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So for the fic commentary meme [personal profile] woldy asked for a commentary on Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle (probably better known as the Lesbian Morgana fic) and [livejournal.com profile] anjali_organna asked for any of my Merlin fics, which I am choosing to interpret as meaning Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle, please.

The version without my insane ramblings lives here.

Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle (DVD Commentary Edition)
Merlin; Morgana/various female characters, Arthur; PG


I was always somewhat out of step with Merlin fandom in that I found Merlin by far the least interesting character, and Arthur/Merlin easily the least compelling relationship (Merlin loves Arthur, Arthur somewhat reluctantly loves Merlin, slashbait, slashbait, slashbait, but we're not really gay LOL, blech) and I always wished for more focus on the other relationships on the show, which is how a story that started life as short, funny fic about Morgana being a lesbian and her various humourous failures with women turned into nearly nine thousand words of Pendragon siblings and their secret feelings about each other.

When Arthur was ten and Morgana eleven, King Olaf of Wessex and his family visited Camelot. Uther proudly presented his son and his ward before sending the children off to be neither seen nor heard somewhere else.

Later, Gaius the court physician, hearing a terrible racket from outside his workshop, opened his door to find the prince and royal ward attempting to bang each other’s heads against the wall. He pried them apart, held them out of kicking distance of each other and demanded to know what was going on.

When the red faced and sulking children admitted that they’d been fighting over which one of them was to marry the young Lady Vivian he almost laughed.

That was the last time marriage was mentioned in the royal household for almost four years.

One of the things that's never quite worked for me on the show are the attempts to parallel Merlin and Morgana. "She is the darkness to your light, the hatred to your love" isn't just a badly written line, it doesn't make any sense because as soon as you look past the magic Merlin and Morgana are nothing alike. Morgana isn't Merlin's dark mirror, she's Arthur's. The golden king and the dark queen. They're identical and they're destroying each other, they are each other's destiny and destruction and salvation. And I guess that's what I was trying to do with this fic, show that their lives always had been and always would be entwined.

There's also the fact that Morgana makes much more sense as the villain to Arthur's hero, rather than Merlin's. Merlin could kill Morgana tomorrow and never give it another thought... Arthur couldn't and neither could Morgana, if either of them did go through with it then it would haunt them to their dying day. And that's why I find sibling relationships so interesting to write about; your siblings are always in your head and in your heart, whether you want them there or not.


*

When Arthur was fourteen and Morgana fifteen and they’d more or less stopped trying to bash each other’s brains out on the flagstones, Arthur thumped heavily on the door to her chambers and demanded entry.

“Come on, hurry up! You’re not going to get any prettier, you know. And all the best food will be gone.”

“Go away!” ordered Morgana, so Arthur opened the door and strolled inside. He plucked an apple from the fruit bowl on Morgana’s table and threw himself down on a chair.

Morgana curled her upper lip in distaste as Arthur munched on the apple. “There will be food at the feast, you know.”

“The feast you seem to be doing your best to ensure we’re late for. Aren’t you ready yet?”

“Do l look ready?”

“You look…” Arthur squinted at her. A maid had done something with her hair, and she was wearing a dress of… some description. “You look like a girl.”

“The feast is being held in King Ranulf’s honour. You know what that means.”

“Yes, roast boar.”

“Arthur, stop pretending to be dense, because we both know that you’re not.”

“Father’s considering signing a treaty with Ranulf, I know that.”

“And if he does, it will be sealed with a marriage.” Arthur looked blankly at her. “My marriage.” He still looked confused. “To Ranulf.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Arthur. “Ranulf’s ancient. He’s got a granddaughter our age. I saw her riding in the courtyard earlier. She’s quite pretty, actually.”

Morgana snorted. “At least I’ll be married to a moth-eaten old man with a pretty granddaughter.”

“And if you have a pretty step-granddaughter, I might even come visit you in your new castle.”

Arthur beamed, thinking he’d cheered Morgana up. He tossed the apple core over his shoulder for one of the servants to find, stood and offered Morgana his arm.

“Come, my lady, roast boar awaits.”

Teenaged!Arthur was fun to write, I can just imagine him eating everything that stayed still long enough and leaving a trail of apple cores and chicken bones strewn behind him to the servants dismay and Morgana's mild disgust.

*

Feast nights were always good, because the servants were so busy clearing up and seeing to the guests that there were none left to ensure that Arthur and Morgana went to their separate chambers and prepared for bed immediately afterwards.

They were in Arthur’s chambers, playing cards and taking sips of the watered down wine that Arthur had bullied one of the squires into smuggling from the feast.

I don't know what sort of pseudo-medieval card game they could have been playing; poker? Gin rummy? Snap? It was probably snap, wasn't it?

The actual feast hadn’t been as bad as all that. King Ranulf had been so busy talking to Arthur’s father that he had barely glanced at Morgana.

Morgana cast aside two cards and picked up one. “She was rather pretty, Ranulf’s granddaughter, wasn’t she?”

“I have faultless taste in women.”

“Girls, you mean. Do you know why I don’t want to marry Ranulf?”

“Because he’s at least a hundred and three and laughs like a horse?” suggested Arthur over his own cards.

“Because I don’t think I like boys.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it, then. Ranulf hasn’t been a boy in many years.”

A lot of Morgana's coming out stuff is taken from my own experiences, and I have been incredibly fortunate in never encountering a bad reaction to my sexuality, mostly I get "Yes, and?" so Arthur's pretty chilled reaction comes from that. Plus, I had Arthur pegged as a pretty slow developer, so the idea of sex and relationships seems much more distant to him than it does to Morgana at this point.

What I actually really like about this section is the sense that Arthur & Morgana spent nearly all their time together as young teenagers. And while Arthur is knighted and trained up as heir to the realm, and has something to fill the time he's no longer spending with her, Morgana doesn't really have that. Arthur's line in S1 about Morgana brushing her hair all day probably wasn't far wrong. Which is why Morgana's defection is such a gut punch for Arthur, he still thinks that they're friends, and he has to face up to the fact that he doesn't really know her, he hasn't known her for a long time. Whereas from Morgana's point of view Arthur's been slowly slipping away from her for years.


*

The treaty with Ranulf had come to nothing, and there had been skirmishes all along Camelot’s Eastern border. Arthur had been in a snit all week because his father wouldn’t let him ride out with the army, but he’d deigned to come out of his chambers and stand on the battlements with Morgana to watch the column of knights depart.

“Do you regret giving up swordplay?” he asked.

She thought about it for a moment. “No. I know enough to defend myself should anything untoward happen, and the best bit was always beating you up.”

“Which you can’t do anymore on account of my amazing raw talent.”

“Only you, Arthur Pendragon, could refer to growing five inches in six months as amazing raw talent.”

Arthur blushed and changed the subject. “ So, what, no boys at all?”

Morgana rolled her eyes. “No boys at all.”

“Not even one of the knights? Everybody loves the knights.”

“Believe it or not, Arthur, not everyone is like you. We don’t all want to compose epic ballads about the knights of Camelot.”

He did, you know. He hid them under his bed.

“I do not. Shut up.”

*

“What about her?”

It had taken Arthur some time to wrap his tiny, boy brain around the idea that she was attracted to girls. But once he had, he set about pointing out every female in the castle between the ages of thirteen and fifty and asking if Morgana thought them attractive.

“You’re pointing at a pot plant.”

I feel like they probably didn't have pot plants in Ye Olde Camelot.

“No. Her.”

He was pointing at a chambermaid named Emma, who had ruby lips, freckles and wild red curls, and whom Morgana had always secretly thought was rather attractive.

“She’s alright, I suppose. If you like that kind of thing.”

“Yeah, not my type either,” said Arthur, blushing to the roots of his hair.

*

The summer Arthur was fifteen and Morgana turned sixteen two important things happened. Firstly, Uther decreed that Arthur was now old enough to compete in Camelot’s annual tournament, and secondly, Morgana fell in love with a knight.

Her name was Britomart, she unhorsed Arthur during the first round of the jousting and she was the most beautiful woman Morgana had ever seen. She made Emma the pretty chambermaid look like Kevin the dog boy.

She took off her helmet to accept the cheers of the crowd, her dark hair cascaded down her back and Morgana felt a jolt of excitement that went straight between her legs.

“You seem to be enjoying yourself,” Uther commented, briefly applauding Britomart’s victory.

“Oh, you know me,” Morgana replied. “I enjoy anything where Arthur falls from something.”

*

The tournament was won by Sir Something of Somewhere. Whose real name is Sir Not Appearing In This Fic. Morgana would be expected to dance with him at some point during the evening, so she really ought to make an effort to find out where he was from, or at the very least learn his name.

Both Arthur and Britomart had placed respectably, about which Arthur was sulking.

“Yes. Well…”

Morgana was going to say something comforting about how he couldn’t expect to win his very first tournament, or how most of the knights competing had ten years more experience than he did. Actually, she had been intending to distract him by making reference to the many humorous ways that he’d tumbled from his mount during the jousting; but then Britomart entered the hall and Morgana forgot that Arthur, well, existed.

