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[personal profile] rosie_rues
Title: Close Your Eyes
Rating: PG-13 for disturbing images
Words: 4270
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit, and I have no rights over this version of the legend.
Summary: The children of Camelot, during the Great Purge. Leon and Morgause are both old enough to remember this time, and I've wondered for a while if they knew each other.
Notes: This started as the first section of a 5 Things about Leon and turned out to be a story of its own. That said, I've got more I want to say about him. And now I'm going to bed, because I've been writing this all night.




It had been Morgause's idea to hold the blacksmith hostage, of course, but Leon had been the one to insist they took the other palace children along. So there were six of them feasting on the floor while Tom pounded away at the forge outside: Morgause herself; her baby sister, kidnapped from the nursery and tugging in a determined way on the pale, ragged ends of Morgause's pigtails; Leon; Tom's boy Elyan, now cake-besmeared and giggly; Clement, the alchemist's son, three years younger than Morgause and Leon; and Tom's little Guinevere, sleepily placidly through the fuss.

“Hostage,” Morgause demanded imperiously. “We need more cake.”

Tom leaned back in from the forge to say amiably, “You've finished it all, my lady, though there is apple juice, if you like.”

“What sort of hostage are you?” Morgause said. “Leon said you had the best cake in Camelot.”

“Aye,” Tom said, “but it's my wife who bakes it. If you'll wait for her to come home, and set to cooking, there may be more. In the meantime-”

“Juice will do,” Morgause said, sniffing. “And your baby has soiled herself.”

Tom shook his head gravely. “Ah, now being a hostage of such a powerful and talented set of warriors, I'm far too distracted to change her. There are nappies in the drawer, lass.”

“You don't expect me to deal with it?” Morgause said, eyes widening. “It smells.”

“I'll do it,” Leon said. He sometimes thought that he would spend his whole life fixing Morgause's messes, and probably little Morgana's as well, if she was like her sister, not to mention the baby prince, who they had failed to smuggle out of his ornate and lonely crib.

“Clement will help,” Morgause decided, cuddling her sister closer. Then she wrinkled her nose in sudden disgust. “Two nappies, actually.”

Clement sighed and his eyes flashed. The drawer slid open and two squares of cloth flashed across the room to slap into Morgause's face.

“You're not supposed to do that any more,” Leon said, before she could react.

“She does,” Clement said, rolling his eyes.

“Not when people might see,” Morgause said. “Besides, I'm going to be a priestess and as soon as I get to the druids I'll be safe, Alice says. You have to live in stupid Camelot forever.”

“Camelot's not stupid,” Leon said, stung. His family had been seneschals here for generations.

“Is too. Are you going to change those nappies?”

“She's your sister.”

“Priestesses of the Old Religion do not change nappies.”

“You're not a priestess yet,” he pointed out, and wondered how she could be so certain of her future. There had been other children in Camelot even a year ago. Now the citadel seemed too empty, as more and more people vanished into the night. His mother wouldn't let him look out of the windows some mornings, but he had smelt the smoke and seen the red eyes of the women, the strained faces of the remaining knights. The only answers he could make from all the clues were too horrible to be true, things out of old stories. It was better not to look, he was learning; better not to ask. Nobody spoke of Nimueh now; nor Balinor and his kind young wife, who had always had sweets for the palace children. You never spoke of the queen, or her brother, or the chambers of the palace sorcerors, suddenly empty, their food still cooling on the plate and their chairs knocked over by some force you did not name. A year ago, their secret picnics had been in the long-abandoned dungeons, not the smithy. They didn't go there now.

You forgot there had been a dragon roosting on the roofs of Camelot once.

Leon wasn't quite sure how to change a nappy, but he was certain that Tom would help if it went too horribly wrong, and as long as he didn't stick pins into the baby, it would be fine.

“Which one do you want?” he asked Clement politely. A knight always took the harder tasks upon himself, his father had explained to him, and this was definitely a moment for chivalry.

“Smelly, smelly, smelly!” Elyan crowed.

“You can talk, my lad,” Tom said. “You painted the ceiling in your time.”

Morgause shuffled backwards. “Do they all do that? I'm sure Morgana won't.”

