The following is one of my favorite exchanges from my unpublished young adult fiction manuscript “The Knights With No Lords”. Here we find the 17-year-old Morgan sulking in the shadows as her secret love cavorts with the other lads down in the courtyard below. Morgan’s older sisters, Elaine and Morgaus take notice. I hope you like it.
“You must be happy. To have your friend back.”
“Elaine, if your wenches are with you, please send them away. I’m not in the mood,” Morgan said without turning her head to look.
Elaine nodded to her ladies, Annaleise, Giselle, and Fierva. Clicked tongues and appalled gasps rattled out as the ladies stormed off. Elaine and all her heavenly shine nudged against her shadowy sister.
“Why so dark and gloomy? Honestly, did you run this through coal? Where did you get this cloak?” Elaine scoffed as she picked at the fleece.
“Don’t you worry. I like it. Darkness suits me. Tis better this way,” Morgan said in soft apathy.
“I can’t help but worry, Morgana. You were gloomy when he was away and now that he’s back you’re even more lethargic. Sometimes I think you like being misread; the effort people put into figuring you out can be flattering. I used to be like that. Then I grew up,” Elaine said as her gaze settled on the shimmering fountain below.
Surprisingly, Morgan didn’t retaliate against Elaine’s incendiary remarks. That’s mostly because Morgan wasn’t listening. For close to three minutes the sisters stood gazing upon the oasis in silence, and then, Morgan proposed the following question.
“Do you ever feel burdened? To be born a woman?”
“Honestly! Where is this coming from?” Elaine said.
Morgan groaned heavily as she nestled her lips into the arm of her fleece and grumbled, “Just answer the question before I bite you.”
“No! I don’t feel burdened. I love being a woman. I like being pampered and fawned by big hairy warlords and gallant knights. I’d rather be spoiled and confined to a palace than hunting and trudging about in the wilderness. Getting all sweaty, never knowing when you have to run or hide. Honestly, it all sounds absolutely horrid. Don’t tell me that’s what you desire?” Elaine said.
Morgan scoffed into the pit of her elbow as she continued leaning on the stone railing. Elaine smiled and whimpered as if she was staring at a puppy that struggled to climb steps. She reached over and combed her fingers through Morgan’s long curly brown hair.
“Oh, Morgan! Do tell me what’s on your mind. I can’t bear to see you this way.”
Morgan’s purple eyes swept from Elaine to the fountain, then back to Elaine. She really didn’t want to waste her breath but at the same time, she had to admit that she was genuinely touched by Elaine’s concern. Morgan finally stood up straight and stretched her back against the colonnade column. With a heavy sigh, she put a hand on her hip, let her head slouch back, and unloaded.
“This entire court owes me an apology. Especially King Mark and that ghost in a shell, Tristan. If it wasn’t for me, Gawain would still be out there answering to the beck and whim of Iseult and her dogs and we’d never be in a position to bargain with the Hibernians. All of this was made possible by me. ‘You were right, Morgan. Thank you, Morgan.’ I get nothing! Honestly, I am so sick of having to subject myself to all of these stupid men. I swear, Elaine! There’s only so much I can take. I feel it in the depths of my soul.”
“I’m telling you, chained deep within my heart there is a fiery dragon who always furious. She’s screaming. She’s crying out loud! She’s begging to be set free and I’m doing my very best to hold her back but it hurts! It burns! It’s only a matter of time before she breaks the chains and devours my soul. She’ll replace it! She’ll replace my soul. She will replace me with… myself.” Morgan ended in sorrow.
Elaine stared in a complete loss of words. She didn’t know if she should hug her or simply tell her everything would be all right. She had half a mind to bring her down to the clerics.
“Oh, to be young again…”
Elaine and Morgan turned to see Queen Morgaus approaching with a bowl full of dates.
