I was hung from a tree made of tongues of the weak: Kasdeya

Mordred dipped his quill into the pot of ink sitting on the table, and wiped the excess from the tip, all of his attention on the page in front of him. His free hand rested on the desk top, long-fingered and pale, the sun of the late evening lending a glow to his skin. Setting the quill to the page, Mordred crossed through a sentence in a single deliberate swipe, and added his own annotation to the side of it in a fluid, swirling script.

It was late. The setting sun cast a red glimmer across the surface of the lake beyond the windows. They had stopped allowing petitioners in to see him. Those who had remained had been advised to return tomorrow, and those who needed them had been supplied with rooms befitting their stations. As it had been in his brother's day, so it was in his. He had allowed Arthur to live as long as he had so that he could learn from a king both successful and loved.

Tyrants crumbled, the efficient prospered.

Whatever his personal inclinations, the truth remained. If he was a good king, if everyone was well taken care of, if they prospered, then they asked fewer questions. And it was harder for Tristan to recruit anyone to his ill-advised rebellion.

What, after all, was there to rebel against?

He was a little firmer than Arthur perhaps, held more strictly to the law without allowing sentiment to affect his judgement, but these too were important traits in a king.

And they were lessons he would teach his son.

The king's attention shifted from his document to his child, playing on the floor at his feet with his dog. Mordred tipped his head to the right, considering. The boy was strong and growing well. He resembled his father more and more with each passing day, to Mordred's continuing satisfaction. Loholt was free with his laugher, reached out for comforting embraces a little more frequently that the king might have liked, but there was time.

And who was more patient than Mordred?

The boy's dog, Mortimer, lost his grip on the ball. It rolled towards the king, bumping against his boot. Mordred glanced down at it, and then set down his quill. He bent at the waist to retrieve the ball from the floor, straightening up just as the guard entered through the door at the bottom of the hall.

"Beg pardon, your Grace," the guard said, bowing his head respectfully, "but there's a woman here, asking to see you. I told her to come back tomorrow but she's been um...very insistent."

Mordred allowed himself a smile. The guard's eyes were wide, his manner uncertain, his hand unsteady. He was afraid. Curious.

"Send her in, Callum," the king instructed him, "only this time try to get a name."

"Yes, your Grace," Callum nodded, "apologies."

He dismissed him with a flick of his free hand. As the footsteps on the other side of the doors grew more distant, Mordred looked back at the ball in his hand, and then up at his son. Loholt stood before him, his blue eyes large in his pale face. The boy's fat little hand curled around Mordred's finger.

"What do we say, brego?" he prompted the child, raising an expectant eyebrow.

"Please, lord father," Loholt managed, slowly and deliberately. He held out his free hand. Satisfied, Mordred nodded, pressing the ball into the tiny waiting palm.

"Father has a matter to attend to. Stay quiet, but pay attention, yes, brego? I will be testing you later."

As if the boy's nod had been a cue, the door at the end of the hall was pushed ajar again, and as Loholt settled himself obediently on the rug beside Mordred's desk, a striking woman entered.

The king smiled beautifully.

" Welcome to my hall," he told her, holding out his hands. "Tell me, what was so urgent that it could not wait until morning."

M o r d r e d
photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin at unsplash.com


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