Guinevere groaned slightly as she felt her head start to pound. She opened her eyes and then immediately shut them again, blocking out the light pouring in from the giant windows. She stretched a bit and then pulled the covers around her, burrowing into the bed again. She'd tell Elaina not to bother her for a few more hours when the maid came in to wake her.
"Why are there so many windows?" she murmured.
"Perhaps some curtains would help… been thinking that myself," a voice answered.
"Curtains would be good," Guinevere replied, feeling herself start to drift off again. Her eyes then flew open as she sat straight up in bed and looked around the room. She didn't recognize it - it definitely wasn't her room. She then turned and saw Arthur smirking at her from a chair.
"Why did you bring me here?" she asked, pulling the covers up to her neck.
"Relax. You're still dressed," he said.
"You didn't answer my question," she said, though lowering her voice. She didn't want the servants to hear.
"Well… after you told me about the nightmares, I decided to try an experiment. See if you would sleep better if you were in a different room. It was late, we were both rather drunk, so I brought you here rather than calling a servant to ready a new room in the middle of the night," he said. Guinevere sucked in her breath as she stared at him.
"I told you… about the nightmares?" she asked softly. He nodded, his brow furrowed in concern. "I didn't mean to tell you that."
"I wish you would have told me sooner," he said, leaning forward in the chair he was sitting in. "Why didn't you ask to be moved to a different room?"
"I didn't want to be a bother," she said simply. "Besides, I'm sure it wouldn't have mattered. I'd have them no matter where I stayed."
"You didn't last night," he said.
"Well… that's probably because I was drunk," she said.
"Very well… then you'll stay here again tonight and we'll see if you have them without being drunk," he said, crossing his arms. Guinevere rolled her eyes. "Or if you prefer, we can move you to another set of rooms."
"It's not that simple, Arthur," she said, starting to rub her forehead. "But I suppose I prefer new rooms to the scandal that would break out by staying again in yours."
"You'll never know unless you try," he said. "It's that or I can get you drunk again."
"I'm not sure I want to be that drunk again," she groaned.
"You seemed to enjoy it last night," he said with a smirk. Guinevere glared at him. "Don't worry, I was a perfect gentleman. You just… really enjoyed talking." Guinevere's eyes widened.
"What the bloody hell did I say besides the nightmares?" she asked. "No. Don't tell me. I'd rather not know what embarrassing things I said."
"You told me a rather entertaining story about your father and some nearby landowners," he said, leaning back in his chair. Guinevere thought back, vaguely remembering sitting on a barrel while attempting to re-enact her father leaping out of the house with a bow and arrow.
"Oh… well that's not bad," she said. She thought back further in the night. She remember laughing and stumbling down the road. She had wanted to ride, but Arthur was worried she'd fall off the horse.
The conversation about marriage. Her cheeks flushed as she looked up at the king, who was smiling.
"Was that you remembering when you said I was handsome?" he asked.
"You proposed to me while drunk?" she nearly shouted.
"I wouldn't call it an actual proposal, just… testing the waters," he said. "I meant it when I said I wasn't ready to marry just yet." Guinevere dropped her face into her hands. "Suppose it doesn't matter though, you seemed quite adamant in your refusal." She glanced up at him, noting that underneath his usual cocky smile, there was a hint of something.
Was Arthur upset that she had said no? She banished the thought from her mind.
"I meant what I said as well. I just met you. And I'll only marry for love," she replied.
"I remember. And you don't love me," he said.
"Well… not yet anyway. But at this point, I don't see how I could," she said, crossing her arms in front of her as she frowned.
"Ah, back to detesting me, are you?" he asked.
"I never detested you," she said softly. "Still don't."
"But you could never love me?" Arthur asked. Guinevere groaned and threw herself back on the bed.
"I don't know," she said, covering her face with her hands. "I'm just… so confused about everything right now." Arthur stood and sighed.
"Well, perhaps a bit more sleep will help. I'll leave you to it and send your maid here to help you get ready in time for lunch," he said, smiling. Guinevere nodded silently and watched him as he walked out, unsure if it were even possible to fall back asleep.
"You're both looking rather tired," Bedivere commented as Guinevere and Arthur sat down next to him in the Great Hall for lunch. Guinevere froze slightly as her eyes widened and a flush came over her face.
"I had trouble sleeping," she said quickly before turning to look towards the plates of food that were being placed in front of her, her stomach turning slightly. She wasn't sure if she'd be able to eat.
"Same here," Arthur said, though an easy grin had spread across his face. Tristan and Mike snickered from his other side. Guinevere was suddenly very interested in the fruit on her plate, studying it closely before picking up a piece and eating it.
