.”
Vortigern shifts his plasma blade behind him, and bids Uther a second. “I would let you die on your feet, befitting a king.”
Uther is in disbelief. He did everything right for a man of morals, but as a king he expected morals from someone else. How silly and sad that the world is not as a lady’s love would have it be.
But at the very least, the King of Camelot understands and learns from his mistakes, no matter how pointless the effort may be.
Uther, with the time Vortigern affords him, climbs to his knees, and then the soles of his feet.
He stands taller than Vortigern as he looks up at the Lupian.
“A true leader, serves his people,” Uther tells Vortigern.
Vortigern’s shoulders slump, along with some wait.
“But people do not know everything. A good leader knows and gives his people what they need, what they deserve, and lets history declare him a villain if it means making it so.”
Vortigern will remember those words until the day he dies. They will be the words he thinks about when Death comes for him.
Then he lays a hand on the King’s shoulder, and pulls the blade back.
“Only a king, who’s never been one of his own people would say that,” Vortigern says, bidding King Uther farewell.
The blade goes through his chest, where it once rested as mankind’s hearts rest. With a single blow, Vortigern condemns a world to tears, as he does himself.
The things he will do for his people, his people for whom he sells his soul.
Oberon watches the tears that pool into the fur around Vortigern’s eyes, all until he turns the blade off, and lets the King fall.
The King falls as every man does, like a slab of meat.
“General…” Oberon begins to question, but Vortigern has neither the heart, nor the time.
“Go…” Vortigern orders him, and points his clip towards the door. “Go now… and end the line of Pendragon.”
There cannot be a challenger.
Oberon nods his head and salutes. “Death to the Pendragons.”
Then the slaughter begins.
The General takes the longest of walks to the glass. While his boots and the floor are stained by the blood of Uther, the glass is stained by Vortigern’s reflection.
Vortigern looks out over the city that surrounds Tintagel castle. It looks so much like home to him. The trees may not be as green and they may not be as large, but they are as peaceful. They are perfect for his people who do know what is like to share. If only someone had shared with them.
He lifts his wrist to his hand, his science calling forth the end. With three words Camelot is no longer so peaceful.
“Commence the attack.”
The Lupian destroyer casts a long shadow over the castle and the city. People who transport their food by cart and wagon, who’ve never traveled far by anything other than by wooden wheel and horse, look up at the sky and see doom. It’s as if the sky has fallen apart and a beast of Hell has arisen again.
The destroyer opens its hangar doors, releasing hundreds of fighter ships upon the castle. They appear as a locust storm as they fly down towards the people, and people run as they scream.
The loud sounds of engines firing on all cylinders alone drives people to the ground. The sound of energy they have yet to name takes them out at their knees. Then the fighters fly over them. They leave people confused with their hands on their heads, watching the fighters spread out over the country.
“We only have the fuel for one grand attack,” the General instructed them. Each fighter flies now across the country, heading these words. Men and women, canines who have flown through the skies all of their lives, who trained and practiced their craft for the single purpose of being above the clouds, do so knowing it is for the last time.
“Make it count, when you all hit half your fuel, turn inwards, eradicate the routes, cut them off from the outside, form a perimeter, claim our new home.”
The moment the fuel begins to beep as it was made to, the first fighters slow, they scan the landscape, and then they dive.
They bomb the routes so only their mounts can traverse the land. They fire upon those covered in armor along the roads, killing the king’s men. They reduce the largest of villages by half their size, so they rebuild instead of rebel.
Each and every pilot works with determination and precision. Before they flew for another, before in their struggle they would find warmth in the cold of the air. Now they fly for themselves, their movement and efficiency is the definition of determination.
They take and they conquer.
But air ships do not conquer land, tanks do, mounts do, soldiers do.
As the people recover in their confusion, the sky gives another reason to be confused. Pods launch from the destroyer all around Tintagel, not into the castle but into the city around it. People look up, not knowing what they are, not realizing how large they are until it’s nearly too late.
Pods fall through homes, fall on people, and scar the hearth of Camelot.
They came too fast for the majority to start screaming, but they don’t release their contents quite as quickly. People walk up to these contraptions of steel, a metal most wouldn’t recognize on anything other than armor or in swords. Some walk up to the glass, the dreaded darkness, and the fearless, the foolish, they make the mistake of peering inside.
Those poor fools are the first to die.
The pod doors launch open with violent force, killing some instantly, and leaving others to suffer on the ground.
