A/N: My Tumblr 'Round Table' buddies and I were doing a prompt exchange. One of Feste's prompts was "Be careful what you wish for" involving someone from Squire's Tales, and then it turned into this monster. That's really all I can say.
Arthur collapsed onto his bed, unable to keep himself from moaning quietly. Guinevere hadn't returned to their bedroom yet, and it was unlikely she would for some time. After all, it was Arthur who was going to bed before dark.
He didn't want to blame himself. He had good reasons, he rationalized. He had kingly duties. Work. Stupid lords to put up with and knights off on quests to worry about being killed and knights not on quests to worry about getting bored enough to destroy something. He had reports to read, taxes to review, dinners to hold, verdicts to give. There were criminals in his dungeons cursing him right now, waiting for pardon or for sentencing. He had the weight of the world on his shoulders, so he found time in his day to go to bed early.
How pathetic, he thought to himself. Far too chipper for any time of day, let alone dusk, a wren appeared on his open windowsill, warbling away and pecking at a bunch of berries it clutched in one claw. He rolled his eyes up to look at it dolefully. It stared back, twitching its head to look at him.
"You know, sometimes I really wish I weren't king," He told it. Talking to animals, now. How far could the mighty fall? Well I am on the fourth floor, he thought absently. "I think I'd like to be a knight. No, actually, not a knight. A squire, maybe. Just a servant. Not forever. Just a day, a week." He sighed into his mattress. "I could scrub floors, I'd be good at scrubbing floors. No real thinking involved, no one looking at you all the time, no need to look perfect for everyone." He looked back up at the wren "I could polish boots. Clean house. Serve dinner. Just… not king. One day, give my brain a rest." He sighed into his pillow again. Sighing always seemed like a good idea, but he could never get one out satisfying enough. "It must be nice being a bird," he thought aloud. The wren warbled at him and he looked up to glare at it, but it'd flown away. Sighing again (still not satisfying), he rolled over and fell asleep after tossing and turning for a spell.
His serving boy would come in sometime later and hesitate for a good five minutes, wondering whether it was ruder to let the King of England sleep in his finery, or to wake the King of England just to change him into his sleep clothes. Eventually, the boy curtained the windows, pulled a blanket up over the king, and tiptoed out.
Arthur, meanwhile, was in quite another world. Only, not the same one he was used to slipping off to at night.
"Up and at 'em, milad!" A lilting voice sang at him. No sooner had he sniffed in a lungful than had something come into quick contact with his buttocks. Jerking at the shock, Arthur was suddenly awake. The voice from before laughed, a pleasant sound aside from the irritation he felt.
"Gotcha!" She – it was a she, he realized. "Up up up, come now, I've got your breakfast all ready for you."
"…Uhrrum?" Arthur groaned, looking around. He was lying on a low cot, all cozied up with multicolored quilts. A dust mote floated in a morning-lit window, and he smelled pine, and soil, and… freshly baked bread. "..where am I?" He'd mumbled it quietly enough he was sure his host wouldn't hear. She did anyway.
"Och, you're just as bad as your mother 'n' father, sleepin' in till your brain leaves you. Come on, got a pint over here and some toast, too. Eat up, we need to get you to the gates, it's nearly sunup!"
Arthur dragged himself from his cot, and looked confusedly at his hands, his feet. This isn't me, he thought with mounting concern and confusion. He did a double-take when he caught sight of himself in a very dirty looking-glass. He was young – very young. Seventeen, maybe? Eighteen? No beard. No wrinkles. Thin, but not sickly, very lithe. His host appeared in the doorway, a short, motherly woman, elderly and silverhaired. Her eyes crinkled when she smiled.
"Oh, it's so good to have you back! You parents nearly didn't let me, you know. But an aunt can be persuasive," She nodded sagely, then back to her animated, Irish-lilt, "Your father'll be showin' up within the month to have you back, I'm sure, but we'll see if we can't keep you here for a while." She winked. "But enough jawing – eat, eat! We need to get you up to the castle."
Confused and bewildered by this all-to-real dream, Arthur stumbled into the small cottage kitchen and shared a quick breakfast of toast, jam, and watered-down ale (which was surprisingly good quality) before his aunt tossed him a bundle and told him to get dressed. He hadn't realized that it was livery until they were out of the door. It was casual looking stuff, but the colors were undeniably coordinated to fit a coat of arms. His aunt walked incredibly quickly for a woman her age. He almost had to ask her to wait up, but then the castle came into view, and he couldn't think about talking.
"Now, I hear they've got your room all sorted, you'll be staying with the other lads in the servant's quarters – no, don't worry, I'll get your things up there by tomorrow – they've got nice rooms, you'll be fine." She patted his back fondly. "Now you and go and tell the kindly Sir Knight there you're His Grace's newest lad, and he'll lead you on in."
Arthur looked across the long, imposing bridge, to a motionless armoured figure standing guard at the end. "Kindly…?" He thought out loud.
"Och, don't mind the pomp, he's really just a puppy," she tossed her hand "Now go, before His Grace wakes up, no need to be tardy."
"Brain still asleep, lad? Go on! Find Pynn, she'll get you sorted for the day."
So Arthur did as he was told, he shuffled across the bridge feeling very odd, glancing up at the beautiful but imposing castle before him. It was remarkably tall, he thought. There was a decent amount of space on the island, but it was still and island, confined on all sides by the sea, and the castle's towers spiraled high, dominated by the thick, cylindrical keep in the middle.
"Good mornin' lad," A muffled voice said. Arthur jumped when he realized the 'kindly' knight – who was shorter than he'd expected – was talking to him.
"Um, good morning… Sir Knight," He tacked on too late. The knight didn't seem to notice.
"It is. And where're you off to this fine morning?"
Arthur realized it must've been his duty to ask, he was being polite. "I'm here… I'm one of His Grace's new lads," He said. Whatever that meant.
"Ah, well, nice to meet you, then," The knight lifted his visor and smiled at him. Unkempt dark hair conflicted with the picturesque, knightly stance. "I'm a good friend of the Duke, actually. You met him yet?" Arthur hesitantly shook his head. The man laughed. "Well, no need to be scared, he gets on well with most servants – it's because he… oh, but nevermind. Keep him out of trouble, eh? He's just back from Camelot last night, and he's always awkward the first few days."
"Camelot?" Arthur was unable to hide his surprise.
"Aye, his home away from home." The knight glanced up at the sky. "Hard to say if he'll sleep in from the journey or not, but you'd best be on your way. Tell him I said hello!" he slapped his visor down with a smile.
"Uh, alright…" Athur took a few hastened steps, frowned, and turned awkwardly. "Tell… who said hello, Sir Knight?"
"Cuchulain!" The knight called back cheerily, resuming his guard's stance at the bridge's gate. "And if you wouldn't mind, tell him I expect to see his sword ready by tomorrow!"
Arthur turned, blinking confusedly to himself. Cuchulain? This dream was incredibly strange. He sniffed, wiggling his toes in his boots, glancing at the wind stirring a tuff of grass. Strange, but incredibly realistic.
