I write a great deal of pointless snippets of stories and novels. I was hoping I could post a few of them here because I'd love to hear any suggestions or comments anyone has on my writting. There is no perfection in art, but there is always improvement.
The following is something I wrote a few years back. On its own, it's not much, but it inspired me to take on one of my more ampitious projects: an Arthurian series of three books, four if I can make that work. This short story isn't really much at all, and a great deal of the plot elements are, sadly, unoriginal. I've tried to fix some of those in my master outline, but this story still has them... I'm getting sidetracked.
I let two of my friends read this piece and I got two completely opposing views: one finds the language too 'modern' and the other finds some of the concepts too 'out dated'. That being said, I'm posting this more for feedback on the style than anything else, since I don't want to post anything that might actually be used in the hopefully publishable product.
Arthur smiled as his sister rode through the gates of Camelot, her roan mare chosen, he suspected, to match her own auburn curls. In all the many years since he'd last seen her, she hadn't aged a day, and Arthur suddenly felt himself to be the elder, though Morgause was older than him by several years. His gaze passed over her entourage, and froze, fixedly, on his youngest nephew.
He hadn’t seen Mordred since he was a babe, and as such he had looked just like any other child. Now, Arthur found himself looking into cool, calculating eyes, framed by short black hair. Try as he might, the king could find none of Lot’s usual characteristics – not even the broad forehead he’d passed on to all of his other sons. In fact, the more he looked, the more he saw of his own features. Some of them, such as the high cheekbones and slender frame, could be found in Morgause, as well, but others, such as the light grey eyes and the rounded point of his nose… they were features Arthur knew only from his own reflection, and the realization filled him with terror.
Mordred looked up at him from the back of his grey dappled charger, his eyes telling Arthur nothing of his thoughts, giving no hint as to whether or not the king’s suspicions were right.
‘Arthur,’ Morgause said with a smile, once she was close enough not to yell, ‘my son, Mordred.’
He forced a smile, which Mordred met with an impassive glance. ‘Please, come to the castle – the midday meal is well in hand for your arrival.’ He turned his own stead around and began to lead them back along the main street, adding, ‘Guinevere is eagerly looking forward to meeting you, Mordred. She would have come to greet you both, but has been feeling rather ill lately.’ He did not say that she’d lost another child, as the people of Camelot were in high spirits, and he hated to ruin them.
‘Oh dear,’ Morgause said, appropriately concerned, ‘perhaps there is something I can do to help?’
Arthur smiled, ‘yes, perhaps.’ At the very least, his sister might be able to tell them why the queen continued to loose her unborn children.
All this time, Mordred had remained silent, but now he spoke, his voice quiet and steady – certainly not the voice of a fifteen-year-old boy. ‘Perhaps she’s being poisoned.’
Arthur’s head snapped around to stare at his nephew, ‘poisoned? Why?’ He didn’t notice Morgause’s look of panic.
‘To prevent the birth of a clear heir to your throne,’ he replied, just as evenly. He looked sidelong at his mother, and smiled. A short laugh escaped his lips. ‘But of course, it would be impossible. I’m sure my aunt is well protected from such treachery.’
The king hesitated, unsure of what the boy really intended him to believe, but he nodded and laughed lightly, ‘of course, you’re right,’ but he didn’t put the idea from his mind, merely stored it until he could better contemplate its implications.
They met Guinevere in a small hall that had been prepared for the meal. Cold meat, cheese and only slightly hard bread sat on a table, ready for them to eat. The queen smiled as they entered, but didn’t get up from her chair. On the far side of the room, three of her personal handmaids sat, pretending to work on their embroidery. ‘Morgause,’ the queen said, ‘it is good to see you again, especially after all this time,’ she turned to look at Mordred, and though Arthur watched carefully her reaction, he saw only a small start, ‘goodness, you must be Mordred. My, you do look like your mother, don’t you.’
He gave her a small head-tilt, as though acknowledging the truth of her statement, but he didn’t say anything. Off in their corner, two of the handmaids stifled soft giggles, probably discussing Mordred’s good looks.
‘I’m told you’ve been ill?’ Morgause said, taking a seat beside her sister-in-law.
Guinevere nodded gravely, ‘I lost another child,’ she said, her voice quavering as she brought it up.
Morgause put an arm around the queen, offering comfort. ‘I am sorry,’ she said, ‘I can’t imagine loosing so many – the one was hard enough.’ Arthur nodded, recalling the stillborn daughter.
‘I just wish I knew why,’ Guinevere continued, pulling a handkerchief from her bosom and dabbing at her eyes.
‘I know. Perhaps I can find the reason?’ Morgause reached over with her other hand and hovered over Guinevere’s abdomen. ‘May I?’ She asked. The queen nodded, wordlessly. After a few moments that, to Arthur, seemed to last much longer, she pulled away and said, ‘Mordred, would you please step outside for a moment, this is not for your ears.’
As soon as he was gone, and before his sister could speak, Arthur spoke, ‘is it my fault? Am I the reason all our children die?’
Almost imperceptibly, Morgause flicked her gaze to the door through which her son had departed, then shook her head, ‘no, it’s not you, dear brother.’ She paused and turned her full attention to the queen. ‘It is as I suspected – you are not capable of supporting a child. I believe it is a problem you have had since birth, and there is, unfortunately, nothing I can do.’ She spoke slowly, sympathetically, but there was nothing she could do to dull the pain of her words. Arthur sank blindly into the nearest chair, and Guinevere’s eyes filled with tears. ‘I’m sorry,’ she added, pulling her sister in law into a comforting hug, since her brother seemed too shocked to react. Wordlessly, the handmaids crept over and knelt beside their queen, offering what little comfort they could.