At that moment a large amount of noise broke out. Everyone looked up as the doors to the Great Hall swung open and a large party walked in. At the front was an elderly, stately man. His face broke out into a relieved grin as his eyes fell on Guinevere. She leapt her to feet, her face coming alive. For the moment, her hangover was pushed aside.
"Father!" she shouted. She then ran around the table and quickly made her way to the man, leaping into his arms as her vision blurred with tears. He held her fiercely as tears began to swim in his own eyes.
"I thought I'd never see you again," he whispered to her. Guinevere closed her eyes, momentarily overwhelmed by having her father finally there.
"I did as well," she said softly. Leopold stepped back and looked at her, smiling. He cupped her face.
"When I got your letter, we set out straight away," he said. "I'm so sorry I didn't come sooner, my dear girl," he said softly.
"You didn't know, Father," she said. "And even if you had tried, I don't think he would have let you near me."
"But I should have tried," he said, his face turning dark. "I should have rode over here with my army and demanded he hand you back over."
"Father, he would have destroyed you," she said, her eyes in fear for a moment. Leopold was struck by horror that was apparent in her blue eyes. Just as suddenly as it appeared, Guinevere blinked and smiled.
"It's over and done with. Let's not dwell," she said. "Come. Let me introduce you to the new king." She hugged her father again and then led him over to the main table. "May I present my father, Lord Leopold. Father, this is King Arthur."
Arthur stood and quickly walked around to the lord.
"It is the greatest pleasure to meet you," Arthur said, smiling as he walked over.
"You as well, your highness," Leopold said, bowing gracefully. "I've been hearing great things about you."
"Please, it's just Arthur," the young king said, obviously trying to contain laughter. No doubt thinking about the story Guinevere had told him the night before. Leopold looked up at him, an amused smile on his face.
"I take it you have been taking good care of my daughter?" he asked, glancing down at Guinevere.
"Of course," he replied. "She's been a welcomed guest." Guinevere blushed slightly, looking down to the ground.
"So I see," Leopold said, noting Guinevere's face. "Come now, daughter. Why don't you show me around the palace. We have some catching up to do."
"Yes, Father," she said, looking up at him.
"We'll have your rooms made ready," Arthur said, looking around for a servant.
"Excellent. Come on, Guinevere," Leopold said, holding his arm out. Guinevere took it and led him off.
Arthur quickly set about making arrangements with a servant and took his seat again. He sighed as he started to eat again.
"So… Lord Leopold has arrived," Bedivere said casually.
"Yes," Arthur said.
"And I suppose they will leave shortly after the coronation," Bedivere continued.
"That is the plan," Arthur said, still not looking at him.
"And you can't think of any reason she should stay?" Bedivere asked.
"I've certainly thought of many," Arthur replied. He froze as he heard Bedivere chuckle. He slowly scowled at his knight.
"I've just noticed that you've been spending a lot of time with her the past few days," Bedivere said. "And was wondering if perhaps you had found a reason to get her to stay."
"She's made up her mind. She wants to go back to her father's land and help run it. Vortigern kept her prisoner here for a year. I'll not force her to stay if she doesn't want to."
"What makes you think she doesn't want to?" Bedivere asked.
"The fact that she talks constantly of going back," Arthur said with a sigh. Bedivere nodded.
"Maybe… something will come up," Bedivere said.
"I doubt that," Arthur said resignedly. "It seems that Lady Guinevere is the type of person that once she's made up her mind, there's no changing it."
"So, I see you've been entertaining our new king," Leopold said, casting a glance down at his daughter as they walked through the palace gardens.
"He's been rather entertaining," Guinevere said. "He's nothing like a king."
"I suppose not. Not with his upbringing," Leopold commented.
"I think it's good," Guinevere said, looking up at her father. "He knows the people. He grew up among them. I think it will help. He will capture their hearts and therefore their loyalty."
"Has he captured your heart?" her father asked, causing Guinevere to sputter a bit.
"He's… we've… he's a friend," she said. "Nothing more." Leopold chuckled.
"So I see," he replied. Guinevere rolled her eyes.
"Besides, we both know I'm needed back on our lands. With you," she said. Leopold stopped walking and turned to face his daughter.
"Guinevere. Do not use me as an excuse. The lands are more than capable of running themselves and I can steer them for many more years to come. If you want to stay, then you should stay," he said. Guinevere blinked.
"But… I've spent my entire life learning how to run our lands, Father," she said.
"I've been teaching you to be a leader, Guinevere. You can do that here," he said firmly.