He wandered about until he finally found the servant's entrance. He asked for Pynn and suddenly a young woman appeared, dress pressed and hair tied up in a neat bun, flour splotched over both. She wiped sweat from her brow as she approached him.
"Oh, you must be Aeodan, the new boy." She offered him a quick smile. "I'm Pynn, head of kitchens. But we'll show you 'round later today, right now you're supposed to be bringin' His Grace breakfast. Here you are," She took a tray from a kitchen maid who'd appeared as if by clockwork, "Thank you, Mol," she deposited it in his arms, and he hadn't ever imagined that breakfast trays would be this heavy. "Up you go – turn left, then right, back stairway – take a left right before the top." She pushed him down the hall, and suddenly, he was in a large open space, two stairways sloping up to a single point from either side of a huge, circular room. Glancing back to see that his escort was gone, Arthur took a tentative step into the room. No one was around, he realized, so he ghosted up one stairwell, nearly spilled the breakfast, recovered, and huffed out his cheeks at the strangeness that had become his day.
"Left, and… back stairway…" He tiptoed down the hall, not entirely sure that he was supposed to be there. As he looked for the stairwell, he took a moment to ponder how on earth he ended up here. Apparently his name was Aeodan, the nephew of an elderly, fairly well-off peasant, and he'd been sent to work in the castle, for a Duke. Where was the castle, though? And the Duke of what? Who apparently visited Camelot? And why earth was that knight so friendly – Cuchulain? He was frowning not quite enough to give his forehead cramps by the time he reached the end of the long hall, where he found a spiral staircase off to one side. He somehow maneuvered up, though he grew slightly dizzy for bothering to make sure the breakfast tray was steady the whole time. He turned left again as instructed, and came up in a narrow hallway, bare and lit by candles, with a curtained doorway at the end of it.
He realized he must be in the servant's passage. A small, boyish thrill rushed through him. He'd never been inside a servants passage before – well, not since he was a child, anyway. He remembered exploring them as a boy when the housemaster wasn't looking. It wasn't that the king wasn't allowed to peer down the servants passages, but it wasn't proper, and he felt it was rude to the servants. This was a new experience. The passage itself was very dull, just stone and mortar and the odd candle to light the way. The floors weren't waxed, but they were smooth from use. And yet, he felt suddenly so covert and sneaky, hidden passageways and all, that he forgot himself until he ran into the thick curtain and nearly knocked over the pitcher of water. He grabbed it before it could spill, and looked up right into the curtain.
Oh god, what do I do now? He thought to himself. He didn't know what the protocol for servants was. They never knocked, but then… was it okay for him to walk into the bedroom of a man who might be asleep? He really didn't know. Servants operated by different rules than Kings. But… damn, why hadn't he paid attention to these things?"
He peeked his head through the curtain. His Grace, Duke of Whereeverhewas, was still abed. Arthur could see an arm sprawled off the near side of the bed, and a bare foot, too. Every single one of the copious amount of pillows had been pushed to one side of the bed, so the man slept with his face directly against the mattress, which made Arthur want to smile for some reason. He spotted a table at the foot of the bed, and realized that this was where he usually found his breakfast in the morning, so it must be the right spot. Tiptoeing (why did he have to be asleep?) Arthur set down the breakfast, making sure it was straight and centered. No sooner had he done this than did he notice a small ripple bounce in the water pitcher. Then another, and another.
"Mmrrrnngh," the Duke groaned from his bed. Arthur froze, now completely unsure what to do. What did servants do when their superiors woke while they were still in the room? His always seemed so composed. He wished he could disappear. The ripples now turned into audible stomps. Footsteps? A small horse?
"Rnnsttroo early for this," The Duke rolled over, grabbing his covers as he did so, cocooning himself until nothing was visible. Arthur was fairly certain the man still had no idea he was there.
The pounding grew louder, and Arthur jerked his head around when the slam of a door came from outside. The Duke rustled in his sheets, curling in on himself. The doorknob to the room turned, and suddenly, two flying carpets of bright orange hair burst into the room.
"Uncle Terence! Uncle Terence! Uncle Terence!" They pounced on the bed, oblivious to the Duke's sleepiness, squealing and giggling with delight. They'd missed Arthur in their enthusiasm, so he stayed standing there awkwardly while they wrestled the Duke out of bed.
Terence, so that's his name. Odd, Arthur knew a Terence. Slowly, now feeling unforgivably like an intruder on a family scene, he tried to back away toward the servant's entrance. He'd almost made it by the time the girls finally got their uncle in an upright position.
"Ow, ow, alright, alright!" He yelped, smiling all the same, "Yes, I missed you too," he was smiling despite circles under his eyes and a hoarse voice. He cleared his throat and the next words came out clearer. "Oh, come here, you!" He grabbed the nearest twin –for surely, they had to be twins – and tickled her sides.
Arthur, back touching the curtain, froze. Hang on, his mind snapped at him, I know that voice.
"You too, you're not getting away!" the girls were dissolved in laughter, and Terence rolled halfway over the bed backwards, grabbing at the second twin and dragging her back for tickling as well. "Thought you could wake me up and get away with it!" he cawed playfully. With the Duke's back turned toward him, Arthur was staring intently at the back of his head – dark curls puffed and hitting odd angles, neck and shoulders hitting a familiar frame behind baggy sleep clothes. "You think twice before waking a sleeping Uncle next time!" He tried to sound mean, but ended up laughing because the girls' laughter echoed off the walls back to him.
Arthur was the only one in the room who was frowning, from an equal mix of concentration and bewilderment. Forget knowing a Terence, he knew that voice, that long neck, those curls. But… no. It couldn't possibly be-
"Oh, hello," Terence whirled around when he spotted Arthur. King and Squire – that is, Servant and Duke, simultaneously blushed a matching shade of pink.
"I-duh, good, g"-od, Terence, what are you doing here" He almost said, but froze. Terence was looking at him oddly. "…g-good to see you awake. …Milord." He was bad at this. Terence only smiled.
"Ah, thank you. I'm, I'm sorry for uh," he looked over at his nieces, who were still giggling. "That is, thank you for breakfast," He smiled, eyeing the meal. He then looked back up at Arthur, and cocked his head. "Do I know you?"
He's recognized me, Arthur thought, but then, he realized belatedly, he couldn't have - he had a different face. "No," He lied through his not-the-king-of-England-teeth. "No, I'm new here, milord. First day, actually."
"Oh," Terence smiled. "Well, then, I apologize twofold for the, uh, introduction." He laughed, and stood. Despite being in sleep clothes, he appeared fully dressed – it was a strange style of sleep clothes, loosely cut but somehow dignified, nothing like the overlong undershirts Arthur was used to. "Are you to be bringing my breakfast every day?" Terence asked, adjusting his waistband.
Arthur hadn't the slightest idea. His throat went suddenly dry. "Um," he began,
"Breakfast lunch, and dinner, actually," A voice appeared from nowhere. Arthur jumped at the sound, but Terence didn't seem to have heard it at all. "You are His Grace's new squire."
"Squire," Arthur blurted, not really knowing why he was taking a disembodied voice at its word.