“She’s gorgeous,” Morgana breathed, squeezing Arthur’s arm. And she was, all dark skin and limpid eyes. She was wearing a long skirt under a shirt of fine tailored mail. “Right, lock me in a tower and send her to rescue me.”

Hmm, I sort of feel like Morgana doesn't really have a type in this fic beyond "women" but, then, the more I thought about it the more I realised Morgana loves people who love her. It makes her very easily swayed by people like Morgause and Mordred, and is also why she changes her loyalties back to Camelot when she believes Uther loves her.

She's so desperate for affection and approval and attention that her biggest turn on is probably being wanted.


“Morgana,” Arthur attempted to remove her fingernails from his arm, “let go, you’re hurting me.”

Uther guided Britomart in their direction. “This is my son, Prince Arthur, and my ward, the Lady Morgana.”

Morgana curtsied slightly, and wondered if she should offer her hand for the lady to kiss. While she was fumbling for something witty (or at all) to say, Arthur swept into a bow and said, “Lady Britomart, it is a pleasure to meet you.”

Morgana knew she’d been keeping Arthur around for a reason.

“The pleasure is mine, sire, my lady.”

“What brings you to Camelot?” Arthur asked. “I don’t believe we’ve ever seen a female knight-errant in these parts before, have we, Morgana?” He elbowed her in the ribs.

“Er, no. I believe you’re the first.”

Britomart looked away and when she turned back her dark eyes were filled with longing. “I’m on a quest. Seeking my true love, a knight known as Sir Artegal.”

Bugger, thought Morgana.

*

Three weeks after Britomart departed from Camelot, Morgana dreamed of her being reunited with her lover, Sir Artegal.

It wasn’t fair, even her subconscious was conspiring against her.

*

Their excuse for escaping the confines of the castle was that Arthur was tutoring Morgana in archery, and occasionally Morgana did let an arrow fly in the direction of the targets. Arthur lay on his back in the shade of a tree with his hands laced behind his head.

“It happens to everyone,” said Arthur sagely.

“Shut up.” Morgana loosed another arrow.

“All the young women of the court get their hearts broken by wandering knights sooner or later.”

“I did not get my heart broken, Arthur.”

“Oh, you did. You were imagining a future of castles and feasts and her rescuing you from towers.”

“I have a bow and arrows, and you’re a fairly stationary target at the moment.”

“Go on, shoot me. My father will lock you in the dungeon and you don’t even have anyone to save— Morgana!”

“Oh, relax. I was aiming for the tree the whole time.”

“I believe that, it’s just that your aim is rather terrible.”

“You taught me,” said Morgana, setting aside her bow and flopping down on the grass next to Arthur. “You would have no one to blame but yourself if I missed the tree and hit your stupid head.”

“You’re not all that upset, are you?”

“Not really. It’s just not fair. She was a knight, and a woman. She was supposed to be like me.”

“Says who? You aren’t even like that, not really.”

Morgana didn’t want to admit that she didn’t have an answer to that, so she shoved a bow at Arthur and said, “Come on, first one to hit the middle of the target wins.”

“Morgana…”

“Fine. If you don’t play, then I win by default.”

I think I was trying to make some sort of halfway intelligent point about the dangers of stereotypes, but mostly: I WANT MY FEMALE KNIGHT, SHOW.

*

A few weeks later, Arthur went absolutely silly over the daughter of a visiting baron, a girl who’d need to employ someone to do the complicated bits of her thinking for her. Morgana caught him copying passages from a book of romantic poetry.

The visiting baron left, taking his dim daughter with him, and Arthur and Morgana quietly resolved never to speak of that summer again.

I'm sure some sort of quasi-scientific analysis would prove that the most oft used phrase in my writing is: let us never speak of this again. I love things that must never be spoken of again.
*

Shortly after Arthur turned sixteen and Morgana seventeen, Uther summoned Morgana to the throne room at some ungodly hour of the morning. She rang for a maid to help her dress and wondered what it was the king could possibly want?

On her way to her audience she ran into Arthur on his way to train with the knights.

“Morgana, what a surprise to see you up and about. It isn’t lunchtime for hours.”

“The king requires my presence.”

“My father?”

“Unless I slept through a coup, yes.”

“My father wants to see you. Just you?”

Arthur scowled, normally he was summoned along with her. Morgana didn’t know why he was so put out. Arthur had private audiences with the king all the time and Morgana didn’t throw tantrums about it, she just listened outside the door like a normal person.

*

“Ah, Morgana, good.” Uther set aside the reports he was reading.

“Good morning, my lord.”

“I assume you’re wondering why I’ve sent for you?”

“A little.”

“As I’m sure you know, for many years now I have received offers for your hand in marriage. Until now I have always refused these. I believed you were too young, and I thought it would be a shame for Arthur to lose someone he thought of as a sister.”

“If anyone has required a sister to keep his head from getting too swollen, it is your son, my lord.”

Uther smiled indulgently. Morgana was the only person he would allow to criticise the prince, knowing she meant it affectionately, which she did, mostly.

“But with Arthur taking more responsibility for the knights and the army I know he doesn’t have as much time for you as he once did.”

Morgana smiled tightly. As though her happiness depended on the attentions of Arthur Pendragon of all people.

And the tragic thing is, it does. Arthur is Morgana's entire life, she devotes herself to trying to protect him, even to the point of potentially revealing her magic, the thing that she most fears. And then when that doesn't work she sets herself up against him, her entire identity becomes "not-Arthur." It's why winning wouldn't make her happy, even when she hates him he's her due north. And part of why she hates him so much is that he doesn't feel the same, Morgana will never come first with Arthur, Camelot, their father, Gwen, even Merlin, he'll always pick them before her and she can't live with that knowledge.

“I have decided to begin considering marriage offers. Of course, any marriage of yours would have to be beneficial to Camelot.” Which was a nice way of saying “you’re a girl, and can’t be trusted to pick your own husband.”

“Of course, my lord,” Morgana agreed, starting to feel a little faint.

Uther strode over to her, took her face in his hand and stroked her cheek.

“There’s no need to look so worried, Morgana. You are like a daughter to me, I would not give you to just any man.”

Morgana supposed that this would be a bad time to mention that his plan to give her to any man was kind of the problem.

I remember there being a lot of discussion in the early days of fandom as to why Morgana was still unmarried when in most medieval societies she'd have been married off by the age of fourteen, which I always found a bit strange, looking for historical accuracy in Merlin being a task both useless and pointless. But I ended up using the arranged marriage trope here partly because I was reading the A Song of Ice and Fire books when I was writing it and was experiencing many feelings about the unfairness of it. Plus, I thought it would give Morgana an interesting perspective. Because the thing is, as much as she's desperate for love and affection, Morgana is probably the least actually romantic character on the show. Which, I thought, if you'd known you're entire life that you were going to be married off to someone not of your choosing and that love or attraction or even liking were going to have nothing to do with it, well, you probably wouldn't put much stock in romantic love either.

Of course, that does leave you with the question of why someone who looks like Morgana never had a canonical love interest, but I get round that by going LESBIAN!!!

Actually, as much as I am endlessly fascinated by Arthur and Morgana's relationship, I never shipped them, not even in the early days. I can see Morgana being everything from phenomenally gay to mostly asexual, but I can never see her as straight. It even used to throw me out of boyslash fics when she was paired with a dude in the background.


*

It seemed as though every other week there was a feast in honour of some king, prince or lord who was being considered for Morgana’s hand. The king had also increased the amount of time the prince spent training with the knights to the point where Arthur barely found time to bathe; Morgana wrinkled her nose, certainly not in the last couple of days. But the prince did manage to find the time to offer Morgana some dubious advice.

“It is said that the King of Orkney has some very attractive handmaidens in his household.”

“You’re suggesting that I marry this man and immediately attempt to seduce his servants?”

“Why not? There are lots of women who marry men but lie with other women. I know you haven’t met any of them yet, but I guarantee you they are out there.”

That was the trouble with Arthur spending his days in the company of the knights and guards: he now considered himself Camelot’s greatest expert on all matters sexual.

“What exactly are you implying?”

“No insult. I am merely noting that you are a woman of virtue. Extreme virtue.”

“My virtue? What of your virtue, Arthur?”

“My virtue is none of your concern, Morgana.”

“It is none of anyone’s concern. If Uther were ever to disinherit you, you could make a fine living taming unicorns.”

“I could have any woman in this castle.” Morgana snorted in disbelief. “I could! I’ll prove it, I’ll wager you that I can seduce more of the castle maids than you.”

“You are a ridiculous little boy, Arthur.”

*

This suitor was a baron from the North. Morgana didn’t seriously think Uther would accept his offer for her hand: he didn’t have enough land to make it worth the king’s while. Morgana knew exactly how much land he had because he’d told her in excruciating detail; as well as how many castles, heads of livestock and acres of woodland. He might possibly be the dullest man alive.

On the other hand, if Uther accepted his offer it would be quite a brief marriage, as he would surely bore her to death within a week.

