If only he hadn’t said that! I ran, more determined than ever to get away. Fears and doubts raced through my mind, and I didn’t stop until I was in the furthest field from the house.
What if he sends a guard with mother, so she can’t collect me? What if he comes after me? What if I can’t get away and he marries me off to some horrid old man? What if… What if? my heart was pounding in my chest and sweat dripped off my body despite the cold winds.
Tears spilled down my face as I stood there, surrounded by the tall grasses and weeds with the little dirt road to my left and open expanses to my right. A wall stood before me to keep out invaders, and I knew it was a triple defense.
Nearest me was a tall, straight, smooth wall of logs sharpened to spikes – a final layer of protection from attackers. Beyond that was a natural defense; a fast moving river ran – crossing my path to freedom. The third defense was a thick stone wall, surrounding my father’s lands. I’m told that it took three generations to build that wall, but I know not whether that is true or not.
Tiredly I rested against the wall of logs, listening to the river rushing relentlessly on the other side of it. The path went along with the river for a few yards, to a crudely built bride – which the guards who manned the gates of the log wall were under strict orders to burn if an intruder made it past the first defense.
My freedom lies beyond those walls, I thought, listening hard for the wheels of the cart or a wagon and the hooves of father’s work horses.
I don’t know how long I sat there waiting for mother but she finally came. With her were a younger maid and an old soldier, both of whom stayed with her to the death. The cart pulled to a halt while the gats were opened and I darted out of my hiding place and climbed into the back with my mother.
“I was afraid you wouldn’t make it,” she whispered, the only sign that she had noticed me. Lying on her lap was a piece of clothing that she had been embroidering, but now she stared at it without seeing it. “You need to stay hidden from the guards, Morgan.” I nodded and ducked down into the straw that lined the back. A blanket was thrown over me and I lay still like that for a long time.
The rest of the trip was uneventful and I recall sleeping fitfully through most of it. When we finally arrived at my mother’s old home – the land of her brother, at that time – she woke me before getting out of the cart.
Her brother had been waiting for us, it seems, because I remember his entire family waiting, greeting mother happily and commenting on how I had grown since I had last seen them. They brought us into the great hall, where a scrumptious feast had been laid out, and we all ate until we were full.
My uncle had a son close to my age who thought it would be great fun to challenge me to an eating contest as the deserts were being passed around and, by the time our mothers had learned what we were up to, we had made ourselves sick from eating too much.
Aunt Mary who was a religious woman gave us both a lecture on the sin of gluttony and sent us to bed with our aching stomachs. Later his older sister snuck up with some peppermint tea to ease the pain a little and for many years after that event it was a lovely joke between the two of us. I wish I could say that life with my uncle was always as happy as it was that first night. I wish I could say that everything became better once we moved in with uncle’s family. But then I wouldn’t have much of a story, would I?
As king as my uncle was I could tell that he thought that my mother was a disgrace. He never said anything directly, but the way he treated her – almost like she was contaminated with something – gave it away. He, on the other hand, was nicer than Aunt Mary and her older daughters – who blatantly scorned and were rude and cruel to mother.
Over the next three months mother became more and more withdrawn and sickly, taking to her bed. In the third month of our stay things became far worse.
Mother grew extremely sick, unable to move from her bed except to use the privy, and even that was with assistance. After about two weeks of this illness, my father came riding up to my uncle’s home with absolutely no warning.
“What are you doing on my land, Pendragon?” my uncle roared as my aunt chivvied us children into the solar.
“Where is that disobedient wife of mine?” my father yelled, obviously angry. “She took my daughter after I had ordered her not to do so!” Aunt Mary shot me a surprised and dirty looked that caused my cousins to edge away from me, eager to escape the wrath of their mother.
“What have you done?” Aunt Mary demanded of me. “What have you brought us trouble?”
“I didn’t do anything wrong!” I protested.
“You’re nothing but a burden,” she hissed, hatred and rage contorting her face. “You and your mother both.” Rage rose within me at this disrespectful mention of my defenseless mother, threatening to choke me.
“Don’t you say a word against my mother,” I said, stepping away from them. Everyone was looking at me like I was sick in the head.
“You little ingrate!” my aunt’s oldest daughter said. “My parents have given you a good home and food when you would have had nothing!”
“Kellen, be quiet,” Aunt Mary snapped. “Don’t speak about that which you know nothing about.”
“I’m sorry, mother,” Kellen apologized, not seeming to mean it.
“Summon Morgan,” my uncle said loudly. My aunt looked at me viciously and the floor seemed to fall out from underneath me. The door of the solar opened and I took a couple of steps back as my uncle’s manservant entered.
“Miss Morgan,” he said, tipping his head respectfully to my aunt but focusing on me. “Your uncle desires your presence in the great hall.”
“Go to your uncle, Morgan,” Aunt Mary said with a sneer. I swallowed nervously as I glanced around the room, looking for either support or an exit. Finding neither, I nodded and followed the manservant into the great hall. As the door of the solar closed behind me, I heard one of my cousins ask “Is Morgan going to leave?” and Aunt Mary’s response – “I pray that she will.”
Anger coursed through my veins, mixed with the fear that my father would force me to leave. I was trapped, no matter where I turned.
My uncle was sitting at the table he usually sat at – the one that was raised on a dias at the end of the hall – glaring at my father when I walked in. My father, on the other hand, was standing halfway down the hall looking around the room. I knew that he was calculating how many of my uncle’s soldiers he could take down and, judging by the look on his face he didn’t like the odds.
“Uncle, please, don’t send me with him,” I begged, rushing to the foot of the dias. “Don’t send me with him, please.”
“I will not permit him to force you to leave, if you do not desire it,” my uncle said, turning his attention to me. “Your mother needs you, child.”
“Thank you,” I whispered, feeling a little better as I turned to face my father.
“You have no right to keep my child from me, Cadman,” my father said stopping in his calculations.
“She is on my land, and has asked for refuge,” my uncle countered. “According to the law, I must grant her that refuge. If it is from her father, then so be it.”
“Morgan, since your uncle will not permit me to lay a finger on you it must be your choice,” my father said, stewing. “I only wanted to give you the best and you run away. Morgan, I will forgive you for that, if you will only return home with me now.”
“Why? So you can trade me away from something better?” I asked, my voice shaking. “Father, I don’t want to be treated like your cattle.”
“I wouldn’t treat you that way!” he roared, finally losing his temper.
“You would,” I said, leaning against the table that was behind me, grasping the wood. “You would send me off to be married as soon as a good deal comes along for me. So what would it be, money? Land? Alliances?”
“You little…!” my father started.
“Heed my words, Pendragon. If you insult any of my household I will have your head,” my uncle warned, cutting him off.
“How can you stand for this?” father demanded “How can you let her escape from her place and her duty?”
“That is not any business of mine,” Uncle Cadman said. “I am not her father and, as far as I’m concerned, both her place and her duty is with her mother.” My father cursed as my uncle rose to his feet.
“Father,” I said, afraid, but desperately trying to be brave. “Mother is ill. I need to be with her.”
“Fine,” father snapped as he turned and stalked to the doors.”But do not expect me to take you in when no one else wants you.”
“There will be no need for that, Pendragon,” my uncle called after him angrily. “Not while I have breath in my body!”