"But what if I don't want to? I've not mentioned wanting to stay," Guinevere shot back. "What if I want to go back with you?" Leopold sighed.
"You must do what you want," he said. "That's all I ask." Guinevere started walking.
"And that's what I'll do," she said firmly. Leopold chuckled.
"I have no doubt," he said. Guinevere stopped and looked at her father, unable to keep up the light banter.
"I can't stay here," she said softly. "I don't want to get into it now, but… just believe me." Her father looked down at her, worry filling his eyes. He took a deep breath and patted her hand on his arm.
"I understand. I won't push you on the matter," he said softly. They continued walking in silence a bit. "So… what have you been filling your days with?"
"Reading, getting to know the people on Arthur's council. Helping Arthur," she said, her eyes fixed on the garden.
"Helping? How so?" he asked. Guinevere shrugged.
"Mostly just advising him on the finer details of royal life," she said. "There's a lot he hasn't experienced."
"How kind of you," her father replied.
"It's something to pass the time. And he's not so bad once you get passed the rough exterior," she mused. "The castle certainly has taken on a new atmosphere."
"I can see. It seems more… lively," Leopold said looking around. "I hope this is a sign that things are returning to a happier time. I always did enjoy visiting when his father was on the throne." Guinevere looked over at him.
"One of his knights mentioned that. You and Mother would come to the palace often," she said. He nodded.
"The king would often seek our council on matters," he said. Guinevere returned to looking around the gardens. Her father led her over to a bench and they sat. "I would bring you with me after your mother passed."
"Is that so?" Guinevere asked, her brow furrowed. He chuckled.
"Yes, up until… well, until Vortigern took power. Then I kept you far away from here," he said. "Even though you probably don't remember much, but you enjoyed our visits. The young Arthur, he was rather taken with you even though you were both just tots."
Guinevere snorted slightly.
"Why am I not surprised?" she muttered.
"His father and I were actually working on a betrothal," Leopold admitted. Guinevere's eyebrows flew up as she gasped and looked over at her father.
"What?!" she exclaimed. "How could you?"
"Oh please, Guinevere. We never finished it. Not with everything that happened. But the plan was to have you to the palace often so you two could grow up together. Be familiar with each other so that when the time came it wouldn't be so awkward," he said, still chuckling. "Though I suppose it's better that it worked out this way. Seeing how you've grown and the person you've become, I've no doubt that you would fight me tooth and nail to get out of it."
"You are absolutely right. Arranged marriage… I can't believe you," she said, looking away as she scowled.
"Would you stop, Guinevere. I've seen the errors of my ways and managed to make up for it by raising you to be as independent as I could," he said, still chuckling. She glanced at him and then smiled.
"Fine," she said, rolling her eyes slightly. "So, we have a few more days until the coronation. What shall we do?"
"Well, I was thinking it might do to see about your dresses," her father said. "Figured you'd like have some alterations made to follow the new fashions and such."
"What's that matter to me? I doubt they've changed much in a year," she said with a slight huff.
"Oh, well, I guess I should have told Mistress Randall to stay at the estate then," her father said off-handedly. Guinevere's eyes widened as she looked to him. She loved the seamstress from their village dearly.
"She's here?" Guinevere said, grinning. Her father nodded a small smile on his face. "Why didn't you say so?" She jumped to her feet, dragging her father with her. "Come on! We both know she hates to be kept waiting!"
"It'll need to be taken in a bit," the plump woman with frizzled bright red hair said, taking a step back and studying Guinevere in the deep red dress meant to be worn at the coronation.
"But it's so lovely! Especially against your skin," Mary exclaimed. Guinevere had sent for the women on their way to her (apparently new) rooms located on the other side of the palace. Arthur had her things moved and situated in a large compartment where she had a private sitting room. She had to admit, they were much nicer than where she had been held prisoner and weren't too far from her father's rooms. Or Arthur's as she noted to herself silently. She figured that was on purpose.
"Though… it needs something," Alexandra said, tilting her head to the side. Mistress Randall glanced at the woman and then back at Guinevere.
"You've a good eye. I was just thinking the same thing," the seamstress said. She walked over and made a slow circle around Guinevere. "Perhaps a small train would do."
"That would be lovely," Alexandra said, smiling.
"What do you think, my lady?" Mistress Randall asked, knowing nothing would be done to the dress unless the lady agreed. Guinevere stepped over to a mirror and slowly turned in front of it, taking in the dress from different angles.
"I think that would do nicely," she said.
