|Rose Red, Lily White
Author: brickroad16 PM
When Morgana begins receiving flowers from a secret admirer, she and Gwen are determined to puzzle out the message and the sender. Set early-S1.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance - Morgana & Merlin - Words: 4,033 - Reviews: 45 - Favs: 154 - Follows: 19 - Published: 10-27-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6430923
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin.
A/N: Well now, there's a lot of angst floating around this couple now, isn't there? I needed a break from it, so I wrote this, which is inspired by a trip to the florist with my bride-to-be sister. :)
This is set early season one, although without all that silliness of Gwen crushing on Merlin, haha.
Forgot to mention - The whole concept of floriography doesn't come about until the Victorian era, but if the villagers of Camelot can throw tomatoes at Merlin, I figure I'm allowed to use it for my own purposes. :)
She wakes up on Monday to find a vase of beautiful, pure white lilies in a vase on the table beside the bed. Sitting up with a smile, she reaches over, plucks a single stem out of the vase, and inhales the sweet scent. It fills her head with images of summer, lazy afternoons, memories of a childhood she can barely remember these days. There's sunshine, and laughter, a young, smiling woman with raven-black tresses.
"Gwen," she calls, and the handmaiden appears from the hallway, a basket of fresh linen in her arms.
"Yes, my lady?"
Morgana gestures to the lilies. "Did you bring these?"
"No," Gwen replies with a shake of her head. "They were outside the door when I arrived this morning, with a note asking them to be placed at your bedside. They are lovely, are they not?"
"Indeed," Morgana breathes thoughtfully.
"So," Gwen smiles, "what would you like to wear today?"
Morgana, looking up, replaces the flower into the vase and banishes shimmering thoughts of childhood from her mind.
The next morning, she wakes to a splash of plum-colored gladioluses. It reminds her of nighttime, that deep hush of midnight when no one else is awake, and when her thoughts can wander unreservedly. She picks up the vase and takes a deep breath. The flowers smell like freedom.
When she looks to Gwen, the handmaiden merely shakes her head and teases, "You must have an admirer."
She has had many admirers over the past few years, but never one eloquent enough for what she suspects this is. Luckily, there is a banquet that night, a celebration of Sir Erik earning the rank of knight. At her place at the head table beside the king, she has an ample view of the great hall and the rest of the guests.
There's Lord Elren, sitting bashfully next to his sister, head bowed as those around him laugh at someone's ribald joke. No, she decides, it cannot be him. Too shy.
A few seats away is Sir Wilhelm, with his booming laugh and his cheeks already ruddy from drink. Could it be him? No, too uncouth.
Sir Richard, perhaps, who listens to the nearby conversation, a dazed look on his chubby face? Too stupid.
Owain, still only a squire, with his candor and his eagerness for battle? No, too war-minded.
She sighs in frustration and takes another gulp of wine.
"Everything all right, Morgana?" Arthur queries from his father's other shoulder.
Morgana looks over with a smile. Her foster brother is in an especially cheerful mood, thanks to the tankards of cider he's already consumed.
"Everything's perfect," she tells him. "I was just noticing how exceptional the wine tastes tonight."
"Doesn't it? Like a blazing fire on a winter day," Arthur rhapsodizes, causing Uther to raise a brow between them. Ignoring him, the prince waves his hand toward his servant, a dark-haired boy with large ears and an infectious smile. "Merlin! More wine for the Lady Morgana!"
Obediently, the servant glides over, flagon in hand. As he leans over to refill her goblet, she catches a whiff of musky sweetness, hay and honey and . . . something else she can't quite place. She regards him curiously, trying to catch his eye, but he merely dips a nervous bow and retreats to his place against the wall, where he quickly delves into a conversation with Gwen.
If truth be told, she's sometimes jealous of the affection between the two servants. It seems like such an easy, comfortable friendship, and Gwen speaks so highly of Merlin that she often wonders what it would be like to know him better.
Frowning, she twists her goblet between her fingers. But Merlin pays her no attention, and she still has a mysterious suitor to unveil. Perhaps a little more investigation is necessary.