“I imagine you have lots of servants?” she interrupted him.

“Indeed, I have…”

As much as it pained Morgana to admit Arthur may be right about anything, ever, in this he might have a point. “Lots of handmaidens and such?”

Normally when I write I write very linearly, I start with the first line and keep going till the fic is finished/I get fed up. But with this I wrote the middle first. It was started as a lgbtfest fic for the prompt: nobody in Camelot seems to mind if you fall in love with another woman, provided that eventually you get married and have kids. How long is it possible to put off 'eventually'? and all it was going to be was this middle section about Arthur & Morgana running off Morgana's various suitors, but then I was having so much fun writing their interactions and I realised that I could use this fic which was ostensibly about Morgana's sexuality to tell all the stories I'd ever wanted to tell about the Pendragon siblings.

*

Morgana swept into Arthur’s chambers and announced, “We’ll need some rules.”

“How about knocking?”

“For the game. Seducing the castle maids. If we’re playing it, we’ll need to set some rules.”

“I thought you said that it was foolish and ridiculous and… what was the other thing?”

“Demeaning. And it still is, but I spent most of this evening being condescended to by a man who I could see mentally adding me to five hundred leagues of land, four castles and however many handmaidens it was. If I’m ever going to have any fun, it must be while I’m in Camelot.”

Arthur leaned back in his chair. “Okay, what are the rules?”

“No coercion.”

“Honestly, Morgana, what do you take me for?”

“I don’t mean… No, I do mean that, yes. But also, no saying ‘I’m the prince of Camelot’”

“Who would you have me claim to be?”

“I just mean, no promising someone a better position in the household, no threatening anyone’s job.”

“Agreed. Anything else?”

“Yes, enthusiasm.”

“We just talked about consent. Although, honestly, I think it could have gone without saying.”

“I don’t just mean that. Only girls who really want to bed us, no one who’s only tolerating us because of our titles.”

“Really, I don’t know what goes on in that gutter you call a mind but I was assuming those conditions already.”

“One more thing.”

“Oh joy.”

“Don’t do anything that could get anyone pregnant. The last thing we want is to have to explain to Uther how you came to get one of the servants with child.”

“And while we’re making rules,” Arthur gestured vaguely at Morgana’s… general vicinity. “Don’t do anything that could result in any future husband of yours--”

“Don’t start.”

“Assuming you have a future husband and we don’t succeed in getting you out of it, which we will.”

“Thank you,” said Morgana graciously.

“Don’t do anything that might result in this hypothetical future husband of yours coming at me with a sword.”

“Deal.”

“May the best man win,” said Arthur.

“Hey!”

“I meant me.”

Arthur and Morgana nodded at each other, and then looked vaguely around the room.

“Er,” said Morgana, “How do you go about seducing chambermaids?”

“According to the knights you tell them to take all their clothes off and lie on the bed.” Arthur shuffled under Morgana’s glare. “Um, we’ll probably do it a little differently.”

Okay, so the rules of the game bit was because I was really worried that seducing maids for a bet thing was going to come across as creepy. I think I just about get away with it, mostly because Arthur and Morgana are both so obviously, dreadfully rubbish at it.

*

The sad fact was that Morgana hadn’t the faintest idea of how to go about seducing anyone. It wasn’t fair. She was a noblewoman of the court. People were meant to be seducing her.

Smiling optimistically at Emma the pretty red haired chambermaid hadn’t prompted her to do any seducing, but it had started a rambling conversation in which Morgana had discovered, via the weather, her parents and home village and her likes and dislikes about working in the castle, that Emma did not find Prince Arthur attractive.

As an indication of whether someone was attracted to women or not, it lacked a certain something, but for the moment it was all Morgana had.

This is the litmus test for lesbianism in Camelot. Exhibit A: Morgana, exhibit B: Lady Vivian.

“Is there anything else I can do for you, Lady Morgana?”

“Er, no, Emma, thank you. I’m sure I’ve kept you too long.”

“Oh, I’ve liked talking to you. But there is quite a lot to get done with the party from Gore arriving tomorrow.”

*

Yes, the party from Gore. The king and his son, who was coming of age in a few months, and was hoping for a favourable treaty with Camelot and a marriage contract – most crown princes only got a slightly nicer crown.

Prince Urien didn’t seem particularly enchanted by Morgana. He kept giving her sidelong looks and asking oblique questions about her mother.

“I think I’ll go and find someone to refill my goblet,” said Urien. There was a servant with a full pitcher of wine standing right next to them, but Urien all but fled across the hall.

Morgana looked at her own empty goblet. Arthur sidled up to her, took the pitcher from the servant and refilled both their drinks. “I told him you were a terrible drunkard. So if you don’t want to make a liar of me, drink up.” He took a long draught of his wine.

“Did you tell him you were a terrible drunkard too?”

“I am leading by example, as befits my station.”

“Urien looks like he’s about to crawl under a table and hide.”

“I also took the liberty of starting a rumour among Urien’s servants that the reason my father is so desperate to marry you off is because there is a history of insanity in your family.”

“You complete— Wait, how did you start a rumour among Urien’s servants?”

“One of the maidservants is very fond of me.” Arthur smirked. “By the way one - nothing.”

*

It was a different maid who served Morgana supper in her chambers every evening. By rights, she should have had her own servant, but after Arthur’s last manservant had tried to sell him to sorcerers, and the one before that had cracked him over the head, thrown him on the back of a horse and ridden halfway to the Mercian border before the knights had caught up, Uther had become deeply suspicious of servants being too close to his son or ward.

Tonight it was Emma.

“You must be glad our visitors have departed,” Morgana said. She was wracking her brains for what to do. Would asking Emma to share her meal be too forward?

“It’s less work, certainly. If you don’t mind me saying, my lady--”

“Morgana.”

“My lady Morgana.” Inwardly, Morgana groaned. This was not going according to plan. “You don’t seem sorry to see the back of them either. Prince Urien especially.”

“Yes. Well. He wasn’t really my type.” Emma looked away and Morgana suspected she’d just missed a moment.

“Will there be anything else tonight, my lady?”

“No. Yes. Hot water. For a bath.”

Water was sent for and Emma stripped her of her gown, hands sure and professional. Morgana had been dressed and undressed by maids every day of her life and this was the first time she’d felt uncomfortable.

Morgana raised her arms for Emma to pull her shift over her head and turned to face the maid. They were standing very close together and Emma’s lips really were very red. Emma didn’t touch her but Morgana could feel the heat coming off her body all the same.

If Emma were a truly professional servant she would step away, see to the water, fold something. Not just stand here close enough to kiss Morgana and do nothing.

There was a long moment. Then a longer one, then Morgana, feeling rejected, said, “You may go.”

Emma gave Morgana a long, appraising, almost regretful look before leaving her standing naked in the middle of her chambers. She looked at the tub and considered taking a bath anyway, before deciding that she was more in the mood for crawling into bed and dying of embarrassment.

She was just pulling a nightgown over her head when there was a knock at her door. She opened it, expecting to see Gaius delivering a sleeping draught for her increasingly troubled nights, and found Emma instead.

“You have to kiss me,” said Emma. “I’m a servant, I can’t be the one to make the first move. So if you want to, you have to kiss me.”

“Do you want me to kiss you?”

“If I didn’t, I’d already be back in the servants quarters laughing at your ridiculous attempts at seduction.”

Vaguely insulted and rather excited, Morgana pulled Emma inside, crushing their mouths together and pushing her up against the wooden door. She really did have very nice lips.

“What…” Morgana pulled back, breathless from the kiss. “What now?”

Emma smirked. “Take off all your clothes and lie on the bed.”

Morgana shivered and thought she might have to reconsider the knights’ approach to seduction, there was a lot to be said for the direct approach.

The act itself was fine, it was nice. Emma made all the right noises and said “Oh, yes” and “don’t stop” in all the appropriate places, but Morgana couldn’t help feeling that this was something she was going to need a lot more practice at.

All in all, it was something she’d quite happily never discuss. But the didn’t stop her from saying “one all” to Arthur at supper. He stabbed the back of his own hand with a fork.

So, I'm pleased with this section for a couple of reasons. I think there's a tendency in narratives about being gay to focus on coming out, like that's the only difficult bit and after that everything is rosy, and I always feel slightly alienated by them because that wasn't my experience AT ALL. I was fine with being gay, everyone surrounding me was fine with me being gay, it was all the other stuff that gave me trouble. How do you meet girls? How do you talk to girls? How do you tell if those girls also like girls? And I'm quite proud of Morgana's sense of awkward breathless panic here.

I also like that her first time was slightly rubbish, because I love bad sex in fic. Well, not unpleasant or painful bad sex, but giggly, awkward, not quite working, "I'm sorry, is that your elbow?" bad sex.

I'm usually pretty comfortable with the fact that I don't write sex scenes, firmly PG-13, that's me, but with this I wish I'd expanded on them more because I think I could have got some interesting character stuff in there. Because obviously Morgana's awkward but well meant first time with Emma will be different from her more confident and extremely verbal shags with Vivian, which will be different from her darker more desperate relations with Enmyria.


