|On the Day of Dwynwen
Author: Sophie-Lou PM
Merlin finds himself falling for Gwen after she helps him in his courtship of fellow serving girl, Sarah. Meanwhile Elyan is concerned that a family secret has finally come back to haunt him. Gwen/Merlin and Arthur/Gwen.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Gwen/Guinevere & Merlin - Chapters: 4 - Words: 28,412 - Reviews: 30 - Favs: 19 - Follows: 24 - Updated: 07-17-11 - Published: 04-22-11 - id: 6929244
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Sarah stood on a stall wearing her light orange dress while Gwen attempted fix the frayed hem. It wasn't until she had fixed the tear in the side that she realised just how much work this old dress needed. It had clearly once been a beautiful Sunday best but the passing of years, the number of wears and having been stuffed in a chest at the end of Agnes the cook's bed had take its toll on the old thing.
Yet Gwen was determined to make it as pretty as she could for Sarah. It wasn't a chore to her but a fun little activity as Gwen honestly enjoyed sewing and needlework. She took great pleasure out of creating clothes from streams of cloth bought from the merchant. Very few people had her talents with a needle, and Gwen was never ashamed to be a proud seamstress.
"I really am grateful for your help, Gwen," Sarah sighed gratefully, looking down at her friend as she deftly threaded the needle through the layers of material. Very quickly the imperfections of her dress were being smoothed out. "I honestly wish I had your skill with a needle."
Gwen looked up at Sarah, smiling. "You never did like sewing, did you?"
"Even so I really should be better than what I am," Sarah said dolefully, smoothing her hands against the simple embroidery at the front of her dress. "One day I'll need to make clothes for my family..."
"Who makes your clothes now?" Gwen asked generally, leaning down to finish off her work on the bottom of the skirt. "Your family seem to get by well enough there."
"My brother Gregory," Sarah replied sheepishly.
"Don't worry too much, Sarah," said her voice, soft with reassurance. "You were always a better cook than a seamstress."
"I should think so," Sarah smirked. "My parents' disappointment in me would have no end if I couldn't do that."
Sarah's parents were both in the business of preparing food. Her father Bernard was the royal baker and her mother Agnes was the royal cook, and both had been so for over twenty years. Moreover they had been in the business for five generations, longer than the Pendragon clan have held control by far. Thus it was expected that Sarah and her brothers should follow suit. Unlike most children who had ideas other than what their parents expected of them, Sarah embraced this potential destiny with open arms.
"I do like cooking though," the young maid conceded.
Gwen smiled again, "And I like sewing."
It was more or less the same story for Gwen's family too. Elyan trained as a blacksmith because that was the family way. Not only had their father been a blacksmith but both their grandfathers had too, as too had their great-grandfathers, and so on. The family had never done anything else in all branches. They had always been smithies and had always specialised in the art of weaponry in particular.
Gwen was both a servant and a seamstress as that had been her mother's profession. Admittedly Emma had done various other odd jobs in her time to keep the family afloat but she ultimately considered herself a seamstress, first and foremost.
She broke the thread and stood up to admire her work.
"Done!" Gwen said cheerfully.
The frayed ends at the bottom of Sarah's dress were completely gone now. Although Gwen felt the dress would have been better with a small train at the back, she was nonetheless pleased that now the orange skirt flowed prettily without any imperfections.
Gwen slowly turned Sarah to face her full-length mirror.
"You see," she pointed down to the bottom of the dress. "No more frays."
Sarah rolled her eyes affectionately, "You and your frays!"
Both women laughed before Gwen moved on to her next suggestion on how they could improve the dress.
"I think you could use a new girdle too," Gwen said, pointing at Sarah's waist in the reflection. Around it there was nothing but the natural waist of the dress, which wasn't very well defined. "I have plenty of material in my chest. I think red or dark orange one would suit best..."
Gwen walked into the front room to open her trunk to see what she had in the way of long material that could be fashioned into a girdle.
"Are you sure red would be appropriate?" Sarah called anxiously after her.
Gwen looked over to her, "Of course. Your dress is only a light orange colour so the red won't clash or anything."
"No, I mean," Sarah began awkwardly. "Well, you know, given it's the Feast of Dwynwen..."
