Chapter 1 (1 Year Later)
It feels like, after all that Camelot goes through, in the end, it never changes. Merlin is still Arthur's servant, Arthur is still Prince Prat, I'm still a seamstress, and Castor still hasn't learnt to make his own bed.
But underneath the surface, everything is changing. It's a hidden rip current on the beach but the surface appears calm. People who don't see the signs, who don't know the water would swim out to it, getting dragged in but the others; they can see it.
I'm someone who knows the water.
Arthur looks like he hasn't changed, acts like he did when we first met him but the makings of a king show through. Small things. The decisions he makes, the way he leads his men.
Merlin is more confident in his magic. He's been practising whenever he has the chance and every now and then I would see him use it, right in front of people but so subtle that nobody would notice except for me because I know what to look for.
Leon, Castor, and I have returned to a somewhat normal state. It would almost be like before but there's still the missing piece of our lost knight, Torj.
And then there's me. The same little seamstress.
But I'm not.
Hidden under my bed in a chest is a guard's uniform. Everything from the tunic, the chainmail and most importantly the helmet. After practising for the past year through many long nights with Arthur and Castor I wanted to put those skills to the test. Surprisingly, Castor is a great teacher as well, took his lessons seriously and never held back as Arthur and Gwaine would. It challenged me in ways I never thought I needed but apparently, I did.
For the first six months, I trained every single night, either by myself with the dummies or with either man. Then I stole the guard's uniform six months ago and started posing as one.
Now, I would much rather be a knight. I long to wear their cloak but two things held me back. One, being that fact that Knights are prestigious, and the men have earned that title. It would belittle their years of efforts and training, insulting them. And two, I need to wear a helmet, or everybody would see me.
I've kept my hair on the shorter side, letting me wrap it up to fit underneath the metal. Because nobody knows who I am when I wear it, it gives me the luxury of choosing which orders I want to follow. All I have to do is ask Leon or Arthur what is happening and if something interesting is happening I just slip in unnoticed, the uniform hiding almost all features that one can use to identify something. But my mouth and eyes are still visible, and even under all the armour, the femininity of my face shows through, so I keep away from those who know me well enough.
It also gave me some problems when travelling over a long period of time as I couldn't take off the helmet and this is where my creative side came out. Because of my anonymity, I could slip away from the camp with a simple 'going to the bathroom' mutter to whoever is nearby and when I don't show back up, nobody really noticed. I would end up sleeping a little way from the camp but in case of not being able to, I can sleep in my helmet and use the excuse that I fell asleep before I could take it off.
It is my one dirty little secret. Something just for me. Absolutely nobody, not even Merlin knew of my little adventures. I used them to get experience, test myself and keep my skills sharp.
I spent more time than usual down at the training grounds, watching and listening for their techniques, studying the way they move and then take those skills and practice with them late into the night.
"And you call this…CPR?" Gaius checks, bent over Merlin who is lying on the medical bed to help me with my demonstration. I'm almost certain he volunteered just to try and sneak in a nap, but unfortunately for him, he had no idea that CPR is a…physical practice. Of course, we didn't do the entire movement.
"Yes," I affirm.
I have just finished teaching Gaius the CPR technique which I know isn't invented until the twentieth century and I figure that giving him some modern help wouldn't affect the future too much. If it gets out – so what, people just know CPR from earlier on.
"And remember, if you're doing it right, you're probably going to break some ribs," I add.
"I've got to get going, Arthur is going to have my head for being late," Merlin grunts, pushing off the bed. "We're leaving to find the troops that left and haven't come back."
Uther has been in a frenzy for the last year, sending every man Camelot could spare on the hopeless mission of searching for Morgana. There's been no sight of her, nothing to go off and we've already lost many men as we wander into territory overtaken with bandits.
"Oh," I say, keeping my face still. "Are you leaving today?"
"Yeah, in about an hour."
"Well stay safe," Gaius says, putting away his things.
Merlin nods, walking out of the chambers and I wave goodbye to Gaius. As soon as Merlin is out of the corridor, I start jogging back to my room.
I slam the door shut behind me, almost tearing the dress as I pull it off, tossing it in my wardrobe and it lands in a bunch that I know is going to leave horrid creases.
I pull the chest out from under my bed, pulling on the uniform, holding the helmet by my side. I strap my sword to my side. I know it's a stupid risk, using my own sword which can be identified by the green gem, but I've never used another one in battle and I have the stupid fear that if I were to use a different sword, all my gained skill will fly out the window. Like, all the instincts I've developed are held in the sword itself and not in me.
The guard's uniform is terribly unattractive, but I have to push down any sense of care for appearance down. It helps me avoid anybody I knew, feeling odd in the tunic and helmet and I didn't want them to see me. That sounds sort of vain, but I'm used to being feminine.
Being a general guard means I travel on foot and as I gather with the other men ordered to come on the patrol, I spare envious glances at the knights and even Merlin who mount their horses. It's the cost of being able to fight in actual battles and not just training.
I had tried to come along as 'Elena' before, but Arthur flat out refused, and I even received an earful in front of all the men when I went after them anyway. A humiliating experience that ended my want to go not undercover.
I am still able to go not undercover on smaller patrols, ones that weren't thought to be leading to fighting and it usually only included Merlin, Arthur and maybe a knight or two.
We get into formation and begin marching out of Camelot.
I'm behind a horse. A very familiar horse. The black Friesian's hoofs click against the stone road and my eyes widen as I realise, I've formed up behind Leon. I calm myself, assuring that the helmet will hide enough, especially at the angle of being on the ground. I hadn't been recognised before, but I've had a few close calls.