*

The next royal visit to Camelot probably had very little to do with Morgana’s hypothetical nuptials. An illness was sweeping through Wessex, and King Olaf sent his daughter, the Lady Vivian, away for her own safety.

Uther, Arthur and Morgana were all in the courtyard to welcome the party from Wessex.

“King Olaf sent word ahead,” Uther said quietly. “Apparently Lady Vivian is an impressionable young woman and he asks that she not spend any time alone with you, Arthur.”

“What kind of man does he think I am?” Arthur sounded insulted and Morgana rolled her eyes. Arthur was Arthur; young women were perfectly safe in his company, as were small children and fluffy animals, provided they weren’t of the edible variety.

“Morgana, I trust I can rely upon you to entertain our royal visitor.”

“Of course, my lord.”

Uther stepped forward to greet their visitors and Morgana shot Arthur a triumphant smirk.

*

Morgana’s glee at getting the attentions of the pretty blonde all to herself lasted about twenty minutes, long enough for her to realise that Vivian was a complete brat.

She disliked the castle, the weather, the food, the servants and when she eventually ran out of things to complain about she followed Morgana around the castle in sullen silence.

“I thought your king ordered you to give me a tour?”

“We’ve just walked down a staircase, that’s a window, over there is a linen cupboard. Happy now?”

“A linen cupboard?”

“Vivian, I swear to you, if you’re about to complain about the linen--”

Vivian caught Morgana’s sleeve, pulled her into the cupboard and kissed her. It was easily the least annoying thing she’d done since arriving in Camelot, so Morgana was happy to encourage it.

Vivian pulled back and beamed at her. She had an exceptionally lovely smile, it was a shame that she spent most of her time scowling and sneering.

“It seems the rumours about you are true.”

Morgana frowned, unsure if she’d just been the victim of a particularly cruel jest.

“Urien’s father tried to marry him to me after he’d visited Camelot,” said Vivian. “Someone should tell him that he might have more luck with prospective brides who are actually interested in boys. I think I’ll skip the rest of the tour, if you don’t mind.”

Vivian kissed Morgana quickly on the cheek and departed.

*

Morgana didn’t see her guest again until supper that evening, which she and Vivian shared with the king and prince.

Uther asked if Morgana was keeping Vivian entertained, Vivian answered yes and ran her foot up Morgana’s calf. Arthur shot Morgana a pitying look and both ladies made their excuses and left.

It's sad, but one of the things I'm proudest of in fandom is that for about two weeks after I wrote this Morgana/Vivian was A THING. I mean, I don't know if anyone ever wrote it apart from me, but I saw it requested a couple of times in fests. I very nearly invented a ship, HURRAH! And it was mostly by accident. I wanted Morgana to have an on/off love interest, I didn't want to write an OC, because I'm not generally interested in writing them and I know seeing canon character/original character in a header is a turn off for a lot of people. I also didn't want to use Gwen because I wanted the fic to, at least conceivably, be able to slot into the gaps in canon. And this being Merlin there wasn't exactly an embarrassment of other choices, so Morgana's girlfriend ended up being Vivian almost by default. And I ended up being really surprised and pleased by how well they worked together as two sort of immature, slightly spoiled princesses who start to grow and mature together before everything goes horribly wrong.

*

“I thought you said you’d done this before?” said Vivian, scowling down at Morgana, who was propped up between her thighs.

“I will find something to gag you with, you know.”

Vivian shivered. “Maybe later. Right now I think it’s best if my mouth is free to give you constructive criticism.”

“Constructive criticism? You needed directions. And very nearly a map.”

Vivian started to reply, and Morgana turned her attentions back to getting Vivian to shut up.

I am irrationally proud of this little bit, I think it gives you a really good sense of what their friendship and sex life is like in very few words.

*

The next morning they decided against summoning a servant to help them dress.

“Ow! Vivian!” yelped Morgana.

“Well, I’m sorry, but I normally have a servant to do this fiddly bit at the back. And I think this ribbon is torn.”

“Whose fault is that?”

Although this bit is kind of pointless and adds nothing. I think the idea was meant to be that Vivian had ripped Morgana's dress getting her out of it, but actually, no, that doesn't fit their relationship or Vivian's character. She's the vain, princessly type who would take great care not to spoil their pretty clothes, possibly to the point where Morgana might find it frustrating and rip something just to annoy her.

*

In the several weeks that it took for the plague to pass and Vivian’s father to send for her, Morgana didn’t once succeed in reducing Vivian to silence, but incoherence was almost as good.

*

The feast in celebration of Morgana’s eighteenth birthday took place the same day King Lot, he of the many and attractive servants, arrived from Orkney.

“Pretty handmaidens,” Arthur whispered to her over breakfast.

“Do shut up, Arthur.”

Morgana had spent most of the previous week listening to the women of the castle talk about the Northern King. King Lot was so handsome, King Lot was so brave, King Lot was so young.

King Lot, Morgana realised after spending ten minutes in his company, was a complete pillock.

Ten minutes after that she caused something of a commotion by throwing her wine in his face.

Morgana was rescued from the ensuing chaos by Arthur, who took her by the arm and apologised to King Lot.

“Excuse me, your highness, it’s her birthday and she’s overdone the wine. Come along, Morgana.”

She fully expected Arthur to escort her to her chambers and order her to bed, and she was working up a good head of steam about it. Instead, keeping a firm grip on her elbow, he walked her to the kitchens where he asked for a pitcher of “the strongest wine you have” and then to the roof, the same spot where they’d stood as children to watch the knights train below.

He poured two goblets of wine. “Happy birthday, Morgana.”

*

“Uther is going to be furious with me,” Morgana said later.

“Probably, yes. On the bright side, Lot brought half his court with him and you humiliated him in front of them. I doubt my father could pay him to marry you now.”

Morgana laughed. “In that case I’ll hit the next suitor on the nose with a ladle.”

“Why did you throw wine at him, anyway?”

“He was talking about our wedding night. Honestly, Uther hadn’t even agreed to the marriage yet. He was talking about what he was going to do to me, in,” Morgana blushed, “great anatomical detail.”

“He said what? Right, I’m going to throw wine at him.”

“That’s very knightly, Arthur. You could introduce it at the next tournament. After the jousting, all your knights could come out and throw beverages at one another.”

*

“Why don’t you marry someone?” Arthur asked. “Not necessarily Lot--”

“If you’re going to start talking about handmaidens again…”

“I’m not. But you’d be a queen. And if you were lucky the poor bastard would get a son on you right away.”

“Why do you assume it’d be a son? Why do all men greet their wives giving birth to a daughter with the same degree of surprise as they would her birthing a litter of puppies?”

“If you’re quite finished? All I meant was that you might only have to bed the man once or twice, just until you conceived an heir.”

“Would you let one of your knights bugger you? If it was all in good cause, and might only be once or twice?”

“That is not that same thing!”

“It is to me,” Morgana said fiercely.

If you were ever curious about my feelings about the treatment of women in fantasy generally and Merlin specifically, well, that little section there, those are my feelings.

*

“I really should stop drinking,” said Morgana later, when leaning on the battlements had started to seem too much like hard work and they were sitting down with their legs stretched out in front of them and their backs against the wall. “I’m supposed to be interviewing prospective maidservants in the morning.”

“Why do you get your own servant? You don’t do anything.”

“Don’t sulk, Arthur, I’m sure when Uther wants you to snag a husband he’ll hire you a servant to help you look all pretty too.”

“Shut up.”

*

“Kiss me.”

Arthur stared into his empty goblet. “They must have started drugging the wine, Morgana, because I could swear you just asked me to kiss you.”

“I did. Look, I’ve never… I don’t… I wouldn’t. But I think if I were to ever not hate it, with a man, it’d be you. It’ll be like practice, for not actually being sick on whatever man Uther eventually forces me on.”

“I’ve had more tempting offers,” said Arthur.

“Just get on with it, would you?”

And Arthur cupped her face with his palm and turned her towards him. His lips were soft and his jaw scratchy and he reeked of wine, then again, by that point so did she.

“Well?” said Arthur, pulling back.

“If I tilt my head to the left, and squint through my right eye and drink an outrageous amount of wine, then you look a little like Vivian.”

Arthur laughed. “You are quite possibly the gayest person in all of Camelot. Have we any more wine?”

In my experience kissing boys is like kissing girls you aren't attracted to. Um, it's possible that by just reading this fic you may have learned more about the contents of my head than you ever wanted to know.

*

“What if I were a girl?” Arthur slurred.

“Oh, I would love to see Uther’s face.”

“Not turned into a girl, Morgana. What if I’d always been a girl, would it make a difference?”

Morgana squinted at him. “If you were a girl then I’d probably like boys.”

Arthur flicked droplets of wine at her. “So would I.”

Drunk person logic, FTW!

*

“I would be a brilliant queen,” said Morgana, later still, “king or no.”

Arthur responded by being noisily sick over the battlements.

