clare_dragonfly: woman with green feathery wings, text: stories last longer: but only by becoming only stories (Default)
[personal profile] clare_dragonfly
Title: Morwenna
World: The Ursulan Cycle
Word count: 2,477
Rating: PG-13 for underage (by modern standards) sexuality and childbirth
Notes: Another story about Ursula! One of the things I'm asking myself about this series is, "what makes this different from just slapping different names and pronouns on Arthurian stories?" The first answer that came to mind was "pregnancy and childbirth."


Ursula did not want to get out of bed. This was not unusual, but what was strange was the reason she didn’t want to get out of bed. She felt as though the room was going to start swaying if she did. And she hadn’t had anything to drink last night. Not at all.

“Come on, Ursula, wake up,” her sister Kate urged her.

Ursula shook her head into the bedclothing. “Don’t want to.”

“Are you sick?”

“Yeah. Feel like the room’s spinning. Like I’m going to throw up all over the place if I move.”

“What? You never get sick. You were fine yesterday.”

“I felt bad yesterday morning, too,” Ursula admitted. “But not this bad. And I felt better after a couple hours.”

“Oh, no. Ursula.” Suddenly the sheets had been ripped away from her face and Kate was clutching her by both shoulders. “When did you bleed last? Your moon cycle?”

Ursula blinked, surprised by the strange change in conversational direction, and tried to count it up. But before she could figure it out, Kate shook her (prompting a resurgence of the nausea, so she had to swallow down bile) and demanded, “Was it before May Day?”

“Yes,” said Ursula miserably, hoping that she wouldn’t spray all over Kate—though it would serve her right for shaking her. “I think so. I’m not certain… no, I remember it was not long before.”

Kate sighed and sat back, rubbing her eyes. “Damn it, Mother,” she said, which was an odd thing to say, since their mother was not in their room with them. She looked back down at Ursula. “I knew we shouldn’t have been keeping you so sheltered. But you lay with that boy, didn’t you? The May King?”

Under other circumstances, Ursula would have blushed and prevaricated, but the nausea made that a rather touchy prospect. So she just swallowed. “Yes. He was lovely.”

Kate smirked. “I’m sure he was. But you shouldn’t do that if you’re not sure you’re going to be okay with the consequences.”

“He made me sick?”

“In a sense.” Kate finally climbed off the bed, this time taking Ursula’s hand gently in her own. “Ursula, you’re going to have a baby.”



“What do you mean, you won’t call the midwife?” Kate hissed to her mother over their spinning, keeping a careful eye out—Ursula was out sparring with some of the other older children of the household (and, goddess, she was going to have to stop thinking of her little sister as a child, wasn’t she?), but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t come in at any moment, sweaty and pleased and wanting to know what Kate and Electra were talking about. “She can’t have the baby!”

Electra shook her head, her eyes closed, spinning resting in her lap. “She’ll have to. It’s less risky.”

“Less risky for her to have a child at her age than to take the herbs to make it go away?”

“Midwife Anna has never lost a mother,” said Electra. “Not in childbirth. Only from the herbs.”

“What?” Kate gaped at her mother. “But you—you let me take the herbs!” It had been a few years ago, and she’d been older than Ursula, but she had taken herbs to get rid of a baby and other than some unpleasant cramping, hadn’t had any problem at all.

Electra reached out to put her hand over Kate’s without seeming to look where she was reaching. “I thought it was safe enough. You’re my—“ She suddenly opened her eyes, swallowing.

Kate stared into the fire. “I’m your daughter. And Ursula isn’t.”

“How did you know?”

Kate shrugged. “She doesn’t look like us, except in coloring. And I remember her arriving, and she wasn’t an infant. I can just barely remember it, but I do. I only figured it out recently, but I know she’s not my sister—not by blood.”

“You haven’t told her, have you?”

“No.” Kate swallowed. It had been bad enough when she realized it herself; she couldn’t put her beloved sister through it, too. “But maybe you should.”