The young seamstress began to understand what her friend meant.
"Would red be appropriate?" she finished, still uneasily. "It might be a little too early for me to wear red."
Gwen smiled, "I don't see why not. Everyone wears red at the feast so no one will think anything of it, least of all Merlin."
Thinking about it Merlin usually wore red anyway so it wouldn't make any difference if Sarah wore it too. Nonetheless Gwen decided to take her fears into consideration and pulled out a dark orange sash.
"No red, then," she promised her.
Gwen handed it to Sarah to tie around her waist, which she did so immediately. She had a wispy figure so an ordinary girdle simply would not suit her as she had very little hip to highlight. A large sash was the best way to emphasize Sarah's long, willowy waist.
All together the combination of light and dark orange with the light cream frills Gwen had sewn to the neckline really brought out the redness of Sarah's hair.
"It's so much better than it was this morning," Sarah said, stunned as she looked at herself in the mirror. "How did you manage to do this?"
"It's not too hard when you have everything at had like I do," Gwen replied, smiling into the mirror with achievement in her eyes. Working on Sarah's dress had distracted her from worrying, just as she had hoped. "You look lovely."
Sarah grinned and stepped off the stool in order to hug Gwen properly. "I'm serious, though," she mumbled into her shoulder. "You shouldn't have gone to all this effort..."
"Really, I'm happy to have done it," Gwen assured her. "You've kept my mind off things."
Sarah nodded, "Of course, you're worried about your brother and the prince."
Gwen said nothing but her eyes glanced to look at herself in the mirror. The gleam of anxiety was easily glossed from them.
Sarah took her hand and squeezed it before letting it go again. "Everything will be fine. It always is."
The seamstress turned back to face her friend and forced a smile.
"You're right," she said simply. "I just... hope Arthur wasn't hurt."
Sarah tilted her head, "What about Elyan?"
"Elyan always comes back with some type of injury," Gwen joked, displaying the remnants of her sense of humour.
She sighed, and looked over her shoulder at the back door for no reason other than the need to stare thoughtfully into space.
"I hope he's alright too, though. His knack for trouble always worries me..."
The other woman turned to admire herself in the mirror once more. A small grin spread across her lips and she spun around again to talk to Gwen.
"You don't need to worry about Elyan," Sarah stated simply. "Like you said, he's always attracted trouble. It's an unfortunate side-effect of his daring nature."
Gwen smirked, "That's a good way of putting it."
"So... what is it specifically about Elyan's behaviour now that gives you cause for concern?"
"Who said it was anything specific?"
Sarah bit her lip sheepishly just as she had when she had turned up on Gwen's doorstep earlier. She always did it when she felt she might be overstepping a mark.
To distract herself from her own words Sarah began to remove her dress, not wanting to walk around in it in case it ripped again before tonight. Gwen turned her back and closed the curtains to give her some privacy.
"I didn't mean to offend you," Sarah said quietly. "I just got the feeling..."
"You didn't offend me," Gwen replied, carefully folding away all her spare fabric to put back in the chest at the end of her bed. "And you're right, it is something specific."
"Do you mind talking about it?" came the red-head's muffled voice.
"There isn't much to talk about," Gwen began.
She packed away her sewing kit.
"He still hasn't told me where he was all that time he was away," Gwen finally confessed, biting her own lips now. "Every time I ask him about it he just changes the subject. I suppose I'm worried that—"
There was a knock at the door.
She heard Sarah stop moving behind the curtain; she peaked out from behind them as Gwen called out them. "Who is it?"
"It's me," Merlin mumbled back, right into the wood of the door.
The two women looked at each other. 'Stay there, I'll let him in,' Gwen mouthed to Sarah, who clearly didn't want Merlin to see her dress until he came to collect her later. Sarah immediately pulled the curtains completely closed as Gwen turned to let Merlin in.
She opened the door with her usual bright disposition.
"Merlin," Gwen said with a smile.
It was a very effective smile as Merlin once again stared at her lips.
He grinned, "Afternoon Gwen. I was wondering if you could help me."
Merlin leaned against the door post with a similar awkwardness that Sarah had displayed when she turned up on her door step. Gwen felt herself smile inwardly, thinking that maybe these two really were suited to each other. She hoped so for both of them.