“I remember feeling the same anxiety when father told me I’d be adopting three young sons. They weren’t even babies but toddlers, and Saxons no less. Our father, the honorable Duke Gorlois forced it upon me without my consent and without warning. I was shattered. Remember? But then I laid my eyes on the boys, Gawain, Gaheris, and Agravain and oh how my heart melted.”
“Morgaus, please! If the boys were anything like Pellinore we would’ve found you at the bottom of the tower from having cast yourself from a window,” Morgan protested.
Elaine chuckled so hard she almost choked on a date.
“Perhaps,” Morgaus replied. “But who knows what the future holds? Why does one peer into prophesies of disaster when you’re surrounded by prosperity?”
“Because love is an illusion. Moreover, it’s not guaranteed that everyone will get it. That’s why love is cruel, extremely cruel. Love is ephemeral. It is the very definition of pain. Ask yourself, what good is love when all it does is wrench at your chest and bring you endless heartache?” Morgan argued.
“Because it also brings you bliss, my little raven. Love is a euphoria that makes you light on your feet and uplifted in spirit. It is complete and everlasting happiness in every sense of the phrase.” Morgaus answered.
Morgan rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.
“Oh? Did Morgaus win this debate? Yet again?” Elaine chuckled.
Morgan shook her head and gradually, her gaze found its way back to Gawain down by the fountain.
Morgaus leaned closer and whispered softly, “Yes, love can keep you up at all hours of the moon. It can conjure heat and trepidation that’s usually followed by a stimulating sensation of pleasure that carries you into ecstasy. I’m not lying. The feeling, you’ll never forget it. You’ll long for it worse than castaways thirsting for water in the scorching heat. It’s a catharsis that washes away all doubt and loneliness, forever reminding you that you are indeed a treasure.”
As Morgaus spoke, she continued to inch closer and closer to Morgan. Her voice became softer and softer and once she finished, she gave Morgan a quick lick on the ear. Elaine and Morgaus laughed as Morgan recoiled so hard that the back of her head hit the column.
“Gross! You snake!” Morgan snapped.
“My goodness. I’m sorry!” Morgaus laughed.
“You’re living in a dream world! Both of you!” Morgan said, aggressively wiping her ear as if a gnat had flown into it.
“Yes, yes. The world is cruel and everyone hates you. Sure, Morgan. I can’t tell you what to do. But I see now, you know exactly what I’m talking about.” Morgaus said as she bounced her eyebrows.
“Oh? Has someone captured the heart of our little crow?” Elaine asked.
“Honestly, Elaine. How can you be so dense?” Morgaus teased. “It’s obvious who she’s in love with. But it’s complicated, isn’t it? Traditions and a wicked twist of fate stand in the way Morgan being joined with her paramour. So what will she do, I wonder.”
“I’m not afraid of breaking tradition. I could care less what people think of me.” Morgan insisted.
“Clearly,” Elaine noted, poking at the fleece.
“Unfortunately, my paramour, as you put it, is probably the most pious person I’ve ever met. It’s so damn frustrating it makes my teeth rattle. I swear it would be so much easier if he had but an ounce of villainy in him. A scoundrel like Pellinore,” Morgan mumbled.
Morgaus scoffed. “I don’t know about all that. If good girls fall for the bad guys, whom do you think the bad girls fall for? Truth be told, I think it’s his shining sense of virtue that you’re drawn to. He is everything that you are not. You can’t explain the valor that dominates his heart and it’s irritating, sure. However, I think a simpleton like Pellinore who you could figure out in a single afternoon would truly drive you to quaff cyanide. Your paramour, his restraint, his strength, the respect he shows others even when he’s shaking with rage…I think you admire all that. You admire those who have what you lack and I think that’s absolutely precious.”
Morgan listened as she watched Gawain captivate those around him. Her heart softened. Morgaus’s words had penetrated her hardened exterior and found all the optimism hidden beneath piles of angst and planned failure.
“Wait!” Elaine exclaimed in her epiphany. “Are you talking about Gawain?”