"Good. Now, off with that one and now for the dress you'll wear to the feast," the older woman said, walking over and pulling out a beautiful blue silk gown gently from the open trunk that seemed to be overflowing with dresses. Guinevere was silently grateful that Mistress Randall had insisted on packing several things for her along with the gowns for the coronation. She was in need of new things to wear.
The women's eyes widened as they took in the gown.
"Oh," Mary uttered as she stepped towards it. "I've never seen anything more beautiful."
Guinevere smiled as she stepped behind a screen and Elaina quickly stepped up to help her out of her dress.
"Oh, I've waited for the right moment to bring this one out for the lady. It's my pride and joy," Mistress Randall said as she held it up.
"It's perfect for the coronation feast. Arthur won't be able to take his eyes off you," Mary said, her eyes still taking in the gown. Guinevere snorted.
"That's hardly the point," Guinevere said, though she was thankful that she was hidden behind the screen as she felt her cheeks warm.
"He can't keep his eyes off milady anyway," Elaina said, smiling. In just the few days she had been working with Guinevere, she had been encouraged to speak her mind.
"Elaina," Guinevere chided.
"But it's true!" the young girl said as she stepped out and laid the red dress down and took the blue from Mistress Randall. The older woman shared a knowing look with the four women standing there grinning.
"A king does need a queen," Mistress Randall said.
"Not you too!" Guinevere shouted from behind the screen, causing the women to all start laughing. "I'm serious! I intend to go back to the estate and run my father's lands!"
"But just think of all the fun we could have if you stayed with us!" Mary shouted. Guinevere huffed as she stepped around from the screen.
"I intend to run my father's lands. I am the only heir after all," she said, her hands on her hips. The five women were all standing there, mouths gaping. "What?!"
Mistress Randall had a sheen of tears in her eyes and she brought her hand up to her mouth.
"Sakes alive, you are the vision of your mother," she said softly.
"Are you sure you want to run your father's lands? Looking like that I think you could run the entire country," Louisa said softly. Guinevere looked down at the dress and then up at the mirror. She had to admit, it was the most beautiful thing she had ever worn. She smiled slightly, turning a bit. It was a sapphire blue and fitted until her hips where it flowed down around her feet. Her shoulders were exposed while the long sleeves were fitted, a bit unlike the current fashion that required mostly long, billowy sleeves.
"Oh, I nearly forgot," Mistress Randall said as she walked towards the trunk and pulled out a filmy cape. She walked up to Guinevere and fitted in on her shoulders. The top was lace and fitted into the top of the dress while the sheer cape flowed down. She then stepped back, taking in the full affect. "Queen or no, you certainly look like one."
Guinevere was slightly speechless as she took everything in. Finally, she cleared her throat and found her voice.
"I think… perhaps… perhaps I should wear my hair down," she finally said. Mistress Randall stepped up to her.
"I agree and, your father asked that I pack something for you," she said. She stepped over to another truck and pulled out a velvet box. Stepping back over to Guinevere, she gently opened it, revealing a delicate silver diadem inside set with small diamonds. Guinevere's eyes widened as she gasped softly. "It was your mother's." Guinevere reached out and gently ran her fingers over it.
"It's beautiful," she whispered.
"She wanted you to have it," Mistress Randall said, grinning at her as her eyes filled with tears. Guinevere nodded as she slowly closed it.
"I think it will do nicely with the dress," she said, smiling at the seamstress and trying to keep her own tears in check. "Now, I think we've settled everything with my dresses. I'm sure there is much that could be done before dinner." She quickly stepped back behind the screen as Elaina started helping her out of the dress. She wiped at her eyes while out of view of everyone, not wanting them to see her tears.
"Don't worry, Lady Guinevere. I won't tell them," Elaina whispered. Guinevere smiled down at her.
"Thank you," she said softly.
Guinevere was in the sitting room, curled up on the sofa in front of the fire reading later that night when she heard a soft knock at the door. Truth be told, she had been expecting it, which is why she was still up. She stood from the sofa, pulling her new dressing gown around her as she walked over and pulled it open, seeing Arthur smiling on the other side.
"Good to see you've remembered some of your manners," she said softly as she stepped aside and let him in.
"Good to see you didn't slap me this time," he said as she shut the door. "Are the new rooms to your liking?" Guinevere watched as he walked over and sat on the sofa, placing two goblets and ale down on a side table.
"Very much. Thank you," she said, walking over and sitting on the other side of the sofa, allowing a fair amount of space in between them. "I'm not sure how much help it will be just yet, but we shall see."
"There is always the other option," he said, pouring the ale. Guinevere snorted.