"I don't have anything to wear tonight," he finally told her.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I want to wear something a bit different tonight," Merlin explained, thinking back to what Gaius and Leon had said about it looking as if he wasn't trying hard enough. He found himself repeating their words. Pulling at his blue shirt and red neckerchief, he went on, "I'm always wearing this and I'm worried it'll give Sarah the wrong impression."
Gwen glanced up and down at what Merlin was wearing now. There was no denying that his shirt, trousers, boots and jacket had become custom attire for him. She wondered why she had not thought to lend him a new outfit for tonight.
"To be honest I've become desensitised to it," she said frankly.
Merlin pouted. "I don't suppose you have anything you could lend me, do you? Maybe something that isn't red or blue."
The young seamstress leaned against the same doorpost that Merlin was leant against and regarded him for a moment as she tried to think what other colours would suit him. Again, she was so used to him wearing these primary colours that to see him in anything else was difficult to picture. Still, she wouldn't know until she tried...
Merlin on the other hand became well away of Gwen staring at his shirt – his chest – then his boots, and then back up to his shirt. Her shoulder was hard against the same doorpost that he was leaning against. He immediately moved away and looked down ineptly.
"I thought maybe a... green colour."
Gwen snapped out of her thoughts as if he had just led her to an epiphany. She grinned, "Of course, green!"
She turned around to walk back into the house. Merlin didn't wait for an invite and followed her in, closing the door behind him.
Gwen routed through her cabinets again, clearly looking for a green shirt which she knew existed but hadn't produced in a long time. It wasn't just Merlin who wore red and blue shirts, after all. They were the most popular colours after white.
"Sorry," she muttered in response as she closed one cupboard and opened another. "I was finding it difficult to imagine what other colours would suit you apart from red and blue. I thought of purple but green is much better."
Merlin smiled, "I always wanted to wear green."
"Then why don't you?"
"I don't know," he admitted. "To be honest I've never really thought much about what I wearing. It's not like anyone will notice."
"Well, I think it's sweet that you want to make an effort for Sarah," Gwen said a pitch louder so that her friend could hear clearly behind the curtains. She could picture Sarah biting her nails intensely as she listened. "And I'm sorry I didn't think of it for you."
"Even though you're a seamstress I'll let it slide," Merlin teased.
Finally, Gwen produced a dark green shirt from her cupboard. "Here it is!" she cried triumphantly, and she spun around to show Merlin. "Obviously it will look better once you've tried it on. I'm a little concerned it might be a little too big but it'll do. What do you think?"
Merlin studied the green shirt. It was a fine myrtle with a faint running crimson stitch along the sleeves and hem. It had clearly been in Gwen's cupboard for a long time and could do with a wash but Merlin knew that with a touch of magic, he'd have that done in no time. The shirt itself very stylish but that didn't surprise him; everything Gwen created was well made.
"It looks perfect," he told her.
Gwen then quickly produced a pair of trousers as well to replace his worn-out pair, and handed them all to him, "Just try it on to see whether it fits all right."
Merlin took the shirt and stared at her as she stood with her arms folded across her chest, waiting. "You mean, right now?"
"You might as well."
"But," he began self-consciously. "That means I'll have to take my clothes off..."
"I don't mean the trousers," she assured him. "Your trousers are baggy anyway. Just try on the shirt."
He could feel every inch of his body blush.
Gwen couldn't stop herself from bursting with laughter. "I don't intend to watch if that's what you're worried about. I'll turn my back."
Merlin nodded slowly, "Alright then..."
He turned around and began to undo his belt. Gwen turned her back to face the curtain at the back of the room. She could see Sarah twitching behind them, clearly trying to take a peak. When Gwen caught sight of one eye looking through, she rolled her own eyes and mouthed 'You'll ruin the surprise!'
She meant the surprise of seeing Merlin's outfit, although it occurred to her immediately the double-meaning that could be heard from it. It made her chuckle.
Behind her Merlin finally removed his shirt, glancing out of the corner of his eye to see whether Gwen really had her back turned. He couldn't help thinking the way she wore her hair was very pretty; half-up, half down with the traditional flowers in her hair. He knew she was trying to grow it longer, it was already well past shoulder length.