Huge, meaty claws covered in fur reach out, and out come the beasts that seek to scour the land.
It doesn’t matter whether the Lupians intend to kill any civilians with the plasma swords they unleash. It only matters that they intentionally terrify them, threatening each and every Cameloanian in Tintagel with their seemingly magical weapons and ferocious, ravenous teeth. They do not call to the people to surrender. They swarm the streets, drive people from their homes, and slaughter every guard, soldier, or rebel who comes to fight.
They swarm across a small country’s worth of land, and in mere moments the world of Camelot changes, the once united people become separate again.
It is not immediate, but it might as well be. In the coming hours governors, lords and ladies will see and hear of extraterrestrial invaders, and find that they suddenly have borders, that they suddenly are rulers themselves.
It all seems as if the natural order of mortal life is to be at odds with each other. No matter who it is, no matter how Life tries to teach them, we always fail to teach the mortals how they can survive together. They take after their gods who can barely do as we preach.
The mortals never know what to do, and I wonder if they truly ever had a chance.
They’re not monsters, everyone in the thick of the fighting and the insanity is afraid. Every, single, one. I can sense their fear, I know their fear. The fear of losing everything they have, the fear of dying, the fear of losing their world, is felt by everyone who now finds themselves under the banner of the Lupians and their General Vortigern.
Save for one.
“What is happening?” Queen Igraine whispers to herself as she watches the chaos from behind glass, the silver streak in her hair the only part of reflection blocking her sight. “What is happening to my land?”
The cries of her son draw her from the glass, but the sound of heated plasma cutting through flesh stops her at his crib.
The Queen doesn’t know it yet, but her rule is over, and only her son remains of her. She looks down at her crying boy when she feels her own tears threatening to fall down her cheeks.
She can’t, for him she can’t. She must show her strength.
She finds her strength in the lone silver curl on the babies head, and the silver markings on his face. They are of his mother’s coloring, but his father’s shape. Etchings that mark his future cheekbones as her markings do hers.
He is hers, he is all she has left, she simply doesn’t know it yet.
As the sound of plasma cutting steel grows loud over the sound of screaming men, Queen Igraine decides to hold her boy. She bends over his crib that lies so closely to her bed, but she stops. Pain shoots from her womb, cutting a line up her body to where her heart lies. She never had the chance to recover from her son’s birth, and she will not have the chance.
But she must move now if she is to give her son one.
Queen Igraine overcomes the pain and lifts the only thing that matters back into her arms. She wraps him in his blanket, a cape of red silk and splendor. She rocks him in her arms, lets him tug on her fair hair.
She shushes him as he cries, “Don’t cry my prince, don’t cry, crying doesn’t mean anything when its for nothing. You have no reason to cry-”
She hears the racing footsteps grow louder and louder as they head her son’s way. She swallows down, and it can be heard by the ants in the corners of the room. “You have no reason to cry,” she tells her prince, “you have no reason to cry, my prince.” She will not tell him to be afraid.
And as the steps grow louder, when they are at her door, Queen Igraine still tells her son, “You have no reason to cry.”
“Your Majesty,” says the witch woman who opens her door, arm burned, dark dress torn asunder, and eyes wide, having seen the greatest of Evil hiding behind a man’s eyes.
“Elaine,” the Queen gasps at her husband’s advisor of magic. The Queen is so happy to see a friend that she forgets to speak her proper title. “Lady Le Fay, what is happening?”
Elaine trots towards her without words, even as the Queen demands words from her. “Lady Le Fay, please, where is my husband?”
Elaine’s hands stop as they hover over the prince, then her eyes raise to the Queen’s. There’s so much sorrow in one look, so much to be sorry for, all in a single look. The Queen is defeated in an instant as Elaine whispers spells to quiet the crying child.
How could he be gone, and she not feel him leave? How could she not feel her great love leave her behind?
Elaine grabs the Queen’s hand, and pulls her along. They cannot wait, she knows what’s coming, what cuts through the men. She barely escaped, but she does not allow the same to be said of her Queen and the prince.
“Elaine, where are we going?!” the Queen shouts as she no longer hears her baby, but knows that he cries. There’s so much, there’s the screams up the hall, the clanking steel down the stairs, but all she hears is Elaine’s silence.
“Elaine, please!” she calls to the lady until the sound of clanking steel is upon them.
Elaine Le Fay stops Queen Igraine where she is, and points her hand towards the knights she has yet to recognize. She readies a spell, a dark power of Sin beyond what a Le Fay should know. She prepares to darken her soul.