“I will,” Electra said with a sigh. “Eventually. When the time is right.”

“What difference does it make? So you took in an orphan child. She’ll have to find out eventually.”

Electra was silent for so long that Kate finally looked up at her. “She’s not just any orphan,” Electra said. “I can’t tell you who she is, Kate. I’m sorry. I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone until—until the time was right. But her life was given into my hands, and I can’t risk it like that.”

Kate found those words unexpectedly painful. “Wasn’t my life given into your hands?”

“By the gods,” Electra said firmly, gripping Kate’s hand. “And I am grateful for it every day. But Ursula—her life was given to me by her parents. Besides, you’re so tall I thought it was more likely the herbs wouldn’t even work on you, not that they would be dangerous.”

Kate smiled, and was about to say something, but at that moment Ursula came back inside, sweaty and flushed just like Kate had expected. She threw herself down onto the rushes by the fire. “Ugh! I’ll catch Oonagh’s feint one of these days, I swear.”

Kate grinned at her. “Feeling better, I trust?”

Ursula nodded. “You were right, after I got up and ate something I felt better. But—“ She looked at their mother, her face pinched into a frown.

Electra let go of Kate’s hand to bend over and pat Ursula’s shoulder. “Kate told me. It’s going to be all right. I promise.”



There he was again. Her May King. Morgan was his name—Morgan Tud. She hadn’t known that at the time. At the time, it hadn’t mattered; nothing had but the May Day celebration and their unexpected victory.

Ursula put her hand over her stomach, just starting to swell. It had been difficult enough to find him. And now she was going to have to actually talk to him. She wished Kate or their mother had come with her, but they’d said she had to talk to him alone. And they were probably right.

He was so young. It was strange to see that as she approached him. He was younger than she was, and she was hardly grown enough for this. How could he take care of the baby?

But her mother was right: she had to give him the chance. Probably he wouldn’t want it. Probably she would have to find some poor girl or some childless middle-aged couple to raise the baby. She would be doing a good deed then. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt too much, after all.

She approached him as close as she dared and cleared her throat. “Morgan?”

He turned to her, puzzlement in his face. His eyes widened when he saw her. “You’re—you were my May Queen.”

She smiled. “Right. My name is Ursula.”

He stood up, abandoning whatever he had been playing with—some kind of herbs in a mortar and pestle—and stepped closer to her. “It’s nice to see you again. How have you been?”

She swallowed. “I came because I had to tell you something. I’m going to have a baby. Your baby.”

To her surprise, his eyes lit up and he grabbed each of her hands in one of his. “That’s wonderful! Do you want to—I mean, would you—“

She couldn’t help grinning at his confusion. “No,” she said gently. “I’m not old enough, and my mother won’t let me.” She didn’t add that she wasn’t sure she wanted to marry him just because he was sweet and had made her happy for a while. She didn’t know him at all, and she didn’t want to be tied down to a man before her career had even started. “But I can’t keep the baby, either. I’m going to be a knight. So I came because you deserve a chance—I wanted to ask you if you want the baby when it’s born.”

His eyes widened almost to saucers and he nodded vigorously, dropping her hands. “Yes. Oh, yes.”

“Are you sure? My mother will hire a wet-nurse, but do you have anyone to help you take care of it?”

“My mother will help me,” he said confidently. “Oh, I want a baby so much. Of course I’ll take it. When will it be born?”

“In the winter,” she said. “With my luck, on the worst and coldest night. We’ll send someone to fetch you and your mother when it’s coming so you can take it home right away, along with the wet-nurse. Is that all right?”

“That’s wonderful,” he said. “Yes. Thank you.”

“I’ll—I’ll see you then, I suppose,” she said, and turned to walk back to where her family was waiting, feeling absurd and yet pleased that the child’s father wanted to care for it.