As Morgana was definitely the more pungent of the two, Leon didn't quite believe her. “Perhaps if you distract her,” he suggested.

“Hush!” Tom said suddenly, sharper than he had ever sounded. They all went quiet, out of surprise more than anything, and one of the babies hiccuped.

Distantly, they could hear the thud of marching feet, the crash of doors being broken open. Tom looked in at them, his face suddenly stiff and solemn and said harshly, “Hide the girls, Leon. Behind the screen.” Then he was pulling the door closed, blocking them from the street.

Leon looked across at Morgause, who everyone knew was a witch and forgot about nappies and cake and games. “Quickly.”

She bundled both babies into her arms and darted behind the screen, scrabbling to move aside the sacks and heaped straw. As soon as she was crouched into the corner, Morgana starting to whimper, Leon began to pile the sacks back over them.

“Clement, help!”

“They're not coming for Morgause,” Clement said, clutching his knees as he rocked in his place. He had gone pale. “They wouldn't dare.”

“Help me,” Leon snapped. “Elyan, eat the cake.” If anyone came in, they must not see that there had been more children here.

Clement shuffled over and helped heap straw up. Leon kicked stray strands across the floor again, listened to Morgause whisper to the crying baby and then shift language, sighing strange words until Morgana's choking sobs were muted. He dragged Clement back into the main room, forced him to sit beside the abandoned feast. He put Morgause's half-finished cake into his own mouth and chewed dryly as he listened to the crash of doors and the thunder of footsteps.

He managed, with difficulty, to swallow his mouthful as the footsteps stopped outside.

“Tom,” a grave voice said. “We've come for the child.”

“Not for my babies,” Tom said, and Leon could see glimpses of him through the cracks in the door, hefting his hammer warily.

“For the magicians' brat, Tom,” said the knight outside, one of Gorlois' back-country men, from his accent. “We know he came this way.”

Clement made a high, thin sound in his throat, and Leon froze. They hadn't come for Morgause, after all.

“The alchemists' son. He's here?”

“Out the back,” Leon gasped, grabbing at Clement's sleeve, but the boy was curling forward, his eyes closed and his fists clenched. “Clement!”

Outside, Tom let out a grunt of pain and the door slammed open. The knights came in with the crash of metal boots and the swirl of red cloaks, scarlet twisting like spilled blood around Leon as he tried to stop them, to shout that his father would not condone this.

“King's orders, boy,” one of them said gruffly, as Clement thrashed in the arms of their leader, and Leon hesitated. The king was the king.

He was pushed aside then, back against the wall with Elyan howling beside him, open-mouthed and terrified, and Clement's screams were muffled as he was bundled into a cloak and hefted over a knight's shoulder. Leon tried to move again, but Tom held him back this time, pushed him against the wall until the knights were gone.

“Don't,” he said, still wheezing slightly. “Don't.”

“You were supposed to stop them,” Morgause said, crawling out from behind the screen, dusty and covered in damp straw. “You let them take him.”

“It wasn't his fault,” Leon said, looking up at Tom, but the smith's shoulders were bowed. He was looking out into the street. “They won't hurt him, not the king's men. They won't-”

“You're so stupid,” Morgause hissed. “So stupid they should have taken you!”

“No,” Tom said, stirring. “None of that. Get back behind that screen.”

“I'm going after Clement.”

But Tom was closing the door, moving to stand in front of it. “Listen, girl. They weren't just looking for your friend.”

Sure enough, the sound of breaking and marching still continued, mixed now with screams and weeping. Morgause shivered, hard and fast, and then took a step forward anyway. “Clement-”

“You can't help him.” Then Tom wrenched his face into a smile, as stiff and fake as a mask. “Sit. Finish your cake. When the streets are safe, I'll take you home. Now, there are still nappies to deal with, and food trodden into the floor – you can wield a mop, my lady, if you'd rather that than your sister's mess. Then I'll have the spillikins and the knucklebones out and we'll play to pass the time.”

“I don't want to play,” Morgause said, voice getting shriller.

Leon understood, though, and made himself look down at Elyan and said, with as much cheer as he could. “We'll play, Tom. You like games, eh, Elyan?”