He quickly pulled the new green shirt over his head. The material smelt of old yarn, warm wood and the same scent that Gwen and any other clothes she made, fixed or came into contact with seemed to pick up; a fresh sort of sweetness that Merlin had never been able to identify.
He picked the front of the shirt up to his nose to sniff it again in an attempt to figure out what it was. Even with it on himself, he couldn't quite tell what it was. It was a distinctly floral smell. Everything about Gwen did.
"Done?" Gwen asked, starting to get bored.
Merlin smoothed his shirt out, "Done."
She turned around.
"That looks good," Gwen remarked with a smile. "It's a bit big but once you have your belt on, no one will notice."
Merlin looked down at himself and tried to get used to the colour. He had wanted a green shirt for a long time but having never had one he had become used to always wearing blue or red. He also felt a little strange without his neckerchief on. While the green shirt was very well-made and he intended to wear it to the feast that night, he felt odd for some reason.
"It feels as if it's missing something," he confessed.
Gwen nodded, "You think?"
"Maybe it's just me," Merlin quickly added, not wanting to offend her. He pointed behind the curtain, "D'you mind if I just take a quick look in your mirror."
He walked in that direction. Gwen stopped him immediately.
"No, wait!" she said hurriedly.
Sarah was still behind there. It would have been alright if they has alerted her to his presence the moment he turned up but now Sarah had been behind that curtain too long for logical explanation other than to spy on Merlin.
"What is it?" Merlin chuckled dubiously. "Are you hiding something back there?"
"Of course not," Gwen lied. "It's just a bit messy."
Merlin started forward again, "It can't be any worse than my bedroom. Gaius is always on at me to clean it, as if I were a child."
"Just let me... straighten things up a bit," Gwen said.
The young man laughed again, "Alright, fine. You don't need to be so worried, though. I'd never judge you for being a bit disorganised. You should see mine and Gaius's chambers right now—"
Gwen shot behind the curtain and looked around.
There was no sign of Sarah.
The backdoor was open, alerting Gwen to the fact that her friend had taken off. The moment she had heard Merlin heading towards the back of the house she had bolted out the backdoor and away. It made Gwen smile.
Merlin came up behind her and peaked over her shoulder.
She quickly backed away and smiled sheepishly.
"It doesn't look that bad to me," Merlin told her.
"No, well," Gwen started slowly, looking about her for inspiration. The open door filled in the gaps for her. "I was sorting out the firewood. I think I might need to collect some more in a few days."
Merlin was too simple to question what she was saying and immediately turned to look at himself in the mirror. He was confronted by the myrtle shirt with crimson stitching for the first time and found he liked it even more. Yes, it was a little big but as Gwen said once he had his belt on, it wouldn't show.
"I like it!" he finally declared with a grin, "Never thought any other colour would suit me."
Gwen smirked and came up behind him, recovered from Sarah's sudden flight. They were reflected side by side in the mirror.
"It's suitable for the winter too," she added, still trying to sell the idea of it to him. "It's made of wool."
"Hmm," Merlin murmured.
He looked away from the mirror and down at Gwen. She look looked up at him and smiled.
He cleared his throat, "So... how much do I owe you?"
Gwen hadn't thought of that. She turned around and walked out of the mirror view to return to the front of the house. It had been a while since she made the shirt.
"If you just want to borrow it," she explained, playing with a strand of her hair. She spun around to face him as he looked over to her, "then as long as you wash it before returning it, you don't owe me anything."
"And if I decide I can live without it?" Merlin asked. If tonight ended with a second date for him and Sarah then this might turn into his best (and only best) shirt.
Gwen folded and picked up Merlin's clothes.
"You can borrow it against your birthday if you'd like?" she suggested.
"My birthday's not until next month." Merlin would be twenty-one years old. It seemed a little strange to be celebrating this landmark in his life so far away from his home village. Usually the coming of age of a country boy involved getting tied to a tree, painted blue and extremely strong ale.
Gwen handed the shirt and neckerchief to him.
"Consider it an early one, then," she told him with a smile.
He returned the gesture with a warm nod of gratitude. "Thanks, Gwen."
There followed another moment of silence where neither of them said anything. Merlin felt like he should say something more but all that came out were grateful sighs that stayed caught in his throat. It was difficult because deep down in his core Merlin felt as if he owed Gwen more than a simple 'Thanks'. Yet he couldn't think of anything more to say that would be worth saying.