"I'm sorry?" Terence asked, confused.
"I'm – that is, I'm to be your squire. So I'm told. So, I'll be… helping with all of the meals." He swallowed hard. Lord, that was something Squires did, wasn't it?"
Terence looked perplexed, but a smirk overcame his face. "A squire?" He said incredulously. For a moment Arthur was nervous he'd said something wrong, but then Terence snorted loudly. "Father must be spending too much time around Robin, the sense of humor has begun to rub off." The disembodied voice cackled merrily in Arthur's ears. Terence, once again, heard nothing, and shook his head. "Sorry, you didn't hear that. Very well, then… Squire. Squire…?" He eyed Arthur.
"Aeodan," Arthur offered. Thank God he came up with the right name.
"Aeodan." He nodded. "Nice to meet you, Aeodan. I'm Terence."
Arthur smiled nervously. "The honor is mind, milord."
"No, no," Terence suddenly held up a hand, "Please, don't call me 'milord'. Never in private, anyway. You don't have to do that, I mean, I never call my knight- er, mm." Terence trailed off and suddenly bit his lips like he'd said something off-limits. "That is, uh… it's just…" He smiled at Arthur, bedhair making his elfish face look ridiculous. "Please, just call me Terence."
Arthur blinked. You never call your Knight what? He wanted to ask. "Of course, mi…. Terence."
Terence smiled. "That's the way. And would you mind if I called you by your name, Aeodan?"
"Of course not, Terence."
"Ooh, you didn't even hesitate that time. I think we'll get on well, Aeodan. Now," He reached back and dragged a twin over onto his lap by the foot. "Time for insolent nieces to go back to their rooms so Uncle Terence can get dressed."
"But Uncle," One of the moaned, trying to wallow upside-down in his lap.
"No buts," he patted hers and she went toppling onto the bed. "Go on, now."
"But you haven't even said hello to mummy yet!" The other protested.
"Yes, I know, which is why I have to get dressed – speaking of which, you do too. The quicker you can get dressed, the sooner I can see your mummy, okay?"
Suddenly, it was a race, and the gingers flew from the room. Terence laughed. "They're a handful, alright."
"Your nieces?" Arthur asked. Surely it was okay to ask. He was new here.
"Aye, my sisters' daughters. I'm friends with their father as well, I work for him."
"Work for him?" Arthur asked, and Terence's eyes widened, realizing his mistake.
"Uhmm… well… work with him, I suppose would be a better way of saying it. While I'm away. Not here. In Camelot," He clarified.
"Oh," Arthur said, mind suddenly racing. In Camelot? Worked for him? Father of his sisters' children? Arthur glanced irresistibly toward the door where the two very ginger-haired girls had gone. Good gog, he thought to himself. When he came back to the present, he saw that Terence was by the wardrobe.
Oh, now this, this he knew. He went through this with his servants every day. He could do this. He stepped up to help Terence pick out an outfit and put it on, but he'd only just made it to the wardrobe by the time Terence had doffed his shirt and replaced it with a fresh tunic. Then, the Duke noticed Arthur's confusion and froze. "Oh, err… right." He said, actually blushing. He stepped aside and let Arthur past.
"Always awkward the first few days," he remembered Cuchulain saying. What, awkward at being a Duke the first few days after being a squire?
"Oh, by the way," Arthur said, picking out a pair of leggings and boots, "Cuchulain says hello and good morning."
"Ah, up before the sun, as always."
"He also wanted me to tell you that he wants to see your sword ready before tomorrow," Arthur said, taking Terence's clothes as he shed them, still feeling awkward as he tried and failed to fold them properly.
"Of course he does. Doesn't let me rest, the slave driver. Here, like this," Terence took the sleep clothes from Arthur and folded them up quickly and neatly. "Just like that, by the collar and then in half." He tossed them at the bed. "And onto the bed they go - aw, just missed," He went over and re-centered the clothes, which had slid off to one side of the foot. "Like that. Or close enough." He turned to smile at Arthur, and then blinked, and then said, still smiling, "I was supposed to let you do that, wasn't I?"
Arthur almost wanted to laugh. Here they were, a squire trying to be a Duke and a King trying to be a squire. Not that Terence knew about that second bit. "I think so," He said. Terence nodded.
"Right. Sorry about that." He blushed some more and looked around awkwardly. "Oh, food," he said, and went for the breakfast. As he took a plate and sat down at a small table in the sitting half of the room, Arthur fixed up the bed as best he knew how. He was about done picking up all the pillows when the door opened again.
"Good morning, brother," A feminine voice called. Terence and Arthur both turned. Terence stood.
"Lorie!" he smiled wide, opening his arms. She smiled back, and floated over to hug him. Long blond hair flowed down her back like a silk curtain, immaculate even after Terence had wrapped his arms around her and let go again. "It's so good to see you again," He told her, and she laughed.
"And you, of course. I hear Lottie and Bridgette have already gotten a hold of you today,"
"Yes, they did," Terence subconsciously brushed back his messy hair. He loved his sister dearly, but whether he would admit or not, Lorie's effortless grace always made him feel self-conscious.
"And who's this?" Lorie had spotted Arthur, and the boy froze. He was too preoccupied to answer – Lorie was a picture to behold. Tall, blond, with wise blue eyes, and grace throughout her every being. Her surprisingly low voice felt like clean cotton on his ears as she spoke. She was beautiful. It was not a perverted sort of staring that kept his eyes on her for a long time. She made him feel very calm, and very pleasant.
"Ah, Aeodan," Terence's voice snapped him back to the present, "He's new here, first day. Aeodan, this is my sister, Princess Lorie,"
Arthur bowed in a way that he hoped was low enough. "Your Highness, it's an honor." He said.
"And you as well, Aeodan," She tipped her head. "Are you working for Pynn?" She asked pleasantly.
"No, milady, I… I'm actually Ter- er, I'm Lord Terence's squire."
Lorie's eyebrows shot up, and her smile reminded Arthur that she was related to Terence. "A squire?" She asked, voice on the brink of a chuckle.
"Aye, Father's grown a new sense of humor, I suspect," Terence said, rolling his eyes.
"He's already gotten you calling him Terence, hasn't he?" She glanced conspiratorially at Aeodan, who couldn't help but smile.
"And if I have? It's my name." Terence grumbled as he sat back down. "Now come, sit down and have a bite to eat before your ginger minions return."
Lori slid into a seat across from her brother, and glanced back at Aeodan. Somewhat belatedly, he realized this was his cue. He turned to fix a plate from the breakfast tray that he'd brought up.
"Speaking of ginger minions," Lorie said behind him, "How was Gawain, last you left him?"
"Last I left him," Terence spoke around a cheekful of bread in a very unprincely manner that Lorie pretended not to notice, "He was pouting because I wouldn't let him come with me." He swallowed and shook his head, "He really can be an overgrown toddler when he doesn't get his way."
"He was here last month. It's hardly the longest he's had to wait," Lorie said. "not that we haven't missed him as well, but is he really so impatient?"
"Lorie," Terence told her honestly, "Your husband is the most impatient man alive, as far as I know."