And, so once the floor was clean and the babies bundled together in Guinevere's rough crib, they sat in a tight circle and played by the dim light of the fire. Outside, the noise continued, though the silences between bursts of wailing grew longer and longer. Beside him, Morgause was shaking, fumbling the catches she could normally do with ease, the polished bones spilling across her bright skirts. None of them spoke much. When Elyan began to suck his thumb, Tom let him, gathering his son close to his side when he would normally have corrected him.

Every time a new noise started outside, Leon tensed and bit his lip, until it started to bleed, a warm sting and trickle down his chin. He wiped it off with the back of his hand and looked down to see red smeared across his skin, bright as a scream, and Morgause had to dig her nails into his thigh to make him take him turn with the bones.

It was very late before they made it home. Tom took them right to their doors, though they both knew they were more at home in the castle than he could ever be. Leon stood in his shadow as he handed Morgana back to her mother and helped Morgause, sleepy and slow, through the door.

“I hid your girls,” Tom said quietly, leaning into the shadows of the doorway, “but they took the alchemists' boy right out of my house. My lady, I mean no disloyalty, but is there no end to this?”

Leon was beginning to drift himself, so he did not hear Lady Vivienne's answer. He yawned, leaning against the wall and staring vaguely at the moon-lit courtyard. Camelot was full of ashes now, drifting in smudges on the breath of the wind. It made everything so very dirty, he thought, and then began to shiver again.

“Almost asleep, aren't you?” Tom said, and he was lifted up. For a moment, he froze, seeing Clement twisted into a scarlet knot, but Tom settled him against his warm shoulder and murmured, “Steady there. Steady, boy.”


#



He never saw his friend again.

“...the adults are beyond hope,” he heard his older sister Elise whisper to her friend, as they hunched over their embroidery, “but the boy they'll test by water.”

“To think that evil could linger in one so young,” the friend said, and Leon looked up from where he sat by the hearth. He wasn't allowed outside the high halls of the court now, not until the political situation settled.

“Sssh,” his sister said, tipping her head towards him. “Don't. So, I hear the king is sending posies to Vivienne again. Gorlois should look to his own hearth for once.”

A week later, he was awoken by screams, raw and gurgling and terrible. He rolled out of his own bed and went stumbling across the dark parlour, tripping on every chair he passed until he realised there was light creeping in, glowing red and gold around the edges of his sister's door, where the screaming still continued.

He got there first, before their parents, and was the one to see Elise die: the flames dripping from her torn mouth and swelling from her fingertips, her face blackening as the bed blazed around her; the wet horror of her eyes.

Someone pulled him back before he could get to her, pressed him against their shoulder so he couldn't see, but it was too late. He had no blisters or sores, but it was burnt into him and he saw her every time he closed his eyes, every time he stopped moving and let himself think.

One in ten of the noble ladies of the court burned in their beds that night, with only the mark left in the ashes to tell them how it had begun.

Nimueh, the court whispered as the cortèges passed, the coffins too small for the women they carried. Her mark. Always Nimueh.

The king watched from the dais, and Leon and his father stood beside him, Gorlois at his other side. Leon tried to take his cues from Uther; kept his shoulders straight and his mouth firm, but he could still see Elise burn again in the swirling of the ash and the broken spars of the pyres. His eyes blurred with it, but though he couldn't see the courtyard clearly, he could still see her.

But for Camelot, she was just another name, one of the smaller losses. For among the other victims had been Vivienne, Gorlois' wife and, it was always rumoured, Uther's paramour.

The pyres burned without cease after that. Leon understood what they were now; what purpose they served, but he couldn't relish them the way that some of the other pages did, not what he had seen what fire did.

After a while, he began to hate his sister as much as he missed her. He didn't want to see her any more. He wanted to sleep without her screams slipping into his dreams.

He almost never saw Morgause, and when he did, she was clinging to her father's side, her hand often twisted in the hem of his tunic. She always seemed braced, her head twisting to watch the room.

Magic was evil, everyone said. Magic killed and tortured and corrupted. If you used magic, you too were evil. It made your soul rot and die; turned you into the sort of monster that sorcerers consorted with. The Old Religion was barbaric, and must be uprooted before it dragged Camelot back down into savagery.