He could see that his silence was clearly starting to embarrass Gwen a little, who seemed equally at a loss of what else to say. Her eyes awkwardly looked to one-side as she considered whether or not to ask him about Arthur. She knew that if he had received any news he would have told her to moment he came in the door.
But she still wanted to ask.
Breaking the silence with a smile, Gwen started to close the curtains to give Merlin to privacy. "I'll let you get changed," she said softly.
Closing the curtain completely, she still turned her back and went to re-arrange the flowers in the middle of her table. They were the flowers that Merlin had given her last night.
"Have you heard anything from Arthur?" she tried to ask as generally as possible.
Merlin stopped briefly. As he suspected, he felt guilty about not having anything else to say. It wasn't his fault but he still felt it.
"No," he confessed slowly. "But I'm certain that he and the others can't be far off."
Gwen absentmindedly pulled a petal off one purple flower. She held it thoughtlessly between her index finger and her thumb. She rubbed it slowly until it was creased and the scent was damp against her pads. It was all a testament to how little else she had on her mind, that she would fill it with any senseless nonsense to keep her mind off worrying.
Merlin emerged from behind the curtain, back in his usual attire and clutching the green shirt under his arm.
He slowly came up behind her, jerking her out of her thoughts.
Gwen forced herself to smile yet again. "Was there anything else you needed my help with?"
Merlin shook his head. His eyes betrayed his concern for her.
"Are you alright... here on your own?" he asked.
"Um-hm," she murmured quickly, and then raised her tone to trying and convince herself further that was true. "Really, I have plenty to occupy my time. In fact could you tell Gaius I'm coming to see him later?"
Merlin's free arm reached up to circle Gwen's shoulders.
"You could come and see him now," he suggested. "Then you wouldn't have to sit here alone—"
But Gwen interrupted him immediately.
"Really, Merlin," she told him firmly. "I have things I need to do – so I'll be along later." She then realised the harshness in her voice, and softened it a little. "Go home, Merlin. Concern yourself with getting ready for tonight. You've waited a long time to ask Sarah out so make the most of it."
"I will," he promised. "I can't help it if I'm worried about you, though."
Gwen chuckled, "You don't need to worry about me. I'm a grown woman. I make my own clothes and everything."
Merlin smirked and squeezed her shoulders affectionately. "Alright, I'll get off your back then. Clearly you're not interested in my earnest comforting."
He picked up everything that Gwen had given him, folded it and tucked it under his arms again as he strode towards the door.
She watched him go. "I am grateful, though."
Merlin nodded, and after a brief but lingering exchange left through the front door, leaving Gwen alone once again.
Gwen sighed sadly and looked down at the petal between her fingers again. It was dried up against her skin now. She gently wiped her hand against her dress and looked around the empty room in quiet contemplation. She thought of her conversation with Merlin last night. Growing up in this house undoubtedly made her attached to it. Yet there was emptiness now. All her life she had lived there with her mother, father and brother. Then it was just her father and brother. Then it was just her father.
Then it was just her.
This house held many memories but Gwen could slowly feel herself beginning to resent it too. She hated living alone even thought she had done it for such a long time. When she was Morgana's maid she spent most of her time in the castle doing work. She only went home to eat and sleep, and each time she did she longed to return to the castle and be around people; to see Merlin, Gaius, and hopefully Arthur too.
Gwen bit her lip. It was odd but this afternoon had worked like an epiphany for her. This was the first day in which she had lived for a long time where she had no excuse to go to the castle and no one with her to talk to. The happiest she had felt was helping Sarah and Merlin. It had helped keep her mind off Arthur. But now she was on her own again and she hated it.
Whereas if she lived in the castle permanently, the people that mattered the most to her would be just that little bit closer.
She pulled her white and cream dress out of her cupboard and unfolded it. It still needed a little work doing to it.
Gwen told herself that Arthur would be home safe and sound, as too would Elyan, Gwaine and Percival. Safe and sound. And hopefully not badly injured.
And whenever that would be Gwen felt contented in the fact that she knew exactly what she would say in response to Arthur's question to her before he left. Everything that mattered to her was in Camelot, not her house inside the city but within the castle itself.