Arthur's hand slipped and the apple he was holding clunked down onto the plate. Husband?! But… then, that would mean that Terence was… Gawain's brother-in-law?!
"Yes well, his Squire is by far the most ill-mannered. Stop speaking with your mouth full."
"I haven't done!"
"You have, it's rude."
"It's not rude, it's just… practical."
"Practicality isn't the law of the land at state dinners."
"We're not at a state dinner," Terence quipped. Arthur turned to take Lorie her plate, and caught sight of Terence's grumpy slouch, which reminded him somehow of Gawain.
"No, but we will be tonight. Thank you, Aeodan," Lorie smiled at him as he set down her plate.
"What? Tonight? I just got here!" Trying to be as unobtrusive as possible while still listening (he always knew servants listened despite looking so contrite all the time) Arthur moved around the table and filled Lorie's glass.
"Exactly. Half the reason we have state dinners when you come back is because you're here. Besides, Trebuchet's in Avalon until the autumn, he was looking forward to seeing you again."
"Trebuchet?" Terence sat up straighter. "Oh. Well, that's nice, but can't I just meet him somewhere that's not a state dinner?" While Terence bickered, Arthur picked up his glass and began to refill it.
"You will be attending tonight, brother. And I promised your wife you wouldn't make a buffoon of yourself."
"Damn," Terence cursed, right as Arthur clunked pitcher and glass sloppily onto the table, nearly spilling water everywhere.
"Sorry, sorry, sorry," He apologized. His mind was elsewhere. Now Terence was married, too?!
"It's fine," Terence assured him, taking his glass and drinking. "How is it that you and Eileen conspire with each other, anyway? She's here less than Trebuchet, and you're never at Camelot."
Arthur nearly choked on his own saliva. To Lady Eileen?!
Lorie smiled serenely, graceful as ever. "A lady has her ways," She said cryptically.
Terence snorted into his glass as he lifted it for a drink. "Are those 'ways' at all similar to how you and Gawain sneak off when I'm not looking?"
Unshaken, Lorie smiled back, "You're only ever not looking because you're too busy looking at your wife." Her eyes twinkled, and he nearly choked on his water. After he sputtered a bit, she added, "Quite the Romeo, I hear, climbing balconies."
"Oh, spare me," Terence shook his head.
"Peace, brother. Eileen is lucky to have you." She bit into her breakfast, ladylike and poised as ever. "Now eat your food before my daughters come back and eat it for you. And do it with your mouth closed. Don't spill that over yourself, we can't have you dribbling wine onto your doublet tonight – which, by the way, I've had the tailor make you some new clothes, I'm afraid your old ones found some moths in your absence."
Terence only sighed, and tucked into a sausage. "Yes, mum. And shall I powder my face and put on that ridiculous crown, as well?"
"Only if father tells you to. Which," She popped a blueberry into her mouth, "he will."
"Don't chew with your mouth full," Terence mimicked her in a falsetto. With the air of a regal princess, she kicked his shin underneath the table.
It was at this unfortunate moment that Arthur's stomach chose to grumble loudly. While Terence grabbed at his leg and whined like a schoolboy, Lorie looked over to Arthur with a considerate expression.
"Squire Aeodan, have you eaten today?"
Arthur shuffled. "Um, just a bit of bread this morning… milady." He really must get used to addressing everyone as 'milord' and 'milady'.
"You mustn't starve yourself," Lorie said. She glanced at the breakfast tray, saw that it was practically empty, and said, "Take that tray back down to the kitchens and have Molly or one of the others find you some real food."
"Thank you, milady," He took to steps toward the exit, remembered something that he, as king, would've expected a servant to say, and paused.
"Will you need anything else, mil-" he glanced at Lorie, then back at Terence, "Terence?" He finally asked. Lorie hid a smile.
"What?" Terence obviously hadn't remembered that of course, a squire would have to ask permission to leave. (absently, Arthur wondered if Terence ever asked Gawain permission for anything) "Oh, uh, no. No, I can manage." He smiled, lounging in his chair. Lorie sent him a bit of a glare, and then told Arthur,
"If you wouldn't mind, Aeodan, after you're through with your lunch, go by the tailor and pick up Terence's clothes for tonight. He should be done with them by noon."
"Damnit," Terence hissed. Lorie kicked his shin again.
Arthur made it to the kitchens without much trouble, but the place was overrun with cooks and maids and servants, all in an uproar to prepare for the feast that night. Pynn had given him a quickly-prepared plate of bread, ham, and cheese, and shoved him outside to a spot where he wouldn't be in the way. A state dinner wasn't anything so spectacular to turn the whole kitchen on its head, but apparently it was an unspoken tradition to pull out all the stops whenever their duke returned home.
Duke. Terence was a duke. And he had nieces. He was married. Hell, Gawain was married. Gawain was Terence's brother in law. Gawain had children. Arthur shook his head, muttering. He wandered around the walls of the palace, through a gateway behind the kitchen door. On the other side, there was a lovely, quiet garden. Beyond patches of flowers, herbs, and a few fruit trees, he could see the edge of the wall that he knew would give him a view of the village and the bridge below. Just as he settled himself on a stone step to eat, two playing children rushed by him. They were very odd looking children, with pointed ears, and if he wasn't mistaken, one of them had had blue skin. He shut his eyes and shook his head again.
"This is a very strange dream," he said aloud to himself.
"It's not, though."
Arthur jumped. It was the disembodied voice from earlier. He looked around, but no one was there. "Where are you?"
The voice laughed merrily. "Nowhere you'll find, your majesty."
"You know who I am?" he asked.
"I do indeed. Arthur Pendragon, son of Uther Pendragon, bearer of Excalibur, King of England, and sulking dreamer extraordinaire."
Arthur frowned, irritated by the comment. "Who are you, and what do you want?"
"Oh, two questions at once. No need to be testy, your majesty. But, to the first, I have many names, but you may call me what you wish. To the second, I do not want anything. It was you who said he did not want to be king."
"I said that only moments before I went to sleep!"
"Yes, gave me quite the opportunity. You just looked so pathetic, lying there, I couldn't just leave you to dream sulkily, too."
"What opportunity? To give me the strangest dream I've had in years?"
"Oh, he thinks it's a dream. Oh, how quaint! A dream!" the voice dissolved in laughter, which, despite its musical, pleasant sound, was infuriating.
"What, it's not dream?" Arthur asked, and began looking around himself differently. He eyed his hands, his feet, which were not his.
"No, not a dream at all. Though it is a funny thing you thought so, considering his Grace is at Court today."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"Oh, never you mind. It's not a dream, your Majesty. You've traveled between worlds."
"Between… between what worlds?"
"Well, I assume you know the name your own country. The country where you are currently letting your lunch go stale in your lap is Avalon, home of the faeries."
Arthur's semi-stale lunch nearly dropped from his lap entirely. "A-Avalon?" He stuttered. He'd heard legends of this place, stories. The Other World. He glanced around. The castle was quite a bit smaller than he'd expected. The voice seemed to read his mind, and laughed.
