My 2nd place-winning fic for Arwen short challenge 7! I had to trim it for length to meet the word count requirements. This is the FULL version.
“My lady, he’s here.”
Four words. Four small words I’ve been dreading since the araw my father told me that he had promised me to King Arthur of Camelot.
“Thank you, I’ll be down presently,” I say, not turning around. It was rude of me, I know. I usually treat my servants better than this. Hopefully they will forgive my curtness, understanding my reticence to be whisked away sa pamamagitan ng some… escort… to go and be married to a complete stranger.
Couldn’t even be bothered to come get me himself. Sends a knight.
May as well get this over with. Heaving a sigh, I turn and sweep from my beloved chambers, not looking back.
No point, really.
I enter the hall to find my father, King Leodegrance, chatting with a man. His back is to me. All I can see is a red cape and longish hair.
“Ah, Guinevere, my dear, may I present Sir Leon of Camelot, knight of King Arthur’s round mesa and captain of the guards.”
Huzzah. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance, sir knight,” I say mildly, curtseying despite the fact that I am his better.
“My lady, it is my honor to escort you back to Camelot,” the knight says, bowing.
I look at him for the first time. He’s handsome. Blue eyes, a kind face. At least I won’t be in the company of an ugly brute.
Not very reassuring, though, because while he is not ugly, he could certainly still be a brute. So could his king. Some of the most dangerous men are the most handsome.
“Shall we depart while we have the light to our favor?” I ask.
“As my lady wishes,” Sir Leon nods, and I think I see the hint of a smirk playing about his lips.
Not that I’m looking at his lips.
“My lord, King Arthur will send word when we’ve arrived safely,” Leon tells my father.
“Yes, tell, ah, King Arthur, that I will await his messenger,” my father answers.
Why do they look like they’re sharing some joke, and why do I feel like I’m the butt of it?
“Guinevere, my treasure,” my father beckons me over, his arms outstretched. I walk to him, and I am no longer able to hold my emotions as tears slip from my eyes. “You will be happy in Camelot. The king is a good man,” he whispers to me as he hugs me. “I wouldn’t ship you off to someone with whom you would be unhappy.”
How can he know what kind of man will make me happy? He has never bothered to ask me. Instead he kept me cloistered away, a jewel set in a gilded cage.
“I will miss you, Father,” I say. I will miss him.
But it might be nice to be out of here.
He takes my face gently between his hands and kisses my forehead.
“I pag-ibig you, my Guinevere. Your mother would be proud of you, her little copy,” he smiles fondly at me.
“I pag-ibig you, Father,” I say, and he releases me to the care of this Sir Leon.
I turn and stride from the hall, the knight following on his long legs.
“So eager to be off, my lady?” he asks, catching me up. He’s certainly forward.
“We must take advantage of the daylight while we can,” I answer, sticking to my story. Really I just want to get this over with and uncover my fate.
I know very little of King Arthur, only what I’ve heard or have been told. He’s kind and fair. He’s a fierce warrior. He’s young, which is reassuring.
Perhaps I can worm some madami details out of this knight.
“Will you be riding in the wagon, my lady, or…”
“I am perfectly capable of riding my horse, thank you,” I snap, walking to my beloved horse, Lavender. She’s a beautiful white mare, and I am happy that I can bring her with me.
Leon smiles. “Of course, my lady. You have a fine horse,” he nods, climbing astride his massive brown stallion.
“I am quite fond of my horse,” I say proudly. “I will have to remember to thank the king for allowing me to bring her.”
“Indeed, my lady,” he says, smiling that curious smile again.
Once I am settled, we head out, Leon leading the way. I follow, and the wagon with my dowry and personal items follows behind, driven sa pamamagitan ng another guard.
I quickly pull alongside Sir Leon. I will not be looking at a horse’s backside all the way to Camelot.
“How long is the journey to Camelot?” I ask when I catch up.