When she opens her eyes to a vase of amaryllis - a vibrant, passionate red - her curiosity can no longer be contained. Having had no luck at the feast the previous night, she turns her mind to another approach.
"I think," she tells Gwen as she swings her legs out of bed, "it's time for a visit to the library."
"The library?" parrots the handmaiden.
While Morgana's always had a healthy appreciation for reading, Sir Geoffrey's haunt has never been her favorite place. It's too dim, too dreary, too uninviting. She much prefers a book and some sunshine, the smell of spring in the air.
"Of course this is a logical place to start," Morgana explains as they stroll through the corridor toward the ancient hall of books. "I didn't realize it until this morning, but, Gwen, all these flowers say something. If we can deduce the message, perhaps we can deduce the sender."
Gwen grins in delight at the plan, and the two girls walk determinedly into the ill-lighted old library.
"The first flower was a white lily."
Back in Morgana's chambers, they're sitting at the table with the vases and a dusty tome entitled Floriography: Poetry of the Botanical World spread out in front of them.
"All right, lily, lily," Morgana mutters softly as she flips delicately through the yellowed pages. "Ah! Here it is!"
"What does it say? What does it mean?"
Morgana smiles at her friend's eagerness, nearly eclipsing her own. A finger marking her line, she reads, "It says that the white lily represents purity and innocence of heart. This flower belongs to the woman 'whose sweetness is paralleled only by her honesty.'"
"That's so thoughtful," Gwen gushes. "What about gladiolus?"
"Let's see," Morgana hums, "gladiolus. 'The gladiolus is the flower of the Roman gladiator, representing not only physical strength but strength of character.'"
"It seems like someone is quite besotted."
"Indeed," Morgana laughs, inwardly pleased that her clandestine admirer thinks so highly of her, "but who is this someone? And why is he so determined to hide?"
Shrugging, Gwen offers, "Maybe he's just intimidated by you. Or," - Seemingly struck by an idea both explanatory and thrilling, she beams and says - "or maybe he isn't a noble. Maybe he's afraid Uther wouldn't approve. Maybe he's destined to love you from afar. Ooh, that's so romantic!"
"Gwen!" Morgana chastises lightly.
Since her fifteenth birthday, Uther had made it quite clear that marriages are for political alliances, and that love had very little to do with either marriage or happiness. She can only imagine her guardian's reaction to the news that a man of lower birth is bringing her flowers each morning, although, once Gwen plants the idea, she begins to think that maybe it isn't so outrageous after all. A commoner - a servant, perhaps - would be more attentive, less self-absorbed. And maybe he wouldn't be well-read, but he could at least be intelligent, and willing to listen to her.
"See?" Gwen chuckles. "Not such a bad idea, is it?"
"Oh, hush," Morgana says, rolling her eyes and resisting the urge to wipe the smugness off her friend's face.
The handmaiden simply shakes her head, smiling, and says, "All right, we can puzzle this out later. What does amaryllis mean?"
Morgana flips through to 'A', and her heart quickens as her eyes fall upon the explanation for that morning's flower. "Radiant beauty," she breathes.
She has been called 'beautiful' on numerous occasions, by numerous men, none of which or whom she really recalls anymore. They all fade into each other, none standing out in relief, so that she's grown almost immune to pretty words and appraising looks. She finds it funny how a few handfuls of flowers can make her heart skip a beat, make her mouth go dry like she's been traveling in the desert for weeks on end.
Gwen, chin resting on her hand, sighs dreamily and says, "Whoever this is, I hope he's got a brother."
Thursday morning brings a shower of alstroemeria, a veritable rainbow of hue - whites streaked with violet, pinks dotted with red, purples dappled with wine, yellows striped with berry blue. As she lies in bed, contemplating the bouquet, feeling the soft sunlight on her skin, she considers the identity of her mysterious suitor. If he is anything like she imagines him to be, she will be honored to be the object of his admiration. However, she reflects on the possibility she and Gwen had discussed yesterday, that he could be a man of a lower station. If that is true, if it is impossible and yet he is as wonderful as she imagines . . . She's not sure she can endure such an injustice.