But the knights are her allies, and when they name her, “Lady Le Fay, your Majesty?! What is happening?!”
Queen Igraine tries to ask them, “I do not-”
“Your king is dead,” Elaine tells them. Their backs stiffen at the news. They think her a liar, it can’t be true, but in reality it has to be.
“Protect your Queen,” Elaine tells them. She points behind them as the violent sound of plasma follows, and tells them, “Protect your Queen!”
They stand at attention, their swords pointed forward over their heads. They declare, their devotion and their loyalty simply. “To the end!”
“Protect your prince!” Elaine shouts, and onward they march. They march past the women, the battered, the broken, and the babe. They march to defend them.
All the while, they shout, “To the end! To the end!”
“They…” Queen Igraine mutters, stumbling over her words as she would, broken stairs, “the knights, they will save us.”
“They will die, your Majesty,” Elaine spares her Queen nothing, not even words, “but they will slow the monster at our door.”
Before she can say another word, Elaine pulls her arm and this time the pain from her traitorous womb cannot be denied. The Queen screeches in pain.
Elaine looks upon the Queen in a state of shock. Has the Queen been struck, worse off, the little prince? Elaine slows, looking down from the Queen’s riddled face, down her body to where she still bleeds.
The Le Fay knows, they are not long for this world.
“I will protect you,” Elaine promises.
Queen Igraine stares up into the eyes of Elaine Le Fay, she sees the finality and the fear. Neither are one who lacks fear, but they are two who overcome it. “Thank you-”
Queen Igraine can’t finish her words, the sound of fire from the town around the castle grows too loud, and the sounds of the knights behind them grow far too deafening.
Queen Igraine looks back. In her heart she knows that every man she just walked past is now dead. They died for her, and her son. She can’t fathom why, though it should be obvious. It’s just all so terrible, she can’t comprehend it.
Elaine doesn’t care to, she pulls Igraine along.
Up the stairs, the monster lies in wait. He holds his large blade of light in one hand, as he whisks his muzzle across the air.
Oberon sniffs for the prince’s scent as he stands over the bodies of knights freshly dead, his eyes flash with this violent gleam when he has the knowledge he needs.
He’s found them. His smile is nothing less than sinister. “Ah, little prince, I’ll be with you soon.”
The more Elaine leads Queen Igraine, the more people she passes stand still in the way of evil, the more who stand and wait for death.
It weighs on her, it’s the blood pooling out her reopened wound. “This loss, it’s all… it’s all too much.”
“Not now, your Majesty,” Elaine begs of her, despite sounding cold and unfeeling. She pulls her, trying to be careful for the Queen’s wound, but if she is too careful Oberon will catch them.
Elaine leads Igraine past the ground floor, through the cellars, to the basement. “How are we to escape this way?” Queen Igraine asks. “The streets are on fire! In chaos! Ooohh…” The pain and the loss clouds Queen Igraine’s mind, pushing Elaine to shoulder her weight and the prince’s even more.
“We will not be taking the streets, I will not risk the line of Pendragon to fire and ravenous teeth,” Elaine snarls, angry and disheveled with the world who seems to have betrayed them. “We will leave by river, you will take a boat, and you will sail past Tintagel’s moat, use the shadows to sneak past to freedom up the river, to the sword.”
“Sword?” Queen Igraine questions as the walls change to rock, and the air grows humid from the nearby mist of running water. “What sword could help us now? What but the Incarnal Ones who forsake us now?”
Oh, dear woman, I am so sorry.
“We cannot be forsaken by stories and monsters, we cannot be forsaken by power, we simply need to take it and wield it. Do you hear me, my Queen?” Elaine’s words draw Queen Igraine from the edge of forlorn madness. “Camelot will be avenged, Pendragon will not end. The power of the sword promises it.”
“What sword-” Queen Igraine tries to ask before being confronted with running water. Finally, with the fresh mist waking her, and the faint sound of her crying son, she hears Elaine’s words. “Lady Le Fay, you mad genius.”
Elaine finds faint pleasure in the Queen’s compliments. “Thank you, now, into the boat, hurry.”
“Yes, yes, we must,” Queen Igraine agrees as Elaine pushes her forth. Her fellow woman has given her a second wind, the power to move past the pain that beguiles her with the promise of release and reunion.