He still remembered dancing on May Eve two years ago, stumbling over his steps as Morgause giggled at him and heckled. He had watched Clement make dancing butterflies out of candle flames, and seen Morgause calm a rearing horse with an outstretched hand.

It didn't make sense, the evil he had seen and the harmless things he remembered. Perhaps, he decided in the end, magic didn't twist you until you were an adult. It was harmless for a child, so long as they put it aside in time. It was only wicked in grown men.

And it could be abandoned. Everyone knew that Gaius had burned all his spellbooks (though Leon wasn't quite sure he believed that, having seen the tenderness the old man showed towards his favourite books. He thought the odd few might have survived). The physician had renounced magic, and Uther had praised him publicly for it.

But Gaius lived alone in his chambers now, dust gathering in the corners, and Camelot had one less healer to tend its endless wounds.

Uther's men were finding sorcerers among the nobility now, and everyone whispered suspicions. A rumour could doom you, Leon's father told him, and banned him from gossip.

He worried about Morgause, though. How long could her father protect her?


#



It was weeks before he had a chance to speak to her, and that was only because Uther called a full council and no one was there to notice him slip out of his chamber.

When he got to her room, she was busy, folding clothes onto the bed with sharp, shaky movements.

“How are you?” he said and she jumped, twisting to face him. She was thin and hollow-cheeked, her eyes too bright, but she still lifted her head proudly.

“I'm fine.” Then bit her lip and added, twisting her hands in her skirt awkwardly. “I'm sorry. About your sister.”

“Me too, about your mother. I-”

She nodded at him, one swift jerk. “Thank you. What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to know if you were safe.”

She laughed at that, dry as a cough and then sat down, covering her face with her hands. Cautiously, Leon went to sit beside her, pushing aside riding breeches and thick shirts to make space. Unsure, he patted her shoulder. “Morgause-”

“Shut up.”

He nodded and went quiet, waiting for her to recover her pride. She wouldn't want to be seen crying, he knew, so he looked away, idly catalogued the piles on the bed: the practical clothes, the small treasures, the map, the leather pack.

“You're packing,” he said, before he could hold the words back.

She went very still beside him, and then whispered. “Yes.”

“Your father's sending you away?”

He got another dry laugh. “No. He- I'll be next. I don't know why they haven't come already.”

“You could give it up. You don't have to use magic. If you stopped, nobody would hurt you. You're not old enough-”

“I'm older than Clement.”

This time, as he closed his eyes, he saw the red cloaks flaring, not the flames. “He-”

“Uther drowned him. They put him down the well.” Then, incredulously, “Didn't you know?”

He thought about it, considering all the little things he hadn't let himself think about. “I didn't want to know.”

“Some of us don't have that choice. Some of us can't just close our eyes, Leon.”

He thought about what it meant to him, closing his eyes, and wanted to argue. Then he thought again, of what a knight should do, of duty and honour and the harder path.

“How can I help?”

She jumped off the bed, turning to face him, her hands fisted against her sides. “That's not fair. You can't turn up and pretend-”

“Tell me how to help.”

She shook her head at him, her hair suddenly bright in the light from the window. “You- I don't know. It's not-” Then she threw her hands in the air. “I can't make it fit. It won't go in the bag, and nothing ever goes right, and it's so stupid.”

“You just need to fold things,” he said, breathing in relief. This was the sort of problem he could solve.

“I hate you sometimes,” she said, throwing herself into the nearest chair, but she smiled feebly with it.

He smiled back, and then set to with her pack. “Do you have somewhere to go?”

“Yes. I'm not telling you.”

“Better not.” He didn't want to keep that secret.

“You should come with me.”

He looked up, surprised. “I don't do magic.”

“You're a decent human being,” she said, scrubbing at her eyes. “You don't deserve this horrible place.”

“It's home,” he said, and couldn't explain it any better. His family had lived here before there was a city, and every corner, every statue, every worn curve of rock was his. His father, always honourable, was here; good and true people like Tom and his wife. He couldn't leave that.

“You look after my sister, then. Until I come and get her.”