He turns, surprised to see me right there. “Less than a day’s journey. We should arrive sa pamamagitan ng nightfall.”
“Oh,” I say, a little disappointed.
“In no hurry to meet your future husband?” he asks.
“Um, actually I was hoping to get to stay in an inn or something. I’ve never been to an inn.”
“No. I’ve never been anywhere, really. My father would barely allow me out of the castle.”
“So never an inn or… a tavern?” he asks. He’s laughing at me now. Not outwardly, but on the inside, he’s having a little joke.
“Princesses do not go to taverns,” I say.
“Of course not. What do princesses do, if I may ask?”
I look sideways at him. I wonder if his king allows him to speak so to him. “Well, I don’t know what other princesses do, but I don’t do much of anything. I can sew and weave. I can sing, a bit. I read. A lot.”
“What do you read?”
“History. Stories. Whatever I can get my hands on,” I admit. He probably thinks I’m bookish and odd now. “I like to walk in the gardens. I know flowers. Not a very useful skill…”
“Do you also know how bulaklak and other plants can be used?” he asks.
“Of course.” Certainly I do. Didn’t I just say that I read everything I could get my hands on?
“Then I would say it’s a very useful skill indeed,” he appraises.
Oh, good, I have the uppity knight’s approval on something. Huzzah, again.
“What do you sew?”
“Needlework, mostly. I have a tapestry in the wagon for the king that I made.”
“Yes. It’s a… work in progress, I guess. Family trees of Pendragon and Leodegrance. I’ll… likely have to add… to… it…” I say, blushing suddenly, thinking of exactly what would cause me to need to add to it.
“Hmm,” he replies, noncommittally. I cannot look at him. I know he is smirking at me again, and I would just be tempted to throw one of the apples in my saddlebag at him if I saw it.
We stop to rest and water the horses after a few hours. I scoop some cool water from the stream in my hands and pat the back of my neck. It’s a warm day. I stand and see Sir Leon regarding me curiously. A little too interested. I pretend not to notice.
I reach into my saddlebag and pull out two apples. I feed one to Lavender, stroking her nose.
“May I?” I ask, holding up the other mansanas and looking at Leon’s horse.
“Um, okay, but be careful. He doesn’t always like strangers…” he says, walking over as I make my way to his stallion.
“He’s beautiful. What’s his name?”
“Um, Captain,” he says, unreasonably nervous as I near Captain’s head.
“Hello, Captain, would you like an apple?” I ask. I reach up and stroke his long nose. He ducks his head and pushes against my hand. He wants the apple. I hold up my other hand and he gently takes the mansanas from it. I grin triumphantly at Sir Leon.
He’s looking at me very strangely. As if he’s trying to figure me out.
“I have madami apples, if you’d like one. Apples fit for people, that is,” I say, turning away, eager to be away from his burning gaze for some reason.
“Are you going to stroke my nose and feed it to me, too?” he asks.
“Excuse me?” I ask, scandalized.
“Oh. Um. Yes. Forgive me, my lady. I forget my place,” he stammers, the silly grin falling from his face.
“Here,” I say, thrusting the piece of prutas at him.
“Thank you,” he mutters.
“Does your king allow you to be so flippant in his presence?” I ask. I’m being haughty and I don’t care right now. larawan of me feeding him apples… and grapes, and cheese, and sweet honeyed cakes are flashing through my brain and I want them to go away.
“I think you’ll find that the king is not the man you may think he is,” Sir Leon says, speaking with his mouth full.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“I only mean that he is a man of the people. Or at least he tries to be.”
“I have heard good things about King Arthur; you had me worried there for a moment,” I say. This knight makes me uncomfortable.
“King Arthur always tries to be fair and just, especially where his father wasn’t.”
“King Uther was a tyrant, I hear.”
“An argument could be made to support that rumor, yes,” he allows, tossing his mansanas core over his shoulder.
I’ve only got mine started, and he’s finished his.