In order to get the injured knights – particularly Sir Geraint – back to Camelot as quickly as possible a goods cart had to be commandeered to carry him as he was unable to sit upright on a horse. The other three injured knights sat in the cart alongside him, keeping watch on him and allowing their own horses to pull him along. At different points they would climb out and walk, or in one man's case limp, to stop becoming uncomfortable.
It meant that the men were travelling very slowly. In using the cart to carry Geraint home in the first place it took longer to travel down the unpaved outer line roads that lead to the city.
"Is everyone alright?" Elyan would ask every half an hour or so.
The reply was always quiet and sore.
Geraint never replied as he slept through most of the journey so far. It was for the best as when he was awake the pain of his would was almost unbearable. It was probably the pain that drove him unconscious.
From the other wounded knights Arthur, Elyan, Percival and Gwaine got the full story. Geraint had actually been surprised by a group of those men while patrolling the area. They startled his horse so much that it threw him off and then toppled over onto him, crushing his leg between its body and a sharp rock. It broke his leg so badly it made them sick to even look at it.
"They came out of nowhere," described one of the knights, Sir Torre. He had sustained a broken arm from the same scuffle. Fortunately his horse had just bolted, not fallen. "I have been patrolling his area for a long time and I have never seen these men before."
"Never?" Gwaine quizzed him. "Are you sure they are the same men?"
"I'm certain," Torre replied. "They all cover their faces, they all bear that mark, they never speak... and then there's their fighting style."
"What about it?" Elyan asked.
"I have never seen men fight like that," Torre said distantly, thinking of the ambush that broke his arm. "Any warrior must be prepared for death but these men... they seem to welcome it. Most men fight to stay alive, but these men behave as if they're on a suicide mission. They know they might die, and they welcome death."
Elyan bit his bottom lip nervously and looked away.
"Perhaps they belong to a cult or something," Gwaine suggested, trying to egg a response out of Elyan. No chance of that as his friend remained closed.
"If we can't reach Camelot soon we'll have to find a spring," the other injured knight, Sir Ethan, told Percival. This man had sustained terrible bodily wounds and his torso had been wrapped up like a corpse prepared for death, for lack of a better comparison. "Geraint's wound will need to be cleaned and redressed again."
"I'll let Arthur know," the deep rare voice replied.
This news put Arthur under even more stress.
He wanted to press on and go home. He wanted to travel at a faster pace. He kept telling himself it was for his men's sake – and nothing to do with his love life, but that was a lie. Geraint was in dire need of a physician's attention and Arthur was deeply anxious to get him home before dark for fear that infection and the cold might finish him, and make the other two knights worse and unable to ride their horses too. Nonetheless he could not help thinking of Gwen sitting at home, worried about him, Elyan and the others, not knowing what was going on... and excluded from the evening's festivities.
It was coming up for the evening and they were still a long winding road away from Camelot.
As the winter sun slowly started to go down above their heads frustrated Arthur all the more. But he couldn't pick up the pace on the road they were currently set on as it was uneven, jagged and covered in small and large stones alike.
"This road really needs to be smoothed out," Gwaine remarked unhelpfully.
Arthur gritted his teeth with irritation, "Just keep going as fast as we can."
The knight rode a little bit forward so he was side by side with the prince in order to address him directly, so the others could not hear. "We aren't going to reach Camelot at this pace anyway," Gwaine said frankly. "I've seen snails overtake us."
"What do you suggest then?"
"Either we stop and try to patch these men up ourselves," Gwaine replied, glancing behind him as Elyan and Percival stared back. "Or we take a risk."
He pointed to a wooded area to their right.
"I know this area," Gwaine began.
"I do too," Arthur snapped, knowing exactly what his friend was getting at. The wooded area was a shortcut; it cut a whole loop out of the journey by road. If they went through the woods at a quick pace, within half an hour, they would come to a clearing and there would be only a few more miles before Camelot would be in their sight. "We could never get the cart through there."
"We could if one of us carried Geraint over our horse," Gwaine told him. "We'll be able to go at a faster pace and hopefully make it home before dark—"
"To do that would be too uncomfortable for him."
"But if it's the fastest way to get them home?"