“Of course,” he said, surprised that she needed to ask, and tucked the last necklace down the side of the pack. The map went in the pocket at the back and then he pulled the clasps down. “This is heavy.”

“I can make it lighter.”

“Useful, that. Is there anything else I can do?”

She crossed over to the window, pacing fast, and then faced him again, the light behind her. “One thing. Take that with you. You know the tunnel, the barred one which comes out below the curtain wall. Leave it there, up against the bars.”

“You're not going to take it yourself?”

“I can't just walk out, Leon. They're watching me. All the time, now. There's a guard opposite my door.”

“And it's not going to look suspicious if I walk out with a great big bag?”

She shrugged. “I hadn't thought of that. What are you doing? Don't unpack it!”

“Some of it will fit me. I can put my own clothes over the top.”

She snickered. “You'll waddle. Are you going to wear the skirts? The guard will notice that.”

“You don't need skirts.”

“There's gold and jewels sewn into the hems.” At his look, she crossed her arms and said, “I've had nothing else to do.”

“Fine. I'll carry those. Somehow.”

“I've got a lunch tray. You could pretend they were serving cloths.”

It was so ridiculous that he almost forgot why they were doing it, and Morgause ended up sitting on the floor and cackling when her boots proved to be too narrow for his calves, but they got it done and then he stretched his own shirt over the lot, with some help. He felt liked a padded jousting dummy, but a glance in the mirror told him it wasn't very obvious.

“So how are you going to get out?” he asked, wriggling his arms carefully in an attempt to stop his sleeves from pinching.

“I told you. They'll come for me soon.”

“But you'll go before then, won't you?”

She looked up at him, all cool focus. “I can't.”

“They'll throw you down the well!”

She smiled at him, a little twist of her mouth. “I can swim.”

“Morgause!”

But she was looking past him, her eyes wide and unfocussed. “You need to leave. Right now.”

“But-”

“By the bars, remember, and don't let anyone suspect.”

“I'm not leaving you to-”

“They're on the stairs. I'll starve without that bag. Go!”

He didn't run, but he knew he was shaking. It seemed strange that the guard outside didn't see the guilt written on his face. By the time he was ten paces down the corridor, he could hear them, the steady thud-thud-thud of marching feet. If he ran, it would be suspicious, so he ducked into the nearest alcove and watched from behind the shadow of a gargoyle's wing.

They shouldn't wear the colours of Camelot, he thought, these men who took children away. Their armour shouldn't gleam. The dragon shouldn't be emblazoned on their breast. It was supposed to mean honour and justice.

If he ever wore those colours himself, he swore, he would do right by them.

She walked out when they left the room, her head held high. Surrounded by knights, she looked very small and very proud.

He watched her go, but she never looked back.

By dusk, he'd smuggled her pack down to the tunnel. When he got back to his family's rooms, his father forbade him from leaving again and then slowly, wearily, closed all the shutters on the windows that overlooked the courtyard.

“I know what's happening,” Leon said, and he'd never dreamt of taking that tone with his father before.

“You don't.”

“I do.”

“As far as the world, is concerned, you do not.”

“So I should lie? I should pretend that this is right?”

“Magic destroys,” his father said, and Leon realised that he was not the only one who saw flames when he closed his eyes. “It must be reigned in.”

“Like this?”

“We don't chose the methods. That's not our place. We serve Camelot and we protect our own.”

“Do we?” Leon asked and his father looked away.

Standing in the darkened room, there was nothing he could do but hope. He hoped that the pack would be gone the next time he went down the tunnel. He hoped that the war on magic would end soon, either won or abandoned. He hoped that there would still be a Camelot when he was old enough to be one of her knights. He hoped that one day he could protect more than one person at a time.

Outside the crowd groaned softly and Leon, once again, closed his eyes.

Date: 2011-03-11 06:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kleinefee92.livejournal.com
I just came across this today and thought it was absolutely brilliant. The idea that Morgause and Leon were both shaped by the same experiences in the Great Purge but turned out so completely different in the end is fascinating. Leon's fear and determination to ignore the truth and then his understanding that sometimes things *need* to be seen came across beautifully. Very well done - thanks for sharing.

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