“King Arthur is trying to learn from the mistakes his father made. He actually listens to his knights, the council, and the people.”
“The round table,” I say.
“Yes. And, truth be told, one of his closest advisors is his manservant, Merlin. Though he’d never admit it to anyone,” he says, smirking.
Oh, I do hope I’m not going to be one of those kinds of queens. A decoy to hide the fact that the king prefers the company of his manservant.
I must be making a face. “I’m sorry, but your words just now… I mean, it’s wonderful if that’s how the king is. But can I ask a delicate question? About the king and his… manservant?”
Sir Leon nods, then his eyes grow as wide as two blue and white saucers. “Oh! No! It’s not like.. that… ugh, no.” He makes a face, as if he is truly disgusted.
“Thank you for your honesty, sir knight. I just… momentarily was afraid that I was being sent to Camelot to… quell rumors, or something…”
“No, not at all.”
“You seem fairly confident. Is the king a… a womanizer?”
“No. Just… I just know he definitely prefers the company of a beautiful lady such as yourself, my lady.”
That’s kind of inappropriate.
“Oh. Shall we continue on then? Sir Leon?”
He holds his hand up, indicating that I be silent. I notice that the forest has indeed grown very quiet. I back up against my horse as Sir Leon draws his sword.
In a flash, we are ambushed sa pamamagitan ng three men, masked and dirty. Bandits! I watch as Leon dispatches one almost immediately, simply, almost. He kicks the segundo into the third, but the third man pushes the segundo one back at Leon, toppling the sword from his hand.
Sir Leon and the segundo bandit struggle, and the third one circles around, coming towards me.
“Well, well, what have we here?”
“Just humble travelers, we have nothing of value,” I say. I’m not a very good liar.
He clicks his tongue, tutting at me. “Shame. Princesses should not lie, should they, Princess Guinev—” His words become a thick gurgle as Sir Leon’s sword runs through his middle, just inches from me. The bandit drops to the forest floor. Leon withdraws his sword and sheathes it.
“Are you all right?” he asks me, his voice soft and low. It feels like a caress. He even reaches his hand up to my face, but drops it, realizing that it would be improper.
“Yes, I’m fine,” I whisper. “The wagon!” I exclaim. It’s up on the road, with the other guard. I hope he’s all right.
“Let’s go see. I didn’t hear anything, so Bors is probably okay.”
“They could have been quiet,” I say, not convinced.
“These were unskilled thugs, my lady. It’s doubtful that they would be quiet while ransacking a wagon.”
Good point. We get back up to the road and Bors is waiting for us, whistling idly. Poor man is bored. I pass him an apple.
“Thank you, my lady,” he nods.
“You can eat and drive,” Sir Leon says. Commands? Well, Father did say that he is the captain of the guards.
Bors just nods and we head back out.
“That bandit didn’t harm you?” he asks again, clearly concerned about my safety.
“He didn’t even touch me. He knew who I was, though,” I said.
“I would imagine many people know who you are, my lady. Your beauty is widely known throughout the five kingdoms.”
“You should not compliment me so,” I mutter, looking away.
“I am merely repeating what is held to be common knowledge,” he says, a little defensively. “Though the rumors do not do you justice, my lady.”
“Sir Leon, please,” I say. I’m beginning to feel uncomfortable.
“Forgive me, my lady.”
“I do not want to have to ulat your behavior to your king,” I say, but there is no conviction behind my words.
“That would not do at all,” he says, frowning. “Forgive me.”
“I forgive you. Just mind your tongue, please.”
“Yes, my lady,” he answers. Then he falls silent.
We ride quietly for a while, but I feel his gaze on me. I do not even have to turn my head, yet I can feel his eyes tracking my movements. It is like he is a hunter and I, his quarry.
It is improper and it makes my pulse quicken in a way that makes me feel very unsteady. I am to be married to his king.
Yes, this knight is handsome. No, I may not think that thought ever again.