If Kate could have taken on some of Ursula’s pain for her, she would have. Her heart ached—and her throat ached in sympathy—at the way her little sister was screaming as the baby tried to claw its way out of her body.

But she couldn’t take any of her pain. All she could do was support her, and so she was, letting Ursula lean on her arm as they walked back and forth, back and forth, across the bedroom. It had been hours, and Kate’s feet were nearly dead, but she felt no desire to sit down. Not until Ursula did.

“You’re doing just fine,” the midwife encouraged her. “First babies are always hard. You can do this again when you’re older, if you want, and it will be much easier. But you’re strong and you’ve got your family. You’re not going to be hurt, and the baby is going to come out just fine.”

Ursula didn’t respond in words, just another scream, staggering as she walked. Kate squeezed her eyes shut briefly as she clutched onto Ursula’s arm, keeping her from falling, keeping her walking.

“Let me see,” said Midwife Anna. She checked Ursula’s body to see how far along she was. “Yes, there it is. Not long now. Just push, all right, Ursula?”

Ursula groaned and shook her head, her damp hair in her face. Electra hurried up to wipe it back with a cool rag. “It’s all right,” Kate whispered. “Not long now, like the midwife said. And then it will all be over. You won’t have to worry about it anymore.”

Ursula screamed, and strained, and dropped to her knees, slipping straight out of Kate’s grasp. But as she hit the floor, the baby’s head slipped out. “That’s it!” cried the midwife, reaching out to grab the head. “Just one more push—and there we go.” A tiny infant, all covered in red and slime, slipped out into the midwife’s hands. A moment later its tiny wails filled the air.

“It’s a girl,” said Midwife Anna over the baby’s cries and Ursula’s ragged gasps. Kate fell to her knees on the floor beside her sister, still trying to hold her up, breathing herself as though she had just gone an all-day bout with the longsword. “Do you want to name her?”

Ursula looked at the baby, but shook her head. “Her father is going to raise her. He should be the one to name her.”

“I’ll send someone to see if he’s arrived,” said Electra, heading for the door.

The midwife began to clean the baby off with soft, wet cloths. She was still crying. Kate couldn’t help staring at her tiny fists, the thin thatch of dark hair on her skull. She’d seen babies before, but never this soon after birth. It was incredible. She wanted to cuddle the little child to her breast—but she wasn’t sure Ursula would like that, so she refrained.

“Do you want to nurse her?” Midwife Anna asked. “It might be a little easier on you if you nurse her once. Or it might be more difficult. It’s hard to say, so it’s up to you.”

Ursula shook her head again. “Where’s the wet-nurse? Let the wet-nurse have her. I…” She took a deep breath, but Kate could hardly blame her for being scattered. “I don’t want her. She’s not really mine.”

“Of course,” said the midwife, turning with the baby. She handed her off to the nurse waiting in the corner, a girl only a little older than Ursula who’d just lost her own child. The baby’s cries silenced almost immediately as she began to suckle.

“He’s here with his mother,” said Electra. “They’re waiting out in the hall. I don’t think he should come in.”

Ursula put her hands over her face. The midwife came over and put a hand on her shoulder. “Ursula needs some time to recover. Maybe after he’s met the baby and she’s rested and cleaned up she’ll see him. But Eleanor can bring the baby out to meet him as soon as she’s ready.”

“She’s still eating,” came the wet-nurse’s soft voice. “It will be a moment.”

When the baby had eaten her fill, Kate and Electra left with the wet-nurse, wanting to leave Ursula alone with the midwife to recover. Of course Kate didn’t want to leave, but she suspected that Ursula wanted as few people around her as possible right now.

And it was worth it to see the expression on the father’s face, and his mother’s, when they saw the baby. They were both so happy. She was struck once again by how very young the boy was, and he seemed vaguely familiar somehow, but she had seen him before, so she dismissed it. Eleanor put the baby into his arms, and he cooed over her for a few minutes before letting his mother hold her. There was something triumphant in her eyes that unsettled Kate, but what mother didn’t want grandchildren?

