With Lancelot and Gwain right alongside him, Arthur took his first steps into the Great Hall, which was still filled to capacity with his family’s long-time enemies. He strolled along the edge of the crowd, his posture confident and a topaz-coloured cape hanging slightly over his eyes so that his face was particularly obscured. His cousin and Lancelot were wearing similar hats, thanks to the generosity of Gwen the maid servant, who helped them with their disguises after the power of the necklaces, wore off. Somehow, she had managed to acquire some very formal attire that was bulky and ornate enought to mask all of their identities-and their secret weapons. If Arthur had bumped into Lancelot or Gwain in town wearing these silken capes and other accessories, he certainly wouldn’t have recognized them.
While he surveyed the crowd for a glimpse of his sweet Morgana, Arthur was relieved to see that the costumes they were wearing seemed to have fooled the Tragor’s.
“From the looks of all this commingling, it appears that peace in Camelot might actually be achieved,” Arthur said. He watched in amazement as two men on his left-one vampire, one human-chuckled with each other. Arthur never thought he’d see the day.
“Maybe you should keep your opinion to yourself until you’ve seen a Tragor murder someone you care about,” Gwain replied.
“It’s not Arthur’s fault he can’t join us on the front line. He is the future king of Camelot, and we can’t afford to lose him!” Lancelot said in his friend’s defence.
Arthur gave Gwain a cold, hard stare. “Honestly, I’m glad that I haven’t fought in any of your battles. All it has done is turn you into a bloodthirsty savage.”
“I am a savage?” Gwain grabbed him by the arm, twisting his sleeve so tight that Arthur’s wrist turned a bright shade of pink. “You better take that back.”
“Or what? Arthur taunted. He was sick of Gwain’s bullying, especially now when he needed his cousins help.
Lancelot suddenly broke in between them, holding two large chalices in his hands and smiling as thought he’d ingested a litre of ale. “Good fellows!” he said cheerily. “Stop bickering and be merry. We are among our dear friends!”
Then he shoved the glasses at Arthur and Gwain, and quickly huddled together with them, whispering, “Who will put us through a slow and painful death if they find out who we really are?”
Arthur realised Lancelot was right and reminded himself why he was putting all of them at great risk-the beautiful and perfect Morgana. Arguing with Gwain would only put his plan in jeopardy.
Arthur held up his chalice and grinned at Gwain. “Agreed, Lancelot. We should behave like gentleman.” They took a sizable gulp of their drinks. Instantly, they dropped their cups to the floor in horror, spitting the vile substance out of their mouths and on to Lancelot and his fine silken smock.
“My God, Lancelot! Where did you get this?” Gwain said through a series of coughs. Lancelot wiped some spit off his cheek with the back off his hand. “That man over there offered it to me! Did it taste that bad?”
Arthur followed Lancelot’s finger over to the figure and instantly recognized the menacing figure gliding towards them. His name was Merlin, and he knew exactly who Arthur was.
“Good evening, sir. Is there something wrong with your beverages?” Merlin asked in a simpering voice.
Arthur glanced at Gwain who’s hand was dangling near his pocket, where he knew a small, blunt wooden stake was hidden from view. Arthur tried to remain calm and act in a jovial manner, but given how intimidating Merlin was, it was difficult.
“No, not at all,” Arthur replied in a cavalier tone. “They were just a little weak in taste.”
Merlin raised his eyebrows in suspicion and then gestured towards a servant, who came by with another tray of goblets and extended it towards Arthur. “Please try another, Perhaps yours was just tainted with parasites.”
Reluctantly, Arthur reached for another goblet, his stomach rumbling at the thought of the foul taste the first sip had left on his tongue. Then out of the corner of his eyes, Arthur saw a flash of chocolate brown. A young maiden with hair similar to Morgana’s had just melted into the throng of people standing around. Arthur’s heart leaped into his throat, his passion winning out over sanity.
Merlin’s smirk turned into a wide, sinister smile. He grabbed Arthur by the neck and brought him close to that Arthur’s face was within devouring range. “You were crazy to think you would hide your Pendragon stench from me.”
Lancelot sidled up to Merlin, subtly pulling a dagger out of his jacket and pressing it against Merlins ribs. “Sorry to turn up unannounced, but we were so distraught we did not receive an invitation,” he said. Merlin’s grip around Arthur’s neck tightened. Arthur was stunned by what was happening. In mere seconds, a roomful of Tragor’s could unite and burn him, Lancelot and Gwain. But when Prince Leon and his hot, Lord Tragor, suddenly emerged from the crowd, Arthur realised he might be able to end this situation peacefully.