Arthur looked to Gwaine and then at the road ahead. There was no sign of it smoothing out or getting easier to go faster. He then glanced over at the wooded area...
At that moment Fate made the decision for him.
The cart wheel snagged a rugged rock and, as could be expected, bolt that held the wheel on snapped with the sound of a large twig, breaking off the cart entirely. It caused the entire thing to tilt sharply to one side. Two of the other injured knights hobbled about to prop it up with nearby stones as the horses whined in shock at the noise and confusion.
"Arthur!" called Elyan from behind.
The prince tugged his reigns furiously and immediately turned around to survey the damage. Gwaine followed loyally on behind. Sod's law just wouldn't leave them alone today!
Arthur jumped off his horse and walked up as Ethan and Torre finally made the cart just about level. It wasn't easy for Torre, having only one arm. In fact, the cart was now slightly higher in the front left corner than it was on any other angle. Despite being made out of heavy wood the wheel had broken clean off and the nut that held it on had shattered.
"Can it be mended?" he asked.
He hoped that it could not. It sounded terrible even in his mind but Arthur was looking for any excuse to follow up on Gwaine's plan. The wheel looked completely knackered and he knew however bad the damage was it would take too long to fix it now. It was four o'clock and the sun was already starting to go down.
Their only chance of getting home in time was to take the shortcut, Arthur had decided.
Ethan finally gave him the answer he wanted. He was nervous as he said it, obviously unaware of what was going through the prince's head.
"Not without the right supplies," he explained. "And right now we don't have them."
Gwaine walked up beside Arthur.
"Seems you have no alternative, my lord," he said with the faintest smile.
Arthur was unwilling to admit this was exactly what he had wanted publically. It did not look good at all that he wanted to hurry them along for personal reasons as well as practical ones; but the fact remained that getting Geraint home tonight was a priority, and he needed to make a decision now.
"Gwaine's right," the prince muttered to himself. He then addressed Percival and Elyan. "He will have to be carried over one of our horses." And he pointed to the wooded area, "We'll take the shortcut through the woods."
"Are you sure that's wise with Geraint's leg, Arthur?" Elyan asked boldly. "I mean, the state of his leg... it might have to be," and he whispered the next part, "Amputated."
The prince knew that was a possibility but there was no way of truly knowing until Gaius treated him. Besides, they did not have the equipment to amputate the leg themselves.
"We'll secure it as best we can before we head off," Arthur assured him.
He down at the unconscious knight and began wishing that Leon was there. He was Geraint's brother-in-law and the two of them were good friends. Hell, even Merlin might have even been useful. As Gaius's apprentice he would know better than any of them how to secure the wound best.
Still, Arthur knew enough for now.
He ripped off a piece of material right along the bottom of his padding and ordered the other knights to do the same.
"We need to break a board off this cart to secure the leg to," Arthur ordered them. He remembered that was what Gaius did with his leg when he broke it, aged seven.
Elyan and Percival dismounted their horses in order to help.
Arthur tried to bring Geraint round, which he eventually did. Just about. He carefully explained to him the situation and was frank about the state of his wound.
They eventually lifted Geraint slightly to allow him to fasten the material around his leg. "Give me a chunk of wood!" Geraint request hoarsely. He wanted it to bite down on and stifle his pain. The men made sure to keep the leg and wood secure and, with their hearts in their throats, carried him over to Arthur's horse; he had already decided to take Geraint himself as he was by far the worst injured.
This would mean he would have to go slower than the others, but at least if the others could travel faster, word could be sent to Camelot should be not reach the city by nightfall. Hopefully that would not be the case as the forest was well and truly a shortcut.
As they worked to help Geraint as much as possible Elyan spotted the still-fresh blood on Arthur's chainmail. "Are you sure you're alright?" he asked carefully.
"Concerned for me are you, Elyan?"
"Somebody has to be," Elyan joked back. "If anything happened to you, my sister would probably blame me."
Arthur smirked and shook his head. "Help Percival put Geraint onto my horse."
Elyan obeyed; the truth was that the giant man could have easily carried the injured knight on his own but the small blacksmith liked to think he was doing his bit. Together the two men set Geraint over the neck of Arthur's horse. The knight continued to grip the wood between his teeth. With more will power than actual strength, he forced himself to sit in the saddle. Slumped but sitting.