She smacks a pillow and blows out her breath in frustration. This anticipation may just kill her before she ever unmasks him.
Gwen emerges with her breakfast, and Morgana, after rousing herself out of bed, crosses the room to where the floriography books lays on the table. The tome is still open to 'A' from yesterday's amaryllis.
Turning back a few pages, she taps her finger against the illustration and reads, "'Alstroemeria, for friendship. This flower is for the loyal, unwavering, and trustworthy friend.'"
Gwen frowns slightly in consternation. "That's sweet, but does he mean he offers his friendship? Or that he is already friends with you?"
"I don't know," Morgana replies.
Neither mentions that she does not have many friends, and Morgana does not voice the secret desire that she fervently hopes to call her admirer a friend.
Friday morning treats her to a vase of full and lush indigo hyacinths. They are truly beautiful in the light of the early morning, but the revelation that they symbolize constancy tugs at something deep within. Deciding to clear her mind, she goes out for a morning ride, but the activity merely allows her more opportunity to reflect on her conundrum, especially when she turns her horse toward the forest, Gwen following obediently, and spots Merlin at its edge, his black hair gleaming in the early sunlight, a canvas bag bursting with flora on his shoulder.
"Good morning, my lady, Gwen," he greets gallantly, inclining his head.
Gwen beams in delight at her friend, and Morgana dips her chin in a greeting, hoping to hide her blush.
"May I escort you back to the castle?" he asks, a grin lighting up his youthful face.
"Don't you have chores to be getting on with?" Morgana asks nonchalantly.
He shrugs. "Gaius will understand."
"I'm sure," Gwen chuckles as she follows her mistress's suit and dismounts. Pointing to his satchel, she asks, "What have you got there?"
"Oh, just some herbs and flowers. For Gaius."
"Flowers?" Gwen repeats, directing a pointed look at her mistress.
Morgana, ignoring her, simply rolls her eyes, hands the reins to Merlin, and walks on a bit ahead to allow the two friends some time to talk, and herself some time to think.
Gwen had suggested before that her anonymous admirer may not be a noble at all, but a commoner, a servant even. Merlin . . . he's intelligent, thoughtful, and his apprenticeship to Gaius certainly grants him knowledge about and access to the foliage of the both the castle grounds and the outlying fields and forest. He certainly makes for a good candidate, but would he want to send her flowers? As much as it hurts her pride to admit it, she can't recall that he's ever shown much of an interest in her; she can more easily imagine him with a girl more like Gwen.
But the rub is that, if it does turn out to Merlin, Morgana can't imagine herself being at all unhappy.
Gwen finds her at the window, arms crossed and brows drawn as she stares into the courtyard below.
"Morgana," the maid breathes when she sees her mistress's expression, "whatever's the matter?"
"He sent me gardenias today."
And indeed, a vase of fresh flowers rests on the table behind her, safely out of her sight though still managing to haunt her in all their glory. Pure white, like the lilies.
Gwen frowns. "Well? What do they mean?"
Morgana turns. "Secret love."
"No," Morgana insists, "it's not. The more he sends me, the less worthy of him I feel."
"Why? You are the king's ward, Morgana. Any man would be lucky to have your affection."
"But that's just it," she says with a shake of her head. "I don't want to be seen as simply the king's ward. I want to be seen for who I am."
Gwen smiles, that knowing smile that always sends Morgana spinning when she knows her handmaiden's right and she's being silly. "Don't you think whoever's sending you these flowers knows you? Or at least wants to know you?"
Morgana, buzzing her lips in frustration, twirls back to the window.
"Okay, okay," Gwen tries, "say it is Merlin. What then? Surely you must see that you are his equal - in passion, in liveliness, in goodness, if not in station. And he must think so as well, or he would not have sent you all these flowers." With an exaggerated sigh, she walks over to the window and urges, "He wants you to get the message. Don't you think it's time you send him one in return?"