"Home of his excellency the Enchanter, Seat of the Seelie Court, and, -you might've notice this bit- ruled by none other than Camelot's resident half-faery, Squire Terence.
"The Ench- hang on," Arthur whirled around, even though there was no one to whirl around to. "Terence rules this place?"
"Indeed he does. His father is, of course, superior to him, but Ganscotter has the whole Seelie Court to deal with. He has passed the burden of managing our humble corner of the world to his son. When he's in town, anyway. You keep him rather busy up at Camelot, I haven't seen him in over two months." The voice sounded bitter about that, and Arthur couldn't tell whether or not it was in jest.
"But… Ganscott- isn't he- Terence's father- but what-the other world…" Arthur paused, and puffed out his cheeks. For once, the voice laughed, and it sounded sympathetic. "But… why am I here?" he finally asked.
"Because you asked to be."
"You did. You said, and I quote, 'I think I'd like to be a knight. No, actually, not a knight. A squire, maybe. Just a servant.' You are rather indecisive about who you want to be, milord. I went back and forth between a squire and a swineherd for nearly half an hour before your chamber boy came to tuck you in a few hours ago."
"A few hours ago… Wait, so I'm asleep right now?"
"Funny, could've sworn you were awake and talking to me."
"No, but, I mean… I'm dreaming?"
"Again with the dreaming! I'll have to tell his Grace to give it a rest. No, you're quite awake, only in a different world, and with a different face."
Arthur frowned, suddenly worried with something else. "Who is this, anyway?" He asked, looking down at this clothes, his borrowed body.
"It's you, of course. Younger, I'll admit. And the nose isn't my best work," Arthur subconsciously crossed his eyes to peer down at his nose. "Ha, made you look," the voice said smugly. Arthur glared at the air. "But it's still you, I promise. Just a bit of a disguise, couldn't have everyone recognizing you. You're quite the celebrity around here, Terence brings us lovely gossip – all good, I promise. Still, I must admit I didn't know Terence would be here today. He never tells me when he's coming home, even though I've been in England all week. Awfully rude of him, don't tell him I said that."
Arthur only closed his eyes, processing. "So… you're saying this is my day off?"
"Indeed it is, milord! Enjoy your squire's freedoms while you can. And being a squire for Terence can only be a day full of nothing, he hates having people waiting on him. Gets all squidgy, fidgets, stutters, you probably noticed. Embarrassing show, really."
Arthur actually smiled, "he's used to waiting on others, not being waited on," he mused.
"So he likes telling me whenever he tries to stand up and pour the wine at dinner. He knows the difference, of course, between here and Camelot, just forgets too easily. Creature of habit, I suppose, poor man."
"So Terence has just switched roles as well, then?" Arthur asked.
"I suppose so, only opposite you." The voice chuckled. "You know, it's a nice parallel, you and Terence. You could almost see that I planned it that way. Of course I did, I planned it."
"You just said that you had no idea that Terence was-"
"Who are you, anyway?"
There was a pause, and then, "Eat your lunch, your Majesty. Soon enough, you'll have to go wrestle Terence into his dress clothes, and mark my words, that is a job in and of itself."
"He can't hate it all that much," He said, but the voice appeared to have left. Arthur looked around, suddenly conscious that he'd just been talking to the air quite loudly. It didn't appear that anyone had passed by recently, but if they had, they were likely informing their superiors of the squire who'd lost his marbles. But he could do naught, so he shrugged and ate his lunch.
After he ate, he spent an hour or two wandering around the castle. As he expected, the overlook from the inner wall was a lovely spot to see the village and the long, thin bridge beyond. The water sparkled in the noon sun, and he wondered why more people weren't out enjoying the day – probably preparing for the feast that night, he realized (it was nice knowing he wouldn't have to wear anything special and be stared at for three hours that night). He went down and wandered through the village itself, which was less of a village and more of a hub for nobles. Arthur suspected the true villages would be across the bridge back on the mainland. This one was small and affluent, craftsmen and nobles milling about. Still, there was a feel about the place that wasn't in Camelot, the feel that no one here looked down on him for being a servant. A few even tipped their heads at him. Eventually, he found his way to the tailor's shop, just down the way from the tall barracks.
"Hello?" He called, having come upon an empty shop. He could smell sun-warmed linen, and a thick red brocade hanging in the window tinted the space a summery pink. "Hello?" He called again.
"Yes, yes, sorry, sorry, here, here," a very tall man with long, silvery hair and spectacles appeared from the back room. "Hello, hello. Can I help you?"
Arthur was distracted a moment by the fact the man had pointed ears. "I, uh, yes, I've come to pick up his Grace's clothes, for tonight."
"Ah! Yes, yes, just a moment." The man turned and carefully pulled out several pieces that had been hanging behind his counter. Arthur's eyebrows shot up when he saw them, they were lovely things, he couldn't imagine why Terence wouldn't want to wear them. Blues, silvers, and muted greens, soft brocade and a quilted doublet. "Do, do I know you?" The tailor asked amiably, peering over his glasses at Arthur as he folded up the clothes.
"No, sir. I'm Aeodan," got the name right again, good, "I'm his Grace's new squire."
"A squire!" The tailor smiled, quaint laugh lines framing his mouth, "it must, it must be a stroke of humor that has carried you here, master Aeodan. Lord Terence is a Squire himself, you know, in Camelot."
Arthur smiled. "I've been told." There was a pause, as the tailor meticulously folded and stacked the pieces, careful not to crease them. "Does he like it, do you think?"
"I'm, I'm sorry?" The tailor looked up. Arthur was fairly sure he repeated himself without realizing it.
"I just wonder if Ter- if his Grace enjoys being a squire at Camelot, is all."
The tailor got a suddenly curious face. "I couldn't say, couldn't say. You'd have to ask him that, I think." He smiled one last time, and handed the bundle over to Arthur. "here you are, here you are."
"Thank you…er, I'm sorry, I never got your name," he said apologetically.
"I doubt, I doubt you would be able to pronounce it," the man said, smiling and pulling out a bolt of thread and measuring it on his table, "elven names can be difficult, even with the faery folk's sweet tongue. But you may, you may call me what the others do."
"And what's that?"
"Echo?" Arthur verified, fighting a smile.
"Yes, yes." Echo frowned. "I don't know why they chose it, it, but it's got a, a nice sound, don't you think?"
Arthur did smile, now. "It's lovely. Thank you, Echo."
"Of course, of course." Echo waved and went back to his work.
Arthur hadn't yet knocked when Terence opened the door for him. "Alright," The duke said, facing Arthur with his eyes shut, "What's the damage this time? The color, is it awful?"
"Eehhrr, I think it's alright," he said. Terence opened his eyes, and his shoulders relaxed.
"Oh, that's actually not bad at all." He took up the top of the stack, examining the soft quality of the cloth and the flattering cut. He glanced around, as if looking for someone, despite the fact that they were alone. "Bless you, Lorie," He said to the nonexistent company. And then, to Arthur, "My sister is far better in tune with my tastes than my father. Not that my father and I don't get along, we're splendid, it's just… he's a bit…" Terence squinted, trying to find the right word. "I just realized, have you met my father yet, Aeodan?"