People drink a lot in my fic, I've noticed. I make much use of the drunkeness tag on AO3, I wonder if that says anything concerning about me?

*

The next morning Morgana was cursing Arthur, Uther, Camelot, Orkney, and all wine merchants anywhere ever while retching into a basin. She was still in bed when one of the older servants arrived with a young woman in tow. Morgana had forgotten all about the interviews.

“Lady Morgana, this is Guinevere--”

“Yes, yes. Marvellous. Fine. She’s hired.”

The two confused looking servants departed, and Morgana was sick again.

I think the feeling's familiar to anyone who has ever inadvisably had a drink on a school night, the next morning when someone asks you to make some sort of sensible, logical work-related decision and you just go "Yes, fine, whatever you think." They could be suggesting anything, ANYTHING, you just want them to go away and stop bothering you.

Also, I know it was a pretty common fanon for a while that Gwen had worked for Morgana since they were children, and even when they were friends it never seemed to me like they'd been, you know, childhood friends. I think Gwen predated Merlin, yes, but not by more than, maybe, eighteen months.


*

The morning after that she was shaken awake by a dark haired servant in a yellow dress. Morgana had been sleeping like the dead. There was that much to be said for wine: a good night’s sleep was a luxury frequently denied her.

“I’m Guinevere, my lady. I don’t know if you remember, but you hired me yesterday.”

Oh, God. While being sick into a basin was not the way Morgana enjoyed meeting prospective employees.

“Of course. Guinevere, yes. I apologise for yesterday, I was… unwell.”

It must have been that sandwich I had on Wednesday.

“If it makes you feel any better, my lady, Prince Arthur seemed to be suffering from the same ailment. I’m told he fainted on the training field in full armour and claimed it was dehydration.”

“Do you know, Guinevere, that does make me feel better.”

The serving girl beamed at her. “Oh, you can call me Gwen.”

Ooh, thought Morgana, you’re rather pretty.

I like to think that at this point Morgana was basically crushing on anything young and female that smiled at her.

*

Later that day Morgana supposed that she’d better face the music regarding her behavior towards Orkney’s king.

“It’s only Orkney,” said Uther when she found him. “Don’t worry about it.” For one horrific moment Morgana thought he was going to hug her, but he just squeezed her shoulder and strolled away smiling.

Before Morgana could seek out Arthur and inform him that his father was obviously enchanted, and perhaps he and his knights should do something about that, she discovered the source of Uther’s good mood.

The entire castle was abuzz with gossip about what had happened at the feast. Not just Morgana’s rejection of Lot of Orkney, but Prince Arthur’s supposedly jealous reaction and the fact that Arthur and Morgana had spent the evening together, with neither of them being espied going back to their chambers until the early hours of the morning.

*

Overnight Morgana found herself elevated from spare female who had to be married off at the earliest possible opportunity to presumptive future queen.

She had a throne next to Uther, she was included in court sessions, she was the keeper of the castle keys and she loved every second of it.

One of these days she really ought to corner Arthur and ask how he felt about the whole thing.

This was written in the gap between series two and three, so it was prior to the Morgana as Uther's daughter revelation, and even though I always saw them as siblings even before that, I do think that circa S1 Morgana would have married Arthur, was probably expecting to, was planning her entire life around it.

See, Morgana's whole thing with Arthur is just because she doesn't want the toy doesn't mean that anyone else can play with it. It's selfish and it's dreadful but that's why Arthur/Gwen offends her on such a deep level, because Arthur found someone else, he picked someone else, and HOW DARE HE?


*

One morning Gwen arrived for work to find a visiting singer by the name of Lady Helen in Morgana’s bed.

Helen was absolutely shameless and kissed Morgana goodbye while Gwen was in the room. Morgana squirmed uncomfortably.

“Gwen,” she said once the other woman had left.

“It’s none of my business, my lady, truly. Although, not that there’s anything wrong with it, and I want you to be happy, but…”

“If you have something to say, Gwen, say it.”

“Is it fair to Prince Arthur?”

“Uther was planning to sell me to the highest bidder, that wasn’t fair!”

“I… My lady?”

“I’m sorry, Gwen. I should not have shouted at you. Arthur knows about my preferences. He was the very first person I told when I was fifteen.”

“And he’s agreed to marry you anyway?”

“We’re not going to get married. People have just assumed, Arthur is…” an idiot, a prat, like my brother, going to be a great king, deserving of a queen who won’t screw up her eyes and pretend he’s the Lady Vivian. “Arthur is Arthur. And, anyway, he’s far too young to be let near a real woman.”

“If you say so, my lady,” said Gwen, sounding doubtful.

“I do. Look, I’m sorry you walked in on that this morning. In future I’ll try to let you know when I have guests.”

Ah, Morgana/Helen, also known as the bit where it becomes obvious that Gwen is the only heterosexual woman in Camelot. I just randomly liked the idea of Morgana/Helen. Of course, we never actually got to see what Helen was like because she was killed five minutes into the pilot.

Poor Morgana, all her girlfriends are doomed by canon.


*

I wasn't sure how old to make the characters when the canon events began. I settled for making Arthur eighteen and Morgana nineteen, I was never really sure how old everyone was meant to be anyway. Younger than the actors, definitely, I'd say. But it was just a guess.

Morgana’s promise didn’t matter much because shortly after her nineteenth birthday a boy named Merlin saved Arthur’s life and Uther made him Arthur’s servant as a reward (Morgana would have given him a pony). At the same time her nightmares, never exactly full of puppies and pretty girls, got exponentially worse.

And suddenly Morgana was in no fit state to be a bedmate to anyone, even if she’d been up to thinking about anybody in that way.

So I think Merlin gets mentioned in passing perhaps three times in this entire fic. Which, at first seems odd, because it's about Morgana's entire life, but, then again, it's not.

One of the other fics I was asked for a commentary on (which I may do later in the week if it doesn't feel like I'd mostly be repeating myself from here) was Pastimes & Lifestyles, and Pastimes is another fic where Merlin appears only in passing. And the two of them are probably my most popular Merlin fics. And I thought, that's a bit weird, Merlin being by far the most popular character in fandom. And I wasn't doing it deliberately, because they were both written back when I still liked the little bastard. But the thing with both this and Pastimes was that I was trying to accomplish the same thing, I was just coming at it from different angles, I was trying to make Morgana the protagonist of her own life, and when you write with that in mind it's amazing how easily Merlin just peels away.

Because Merlin and Morgana really have very little to do with each other, their lives run on parallel tracks, on either side of Arthur, but they intersect rarely and only in the most convoluted of circumstances. And that's why Morgana's characterisation is at best fractured, because the show is so heavily filtered through Merlin's experiences and pov and he doesn't know or care about 90% of what's going on with Morgana. So, for example if the show was called Morgana and it was her pov that was prioritised (and in some parallel universe that's what the show is, and I bet I like it much better) then Merlin's characterisation would seem ridiculous because it'd seem like he'd gone from goofy servant boy to merry murderer with no stops in between, because their lives are so separate from each other.


*

Uther, who’d only just begun to listen to her opinions, started dismissing her misgivings with a roll of his eyes. Gaius came by her chambers more frequently with increasingly powerful sleeping draughts with increasingly unpleasant side effects.

Which is the basic tragedy of Morgana, she's a self-fulfilling prophecy, the more she's treated like she's somebody dangerous and unstable and untrustworthy the more that's what she becomes.

Morgana saw Arthur less and less. He was crown prince now, leader of Camelot’s knights. And although they still snarked and name called as they’d always done, Morgana’s heart wasn’t in it. She saw him die so many times in her dreams that she couldn’t bring herself to be truly horrible to him during her waking hours.

Morgana’s duties were scaled back until she had as little to do as ever. She didn’t even realise she no longer kept the keys until she happened to pass Arthur in a hallway one day and saw them on his belt. At that point she’d had three hours sleep in the previous three days and was so exhausted she couldn’t even bring herself to pitch a fit about it.

Okay, I know I was saying about the pointlessness of trying to apply historical accuracy to Merlin, but the bit with Arthur and the keys did bother me, because wouldn't that have been a woman's job? Also, I think anyone who spent any time in Merlin fandom writing or thinking about Morgana ran into the same problem, namely what does Morgana DO all day?

Gwen was her only comfort. Gwen, who came early and stayed late so as to be there to offer comfort when Morgana woke screaming. Gwen, who listened attentively to Morgana talk about the nightmares that everyone else dismissed as hysterics. Gwen, who stood with Morgana at interminable feasts and invented emergencies that must be seen to immediately for when she could no longer stand the attentions of unbearable noblemen.

I do think some femslashers, me as much as anyone, willfully exaggerated how important Gwen was to Morgana for girlkissing purposes. But I also think that for a time, sort of late S1 - early S2, Morgana's in such a bad way, so terrified of Uther and distant from Arthur, that Gwen's probably the only human contact she has for days at a time and she does become incredibly important to her. Which is another reason that the Arthur/Gwen relationship is so hard for her to swallow, because she sees it as not just as a betrayal by Arthur but by Gwen too. Poor girl probably doesn't even know who she's jealous of anymore.

