She’s the sort of woman I absolutely despise.
Tall and slender, with the kind of body that reduces men — even blind old ones like Lance — to slavering fools. Lustrous black hair so thick it practically swallows the light. Smooth, flawless skin as appealing as fresh milk; big dark eyes like invitingly cool pools on a sweltering summer’s day. And a voice that purrs like a bagful of contented kittens.
‘Lancelot!’ She clutches her hands in front of her chest as though trying to keep her heart from flying out of her ribcage. ‘How simply divine to see you again! Are you dressed as some kind of tree?’
Lance shuffles awkwardly, as though ashamed. ‘Morgana,’ he says. ‘My companions and I are in disguise, on a covert mission of the utmost importance. I take it that you managed to escape the confines of the dread House of Glass?’
She waves her hand as if swatting a troublesome fly. ‘Oh that old place? Actually, I found it to be rather charming.’ She inspects a long blood-red fingernail. ‘And rather fragile, despite Merlin’s best efforts to seal me inside for all eternity. But tell me, dearest Lancelot — how are you faring with the gift I bestowed upon you when last we met?’
‘The sight?’ His lips are pursed. ‘I have learned to live with it, thank you.’
‘Splendid!’ She claps her hands. ‘How simply delicious! And speaking of which,’ she says, turning her gaze towards Cecil, ‘who is this rather impressive specimen you are travelling with?’
It sickens me to see the Minotaur stand with his hands clasped behind his back, his head bowed sheepishly. ‘I am known as Cecil, my lady,’ he says. ‘It is an honour and a pleasure to meet you.’
‘Yes, indeed it is.’ She stares at his skimpy loincloth, one perfectly-shaped eyebrow raised. ‘My, my…’
I wait for her to turn her attention to me, trying to stand in such a way that my tail isn’t blatantly obvious.
‘Dearest Lance,’ she says, steadfastly ignoring me, ‘I heard you discussing a mission of some sort. One which apparently involved you having to face Merlin?’
‘We are on a quest of the most noble undertaking. I am not sure if I am willing to discuss it with one such as you, Morgana.’
‘One such as me?’ She flattens her hand across her chest, taking the opportunity to pull down her corset an inch or two. ‘Whatever do you mean?’
‘The fate of the Kingdom depends upon our success,’ says Lance. ‘And our success depends upon our discretion. Young Princess Scarlett here —‘
He is interrupted by Morgana’s peals of laughter. I glare at her as she wipes tears of mirth from her eyes, her ample chest heaving. ‘Princess?’ she says. ‘Her? I thought she was your pet!’
She descends into fits of laughter again. I feel my tail bristle; a low growl burrs in the back of my throat.
‘Princess Scarlett,’ says Lance, ‘has a power greater than you could ever hope to achieve, Le Fay.’
‘Oh come, come,’ says Morgana. ‘Last names now, is it? Don’t be so stuffy!’
‘Yes,’ says Cecil, obviously transfixed by her womanly wiles, ‘loosen up, Lanceypops.’
‘Lanceypops!’ Morgana doubles up in merriment once more. ‘Oh, I like that.’
Cecil’s ears stand up tall with pride. I shake my head, remembering now why I prefer being a loner.
‘Actually,’ I say, ‘I never asked for any of this. All I wanted was to be left to my own devices, hunting werewolves in the woods.’
‘Ah, a lycan hunter! How fascinating!’ Morgana couldn’t look more bored if she tried. ‘Yet it seems the hunter has become the prey, does it not?’
‘Scarlett’s affliction is a result of Merlin’s magics,’ says Lance. I’m grateful to him for sticking up for me — and for concealing the truth of my heritage from this scheming witch before us. ‘Another of the reasons we are on our noble quest — to defeat the wizard of Camelot once and for all.’
‘And that is where our motives coincide, dear Lancelot.’ Morgana walks around us slowly. ‘I too have cause to bring about the demise of that wizened old pointy-hatted charlatan.’
‘Old pointy-hat,’ says Cecil, gazing at her like a helpless mooncalf. ‘Oh, I like that.’
Morgana ignores him, directing her words to Lance. ‘You need my assistance to defeat him, like it or not.’
’It is undeniable your magics are a match for his,’ says my knightly chum. ‘Yet I am curious, Morgana — why would you need us? Surely you could face him on your own?’
‘Normally, that would be the case, my adulterous old comrade. Yet the days and nights I spent alone in his prison took their toll upon me.’ She puts her hand to her forehead and sways, in a blatantly obvious attempt to look vulnerable. Cecil rushes to her side, arms outstretched ready to catch her should she fall. Morgana snorts, glancing once more at his leather-clad loins.
‘You are without your battle magics?’ asks Lance.
‘I am but a poor abused innocent in need of healing,’ says Morgana, fluttering her thick eyelashes in Cecil’s direction. ’The remedy of which I know I can only gain from one source.’
‘The death of Merlin.’ Lance taps his chin, as though pondering our options. ‘It does indeed seem that our quests have something in common.’
‘You’re considering letting her join us?’ I can’t keep the disappointment from my voice. ‘Are you sure we can trust her?’
‘Of course you can’t trust me, Princess,’ says Morgana. ‘But if you assist me in exacting my vengeance on my nemesis, then I pledge to help you on the remainder of your quest. Which, as I understand it, involves gaining a personal audience with SB.’
‘You know her?’ I ask. It wouldn’t surprise me. Women like them tend to band together like packs of she-wolves.
‘I do indeed,’ says Morgana. ‘Rather well, in fact.’
The silence between us is broken only by the faint croaking coming from Cecil’s toads. I watch as the air swirls in front of Morgana, as though a mist has descended between us, obscuring her from view. Then, as quickly as it appeared, the strange fog is gone.
And there, standing before us, is the unmistakably smug and arrogant figure of SB herself.