"I'll not spend another night in your rooms. Especially with my father just down the hall. I dare say poor Elaina was scandalized enough having to fetch me from them this morning," she said as he handed on to her.
"I meant getting you drunk," he said, smirking. Guinevere rolled her eyes.
"I don't intend on that either," she said. "My father will expect me at breakfast and I'd rather not have to explain why I'm sluggish or look hungover." Arthur smiled and held his cup out and she gently clinked hers against his.
"Shame," he said, taking in the long braid that sat over her shoulder. "Though I suppose I'll make due with what I can."
"So how was running the country today? Deal with anymore Vikings?" Guinevere asked.
"No, no more Vikings for now. Mostly just details for the coronation," he said. "Incredibly boring business. All that work just to put a crown on my head." Guinevere laughed softly. "What?"
"Nothing, just… I suppose you would think something like a coronation didn't need such planning," she said, smiling. "I've already spent the afternoon with my seamstress from home trying on the two gowns I'll wear."
"Two? Why do you need two?" Arthur asked, genuinely confused. Guinevere laughed again.
"Be glad that you are not a woman, Arthur," she replied. "For a lady does not wear the same gown to a coronation and then the coronation feast."
"Still stuck on the lady thing, are we?" he asked, raising one eyebrow.
"More so now that I am under the watchful eye of my father. Not that he really cares that much," she said.
"I was about to say. Wasn't he the one who brought you up in such an unconventional way?" Arthur quipped.
"I dare say even this would cause him pause," Guinevere said with a chuckle.
"Should I leave then?" Arthur asked, though he made no move to do so.
"Of course not," Guinevere said. "There is too much ale left." The two settled into a companionable silence for a few moments before Guinevere glanced at him and spoke.
"So what comes after the coronation?" she asked. "I assume there must be something else besides that that you've been working on." Arthur chuckled.
"Of course there is. Been working on setting up my council. And delegating. There's a lot to be done to clean up the mess Vortigern made and it's too much for just me to figure out. I need to determine who will be in charge of what and send them out to inspect the towns and villages and such," he said, sounding as though he were already tired just thinking about it. Guinevere nodded slowly.
"It is of the utmost importance then that you choose wisely for your council," she said.
"It is. But, I have good men - and women - around me. I've no doubt they'll do their best," he replied. "Tell me, what is the first thing you'll do when you arrive back home?" he asked, taking her by surprise.
"Probably ride out and see to the lands," she said. "It's been too long. A few of the farmers' wives were expecting when I left. I should like to see how they are carrying on. A few of the maidens were betrothed. I just… want to see all of them again. See what I've missed."
"You really do care for the people on your lands," Arthur said. Guinevere nodded.
"There was one young woman - her name is Annie. I've known her since she was little as I would spend time playing with her whenever I rode out with my father even as a child. She spent years pining after a man from the next farm over. Every spring at the village festival, she would just sit and wait for him to ask her to dance, dressed in her best gown with flowers in her hair. They had known each other since children as well and she had decided when they were just 9 or 10 or so that he would be the one that she married," Guinevere said, getting lost in the story.
"And did they?" Arthur asked. She glanced at him with a smile.
"One spring, she walked into the festival wearing this beautiful dress of light blue that she had spent all year making herself. And when this man saw her, it was like… he was seeing her for the first time. He asked her to dance and they spent the entire festival at each other's side. A few months later - after a proper courting, mind you - he finally did ask for her hand. They were set to be wed shortly after the harvest," she replied. He leaned closer.
"Tell me more," he said. Guinevere smiled as she launched into another story about another villager.
Arthur studied her, watching as her face lit up while she spoke about the many people who lived on the lands. She missed her home, he could see that much. And he knew in that moment, he couldn't ask her to stay. But, it also gave him an idea of something they could do while she was here.
"Do you have any plans tomorrow, Gwen?" he asked when she had paused. Guinevere frowned at him slightly over the use of her nickname, though it was tempered by a slight smile.
"No, why?" she asked cautiously.
"Just thought maybe you would like to accompany me on a tour of the village and farms around the castle," he said. "I haven't been out much since, well, since I came here and I don't know about you, but I'm feeling a bit cooped up. Wouldn't hurt to get out and maybe talk to some folks."
Guinevere looked towards the fire a moment, before she grinned and looked back at him.
"I should like that very much," she said. Arthur nodded and smiled.
"Then it's settled."
Apologies that it's taken me so long to update. I've been caught up on finishing my HP book (it's done! But now to start on book 7...) that I haven't had much time to work on this one. I had about half of this chapter written for awhile, but finally finished it.
Thanks for reading, and special thanks to all the new followers!