Elaine leads and rests Queen Igraine into the boat, and casts a spell to cloak the dear prince’s cries just a bit longer. Elaine rocks him in her arms mindlessly to his cries. How is it possible to see someone she loves in another? It’s a gift none of us can explain.
In Queen Igraine’s enriching daydream, Elaine pushes the mere rowboat away from the port. It takes a moment of recognition for the Queen to realize she and her son are the only ones on it.
Queen Igraine turns to Lady Elaine Le Fay, standing a alone at the edge of the water. Her smile glooms with a light touched by Love and her hands shine with the might of Honor.
Still the Queen calls out to her friend, as if to paddle the boat back to the edge. “Elaine, Elaine!” Seeing the Queen reach out for her brings a bit of glee to the tear going down her cheek.
With a gesture of love, Elaine uses her magic to push the boat farther from the edge. “You must go, may this Le Fay serve you one final time.”
“Serve me by by my side!” the Queen begs, as the water races underneath the bow. She feels the kick and the push of the water, the call to its depth. The foam of the current glows green and steadies the boat, Elaine steadying her one las time. “Elaine, please, don’t make me leave without you.”
“You must without me,” Elaine says, as the sound of plasma cuts through the rock, and a mad dog howls in the hunt of its prey. Elaine turns back the way they came, sensing the danger as it comes.
Queen Igraine sees the blue glow heralding another horror to come. “Please, I beg of youuuu,” she begs, her hands digging into the boat and shaking it with need, “Lady Elaine…”
“I hope you shall miss my company, your Majesty,” Elaine says as she lifts with one hand, and pushes the boat completely and utterly into the current, “but I am no Lady, I am a witch, and a witch must die for her Queen.”
Igraine calls the witch name as the dark cavern begins to surround her, fearing the sound of plasma overtaking the sound of rushing water against rock and stone.
Queen Igraine is alone with her son again, alone with nothing but her and his tears. She turns back to him, the only thing left of her entire world.
In the cave, Elaine waits. Her legs threaten to rescind their support, as Oberon makes his slow walk around the bend. His eyes settling on the witch trembling with her weapons of war.
“Your magic, against the science of my blade,” he taunts her, showing her the plasma broadsword that holds the weight of a mere magazine.
“Why do you do this?” Elaine asks the alien.
“Why do we do this?” Oberon questions her back. Elaine knows little of how this beast should appear, but if she had anything left of worth to gamble, she’d gamble he’s fighting the urge to smile. When he poses his counter, “Do you know what your King offered us?”
Elaine raises her glowing hands towards him, without an ounce of belief for his words. “I know nothing but that my king wanted peace. If you wish to trick me, you best make your attempt elsewhere.”
The snake smiles.
“You see right through me, Lady Le Fay,” Oberon tells her, as he maintains his approach, never ceasing, merely slowing to hear himself talk. “My cruel tongue is nothing against you.”
“Why be so cruel then?”
“Le Fay,” he says, never letting her question how he knows her name, “you asking me why I’m so cruel is like asking a viper why it bites.” Then he comes for her.
Elaine eyes follow the sword that pulses with the same energy that grants the planet life. How sacrilegious it must be to use the power to take it away.
There is a sense of clarity to it though, fear of death dies before the woman does. She knows everything she’s ever done and expected to do. Everything she’s forgotten.
Queen Igraine hides over her son’s infant form when she hears the witch’s final call..
“Take him to the sword!” Elaine calls to the Queen. “Take him to the sword in the stone, Igraine! It is the only way!”
The Queen turns towards the shrill light in the darkness, to call to her friend, but the sound of a woman’s scream stirs with a screeching slick of blood. The Queen fears a Lupian’s greater pursuit until an explosion of fire and old magic erupts from the hole.
Queen Igraine didn’t feel when her husband left her, but she feels it when Lady Elaine does. Another part of her soul separates from the Queen’s own, Lady Elaine takes it with her down below for all the regent knows.
The magic around her begins to fade, the bubbles and the backwash of the water loses Elaine’s color. Igraine reaches to touch the last of it one more time, and because of it, her focus is lost. She nevers sees the plunging wave coming.
Water cascades into the rowboat, pushing her forward, nearly throwing her atop the prince. Igraine can hear her son crying again, he’s almost as loud as the sound of her hitting the wood of the rowboat.
Before she can release a scream of her own, the wave turns her boat over along with the prince. She’s caught in the currents, bubbles of air swirling around her in a bid to find a missing surface.