I mean, obviously it's incredibly selfish and self-centred, but there must be something incredibly depressing about realising that you're an afterthought in your own life.


*

Morgana kissed Gwen, just once.

They were on their way back from Ealdor, and Morgana felt better than she had in months. Her dreams, both good and bad, all took place in Camelot, and being outside the kingdom’s borders was like a breath of fresh air. Plus, they’d just saved a village from bandits, which was an amazing feeling. Morgana could almost understand why Arthur’s knights were always so smug.

Morgana and Gwen were lying face to face on a bedroll with the fire burning down to ashes behind them when Morgana kissed her.

Gwen was soft and warm and so very, very Gwen. The kiss seemed to go on forever and Gwen brought her hand up to smooth Morgana’s hair away from her face before she pulled back with a little sigh.

“Morgana, you’re… you are very beautiful…”

“I don’t suppose I could convince you to stop there?”

“And if, if I desired, were I attracted to…”

“You’re adorable. You’re wasted on men.”

“I’d be a very lucky woman, is what I mean to say.”

“Oh, Gwen, you will be.”

“Still friends?”

Morgana kissed the tip of Gwen’s nose. “The best of friends.”

I've done this in a few fics, actually, had Morgana make a move on Gwen and had Gwen knock her back. Partly, it's because, well, everyone's done that crush on a straight friend thing, haven't they? And partly because Merlin's the only show where I actually do have strong headcanon on the sexualities of all the characters. Morgana=lesbian, Gwen=straight, Arthur=would screw around with men from time to time but still consider himself straight, Merlin=bi but obsessed with Arthur to the detriment of any potential relationship, Gwaine=gay, Morgause=mostly asexual but not above seducing men or women if it suits her purposes.

*

During Arthur’s nineteenth year and Morgana’s twentieth, Arthur missed the annual tournament because he was out in the countryside chasing some bear-faced creature that Morgana was fairly sure he’d made up. Terrifying mythical creatures usually made an appearance in Morgana’s dreams, which she now feared and trusted in equal measure, and this one hadn’t. Most of her dreams that week had involved Arthur and Gwen kissing, and most of her waking hours were spent trying to convince herself that she wasn’t jealous.

Upon his return from the fictitious bear-faced monster quest, Arthur sought Morgana out. The first time he’d done so in longer than Morgana cared to remember.

This bit is almost painful because Arthur has absolutely no idea how far they've grown apart, and Morgana is aware of every last inch of it. And of course Arthur Pendragon is the very last person in the word who Morgana will ever turn to and say, "I'm scared and in trouble and I need help", which is tragic because he's the one she actually needs, so all she can do is carry on like they're still as close as they once were and it's all terribly strained. And Arthur, being Arthur, he doesn't know how to help her or what to do so he pretends there's nothing wrong.

“I hear Sir William won the tournament.”

“Yes. What of it?” asked Morgana, doing her best to sound as though Arthur had just interrupted something terribly important.

“I’m told the women of the court thought him very handsome.”

“I wouldn’t know. It’s not exactly my area of expertise.”

“Do you ever think about marriage?” Arthur asked out of the blue.

“Oh, Prince Arthur, this is so sudden,” said Morgana in tones of deepest sarcasm.

“Ha ha. I’m serious. Do you ever think about marriage?”

“Only in terms of avoiding it.”

“I don’t mean the marriage my father was trying to arrange for you. Or the one I’ll doubtlessly end up in. I mean, falling in love, spending your life with someone who makes you happy.”

“No. Why torment myself with the impossible?”

“Yeah. Yeah, thanks, Morgana.”

“Arthur,” Morgana called after him. “Gwen’s lovely.”

“I have no earthly idea what you are talking about.”

“And sweet and kind and very pretty.”

“Seriously, no idea at all.”

“And she’s a very good kisser.”

“What!?”

“Oh, relax, Arthur. It was only once and she wasn’t interested.”

Arthur stopped in the doorway to Morgana’s chambers. “Not that I have any idea what you’re talking about, but I win.”

Morgana threw a cushion at him.

*

There were a number of reasons why Morgana was entrusted with the diplomatic mission to Wessex. Firstly, Uther didn’t want to go. Secondly, after their chat about Gwen, Arthur felt beholden to her and mentioned to Uther that Morgana was bored and could do with something to do. And thirdly, diplomatic relations between Camelot and Wessex were so solid that unless Morgana got drunk at the feast and threw up on Olaf’s shoes, or was discovered in the bed of Lady Vivian she couldn’t really mess anything up.

Morgana only had one cup of wine at the feast and was the embodiment of charm itself. Afterwards, she did crawl into the bed of the Lady Vivian, but only because Vivian had sent her a note during dinner inviting her to.

You know how I was saying that I wanted this fic to be able to slot into the gaps in canon? I wonder if it says something about Morgana's onscreen presence in S2 that she conceivably could have been travelling round the Five Kingdoms having affairs. Also, I really wanted Morgana to have some sort of role within Camelot, and part-time minor diplomat seemed to strike a good balance between something she'd be able to do and something that Uther might allow her to do.

*

“You have cold hands,” Vivian whined.

“Why do you live at the very top of this tower? That staircase was cold.”

“That was father. I think he was worried about knights climbing in my window.”

“So, basically I’m braver than all the knights of Wessex for just showing up?”

“Or more desperate for a shag.”

Morgana aimed a kick at Vivian’s shin.

“Ouch. Plus, your feet are cold. Go and sit in front of the fire for a while.”

“Are you kidding me? It’s freezing, and I just got into this bed, I’m not getting out again.”

“What if we took all of these blankets and furs over there,” Vivian asked, “and we had sex in front of the fireplace?”

“I could be convinced.”

Vivian set about convincing Morgana.

This bit I like just for the idea that if you lock a princess in a tower for the sake of her virtue, then she'll embark on an extravagant long distance affair with another princess in a tower.

*

Vivian was pretty convincing, because several hours later Morgana woke up, all warm and toasty in front of the fire, wrapped in furs and Vivian’s limbs.

She envied Vivian, because as overprotective as her father was right now, it was common knowledge that Olaf had no male relatives and one day Vivian would rule as queen in her own right and be able to marry or not as she chose. Plus, magic was perfectly legal here.

Morgana spent a few minutes daydreaming of a future where she was the Queen Consort of Wessex, before dismissing it. She and Vivian didn’t have that sort of relationship.

I actually wrote that fic once. Well, they were betrothed, not married. But, yes, they are my favourite pairing that doesn't exist outside my head.

Vivian snored and snatched away most of the fur coverlet; Morgana kicked her affectionately in the shin to make her give it back.

*

“Can I see more of you?” Morgana asked the next morning when the royal family had come out to bid farewell to their visitors.

“I believe you saw nearly everything there is to see last night by the fire.”

“Vivian,” Morgana hissed, annoyed.

“You really want to spent more time with me? You’re not just being polite?”

“I save politeness for people who know what the word means. But, yes, can it be arranged?”

“The five kingdoms are meeting in Camelot to discuss a treaty next month. I’m sure, as future queen, I could convince my father to take me along.”

“Good. Well…” Morgana sort of wanted to kiss the back of Vivian’s hand, like a proper courtier. But the courtyard was full of knights and grooms and Vivian’s father, a man who would either have Morgana’s head shoved in a vat of hot oil, or expect her to immediately set about the best courtship in the history of Albion.

“I’ll look forward to it,” said Morgana, allowing a groom to help her onto her horse and leading the procession back towards Camelot.

I never really liked that interpretation of her character that said Morgana had gender issues or would have been a knight if she could; she never seemed unhappy being a woman, or especially desperate to fight outwith dire circumstances, it was more that she chafed in a world where everyone told Arthur that he was special and capable and told Morgana to sit still and look pretty. And this is why I think Vivian was doing Morgana the world of good here, because Morgana might have quite liked to play the dashing knight to Vivian's princess.

*

“I feel as if I’ve met her before,” said Morgana, watching the beautiful knight who’d challenged Arthur from her window.

“Really, where could you know her from?” said Gwen, giving her a Significant Look.

“Not like that,” Morgana wanted to say, but didn’t because she couldn’t explain what it was like.

*

By the time the peace talks came around Morgana had enjoyed several weeks of peaceful sleep thanks to the bracelet Morgause had given her, and she was feeling as well as she had in years.

Vivian wasn’t any more enamoured with the kingdom than she’d been years ago, but she did make Morgana laugh with a spectacularly accurate impression of Arthur.

I didn't realise until I was rereading this just now, but as much as Morgana doesn't really have a physical type in this, she does seem to fall hardest for the ones who are basically Arthur-but-a-girl.

*

Later, at the feast, a jester delighted Vivian by making a butterfly land on her nose while Morgana ran her hand up Vivian’s thigh.

*

Vivian turned up at Morgana’s door with a tray of chicken.

“Why have you brought chicken?”