Ursula never did want to see him, and he didn’t seem to mind. Before he left, he told them that he was calling the baby Morwenna, and promised that they could come to see her whenever they wished. The way both Electra and his mother said “Of course” made Kate think that would not happen.

Kate sighed and leaned against the wall when they had gone. “Thank goodness that’s over.”

Electra nodded. “I’m glad it’s a girl.”

Kate looked at her with a slight frown. “Why? What difference does it make?”

Electra shook her head. “Probably none. Come, we should all get some sleep. You must be exhausted after walking with her all day.”

She hardly felt her feet anymore, but she knew her mother was right. She followed reluctantly, praying within herself that both Ursula and baby Morwenna would be healthy and safe.


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Wow!

Date: 2014-08-11 08:50 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This is amazing!

>> Another story about Ursula! One of the things I'm asking myself about this series is, "what makes this different from just slapping different names and pronouns on Arthurian stories?" The first answer that came to mind was "pregnancy and childbirth." <<

That is a great question to ask. You're right, the genderswap has a huge impact there, because a bunch of the Arthurian characters have kids, and it's quite different when women do that than when men do it. So that impacts the storylines a lot.

Among the divergence points that caught my eye were character changes, like Morgan not being interested in magic, which throws the magical rivalry to Kate and Falcon. Similarly, the sword Excalibur is a major part of Arthur's character, but here Ursula has the shield Prydwen while Caliburn goes to Sir Gwanwyn.

We should definitely watch for more points of divergence. Of course the politics will be affected, because Uthyr started the ball rolling by attracting women who didn't fit conventional gender roles, and Ursula is going to do more of that. When you have to fight your way through a glass ceiling just to BE a knight, that's going to impact your personality. When men are arguing that you shouldn't be involved in government because you have boobs, that makes it harder to do your job. *chuckle* I suspect somebody at the Round Table is going to solve those problems at swordpoint -- Sir Lillian is a possibility.

>> “Damn it, Mother,” she said, which was an odd thing to say, since their mother was not in their room with them. She looked back down at Ursula. “I knew we shouldn’t have been keeping you so sheltered. But you lay with that boy, didn’t you? The May King?” <<

I love this nod to how keeping young people ignorant does NOT prevent them from humping each other. It just means they don't know how to prevent babies from coming out of that.

>> “My mother will help me,” he said confidently. “Oh, I want a baby so much. Of course I’ll take it. When will it be born?” <<

I think it's adorable that Morgan fell all over himself to take the baby. Teen fathers are so often portrayed as shiftless, I'm delighted to see somebody else writing a responsible one. It makes me like Morgan.

*ponder* And that makes me think of a classic problem in literature, where if you make all the characters too likable, then the audience feels frustrated because they don't know how to root for and hate when anyone loses. But in a shared world, especially with a big cast list like this, I think that might be okay -- because different audience members may decide to root for different characters and drive their stories that way. We've seen a little of this in Torn World, but I think the Ursulan Cycle is really set up well for it.

>> Ursula shook her head again. “Where’s the wet-nurse? Let the wet-nurse have her. I…” She took a deep breath, but Kate could hardly blame her for being scattered. “I don’t want her. She’s not really mine.” <<

This is terrific too. You did a wonderful job conveying the ambiguity and confusion that a teen mother can experience, especially when she plans to give the baby to someone else. I think this makes a great demonstration of Ursula's personality: she is unsettled by what happened, but she's a decisive young woman with sturdy life plans, so she makes a decision and sticks with it. That's not easy but she doesn't dither over it.

I also liked all the little hints about Ursula's real identity and how that subtly impacts her life even before she or most other people know about it.

This is just a fabulous story all around. I've linked it on the series page, and I'll boost signal shortly.

Re: Wow!

Date: 2014-08-25 06:13 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
>> Ooh. ::puts that in a new Scrivener document:: <<

I'm glad I could help.