Percival held the reigns steady as Arthur prepared to remount and provide balance for Geraint.
"You don't need to worry about Guinevere blaming you today," the prince added, touching the wound. He hissed a little as he did but kept smiling. "It's just a little sore, that's all."
"As long as you're certain," Elyan said slowly. The prince seemed fine but Arthur had a great habit of downplaying just how much his wounds. Beneath his chainmail Elyan expected that wound was getting rubbed raw. Nonetheless he humorously added, "If anything does happen to you, I'm not taking the blame."
"And if anything happens to you I couldn't not blame myself," Arthur replied frankly, lifting himself back onto the horse. He looked down at Elyan who blinked back at him. "I don't much fancy having to go back to Camelot and telling your sister you died from a scratch."
Elyan chuckled and walked back to his own horse. Gwaine and the other less injured knights released the horses from the cart to secure them to their own horses; they then also remounted.
Once on his horse Geraint secured his arms around Arthur's waist. His leg rested stiffly against the bag sitting at the side of Arthur's horse. Not an ideal position but better than if it was hanging unsupported at all.
"Are you alright?" Arthur asked him.
Geraint briefly removed the stick from his mouth, "As much as I can be."
It was a struggle to say just those simple words.
Arthur looked to the other knights.
"We don't stop until we reach the other side of the forest," the prince commanded once his men were all ready to go. The men all looked towards the wooded area. "Elyan and Percival, you make sure Torre and Ethan are comfortable. Keep at a steady pace and don't worry if I fall behind you. Once we reach the clearing, we'll check wounds one last time before we make for home."
Arthur then looked squarely at Gwaine, "You ride on ahead to Camelot, let Gaius know we're coming. Go as fast as you can."
He looked between all his men.
"Does everyone understand what they're doing?"
There was a wordless reply as everyone just nodded.
Arthur then led them on, "Let's go."
They slowly began to make their way off the path and down the narrow slope towards the wooded area. Arthur was particularly weary and Geraint held onto him as if he were clinging to life itself. Next went Percival and Ethan; the former went to the bottom first to ensure the latter got down safely.
Gwaine turned his attention to Elyan who was waiting for Torre to safely get down the slope. With Percival at the bottom and him at the top, they could ensure no accidents happened.
"Are you all right?" Gwaine asked Elyan.
Elyan smiled, not quite understanding. "Of course I am! Why wouldn't I be?"
"You seemed a bit off earlier," Gwaine prompted him, hoping in vain that Elyan might be more willing to talk about those marks on those men's foreheads. Even when Ethan and Torre spoke of them he had seemed troubled. "Is there something on your mind?"
Elyan was clearly anxious by Gwaine bringing the subject up again. It immediately made him fear (rightly) that his friend had picked up on something before, particularly the fact that he had recognised the mark the men bore and that he knew what they meant.
Nevertheless, Elyan found it easier to just force and smile a lie.
"I'm fine," the knight unconvincingly.
"I don't believe you," Gwaine said simply.
Elyan chuckled nervously, "Goodness, you just won't let anything go. I'm fine, alright?"
Thankfully at that moment Torre and Ethan had safely reached the bottom of the slope. He too started to make his way down to ensure that Gwaine could not ask him anything more. They had their duties to fulfil, so Gwaine could not hang back with him to ask any more awkward questions for now.
"You better get on your way, Gwaine," Elyan called up at him. "Arthur's orders were for you to press forward towards Camelot and not wait for us."
The young nobleman grumbled under his breath. Elyan might have thought he had escaped this time but Gwaine was not going to drop this... and if he couldn't get it out of Elyan now, he'd make sure he would get it out of him later. The fear in his eyes had sparked concern in Gwaine and he knew this couldn't lie when there might be a threat to his friend and or Camelot.
In the mean time he accepted defeat.
Gwaine swiftly made his way down the slope without any teetering and sped past both Elyan and Percival towards the woodland and on to Camelot. Even though his speed was a matter of urgency for the knights, it all did well to display his displeasure with Elyan too.
The trail of wind he left behind him hit Elyan like a cold chill. He knew then that it was only a matter of time before everyone knew the truth...