“I know, I didn’t think it was all that sexy either. I don’t know what Prince Arthur was thinking.”

“Arthur…?” Morgana asked, but Vivian was being distracting and the prince was soon forgotten.

In retrospect I should have written this bit differently, because if you hadn't seen the episode Sweet Dreams then this is utterly meaningless to you.

If you have seen Sweet Dreams then it's pretty funny, if you haven't then it looks like Vivian's developed a spectacularly random chicken fetish.


*

Morgana stormed back to her chambers in a vile mood. She’d gone to ask if Vivian wanted to go for a ride and found the other girl talking about Arthur. Prince Arthur was so pretty, and charming and wonderful. At first she’d thought it was a joke, or Vivian’s latest way of being irritating.

But Vivian kept it up, “Oh, just speaking his name brings me joy indeed. Arthur. Arthur. Arthuuuur. Sorry, did you want something?”

Morgana slammed the door behind her and shouted “Gwen!” But she didn’t even have Gwen today, having loaned her to Vivian.

She opened the door and caught the attention of a passing servant.

“Can I get you anything, my lady?”

“Yes, wine. A lot of it”

Vivian and Gwen both. Why did everyone leave her for Arthur in the end?

What I was trying to get across here, and I'm not quite sure that it worked, was that it didn't occur to Morgana to go "Hang on, this is all very sudden. Weren't you really gay five minutes ago?" partly because she's angry, and soon to be drunk, but mostly because by this stage she's completely internalised the idea that of course people will chose Arthur over her every time, that's her new normal.

There's a line in my summary of this fic "...and Vivian getting hit by the love spell ruins everything." Which always sort of summed up this fic for me, because Morgana & Vivian weren't in true love, most times it isn't, it wasn't even the most important relationship in Morgana's life (that'd be Arthur) they were mostly friends-with-benefits, but they were doing each other the world of good, and it wasn't that Arthur or Merlin set out to hurt them, they were just thoughtlessly crushed under the wheels of the boys' destiny.


*

In Morgana’s twenty first year she was taken from Camelot by a beautiful woman in armour. It was what she’d always wanted, wasn’t it?

I kind of gloss over the whole Merlin-poisoning-her thing here, don't I? I know a lot of people thought it was questionable characterisation in S3 to have Morgana turn her anger on Arthur & Gwen and not immediately stab Merlin in the eye or at least go crying to Uther about the poisoning, I thought that too at the time. See, the thing is, Merlin isn't a hero, and not just because he's creepy and appalling, he isn't a hero because he's basically a tool of fate (at least the highly edited version of fate the dragon presents him with) and that's how Morgana sees him. It's Camelot she's angry with and wants to destroy, Merlin doesn't matter except in the sense of being a tool of the system that nearly destroyed her.

I think I mentioned that this was written pre-S3 and everything after this is me extrapolating about Morgana's characterisation and her relationship with Arthur. Um, boy, did I get that wrong....


“You don’t have to talk to him,” Morgause promised, squeezing her hand reassuringly.

“No, I want to.”

Morgana found Arthur standing on the rocky shore, nervously gripping the hilt of his sword.

“Arthur.”

“Morgana.”

Arthur nodded towards the ruined castle, where Morgause was standing half in shadow watching them with hooded eyes. “Your new girlfriend is a little overprotective.”

“She’s my sister.”

“Really?”

“Really, truly.”

“I just assumed…”

“It’s a mistake easily made.”

“You mean you thought that…?

“Look, she kept giving me pretty things and inviting me to meet her in woodland clearings by moonlight. What was I supposed to think?”

I actually enjoy that I wasn't being facetious here, that's actually what their relationship was like at this point. It occurred to me that an interesting thing to do with this fic would have been to keep the first half as is, and expand this section with Morgause out so that you got Morgana's perspective on her relationships with her brother and her sister. I didn't do that for a couple of reasons, Morgause had only been in two episodes by this point and we didn't really know what her relationship with Morgana was going to be like. Okay, so it turned out that that didn't matter so much, I could have made up just about anything and made it fit. Also, while my headcanon is that Morgana had some kind of desperate crush on Morgause leading to an incredibly awkward paternity conversation and leaving Morgana with feelings of attraction that she can never quite shake no matter how hard she tries to ignore them. And I think it's one thing to write their interactions with that in mind, but to actually write it out you'd have to keep an incredibly light touch.

“That must have been an awkward conversation.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

The grin vanished from Arthur’s face. “She told me that you wanted to stay here with her; I told her I wasn’t leaving until I heard it from your lips.”

“I want to stay here with Morgause.”

“Morgana, don’t be ridiculous. She’s an enchantress!”

“So am I!”

“…”

“Close your mouth, Arthur. Something will fly in.”

“You should have told me. You used to tell me everything.”

I love this little bit; it's not that Morgana's magic, it's that she lied to him, that she didn't trust him. And that's always going to the issue with Arthur and any magic reveal.

“I grew up.”

“You’re not coming home, are you?”

“It’s not just the magic, Arthur. What am I ever going to do in Camelot apart from go slowly mad and flirt with visiting noblewomen?”

“You could flirt with the servants, I make no judgments. The slowly going mad thing would also be optional.”

“No,” said Morgana sadly. “It wouldn’t.”

I also quite like Morgana's line about slowly going mad. Because I think Morgana's descent into insanity was foreshadowed pretty early on in S1, but I also think there was an assumption in fandom that she was going to go quietly, prettily mad, a willing sacrifice to the boys' great future, and what jarred a lot of people was that she went angrily, violently insane, that she wants to kill everyone because it ISN'T FAIR. And if there's any kind of theme to my Merlin fic, and it's one that's come up in almost every story, it's finding different ways for Morgana to escape that fate.

*

Morgana was twenty-five when the news reached them.

Morgause burst into Morgana’s tent and glared at Enmyria. “Get your clothes on and get out.”

Morgause conceded that Alvarr and his people were useful to them, but she did not share Morgana’s fondness for them.

“What is it, sister?” Morgana asked.

“Uther Pendragon is dead.”

“Oh.” They’d been expecting it, Uther had been gravely ill for weeks, and that rankled with Morgana. Everything she’d done, all the bridges she’d burned, and Uther was killed by a lung infection.

“Is this it?” she asked her sister. “Can we stop now?”

If I got nothing else right about Morgana and Morgause's relationship I got right that they have no concept of personal space around each other. Either that or Morgana is dealing with her confusing feelings about her half sister by parading all her future girlfriends in front of Morgause.

So, Enmyria, I really should have gone into The Witch's Quickening when I was going through the events of S2 from Morgana's pov, but I didn't because 1) The Witch's Quickening is an inexcusably awful episode that no one comes out of looking good, and 2) Alvarr, I mean, I'm sure I could have worked him in without having Morgana question her sexuality, any port in a storm and all that, but I find I remember that episode more fondly if I think of it as the one where Morgana met a nice bandit girl who thought she was pretty. Hence, Enmyria.


*

In the tenth year of Arthur Pendragon’s rule, Morgana returned to Camelot for the first time in fourteen years.

I actually cringed rereading that line. I mean, I kind of tied myself into the meme where I repeated their respective ages, but that one just couldn't have been more awkwardly phrased.

There was initally going to, between this scene and the previous one with Morgause and Enmyria, going to be a lot more story. Morgana was going to have a reunion with Vivian and realise she was under a spell (this entire bit got recycled into an entirely different fic which I never managed to finish.) Morgana was going kill Gaius. And I've only just realised now that Morgause vanishes without comment so I probably should have done something with that. But it was a lot of words without Morgana and Arthur interacting and I was trying to keep them as the heart of the story. Also, even though it had evolved from being a fic about Morgana being gay to a fic about Morgana being Morgana and just happening to be gay I'd kept the framing mechanism where every section had to have some kind of reference to her sexuality, however slight, and I wasn't sure I could work one into a scene about Morgana poisoning Gaius. So all of that was abandoned.


Mordred sat across from Arthur and Merlin and the three men tried to negotiate an end to the bloody four year rebellion.

Morgana stood behind Mordred and thought that for all of the protestations of her youth, she’d spent most of her life standing behind a man letting him talk for her.

She slipped away and climbed to the roof, the same spot where she and Arthur had played as children, and gotten idiotically drunk as youths.

“It’s war,” said Arthur, coming up behind her.

“What, immediately? And me without my sword.”

“Not immediately, no. But Mordred is being unreasonable. It will come to war.”

Morgana turned to face Arthur. “Your beard looks ridiculous.”

“I look incredibly handsome and manly, something you never did have any appreciation of. Actually, you should tell Mordred that.”

“Excuse me?”

“I was just thinking, if he knew that you are never going to lie with him, no matter how many wars he wages, he might spend his time doing something more productive. Attempting to magic himself into a girl, for example.”

“Don’t be stupid, Mordred is a child.”

“Not anymore. And I know something of unrequited love.”

And this is the point where Morgana realises she can forgive Arthur for being the special, chosen one, because he knows what rejection feels like too.

“Arthur, Gwen loves you.”

