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Gwen sorrowfully listened to her sister’s uncontrollable sobbing.
“Why Gwen, why?” Mariel cried, her voice muffled through thick tears. Gwen sighed. She could feel Mariel’s pain ripping through her own heart, yet how could one so dear be so exasperating!
“Mariel,” Gwen sighed, trying her best to sound patient. “Must I keep telling you? Gawaine must have been bespelled by his mother. You know her contempt for you is endless!” And for me, Gwen thought.
“Yet this has occurred before!” Mariel wailed, nervously clasping her hands together. “How could it happen again?”
“You know the North Witch’s ensorcellment is endless. Mariel, we can fix this. Do not worry. We’ll convince Gawaine to return home.” Suddenly, Mariel’s face lit up with exciment.
“Gwen,” she asked cautiously. “You couldn’t, well, face the queen for me?” Gwen felt her heart plummet and sweat bead on her forehead. Her prior experiences with the Queen had been far from pleasant. And yet… Arthur was solving a small coup in the South and Gawaine had yet to return to poor Mariel. There was no question about that! But there was only one fact that made Gwen leave. She gazed down at Mariel’s bloated, pregnant belly and sighed once more. “I will do it on one condition. You allow me to obtain assistance.”
As Gwen and Merlinnus climbed onto their horses, the mage squinted a Gwen.
“Gwen, how you convinced me to visit that devil’s castle with you is beyond my understanding.” Gwen gave a good-natured laugh and rustled the mage’s thinning, wispy hair.
“Merlinnus, we shall have great fun! I have hardly talked to you since Arthur and I wed.” Merlinnus managed a small smile before the pair raced into the English countryside. Gwen couldn’t help but to notice it was a strange grin.
A beautiful figure leaned over the mysterious scrying board.
“What do we have here?” it cackled. “Oh, she thinks she’s so clever, but I will show that ignorant usurper.” Morgause leaned back and let out a shrill pipe of glee before scurrying off to her cupboard to mess with potions.
It was nearly a week since Gwen and Merlinnus had set out. The sun was sinking below the horizon, exploding the sky into a firework of colors that the horseback riders could not see, for the trees of the forest were tall, dark, and looming. As the darkness settled over the woodland, the mage and the Queen camped out in a small clearing. Gwen noticed with a slight contempt that Merlinnus would not even look at her; in fact, he had hardly looked at her the entire journey. It was Gwen who finally broke the awkward silence.
“Merlinnus, what shall we do to stop the Witch? Our journey is nearly half way finished, and we have not discussed this.”
“I was hoping that you had a plan in mind when you requested my services. However, I would much rather you stay back and let me handle the Witch,” Merlinnus told Gwen in a slightly condescending voice. The mage paused then added; “I do not think it was wise to travel here without Arthur, and even less without his permission.” Oh, Gwen thought. So this is why Merlinnus is so bitter.
As Gwen prepared to open her mouth, a dark shape leaped from the bushes. The figure hurtled towards Merlinnus, the shape of a butcher’s knife outlined in its hand. With surprising speed, Merlinnus dodged the assassin just moments before the knife came hurtling down! Swiftly, Gwen drew her sword from her sheath and slashed the clumsy figure’s head off. Feeling rather proud of herself, a panting Gwen drew herself up to Merlinnus. Surprisingly, the old man appeared upset.
“GWEN,” he roared. “Why did you take that man’s life? Have I not taught you anything? We should have questioned him. He was probably sent by the North Queen.” Gwen melted into her calfskin boots and mumbled an apology. “Well,” the mage said, his voice calmer, “At least he’s off our hands. Now Gwen, perhaps some rest will do us both some good.”
Nearly a week later, Gwen and Merlinnus could view the Orkneys from their small, feeble rowboat. The seas had tossed the boat like a toddler would a toy, but Merlinnus had set a spell on the vessel to keep the water from overwhelming it. Gwen had been happy to see that Merlinnus had forgiven her, and their relationship was growing somewhat less tense. Still, he did not seem like the same man he was when Gwen met him. As the boat neared the beach, Merlinnus twisted his body around in the cramped space so he faced Gwen.
“Now Gwen,” he began. “I do not want you to come up with me. What you need to do is find Gawaine. I’ll take care of the North Queen.” She nodded in agreement, even though the Queen felt the tiniest hint of dismay at the mage’s plan. With Merlinnus muttering under his breath to disable any protection spells, the pair entered the castle. It was almost too easy, Gwen thought. Silently, Merlinnus traveled upstairs. Feeling like something was wrong, Gwen waited till he neared the top then sprinted after him. Pausing at the stop of the steps to regain her breath, Gwen cautiously pushed the door ajar. Suddenly, she felt a strange feeling in her stomach, then a searing pain traveling all the way up from her abdomen. Gwen dropped to the cold, marble floor, a dagger in her stomach.
Laughing in their success, Morgause and Merlinnus stared at the half-dead girl curled up in a growing pool of her own blood.
“Oh Hwyll,” Morgause chuckled. “I knew there was a reason a spent an entire year working on a reincarnation spell! And to have it ready the night before Merlinnus died so you could occupy his body without anyone noticing was pure genius! And Gawaine wasting away in the dungeons was the perfect lure! And how brilliant to throw Gwen off with that feeble attempt of an assassination. Now that the Queen is gone, the King is as good as dead. Finally, finally the throne will be mine!” Merlinnus, or Hwyll, gazed up in amazement at his mentor. Her wisdom, beauty, and cunning would be perfect to rule Britain. As the pair started heading down the stairs, Gwen peered out of one eye. The dagger still stuck out of her abdomen, but she pulled her strength out from within. Hobbling up from the floor, she silently closed on Morgause and Hwyll. With a swift wipe of her sword, both of their heads were upon the floor in less than a second.
After wrapping a great deal of bandages over her stomach, Gwen shuffled down to the dungeons and released Gawaine. Her brother-in-law was dazed from weeks of being holed up in the jail. Even in her weakened state, Gwen helped him up the dungeon steps and into the main floor. Confused, he looked in a puzzled way upon the heads.
“Gwen,” he murmured. “Who is that?” Gwen paused for a moment before replying.
“Don’t worry Gawaine. It is merely two people who should’ve been dead a long, long time ago.”