The door opened, and Morgause opened her mouth, probably to tell Mordred to go away, but stopped. Arthur looked up and saw Lancelot standing awkwardly in the doorway, his hand on Mordred’s shoulder, holding the boy in place. He bowed slightly to the occupants of the room and said, ‘sorry to disturb you, my lord and ladies, but this youth was standing outside your door – I thought perhaps he was eavesdropping?’
‘It’s alright, Lancelot, this is my nephew, Mordred,’ Arthur said, happy to let his mind focus on something aside from his wife’s situation.
Quickly, Lancelot jerked his hand back and apologized to the boy. Mordred said nothing, but Arthur almost caught what could have been a glimmer of amusement at Lancelot’s error.
‘I think I need to rest,’ Guinevere announced, apparently unaware of the most recent events.
Arthur stood as she did, ‘of course,’ he said, ‘I’ll escort you to you-’
But she cut him off, ‘no, stay here – I’m sure you and your sister have much to talk about.’
He hesitated, but Lancelot stepped in, ‘excuse me, Arthur, but if you like, I could make sure the queen is properly escorted.’
Arthur glanced at Guinevere, who posed no objections, and nodded. Her handmaids followed her out, glancing back once or twice to get another glimpse of Mordred, who didn’t seem to notice, or care.
‘Mordred,’ his mother said, ‘perhaps you wish to go and investigate the courtyard?’ It was clear he didn’t, but he left wordlessly, without complaint.
‘He certainly is an odd one, isn’t he?’ Arthur commented with a smile. ‘Not at all like Lot’s other spawn.’
Morgause looked at him, her gaze momentarily just as impassive as her son’s. ‘That’s because he isn’t Lot’s,’ she told him, casting her pale green eyes downwards. Arthur felt himself stiffen. She looked back up at him, meeting his gaze, her eyes full of an honesty he rarely saw. ‘He’s yours.’
Arthur stood and walked towards the door, then turned back to his sister. ‘Mine? Does he know?’ He didn’t bother to deny the possibility. He’d long suspected that he had once taken his sister to his bed, though the details of that night remained blurred and uncertain.
‘With Mordred, it is often difficult to know how much he knows, and how much he merely suspects. I know he doubts that Lot is his father, but beyond that…’
‘You haven’t told him, then?’
She shook her head, ‘no. It is difficult enough being the youngest of five boys, but living as a [censored] of incest would destroy him.’
Arthur nodded, ‘I suspect you may be right.’ Silence. ‘But… why tell me?’
‘I wanted you to know,’ she said, ‘in case he does find out. I wouldn’t want you to be caught unawares.’
‘Your concern is touching,’ he said, then realized how cruel it had sounded. ‘But you are right, it is better that I know now.’
‘He will be knighted tomorrow.’
‘You must not treat him any differently than Gareth or Gaheris.’
He looked up at her, and tried to smile, ‘it’s alright, Morgause, I know what is at stake.’
He nodded, ‘yes. More, perhaps, than even you can understand. It’s alright. Your sons are always well respected – ALL your sons, and whatever happens, however this plight turns out, I promise you he will be protected.’
Though his sister had been exposed as the one who had cursed his wife, that promise echoed in his mind as, once again, Arthur gazed into his son’s cool grey eyes. No longer was his expression impassive, but full of anger, fear, and something else, something Arthur couldn’t quite identify. Was it regret? Perhaps he was becoming delirious from lack of sleep.
Around them, the battle continued, though quieter, slower. They were all exhausted. Arthur, his every instinct screaming at him to find another way, swung his sword clumsily in Mordred’s general direction, and was both surprised and sickened as he felt resistance give way. His sword bit deeply into his son’s chest, but even as he realized this, Arthur felt something sharp break through into his ribcage. He fell back, startled, but somehow found the energy to pull Mordred’s sword from his body and crawl back towards his son.
Mordred coughed up a mouthful of blood, and began to choke. Arthur pulled him into his arms, holding him as he would have when the boy was a child, had things been different. Tears mingled with the dirt and blood that coated his face. He was numb to the pain of his own wound. ‘Mordred,’ he said, ‘I’m so sorry. This shouldn’t have happened, this…’ a sob escaped him, and he felt a hand close over his own. Mordred’s hand.
‘You’re right,’ the boy said quietly, his voice raspy due to the blood in his throat. ‘This was not the way – if only,’
‘Shh,’ Arthur hushed him, because he feared that speaking would only speed up the inevitable. ‘You should never spend your last moments with ‘if onlys’. Safe to say...’
‘Father,’ Mordred choked out the word, and Arthur looked down at him, staring into his eyes, seeing, for the first time, not the odd, isolated child, nor the cold, pessimistic enemy, but his son, his own flesh and blood, who lay dying in his arms. ‘Forgive me.’
Arthur tried to wipe some of the grime off of Mordred’s face, but succeeded only in adding more, ‘There is nothing to forgive, Mordred. It is I who needs absolution, I who did wrong. I am sorry, my son. My folly has brought you to this end. I was a king before your father, and there can be no forgiveness for that.’
He tried to swallow the blood building in his throat, but choked. For a moment, his mouth moved uselessly, trying to gulp in air, then words formed, hollow and raspy. ‘I forgave you for that…’ he coughed again, then closed his eyes in pain before continuing, ‘a long time ago.’
And, to his horror, Arthur saw the light in his son’s eyes begin to dim, and he wept, because he, who was supposed to be a great king, knew that, should their story be remembered, his son would be named the villain, when truly… truly he was nothing more than a child. A child who had known he was surrounded by people intent on using him to their own ends, including his own mother, and a father who had cared more about a petty feud over a traitorous woman than ever he had cared about his son.
And that's that. Please, let me know your impressions, whatever they may be.