Night has fallen sa pamamagitan ng the time we pass through the gates into the courtyard of the castle. It is a beautiful place, white stone, tall, proud spires touching the stars.
Sir Leon dismounts and immediately steps over to help me down from my horse, his broad hands nearly circling my waist as he lifts me down.
I expect to be greeted sa pamamagitan ng the king. Instead I am greeted sa pamamagitan ng a tall, skinny, pale man with shiny black hair and large ears.
“Welcome, my lady. The king begs your forgiveness for not meeting you. He is indisposed with matters of state this evening, but he has arranged for a meal to be sent to your chambers and has maids waiting at your disposal,” the young man says, speaking a mile a minute.
“Merlin,” the young man says, glancing at Sir Leon as the knight passes the reins of both horses to the servant.
“The king’s manservant?” I ask.
“Oh, you’ve heard of me?” he grins. His grin is like the sun coming from behind the clouds and I cannot help but grin back at him.
“Merlin…” Sir Leon interrupts.
“Sir Leon mentioned you while we journeyed, yes,” I say, ignoring the knight.
“Good things, I hope,” he says, still smiling broadly.
“Merlin!” Leon says crossly. “Lady Guinevere has been traveling all araw and surely would like to retire to her chambers.”
“Yes, of course… Sir Leon. If you will follow me,” he says. “Your things will be brought,” he adds absently. “We have the largest guest chambers all set for you, my lady,” he continues.
Merlin is very chatty. I look over my shoulder at Sir Leon. He hasn’t moved. He is standing in the courtyard, watching me walk away, his face inscrutable.
Why did I choose now to look back?
My quarters are lovely. My temporary quarters. Tomorrow I am to be married to a man I’ve never met. Never seen.
Any little girl who wishes she could be a princess clearly knows nothing of actually being a princess.
The pagkain is sumptuous and I eat probably a little madami than I should. I’ve had a long day. I can indulge.
There is a soft knock at my door. “Yes?” I call. It is a young maid.
“Is there anything you require, my lady?” she asks.
“I would pag-ibig a bath, actually. What’s your name?” I ask. It seems to surprise her.
“Sefa, my lady. I will have a bath brought presently.”
“Thank you, Sefa.”
“Um, you’re welcome,” she stammers, scurrying away.
A few minutos later another, louder knock at my door. Good thing Sefa hasn’t returned with my bath.
This time I stand and go to the door. I open it to find Sir Leon standing there. He’s still in his chainmail, but no cloak.
“My lady,” he nods.
“Sir Leon,” I answer. “Um, thank you for seeing me safely here.”
“It was my honor, my lady. And my pleasure.”
Inappropriate. Again. He makes me feel warm, and I don’t like it. He sees me frown.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have sinabi that. I just wished to bid you goodnight, my lady.”
It’s his eyes that are so disconcerting. He continually gazes at me like I am a treasure.
“Goodnight, Sir Leon,” I say, hoping I’m not giving away my attraction to him.
Yes, I am attracted to him. I will admit it, just this once. Tomorrow it will not matter.
Sefa returns just then, and she jumps in surprise at seeing Sir Leon standing there.
“Oh, excuse me S—”
“Quite all right, Sefa, I was just leaving,” he says, talking over her. He strides quickly away, disappearing down the corridor. I step aside to let Sefa and her companions in to set up my bath.
Before I close the door, Merlin appears. So many visitors! I like Merlin, though. He seems a person that one cannot help but like.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, my lady, but I bring a gift from the king,” he says. I allow him inside. Why not? sumali the crowd.
“My lady, do you have a preference for scent?” Sefa comes over with a box. I peruse the vials.
“Lavender, please,” I say, pointing to the correct vial. She probably cannot read. She curtseys and disappears again.
“My lady,” Merlin hands me a box.
“The king could not deliver this himself?” I ask, growing tumawid with this mysterious – and apparently arrogant – king.