My mouth opens slightly in shock as I look over the battlefield. Or what is now a graveyard of Camelot soldiers. A red sea, a mix of the Pendragon colour and the blood of the men covering my entire field of vision.
"Check for survivors," Arthur orders. "Seems their attackers headed north! Come one!"
"Do you think we should be going after them?" Merlin asks.
I walk behind them, liking to overhear everything they say. That's another reason I come; to keep an eye on the both of them. Arthur doesn't tell me much when I ask, and Merlin doesn't bother remembering the details.
Arthur and I are both complicated and simple – a confusing combination but the truth. We're close, so much that I often spend most of my free time with him, if not Merlin or the Knights. But absolutely nothing has happened. We have moments where I think he feels the same, then the next he treats me the same that he does Merlin.
"You're such a girl's petticoat," Arthur snorts but I agree with Merlin. Whoever caused this carnage was not doing so lightly.
The patrol keeps moving and the lands changes back into the forest. I glare at Merlin who is walking ahead of me, Leon traversed to the back of the group. Even a servant gets to ride a horse.
"Ow," he complains.
"Is there something wrong with you?" Arthur calls back from his place near the lead.
"I've been on a horse all day."
"I'd gladly swap," I mutter under my breathe but from the short snort next to me, someone else heard my words.
"Is your little bottom sore?"
"Yes. It's not as fat as yours."
"You've got a lot of nerve for a wimp."
"I may be a wimp, but at least I'm not a dollophead."
"There's no such word."
"You need to be more in touch with your people."
"Describe 'dollop head'."
"In two words?"
I smirk to myself, always having enjoyed their light banter and I hear the same guard that snorted earlier mutter to his companion something about how Merlin gets away with it. Honestly, I would say I'm not too sure myself, but I do know. Arthur and Merlin's friendship is deep-rooted, something even my friendship with either doesn't come close to.
I'm sort of jealous in a way but I think it's different at the same time. Merlin and I know everything about each other, but our two common things are Arthur and a connection to magic which is what has really kept us together. It's harder with Arthur, especially around people but once the doors are closed, all those formalities drop.
We arrive at a camp that has nobody in it and the patrol begins to infiltrate it, opening the tent flaps but there's nobody. My hand rests on the hilt of my sword as I scan the forest around, feeling uneasy.
My suspicions are proven right as an arrow flies through the air, so close to me that I feel the wind trail, but it stops just past me in the flesh of a knight.
I draw my sword, waiting for the enemies to run from the tree line and they don't disappoint me. I swing my sword, cutting down who I assume are bandits left right and centre. They are not the most skilled group and my two years of training is plenty enough to get through them.
For Merlin, who I keep an eye on in these situations, however, is not. I watch as his sword is easily knocked out of his hands. I roll my eyes and move to take his attacker down, but I duck as a frying pan flies right past my hand, connecting to the man's raised sword.
He falls to the ground and as Merlin is distracted by a second attacker, I make sure his first won't ever wake up again. A tree falls near my left, a broken stick cutting down the open skin on my face.
I look around, scanning for Leon and Arthur. Leon is fighting off two men, and while I don't doubt his abilities, I don't want to risk anything. I run up from behind him, spinning down onto my knees to duck underneath the second attacker's sword which is aimed at Leon's side.
As I slide along the ground, I hold out my sword, slicing his legs and he falls to the ground, unable to stand back up. I feel Leon's eyes on me, but I keep my head forward, standing back up and blocking a new opponent.
"We're not playing hide and seek, Merlin!"
The battle is soon won and I'm beginning to wonder why it was so easy. A few men died but maybe they just weren't well trained. Bandits are anywhere on the swordsmanship spectrum.
Fog surrounds the site and I sheathe my sword back, coming to stand behind Arthur who is still holding is sword out and as I look up into the trees I see why. A figure, a woman, is walking out of the fog and my face drops as she comes into view.
As soon as we get back to Camelot, I change back into my usual dress, brushing out my hair which has been pulled in a tight bun for the past few days. It felt nice to not have chainmail on, but it makes me more sympathetic for the Knights and Arthur who wear it almost every day.
I'm suspicious of Morgana's return, considering last time we saw her she was with Morgause and her dramatic entrance is all a bit out of place. I don't know, maybe I just don't like her. Arthur seems over-thrilled at her return and I imagine his attention being taken by her.
Nevertheless, I knock on the Prince's door.
I push the door open skipping over to his desk where he's leant over paperwork.
"So, I heard Morgana has returned," I say, the chirp in my voice faltering but Arthur either doesn't notice or ignores it. "That's great news."
"Yes. After all this time. I can't believe it to be honest." He stands up, coming around to lean against his desk with me. "Nothing happened here while we were gone?"
"I wouldn't know," I answer without thought.
"Um, why not?" he drawls out.
"Oh, I'm mean I was just so caught up in my work that I barely left my room."
"What? You working hard?" he scoffs. I gasp, shoving his arm.
"I'll have you know I work very hard."
"Hard enough to want sleep tonight?" he prompts, earning a smirk out of me.
"You're eager for a training session then," I taunt. "Miss me that much while you were gone?"
"I had enough attitude from Merlin to substitute for the both of you," he retorts, and I silently agree.
"I need to go but I'll see you at the training grounds tonight then?"
"Be prepared to eat some grass."
I start walking out backwards, crossing my arms. "I don't know, I'm getting pretty good." I wink at him, shutting the door as I exit.
I figure I should go see Merlin and Gaius since they are probably back from attending to Morgana. Merlin had filled me in what had had happened the day the Knights of Medhir attacked after I fell to the sickness. Morgana was the vessel for it, explaining why she did not suffer. She ended leaving with Morgause. Who is not in my trustworthy book.