Terence flashed a grin. "Good catch."
"Thanks. But, no, I've yet to meet him."
"Well, I won't say anything, don't want to skew your opinions. It's only, my father's tastes in color are a bit more… flamboyant than mine. Thanks for fetching these," He took the clothes and set them on the bed.
Arthur nodded, noting the muted colors of the clothes. After hesitating for a moment, he decided to go out on a limb. "Is it because you're used to being a squire?" He asked.
"Aha," Terence smiled, unbuttoning his shirt, "someone has been doing their homework. Sometimes I suspect no one takes me quite as seriously as they ought to around here, all because I have a day job," he joked.
Arthur smiled and said anyway, "Don't be ridiculous, they love you here." The comment made Terence turn and look. Arthur shrugged. "I was down in the kitchens this morning, they're all thrilled to make this dinner special for you."
"Are they?" Terence looked truly touched.
"They wanted to welcome you home."
Arthur almost wished he hadn't said anything when Terence started blinking rapidly. "Oh," he said, having a bit of a moment. He glanced at the floor, sniffing. While he did so, he caught sight of his boots. "Do you think you could polish these?" he asked, changing the subject, "I'm supposed to wear them tonight, but they've been a bit scuffed since last time." He handed Arthur the boots and resumed taking off his shirt. "I think there's a brush in the footlocker, there."
Arthur found it and began scrubbing. He really had no idea what he was doing. At least they weren't muddy boots, though. Eventually, the silence became too much, and Arthur asked:
"Do you like it?"
"Hmm? Oh, the clothes are fine, I like them perfectly."
"No, I meant, do you like being a squire?"
Terence had his undershirt pulled halfway over his head when he paused. "Yes, I think I do," his voice was muffled by the tent around his head. "Yes, I love it." He pulled the shirt completely off, and picked up the silky blue undershirt from the new clothes. "I love being a duke, I love being here, at home, with my family, seeing the people here prosper. But I love being a squire, too." He paused, and looked at his squire. "You probably think I'm ridiculous, enjoying standing up through meals and polishing armor all day."
Arthur smiled quietly. He couldn't say 'no', or he'd have to explain why not.
"It's more about the people. Squire, duke, they each have their pros and cons. Duke, I get nice clothes and a huge bed, good food and no chores. But I also have to host dinners, be stared at constantly, hold court, listen to diplomats, judge trials and sentence people for their crimes. It's a lot weighty stuff."
Arthur could sympathize.
"But the, as a squire… I have the freedom to go where I please in my free time, wear comfortable clothes, go anywhere unseen. I'm part of the furniture, so it's easy to get around, and no one looks at me. But then, I do have chores. Armor to polish, dinner to fetch, rooms to keep clean… but, you probably know all of this." Terence smiled at Arthur. Arthur didn't bother to tell him that, no, actually, he didn't. Although his day was beginning to teach him. "They're both good and bad, wrapped up in one. So the only thing that makes either better than the other is are the people." He tugged on his dress leggings, and belted them. "And I am doubly blessed; when I'm here, I am with family, my father, sister, nieces. When I'm at Camelot, I'm with Gawain, who's like a brother. My wife, Eileen, and Kai and Dinadan and… well, a lot of the knights, really, and especially Arthur."
"King Arthur?" Arthur couldn't help but feel slightly unnerved when Terence said his name without his title attached. "You're friends with him?"
Terence shrugged. "As far as formalities allow. I know him better than he thinks I do, though. Have to, part of my job."
Arthur was frowning. Even for Terence, it was a bold assumption to make. "You're not his squire, though."
"No, not like that. I'm more like his… his guardian, I suppose you could say. He doesn't know it, but a good slice of my life is spent guarding his throat. And his mind."
Suddenly, Arthur felt very, very exposed. He'd never looked down on Terence, of course. He thought he was a marvelous squire, and a good man besides. But he didn't know Terence, not very well. But now, he got the inexplicable feeling that Terence knew him, and knew him well. "W-what is that supposed to mean?" He asked. Thankfully, he didn't come across as overly inquisitive (although he was hanging on every word for explanation).
"It's a complicated job," Terence said, pulling on his doublet and buttoning it up quicker than any born-and-raised noble would've been able to. "The duty was passed onto me by a friend of mine, a mutual friend of Arthur's, actually." Arthur was about to ask who it was, when Terence's eyes shot up. "Speaking of which, I need to talk with him." Hastily, he finished putting on his clothes and finery (sans boots). "He's rarely in Avalon these days – his daughter is growing up quickly, you see, he hates missing it – but I have a few things to ask him about Camelot, need to do it before I forget." He tugged on his doublet and slapped his thighs, looking down at himself.
"Right! How do I look? Too flamboyant?" He spun as a joke, but to Arthur, it was actually quite impressive. He really did look like a duke. How earth did Terence manage to look so nondescript in squire clothes, and then like this in finery? Tall, lean, commanding, elfish. The silk shirt looked flowing and airy beneath the stiffer brocade doublet, and the cut of the doublet was slim and perfectly tailored, but most of all, the high, fitted collar (of a style that Arthur had never seen) made his neck seem so long and his cheekbones so high he almost looked like another person.
"Maybe a bit flamboyant," Arthur made it obvious that he was joking, putting aside his polishing brush, "but if it is, who will know?" Terence smiled at this, and the change transformed the face of a duke into the face of the squire that Arthur knew.
"Who indeed? Come on, then, I'll introduce you to my friend." Terence made for the door.
"You might want…" Arthur extended the boots.
"Ah. Right." Terence blushed. Embarrassment looked strange on a poised, faery lord. He put on the boots and resumed. "Come on, then. …Tell me, Aeodan, do you like stairs?"
There were quite a few stairs. Spiral stairs, the sort that made Arthur's head spin. Terence, of course, looked no worse for the wear when they'd reached the top, but Arthur was only pretending to not be out of breath. He could hear the wind whistling around the walls outside, and knew they must be very high up. In front of him, Terence knocked on a small wooden door.
"Hello?" he knocked again, "I hate to interrupt your day, but"
"Not at all, my boy," The door opened itself. Arthur's heart froze in his chest when he heard the voice behind it.
"How do you do that?" Terence asked in a frustrated tone, stomping into the room. His friend sat at a desk a good ten feet from the door he'd just opened, back turned, calmly reading a book. Arthur followed in slowly, staring at the long white hair and the hunched, robed back like he'd seen a ghost.
"A wizard must never share his ways, Terence." Terence smiled. "Now what brings you here? Shouldn't you be putting on some of that court finery that you despise?"
"I already have, actually. But I came because I've needed to talk with you – also, I've brought a friend of mine, my new squire, Aeodan."
"Squire?" the man laughed, "And so now the squires have squires. Next thing you know, they'll be sending you to-" he turned to look, and then he froze when he saw Arthur. "Aeodan," he said after a tense pause, "of course."
Slightly confused by the reaction but not put off, Terence smiled, "Ah, Aeodan, this is my friend I was telling you about-"
"Merlin," The man said for himself. He tilted his head down to look over his spectacles.