“Dear Prince! Lord Tragor!” he croaked as loudly as he could.
He caught their attention immediately, as well as the attention of Merlin, Gwain and Lancelot, who were moments away from killing one another.
“Over here!” Arthur waved an arm above his head frantically, making a spectacle. The great lord Tragor looked a bit skittish as he and Prince Leon approached.
“What is the meaning of all this commotion?” Lord Tragor said, seeming to be extremely displeased with Arthur’s antics.
“My lord, these repulsive creatures are Pendragons.” Merlin reluctantly let go of Arthur’s neck and shoved him away. “I was just about to...”
“Introduce us!” Arthur interrupted, shaking Lord Tragor’s hand before Merlin could do or say anything.
Lord Tragor and the rest of the lot gawked at each other, totally stunned.
“Is that so?” he asked, steeling a quick, uncertain glance at his nephew.
“Of course!” Arthur threw his arm around Merlin as if they were childhood friends. “We were so happy that you extended an olive branch to us and requested that we join your celebration here. Weren’t we, men?”
Gwain and Lancelot looked at each other and shrugged, putting their weapons down at their sides.
“And all of this is because of you, Prince Leon,” Arthur went on, shaking the prince’s hand. “You and your peace treaty have changed Camelot for the better, and I for one applaud Lord Tragor for being such a strong proponent of it.”
Prince Leon’s eyes lit up, obviously pleased by what he’s just heard. “I applaud him, too.” He turned to Lord Tragor and smiled. “This is a great achievement, and I am thoroughly impressed with your family.”
Arthur looked at Lord Tragor, who at first had an indignant expression on his face, but soon it transformed into one of submission. “Thank you, Prince. We were hoping you would feel that way after being here and meeting us.”
A vein in Merlin’s pale forehead pulsated as he punched the air in frustration. “This is preposterous! They are our mortal foes! They should be hanged or disembowelled for daring to set foot on our property.”
“I thought I had put an end to those kinds of barbaric acts. Especially ones threatened towards our future king!” the prince said to Lord Tragor, obviously dismayed by how Merlin was behaving.
“Listen closely, nephew. These men will remain at the ball and no harm will come to them,” Lord Tragor said, staring Merlin down. “Is that understood?”
A disgruntled Merlin nodded in affirmation, then stalked out of the Great Hall without saying another word. Lord Tragor turned in the opposite direction and held his arm out in front of him. “Come, Prince Leon. Let us join Count Mordred in the courtyard. There is much for us to talk about.”
Once Lord Tragor and the prince took leave of them, Gwain and Lancelot doubled over in laughter, trying to catch their breath in between gasps.
“Arthur, I cannot believe you just did that!” Lancelot said as he clutched onto his side.
“Leave it to you to talk our way out of being killed,” Gwain added. “I have never seen the mighty Merlin sulk like a baby before.”
Arthur, however, was too focused on searching for Morgana to engage in his cousin’s and friend’s antics. One again, his eyes drifted from woman to woman, seeking out the most delicate skin and most radiant smile he had ever encountered. After a brief moment or two, he noticed a petite maiden crossing the floor about fifty feet away. She was wearing a white-lace-and-deep-blue-gown, which showed off an alluring figure that Arthur knew to be Morgana’s. He had fantasised about the curve that went from her waist to her hips almost every night before he went to sleep. Now was his chance to properly court her.
Arthur did not even think to excuse himself from his company. He just darted off into the crowd, slipping by sorcerer after sorcerer as though they were harmless. He did not even flinch as they floated through the room, with their eyes glowing. All he could see was the back of Morgana’s head, her hair cascading down her shoulders as she halted in front of a marble column in the Great Hall and leaned up against it.
Arthur was only a few steps away from her when she turned around and looked in his direction. When her eyes locked upon him, he thought he might burn up with fever and die right there in that very spot.
At one time, the thought of dying might have troubled Arthur. But all of a sudden he was no longer afraid of death. He was no longer afraid of anything. This delirious trance had rid him of every worry and filled him with a joy so all-encompassing that if he were to take his last breath before the sun came up tomorrow, his last words would be “Do not mourn me, for I have truly loved.”
Arthur could not break away from the maiden’s potent stare, and even if he could, he would not. Her face was that of a heavenly cherub, a perfect creation by the hands of god. Her eyes were like gemstones, glittering at the bottom of a deep blue sea. By the way she carried herself, he could tell that she was as graceful as a swan; and from the way she kept looking at him, he knew that her soul was meant to find his.
Without a doubt, this girl was Arthur’s destiny, but she wasn’t Morgana of Tragor.