Late at night, when the moon is still high in the sky and the castle is asleep, she sneaks out of her chambers and makes her way through the corridors, down the stairs, and across the courtyard until she reaches Gaius's study. She pushes the door open slowly to find the physician sleepily soundly. The door to Merlin's room is closed, but she doesn't dare to venture through. Instead, she draws a tall, slender vase from within the folds of her cloak.
It's filled with tender purple lilacs, the universal message for 'first stirrings of love.' Hopefully he will understand, though her heartbeat quickens as she contemplates whether or not she wants him to. She hesitates a moment before steeling her courage and setting the flowers on the table. With one last glance at his closed door, she slips out into the night.
She opens her eyes the next morning to find a single red rose on her pillow, and she doesn't need a book to tell her what it means. Gwen lights up when she sees the rose, and they giggle like the silly girls they were not too long ago as she finishes braiding Morgana's hair and tucks the delicate flower behind her ear.
"Do you think this will work?" Gwen queries curiously.
Morgana wishes she were more certain. While it is true that she has more experience in being blatantly admired than her handmaiden, she is just as lost in this new realm, and so they cling to each other for help in navigating the tangled web that is first love.
"I hope so," Morgana breathes, smoothing her dress and scrutinizing her reflection. "Once my admirer sees the rose, he will know that I approve of his gifts, and he will have the courage to speak openly about his affection."
"And if he does not? What if he's still too timid to speak?"
Morgana frowns thoughtfully, then says, "Then he is a coward, and he is not the man for me."
They dissolve into giggles again, Morgana feeling light-headed and fuzzy with anticipation. Gwen is right - if this dress doesn't invite him to voice his feelings, then nothing will. It's a deep purple, flowing and elegant, with beads stitched along the hem and cuffs, silver lace around the low-cut bodice. She's seen men rendered speechless over much less. She only hopes she hasn't deluded herself regarding her admirer's identity.
"Morgana!" Arthur greets, all smiles, as she and Gwen make their way toward the training field. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"
Morgana shrugs and casts her eyes nonchalantly over the knights, milling about on the field. "Gwen and I are bored. We came to be entertained."
Arthur narrows his eyes. "Only entertained? You usually bring your sword when you come down here."
"Well," she smiles, "I didn't want to embarrass you in front of your knights."
Laughing, he replies, "That would never happen. But you're welcome to watch us spar."
"How generous of you," Morgana replies as she and Gwen make their way to a bench on the side of the field.
Arthur and Sir Duncan face each other in the middle of the grassy expanse, the former with a longsword and the latter with a mace and shield. Duncan's eyes trail over to where the girls are sitting a bit too often, allowing Arthur to make quick work of him. But even lying supine on the soggy ground, his face splashed with mud, he can't seem to stop grinning.
A few of the other knights help him to his feet and escort him off the field. Arthur calls for another opponent, and Sir Godric steps forward. He, however, is defeated almost as swiftly as Sir Duncan. More challengers step up after him, each of whom Arthur is able to rout in only a few moments. Through it all, Merlin looks on from the opposite side of the field, ready to fetch a sword or shield, carefully avoiding her gaze.
"What's the matter with you lot?" he shouts angrily after the sixth knight falls in the same number of minutes. "I've never seen you look more pathetic."
Merlin chuckles, dipping his chin to hide his amusement, but not before Arthur notices and rounds on him.
"Oh, you think it's funny, do you, Merlin," the prince mocks, "that my best knights can't last a minute against me?"
Merlin shakes his head, still unable to wipe the smile off his face. "No," he replies, "not at all. But can't you see they're . . ." He trails off and waves his hands as he searches for a word. ". . . distracted?"
"What?" Arthur demands, spinning around to look over the field. His eyes fall upon Morgana and Gwen, the former in a dress he's never seen before, one that accentuates all of her assets. He puts a gauntleted hand to his forehead, as if only just noticing. "Oh, dear Lord . . ."