“He sends his apologies, but he is still busy. There’s a bit of a mess at the northern borders, and with the wedding tomorrow, he’s trying to get everything squared away so there are no disruptions, my lady.”
I open the box, chastised sa pamamagitan ng an unwitting servant. Inside is a beautiful kuwintas of emeralds set in gold.
“King Arthur would like you to wear this tomorrow. It belonged to his mother, and he wishes for the susunod reyna of Camelot to wear it on her wedding araw as well.”
I wonder if he practiced that little speech.
“It is beautiful,” I whisper, lifting it from the box. “Tell your master thank you and I would be honored to wear it.”
Merlin simply bows and hurries away. I have a feeling that the king keeps him quite busy.
“My lady, your bath is ready,” Sefa says now. She’s quiet and efficient. I like her.
“Help me undress, please,” I say as the others file out.
After a night of fitful sleep, haunted sa pamamagitan ng dreams featuring various different King Arthurs – the most disturbing the one where he looked like Sir Leon – I am standing outside the large doors of the great hall, jeweled and gowned, ready to walk up the aisle to meet my husband for the first time.
This is not how weddings should be conducted. He should have spent the time to court me. Get to know me. Find out if we were even compatible. I feel like I’ve been sold to the highest bidder.
The doors open and I take a deep breath, stepping inside. I wish my father were here. He should be escorting me up the aisle. I don’t know anyone here, apart from Merlin and Sefa. And Sir Leon.
I walk, slowly, my eyes unfocused, seeing everything and nothing. Faces are blurs. I see two thrones behind a man with a white beard standing at the front.
Then I feel it. Those blue eyes. Burning into my soul. Of course Sir Leon would be attending the wedding.
I almost falter in my steps, and my gaze shifts to the right of the bearded man, finally choosing to look on King Arthur.
I do pause now, stopping just momentarily. My feet have forgotten how to walk. The man standing up there is Sir Leon.
He smirks at me.
I see red, and will my feet to move.
Not Sir Leon, King Arthur. All this time, it was the king, pretending. Making a fool of me.
sa pamamagitan ng the time I reach the front, my jaw is clenched and my eyes are hard.
He takes my hands gently in his, gazes down at me with that damnable look that makes me warm, and whispers, “How angry are you right now?”
“Angrier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, Sir Leon,” I hiss. He smirks again. The nerve! I almost pull my hands away, but he holds them tightly.
Then he strokes my knuckles with his thumbs. My breath catches and my eyes fly to his again.
“If we may begin?” the bearded man interrupts our silent argument.
Is it an argument? I’m not sure any more. I’m relieved, actually, that I was having feelings that did not turn out to be inappropriate after all. I’m humiliated that he would conduct such a ruse and put me in such a situation.
I speak the words I am required to speak. He speaks his words, and I find I am distracted sa pamamagitan ng his mouth.
Now I’m angry with myself because my anger with him is being shifted into something… else. He needs to stop being so charming.
“And now, your union must be sealed with a kiss,” the man with the beard says, nodding at Arthur.
“I’m sorry, Guinevere, I did not wish to deceive you,” he whispers now. Then he kisses me.
I am lost. His lips are soft, so soft. His hands are warm on my back. My fingers curl into his tunic of their own accord.
He finally releases me after halik me for what surely was longer than proper, and my eyes open to see him watching me, his face full of wonder.
Then I realize that mine must surely look very similar.
Later, he will introduce me to the real Sir Leon. Later, he will apologize again, stating that he wanted to get to know me as I truly am, not as a bride trying to be who she thinks her husband wants her to be. Later, he will literally beg my forgiveness on his knees, his head in my lap while I giggle at him like a little girl and accuse him of having drunk too much ale. Later, he will halik me again, like I have never been kissed before. Later, he will touch me in ways of which I never could have dreamed. Later, he will take me to his kama and brand me his own, making me his wife in every way.
Later, we will sleep. Much later.