Arthur was frozen on the spot. Merlin. Really, actually Merlin. He was alive. And not just alive, he looked… younger. He still had white hair and long beard, yes, but his eyes were light, and his movements keen. He was alive, really, really alive. The only thing that kept Arthur from crying right then and there was the fact that he was supposed to be in disguise. And yet… the way Merlin was looking at him, he had the feeling it wasn't quite as thick of a disguise as he'd assumed. Eyes never leaving Arthur's, Merlin smiled knowingly.
"Quite a nose you've got there," he said, tapping the side of his nose twice. Arthur didn't look down this time. Merlin's eyes sparkled. "Aeodan," He said again, "good lad." He nodded, and slowly, hesitantly looked back up to Terence. "Now, what was it you were wanting to ask me, my boy?"
"Oh, yes," Terence was peering between the two, trying to figure out what he'd missed. He dropped the matter and said, "I was meaning to ask you about Camelot, actually. There was a spat in the unseelie court a few months ago, around Arthur, and I was wondering if you knew-"
"Arthur?" Merlin asked suddenly. Terence paused.
Merlin glanced at Arthur. "Aeodan," he said suddenly, "It has occurred to me that I have not eaten anything since breakfast. Do you think it would be too much to ask for you to fetch an old man his lunch?"
"Of course not," Arthur replied automatically, although his heart fell. He tipped his head and started for the door, trying very hard to not look back at Merlin as he left.
"Oh, and Aeodan?"
"Yes, Merlin?" He had to say it. He had to, to make it real.
Merlin smiled softly at him, and glanced once at Terence. "He'll take good care of you, you know," he nodded, indicating Terence who, for all his noble finery, looked very much a bystander in that moment. "All you have to do is make sure he doesn't get into too much trouble while he's at it." And slyly, so quickly Terence probably didn't even see, Merlin winked at him. Unable to help it despite his disappointment in being sent away, Arthur smiled back. "Yes, sir," he said.
"It's good to meet you, Aeodan,"
"Good to see you too, sir," Arthur smiled, throat feeling a bit thick. Leaving a smiling wizard and befuddled duke to talk about him behind his back, Arthur turned back toward the long flight of stairs.
He was about halfway down when he realized he'd said see instead of meet.
The banquet itself was marvelous. Despite being required to stand for the whole event, for Arthur, it was almost better that way. He got a wonderful seat to see all of the faeries and the magnificent great hall, with its vaulted ceilings and massive tables. The front table was on a raised dias, and its occupants looked fit for their place. Ganscotter, shorter than Terence but no less imposing, was the embodiment of regality and merriment. Cushioned on his throne with a generous amount of robe (apparently what Terence found flamboyant), warm reds and browns complimented his curly auburn beard and the color in his smile-wrinkled face. He wore a large crown, fashioned out of stag's antlers. It would've looked ridiculous on anyone in England, but somehow here, he was able to pull it off. Terence wore a crown similar in style, only made with much smaller buck's antlers, which partially disappeared in his hair. But the real show-stealer of the table was, of course, Lorie. Arthur wasn't entirely sure what material her dress was made out of, but if he had to guess, he would've said woven starlight. It flowed with her movements seamlessly, and several times, Arthur was pressed to find where her hair ended and her dress began, so similar were they in their silkiness and flow. A bright crown of oak leaves and flowers was braided into her hair around her head.
The room buzzed with conversation noise, but Lorie had only to stand up to catch everyone's attention, and earn complete silence.
"It is a good evening," her low, wise voice cut through the hall. "Many of you whom have travelled here we have not seen in months, others, in years, and we welcome you all warmly back. But of course the greatest welcome I may extend this evening is to my brother, Terence, who has returned once again from Camelot. It is always a pleasure to reunite with family, brother." She looked over at him, and perhaps predictably, he blushed. This made Lorie smile wider as she lifted her goblet. The whole hall stood as one and raised their glasses. Lorie began to speak, and the whole hall spoke with her, in what must have been a common blessing, "May your land be great, and your people strong. May your paths be bright, and your years long. But most of all, let your friends be close, and closer still. And tonight, let your heart be merry, at home, and peace." Finally, Terence stood as well. Ganscotter brought his son into a hug before he could reach his glass, but after, with a huge smile and a wide blush, Terence lifted his glass. "Truly," he said, "to all of you, as well. And tonight, I will." The hall gave a cheer, and took their drinks. Almost immediately, a flute and a drum struck up a tune from one corner of the hall, and the feast began.
He didn't eat a single bite, and he stood the entire time, but by the end of the night, Arthur was smiling so wide it hurt his face.
By the time Terence returned to his chambers, with Arthur in tow, he was quite ready to collapse on his bed and not think about anything else. It was a pleasant sort of exhaustion, but exhaustion all the same.
"You know, Aeodan, my father told me something fascinating at dinner tonight."
"And what's that?" Arthur juggled Terence's clothes as he was handed them.
"He told me, he never got me a squire."
Arthur froze, stock still. Then, the shirt started to fall of the pile, and he had to lunge to catch it. "Oh?" he asked. "That's… odd."
"It is," Terence hung his crown up on a doorknob and turned to peer at Arthur. "Who hired you to be my squire?" He didn't sound in any way hostile, only curious.
"I don't know, Terence." And really, he didn't.
Terence peered at him. "Do you think I'll see you tomorrow, Aeodan?"
"I don't know." He didn't know that, either.
Terence nodded this time, smiling slightly. "And… do you think we'll ever see each other again?"
This time he did know, he swallowed. "I don't know," He lied. Terence crossed his arms and crossed the space between them, bending slightly to look right into Arthur's eyes, searching for something. When he found it, he nodded.
"Aye, you've got the look about you. It' s new, though, but I'll still know it when I see it." He quirked an eyebrow up at that, and huffed a small laugh. "Well, whoever hired you, I'm glad they did."
"As am I, Terence." He said. He wasn't sure what Terence had meant by 'the look', but he wasn't sure he ought to ask.
"You've been good company today. And, as I said, company is what makes any life worthwhile," Terence hoisted himself into bed. "and whether or not I see you any time soon, I shall be sure to remember you, Aeodan. After all, who could forget the Squire's Squire?"
After he'd cleared up Terence's clothes and snuffed the candles, Arthur made it back downstairs, through the kitchen, (where no one seemed to see him ) and out the door. Even Cuchulain didn't see him as he passed through the gates and onto the long, stone bridge. He wasn't quite to the mainland when suddenly, someone said,
"Quite a day off, your Majesty." Arthur whirled, and this time, there was a face to the voice. A small, greenish man, standing on the rail of the bridge. Even though the rail was at least three feet taller than where Arthur stood, their eyes remained level. "Nice to finally make your acquaintance." At Arthur's dumbfounded expression, the sprite giggled. "Have you enjoyed being a squire?" he asked.
"I…yes. Yes, I suppose. I have learned quite a bit today."
The faery laughed again. "I'd wager so. And are you ready to be a king once more, or have you not had your fill of squiring? Is squiring a word? Oh, no matter. You know, I do still have that swineherd disguise on hand, if you want to-"
"No, I'm ready to be king again."