Grabbing Merlin by the shoulder, he walks over to the women. Smiling brightly, he says, "I'm sorry, Morgana, Guinevere, but it seems your beauty is distracting my men. I wonder if we can postpone your entertainment for a little while?"
Gwen frowns, but Morgana nods graciously and says, "Of course, Arthur, but maybe you should teach your knights not to get turned around by every pretty face. Who knows what will happen when they get out on the battle field. You may need to put blinders on them."
"Ha-ha," Arthur intones with a roll of his eyes, "lovely, Morgana. Perhaps we can set up a sparring session later this week? I'll bring only my most mature men, and you will wear your most modest dress."
"Excellent," he grins. Holding his arm out to his servant, he says, "Merlin here will escort you back to the castle."
Morgana smiles. "Of course, thank you."
Arthur bows a goodbye, and Merlin falls into step beside Gwen and behind Morgana as they stroll back toward the main entrance of the castle. The two friends chat quietly, as usual, leaving Morgana to her thoughts. The knights had shown her attention, that was not unusual, but her admirer, if he had been among them, hadn't stepped forward, and Merlin hasn't addressed a word to her all morning. She sometimes wonders if she's bad at this, if she does all the wrong things and gives all the wrong impressions.
Once they reach the main corridor, Gwen moves forward and stops her mistress with a hand upon her arm.
"My lady," Gwen addresses softly, "if it's all right, I'll go fetch your lunch now. Merlin's offered to escort you the rest of the way."
"Of course," Morgana nods, "thank you."
Gwen rushes off to the kitchen, and Merlin smiles at her for a moment before stepping up beside her. For the first time all morning, she notices that there's a small purple flower tucked into his lapel, a lilac. The sight brings a faint blush to her cheeks, sets her heart racing.
He gestures down the hallway. "My lady?" and falls in a step behind her.
Pursing her lips, she bites back a sigh. She is not meant to contain her feelings, and yet Merlin holds fast to propriety at every step. She seems to have his affection, but why does he not act on it? Why does he not say anything now that they're alone?
Instead, he simply asks, "How are you sleeping? You haven't been to Gaius for any sleeping draught in a while."
And although it touches her that he cares enough to ask, his polite tone makes him wonder whether she's completely wrong about the identity of her admirer. Perhaps she gave flowers to the wrong man. "Well enough," she tells him. "Thank you."
"Just well enough? Well, is there anything I can do? Maybe I can help."
A slight smile on her lips, she stops and turns to face him. "That's very kind, Merlin, but I don't think you can help."
"You'd be surprised," he shrugs.
She quirks an eyebrow. "Oh, really? And what would you know about nightmare remedies and sleeping potions?"
"I am the court physician's apprentice, you know, though that oftentimes gets overshadowed by my service to Prince Prat."
Morgana laughs airily. "Of course, of course. I apologize for overlooking your obvious expertise in the medical field."
There's an adorable smile on his face, a playful look in his blue eyes, the gleam of the late morning sun on his black hair, and she stops thinking about flowers and secrets and admirers. For a moment, she's a simply a regular girl, standing vulnerable before the boy who stirs her heart.
He looks up at her earnestly. "You know, I think I may have just the thing for bad dreams, and restless nights."
"And what might that be?"
Still smiling, he leans forward and, hesitantly, brushes his lips against hers. The kiss, soft and sweet, sends a tingle of discovery through her, starting in her chest to course through her veins and radiate through her fingertips. He cups her cheek gently with one callused palm, and she takes a tiny step forward to lift a hand against his chest. When he breaks away, she keeps her eyes closed for a moment, savoring his tenderness and memorizing the feel of his lips.
Recovering herself slightly, Morgana grins and asks, "Do you use that method on all the restless sleepers of Camelot?"
A lopsided smile crinkling his eyes, he replies, "Only the ones who send me flowers."
Laughing, they continue their way down the corridor, Merlin beside her now, a spark jumping through Morgana each time their hands graze. She can still feel the flutter of her heart as she settles down to sleep that night, and for the first time in a long time, she has pleasant dreams.