“Not as she loves Lancelot.”

“How do you think I feel? I didn’t even make the shortlist.”

“Yes, well, maybe if you hadn’t turned out to be such a dreadful traitor.”

Morgana laughed darkly. “You never did understand how these things work.”

“Morgana, this coming war?”

“What of it?”

“May the best man win.”

“You’re talking about yourself again, aren’t you?” Arthur smiled and Morgana turned to leave, at the top of the steps she turned and called, “Arthur?”

“Yes.”

“The next time we see each other will be the day we both die.”

“Maybe you’re wrong. Merlin says you’re a terrible seer.”

“A word of advice, Arthur: stop starting sentences with the words ‘Merlin says.’ It’s un-kingly.”

You know, I saw this fic recced somewhere once as Arthur/Merlin if you squint. Which, don't get me wrong, I'm not looking a gift-reccer in the mouth, I just can't help but feel that anyone following that rec might be an itty bit disappointed.

*

It was Arthur’s thirty-ninth year and Morgana’s fortieth. And it was the year they were both going to die.

Both armies were under banners of peace and the camps bled into each other somewhat.

Morgana wasn’t surprised when she saw Arthur, sitting a little way apart from his knights, sharpening Excalibur.

Arthur looked up and saw her. He nodded, only slightly.

Doubtless Merlin was around somewhere, but he and Morgana had long since said and done everything there is to each other; all that was left is tomorrow. Gwen would be safe back at the castle, and Morgana regretted not getting to speak to her one last time.

It was odd. Morgana had spent most of her adult life in a state of free-floating terror, but now, when the worst was going to happen, she wasn’t afraid at all.

She returned Arthur’s nod.

I wasn't kidding about these two, destiny and destruction and salvation. They've already made their peace but they still can't stop. DESTRUCTION AND SALVATION.

*

Morgana sat on the beach with her knees drawn up to her chest. Next to her was a rowing boat, and on its floor was Arthur Pendragon with his sword laid along his body.

Morgana had dragged the boat up onto the gravel. Really, she should have taken Arthur out of the boat. But he was in full armour and Morgana was exhausted, she’d just died.

“Is this it?” said Arthur, sitting up and looking up and down the unimpressive shore. “Is this Avalon?”

“Apparently so.”

“I thought it would be sunnier.” Arthur hoisted himself out of the boat. “And I was expecting Merlin.”

“Yes, well. I was expecting a plethora of beautiful women.” Arthur snorted and Morgana pretended she hadn’t heard. “I didn’t exactly plan on spending my death with only you and your shiny sword of patriarchy for company.”

You don't want to know how long I'd been waiting to make a good Excalibur as a phallic symbol joke.

Arthur offered Morgana his hand and pulled her to her feet. “Admit it, Morgana, you’ve always been jealous of my sword.”

“Did you take a blow to the head when you died?” Morgana accused, turning and stomping away down the beach.

“Jealous,” Arthur sing-songed, and hurried to catch up. When he drew level with Morgana he offered her his arm, which she accepted. “Will we be here long?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Morgana smiled at him. “I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.”

Because everything is circular, you see?


I am planning to do a couple more of these through the course of the week, but I shall endeavour to keep any future ones to a less insane length.

Date: 2012-01-16 02:50 am (UTC)
sophinisba: Morgana smiling from ep 2.03 (morgana happy by gwy)
From: [personal profile] sophinisba
I enjoyed reading this commentary bb! That fic is one of my favorites, but then a lot of yours are.

Date: 2012-01-16 03:19 am (UTC)
sophinisba: Morgana smiling from ep 2.03 (morgana happy by gwy)
From: [personal profile] sophinisba
Nah, that was part of what I liked about it. I'm not big on rereading fics and I think that's part of why I don't normally read fic commentaries, but this worked for me. I'd also love to see one of Pastimes and Lifestyles since that's a fic I know better from having done the podfic.

Date: 2012-01-16 03:48 am (UTC)
woldy: (Default)
From: [personal profile] woldy
The commentary was nearly as awesome as the fic :-D

Date: 2012-01-16 06:28 am (UTC)
greenteafarm: (Default)
From: [personal profile] greenteafarm
Excellent commentary. :D Loved getting into your head and seeing why you wrote Morgana the way you did and how the show pretty much just fucked her over.

<3 <3 <3 <3

Date: 2012-01-16 11:17 am (UTC)
hibernate: ([lots] kahlan's swirly fight skillz)
From: [personal profile] hibernate
In that alternate universe where the show is called Morgana, I'd like to think you are the show-runner, because your thoughts are so, so awesome. Your fic always makes me more interested in the show than actually, you know, watching the show.

Date: 2012-01-16 03:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] amelia-petkova.livejournal.com
I really enjoyed reading this commentary.

Date: 2012-01-16 04:10 pm (UTC)
swatkat: (lots: because she is pretty)
From: [personal profile] swatkat
God, this gives me so many FEEELINGS, I can't even!

Morgana isn't Merlin's dark mirror, she's Arthur's. The golden king and the dark queen. They're identical and they're destroying each other, they are each other's destiny and destruction and salvation. And I guess that's what I was trying to do with this fic, show that their lives always had been and always would be entwined.

This. Oh this. So much. The show sort of ham-handedly tried to set Merlin and Morgana up as mirrors, but doesn't make any sense, not in the least because they don't really care about each other at all. Arthur and Morgana on the other hand... Funny, I see Morgana as mostly gay, and I didn't ship them at all in S1, but the more sibling-y the relationship grew the more I found the ship appealing. Of course, I'm just as pleased with Arthur&Morgana.


Also, I know it was a pretty common fanon for a while that Gwen had worked for Morgana since they were children, and even when they were friends it never seemed to me like they'd been, you know, childhood friends. I think Gwen predated Merlin, yes, but not by more than, maybe, eighteen months.


I'm fond of the fanon, but you're right, it does make more sense if Gwen had been around less. The speed of the fallout, the failure to communicate, certainly seems to suggest the same.

Because I think Morgana's descent into insanity was foreshadowed pretty early on in S1, but I also think there was an assumption in fandom that she was going to go quietly, prettily mad, a willing sacrifice to the boys' great future, and what jarred a lot of people was that she went angrily, violently insane, that she wants to kill everyone because it ISN'T FAIR.

Again, this. I know it was jarring to me - I'm not *what* I was expecting, honestly, but the fierceness of her rage and the extent of it was unexpected. Fandom had not prepared me for this, and the show's bad writing did not help.

In conclusion: so.many.feelings. <3

Date: 2012-01-17 07:29 pm (UTC)
swatkat: knight - er, morgana - in shining underwear (Default)
From: [personal profile] swatkat
I really thought I was over it, but apparently not - the power of Morgana compels me. I don't know what it is about her character type (ref. Azula, or the Evil Queen in Once Upon A Time), but the fact that she is so desperate to win and simply can't is something that is a bulletproof narrative kink of mine. I don't so much dislike Merlin as I've become indifferent to his character, mostly? Because I used to think he was adorable and was all ready to find his story compelling - except that it started to go in directions that didn't make any sense, and IDK, I gave up.

Not only is the dragon a lying liar, he uses 'witch' as a pejorative and I hate him and I am really irrational about this. So yes, your point. I agree. I can do the headcanon thing - I thought I'd stopped, but I find myself being sucked in again (I'm resisting, though).

Date: 2012-01-17 03:05 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Loool I haven't finished reading this at all, I'm only on the first section, but I have to say that I have long thought that while the "angle" of the show was to do Arthurian legends via a young Merlin, the central character really should have been Arthur, since he is the character whom most all other characters/storylines revolve around, and that is totally in line with your analysis about how Morgana is the flip of Arthur, not Merlin.

Annnywaysss.

Date: 2012-01-17 03:23 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Oh damn, I'm not signed in, it's Anjali. Anyways, this was a thoroughly fascinating read, I loved getting your thoughts on Morgana. I think you made some great points about the Morgana/Arthur relationship and especially how this feeling of being an "afterthought to your own life" would make anyone fucking furious. And I think this idea that Morgana doesn't immediately think to get back at Merlin in S3 because she doesn't think he's a threat even--barely anything worth considering, really, and hardly in her life at all, except for those scenes early in S2 or whatever.

Date: 2012-01-23 07:55 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Great commentary to a great fic. I've always loved Arthur and Morgana's interactions, and this captures it wonderfully.

Date: 2012-01-26 03:22 pm (UTC)
such_heights: amy and rory looking at a pile of post (m: morgana/sword otp)
From: [personal profile] such_heights
This is really great! It makes me appreciate this story, which I love, all the more. Oh, Morgana. <3

Date: 2012-01-28 12:40 am (UTC)
nemonclature: Daria looking unamused (Default)
From: [personal profile] nemonclature
This was really fun to read, I've actually not read the fic, so discovering it along with the commentary was really fun. I'm weird like that, I enjoy meta along with my storytelling! I love your characterisation of Morgana and her relationship with Arthur as well as your thoughts about her place in canon generally. Really interesting and it all rings true.

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