>> I love Morgan. At the moment I'm thinking I root for Morgan, <<

Well, somebody should.

>> even as I root against his mom and his daughter XD I'm pretty sure Morgause deliberately put it into his head that babies are something they want, but there's definitely nothing wrong with having a boy raised differently from other boys! <<

Oddly, I'm still thinking of Morwenna as an adorable ball of fluff. Just because Arthurian canon makes Mordred awful, and Morgause has an agenda, doesn't mean Morwenna will jump the way anyone expects.

>> I'm really hoping that more people will get in on the Ursulan Cycle--I want to see lots of perspectives on all the characters, just like with all the tellings of Arthurian stories. <<

I hope so too. I was pleased to see [personal profile] dialecticdreamer get into the game.

Re: Wow!

Date: 2014-08-12 01:13 am (UTC)
zeeth_kyrah: A glowing white and blue anthropomorphic horse stands before a pink and blue sky. (Default)
From: [personal profile] zeeth_kyrah
One character I think could still work as their traditional gender is Palomides/Palamedes the Saracen. Being occidental, his cultural context provides a lens by which one can refresh (or affirm) the culture and worldview in the stories... and by keeping him male, we may find someone trying desperately to stay chivalrous while in the midst of serious inner conflict about "these crazy Britons" and his object(s) of affection. I feel it would give a stronger thread of conflict to the story around Isolde, and why Palamedes takes up after the Questing Beast despite knowing he cannot capture it.

Re: Wow!

Date: 2014-08-12 01:31 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
Those are good arguments. I'm open to pursuing that, especially if you want to write any of it yourself. I like your writing.

Basically in this series, the default is genderswap, unless I have a specific reason why a given character needs to keep their original gender. That applies mostly to Arthur's generation -- you can see Uthyr and Igraine stayed the stame -- but some of the others are swapped too.

Re: Wow!

Date: 2014-08-12 08:44 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
Fascinating. That could work. I have made a note.

Also...

Date: 2014-08-11 08:55 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
I forgot to mention, my poem "Of the Line of Danu" is up now.

Re: Also...

Date: 2014-08-12 01:29 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
Yay! Thank you for the signal boost.

Date: 2014-08-11 11:45 am (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
Just started following this story cycle... and I'll echo Ysabet's comment about the characters being likeable. Which has now got me thinking about something involving a throughily unlikeable charcter, but he was always a very minor part of the Arthurian mythos I'm not sure it wouldn't be 99% original.

Hmm...

Date: 2014-08-12 01:37 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
>> Which has now got me thinking about something involving a throughily unlikeable charcter, but he was always a very minor part of the Arthurian mythos I'm not sure it wouldn't be 99% original. <<

That's okay. Morgan Tud is turning out largely original, spun from fluff and floss of two different historic characters. And I rather like him better!

Show us what you got.

i've had to think about this one

Date: 2014-08-12 12:37 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
It changes the storylines /significantly/ to genderswap them.

Oddly, one of THE major differences I'm seeing is the /reasons/ that the mothers have kept the teens naive. I doubt they have the same motivations.

Re: i've had to think about this one

Date: 2014-08-12 01:39 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
>> It changes the storylines /significantly/ to genderswap them. <<

It does if you do it right. You have to think about it. [personal profile] clare_dragonfly has a point in saying it needs to be more than just swapping the names. You need to figure out what changes along with the gender.

>> Oddly, one of THE major differences I'm seeing is the /reasons/ that the mothers have kept the teens naive. I doubt they have the same motivations. <<

Yyyyyeah. I bet Sir Electra and Morgause have very different reasons there.

Date: 2014-09-13 08:32 am (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
Electra is in a fairly awkward position here. The real reason she can't just call in the midwife is that You Don't Do That with a potential royal heir. But that argument, which everybody would understand and agree with, is the one thing she can't say, and everything else she comes up with is a little on the not-really-convincing side.

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