The water feels like two hands around her throat and rope around her limbs, altogether hogtying her so cannot swim. It’s seconds before she takes her last breath, and expects water to fill her lungs.
It’s far from the peaceful death she’s heard drowning to be. There’s nothing peaceful about the panic she feels, nothing peaceful about being choked to death. The water raises her by her neck, a vengeful assailant that lifts her towards a blotch of darkness that looks like the bottom of the world as much as up.
She closes her salt filled eyes before she’s consumed.
“Aaahh!” she’s never taken a breath of air against her will before. Air isn’t any friendlier going down her throat as the water, but that doesn’t make it any less welcome.
And the sound of her son crying has never been so comforting.
“My prince,” she gasps. It would sound more comforting if her throat wasn’t on fire. She takes her floating baby to her, expecting to hold him to her chest, but he won’t sink an inch under the water. Around him and near her feet the water glows a familiar magical hue.
Queen Igraine can feel a Lady’s hands on her legs, holding her afloat, one last spell, one last bit of love to help her and her son through.
“Thank you, Elaine…”
The toppled rowboat felt warm above her head. Queen Igraine could only listen to the horrors as she cradled her prince, waiting for it all to end.
But not Vortigern. Vortigern watches from on high, nails curled, digging into paint and plaster, watching on from above.
The calls and cries of his people, civilians on his mothership, they haunt him. The times they turned to him, the times they asked him with what to do… he can’t think of anything else.
They wanted safety, they wanted a home, they wanted what they once had, but in a way they didn’t. They told him plain and clear, “We will not bow.” His people had become spoiled, for he bows to them.
He bows to them too much.
“This… this is what they wanted…” the General tells himself. “This… is what they wanted…” as if the difference matters. “They wanted to rule…
“So we shall.”
How loyal of him, to do what he has been asked. It’s almost as if the right thing lies not in the declarations of the majority to which he is faithful. It is almost as if he knows what he does, and does it anyway, haunted by the Red Lord.
To rule, he says they must do. To rule, he must kill the line of Pendragon.
Tonight he will not.
Tonight, Queen Igraine, amongst the cries and the pleas for help, amongst the defenseless people in house arrest, amongst the resilient dead and chained, she floats with her head under the rowboat, straight down the river.
The Queen holds her legs together and her hand to her wound, for the stitches have come loose. She tries to hide the blood that would trail beneath the boat. “Please,” she begs, “thy Lady Love, do not let me kill my son… do not make me his death.”
The anxiety never fades, and neither do the shakes. There’s blood in the water… blood in the coming snow. It matters not whether she prays, a predator will show, and show they shall.
The shock troopers, the Lupians who lead the assault and taking of Tintagel, they smell her. A group come near the banks, they make their way towards the fading blood, the scent of an injured prey.
They walk through so many strings, a Good favor has been done. They are weighed down by a need for rest, and logic in their ear that lets them follow their Desire.
They reach the bank, they see the rowboat, and they watch the Queen’s blood leave a trail. They hear no baby’s cries, a Good favor, a Good favor indeed. “A dead soul under there,” the squad leader says, and turns his back none the wiser, “a dead soul behind us.”
The small pack follows the leader, accepting the answer he gave, thus accepting the answer given to them by the strings.
But Queen Igraine will never know. She fears for herself now, her body growing cold, shivering despite the strangely warm water of the river. There’s little in her keeping her warm.
Now as she holds her son, as the boat heads towards the closing gate, she can hear the chain. She senses an affront to their path and holds her son close, thinking to keep him warm towards the end. In reality, he warmed her far more.
As the Lupians begin to close the iron gates, to shut every road and river, the one who tries to impede the hidden prince and Queen is entangled in weightless strings. A Good suggestion is whispered into his ear.
A realization he now has.
“That boat will damage the gate, better let it pass,” he thinks.
He holds the chainlink still, holding the gate in place. The rowboat passes on, and he nods his head, as if a regent himself were nodding all the same along with him.
Queen Igraine holds her prince close with one hand as she holds her head above water with the other. She waits for the boat to bang against the gate and be trapped, for them to hear her baby crying, but it never happens. She hears the gate close behind her, wondering what god of chance or luck has saved her.
She thinks her prayers have been heard, “My dear thanks, thy Lady of Love, my undying thanks.”
Somewhere there is an Incarnal pout, and undying snicker for love had little to do with anything.
The bit of dying strength she has, Queen Igraine lifts the rowboat just a bit, looking to see her country burning outside of her castle.