"Really?" the sprite seemed surprised. "I was thinking you'd be here for another day, if not two. Boot polishing a step too far, eh?" he asked.
"No, not at all. Being a squire is fine. It's only… I think I've learned that being a king, despite everything… that's where I need to be." The sprite scoffed.
"It's astounding, I step in to have a bit of fun, and you come back a philosopher. I should become a wren more often, I think."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Oh, did you not recognize me?" The sprite leaped into the air, and flew back down as a wren, the very same one that had been warbling in Arthur's windowsill the night before. Arthur gaped, but said nothing, so the wren few up and came back down as the sprite. "Oh, no? Okay, well, what about-" and suddenly he changed entirely, grew taller, with grey hair and a matronly figure and a feminine Irish voice. "What about now, laddie? Surely you wouldn't forget your dear old auntie," He smiled.
"That was… you?" Arthur was still gaping. The faery jumped and came back down himself, cackling delightedly. "Who are you?" Arthur gasped.
"As I say, your Majesty, I go by many names, so call you what you please. However, my name in Avalon has always been Robin Goodfellow." He bowed with a flourish.
"Robin…" Arthur was thinking, hard. The name sounded horribly familiar. "Wait a minute," He said suddenly remembering. "Goodfellow! Merlin's told me about you. You're the one they call Puck!" He pointed an accusing finger.
"In England, yes, they quite like that one. Speaking of England," he hopped back up onto the railing of the bridge to be on Arthur's height once more. "Goodnight, your Majesty." He poked Arthur on the forehead, right between his eyes, and the king tipped backwards.
Suddenly, Arthur was falling through clouds, and when he landed, it sounded oddly like pillows.
Arthur sat up straight, and looked around. He was in his bed, and so was his wife. He was still in his day clothes, for some reason. It was only barely light outside. As he moved out of bed, Guinevere stirred.
"Yes, my dear?"
"Is something amiss?" She asked, squinting into the barely-lit sky. "You usually sleep in past the sun," she smiled at him. He shook his head.
"No, nothing's wrong my dear, go back to sleep." She frowned, but nodded and turned over. Arthur sat at the edge of the bed. No, nothing was wrong. Nothing was wrong. He was only up because his mind was whirling with the most vivid of dreams. …It was a dream, wasn't it? But there was something else, too. A new… thought. Something. At the very tip of his mind, but he couldn't quite understand it…
Arthur bit his lip, thought for a moment, got up and headed to his study.
None of the knights were sure why Arthur insisted on all of them gathering 'round for dinner, but that night, the king hosted his closest nights to a private feast, full of laughter, and argument, and talk, and a bit of song, from Dinadan.
"You seem well, milord," Gawain commented as he took his seat a few chairs down from the king. "But just yesterday, you were a dead man walking. To what do we owe the overnight transformation?"
Arthur wasn't entirely sure how to respond. "Sound sleep and a good dream," he replied. "And, I suspect, something of a revelation."
Gawain, unused to cryptic replies from his king, merely shrugged, smiled, and said, "Well, a toast to all three, then," and lifted his glass to the health of the king. The rest of the knights followed suit.
It was the middle of the second course when Terence finally appeared. Gawain looked momentarily surprised when he did, but the squire only shot him a secret smile and took up his space behind Gawain. When he stepped forward to refill Gawain's goblet, the two shared a quick exchange, involving some whispered explanations and nodding. During their distraction, a shine near the floor caught Arthur's eye, and he did a double take when he realized that Terence was wearing the same faery, sloppily-polished boots as he'd had on the night before. Arthur could feel his jaw begin to drop, but he snapped it shut again when Terence stepped back from the table.
So it hadn't been a dream.
A dozen different moments from the day before flooded his memory, and Arthur had to bite back a smile.
They're both good and bad, wrapped up in one. So the only thing that makes either better than the other is the people.
Clearing his throat, Arthur waited for his knights' attention, and he raised his glass. "I'm sure all of you are wondering why I asked you to share dinner with me tonight, but the answer is actually quite simple." He looked from one knight to the next. "We all live very blessed lives, as kings, knights, lords, dukes," He couldn't help it when his eyes flicked to Terence, though thankfully the man was distracted, helping a kitchen maid with a platter of food, "we are trapped by codes of honor, chivalry. We have laws, and duties, and routines, all a part of our lives. But I thought, tonight, we could dine together apart from duty and routine, and instead, as friends. That is the only reason I have you all here tonight, is because you are my friends. Your company makes my life brighter. I only wished to acknowledge it, while we are all here together."
A dead silence followed his short speech. Unused to such open emotion from their king, the table of knights hesitated to do or say anything. Arthur merely nodded his head. Then, Gawain stood, and lifted his glass.
"Then, we thank you, milord, and may this best of company be for you what you are for us."
"Here, here!" Kai raised his glass. The whole table toasted, and as they drank and slowly moved on into the next course, as knights looked around to see what food they might try, or who they might strike up a debate with next, in all the chatter, Arthur's gaze passed over Terence, and Terence's passed over Arthur at the exact same time, and for a moment, they were looking eye-to-eye. Just as Terence's gaze was about to move on, his eyes widened, and snapped back to Arthur. There was that piercing gaze again, just like the night before.
"Aye, you've got the look about you,"
Arthur broke off the look before Terence did, and pretended not to feel the Squire's eyes drilling into his head for the rest of the night. Occasionally, he did glance over to see Terence trying to look not so bewildered, squinting into the distance, mental cogs running wildly trying to put the pieces together.
Gawain was one of the very last knights to leave, and even to the late hours, Terence remained dutifully behind him. But then the king and his nephew embraced and Gawain yawned widely, and Terence joked about it being past Gawain's bedtime. Gawain shoved Terence's head for the comment, and while Terence grinned cheekily about it, the knight swaggered toward the door. "Come on then, mum," he said.
"I'll be there soon enough," Terence told him, and moved to help clean up the dishes left behind. Arthur still sat quietly in his seat. Terence glanced at him a few times before he said, "It was good of you to do this, your Majesty," he said, stacking plates. "I know Gawain has missed seeing you for so long, like this."
Arthur smiled. "I've missed it as well, I think."
Terence nodded slowly, and then, carefully, said, "If you don't mind my asking, Sire… what prompted you?"
Arthur smiled. Squinting, he said, "I had an… interesting dream last night." He said. Terence frowned fractionally, but eventually nodded and carried on cleaning up. He'd just stacked up three plates and Gawain's goblet when Arthur stood and moved to leave.
"A good night to you, your Majesty," Terence bowed as best he could while holding a stack of dishes. Arthur nodded back.
"And to you, Terence." He paused at the door, and turned. "oh, and by the way, Terence, I finally figured it out,"
Terence was clearly confused. "What's that, Sire?"
"Robin Goodfellow," he said.
Terence's froze completely. Watching Arthur's eyes very carefully, still confused but catching on, he said, "What?" Arthur only smiled.
"Robin Goodfellow, he's the one who hired me."
Three plates and one goblet dropped to the floor in a crash.