She lowers it.
The sound of fire washes over them, for many hours she and her son float.
Eventually, the sound of flickering flames from towns and forests lull the prince to sleep. A strange child to be lulled by fire, carried by water, and given lift by air. All he needs is an earthly death, and his life will be perfectly squared.
Then the cries for help, rattling chains, and life-stricken cries wake the prince into a pout. Queen Igraine as pale as she’s grown, bleeds no more. She stays awake, she sees her son to the end of the journey as long as she can only through Good grace.
But she feels Life slipping from her, she knows that stress was her downfall, a hard birthing has condemned her to death.
It’s alright to her, as long as the prince reaches some sort of safety, some haven. She just wants to hang on until the sky stops falling and the world stops burning and people are no longer filled with so much fear or hate, no more Dread.
Her eyes are closing when she nearly misses it. She heard nothing of her boat passing along Vortigern’s new borders. She doesn’t know the flag that now stands at the top of her castle, nor the new nation that lays claim to it.
How lucky she is.
The rowboat hits the side of the river, as if shoved there. The prince rolls onto the grass, as the Queen is shoved against it, her upper half on the river bed and lower half being wrung out by the current.
There’s a rush of the wind that flips the boat over, revealing them to the world.
Queen Igraine raises her hand towards her son on the bank. With her eyes glazed over by a gray veil, she barely makes out the trees, or the sounds of feet running to the riverbank. She barely hears the crying of her infant son.
She sees hands pick him. Her heart should jump out of her chest, but she has not the energy for even fear. She is lucky, the hands are not covered in fur, but the marking covered skin of Camelot’s own.
Queen Igraine is turned over, she looks up at the woman who holds her son like she will never again. The woman, of mere widowed peasantry, holds the prince in one hand, and holds the other over the crest on the baby’s blanket. Then down she looks, to see the crest upon the Queen’s breast as well, along with the famous silver streak in her hair.
She’s lived near the river all of her life, it’s where she has washed her clothes, hers and her husbands. It’s where he fished, and where she would push him in. She looks up the river and down to the crest upon Igraine’s breast.
“My Queen,” she gasps, and she calls out for help, for the slightest chance that someone is listening. “It’s the Queen! Someone save the Queen!”
Queen Igraine’s fingers dig into the woman’s skirt where they lay. “Don’t…” she whispers to the widow. The widow stops upon command. The Queen’s chest heaves like ripples in the water, ripples that break against the riverbank.
“Don’t tell… not a single… soul…” Queen Igraine asks between shallow breaths. The widow’s eyes are open, her mind trying to fathom what feels like the unfathomable. “Save… protect…” the Queen can barely push the breath from her lungs, she fights for her final words.
She must be sure, she must be sure he’ll be safe. She must trust fate, and in a lone woman of Camelot.
“Where… where…” the Queen tries to ask, before she feels wet drops upon her face.
The widow weeps, she weeps for the Queen. Queen Igraine has spent more time in her adult life in labor than she has off the grounds of a castle, yet… this woman… weeps for her…
Because she was her Queen.
“You’re in West… Westminster…” the widow whispers between her sobs. The royal bosom from which the people and the land could rest their heads lies dying in her lap, and she is to never say. In her hands lies the future of the royal line.
“West…?” the Queen whispers, wondering if it could really be, could it be the one Westminster she thinks.
“Yes,” the widow says, “the town of the sword,” her words unfathomable, “you lie near the sword.”
“The sword…” Igraine repeats, astonishment being too weak a word. She considers all the chances in the world that she would end up here. It feels like everything but exactly what is it.
A forgone conclusion.
She would laugh if she had the strength, but all she can muster is, “Dear Elaine…”
Elaine picked the royal path carefully, and Igraine awaits to compliment the tactics.
“Is his name Elaine?” the widow asks, a peasant from outside the capital and the castle, she knows nothing and hears little of what is current and what is old. She knows not the unspoken name of the prince she yet recognizes as a gift. “Is Elaine the name of the prince?”
Igraine wishes she could laugh, I wish I could grant her that, but I granted her longer than she should have. I’m so sorry, dear Queen.
She struggles upon her final breath. “His… his name…” she gasps, as her life slips away. “It’s… Arth…” she tries, she must succeed, he must have the name he gave her.
She speaks one word, “Arthur…” Her son’s name is Arthur.
Her son’s name is Arthur… Arthur Pendragon.