Disclaimer: King Arthur and The Emperor's New Clothes do not belong to me.
In the days before his coronation Arthur watches Guinevere. Her smile, her grace, the way she gets bored in the endless meetings and hides a yawn under the table while pretending to scratch her ankle. She can't hide from him, not really, although he pretends not to know about some of her darker secrets.
He has awakened her from nightmares in the dead of night, and she in turn has told him of her dreams; of the men that took her from her forest. The men who broke her bow and then her bones. They didn't break her will. He can almost see the bitter smile that curves her lips when she tells him that in the darkness, her body curling around him as though she can draw him closer by sheer force of will. No, his Guinevere will not be broken. She comes to him with sweet kisses and soft skin. Lets his calloused hand stroke her neck without flinching although she knows he has the strength to break it, and mere months ago he might have done that given the chance.
He knows that she loves him, and that perhaps is the most terrifying thing of all. After all, there are tavern whores who will spread their legs for a couple of coins, there is the friendship of his men. He isn't lonely, there is no tangible reason why he should marry her, and yet the thought of being without her is unimaginable. In the early hours of the morning he traces the curve of Guinevere's ribs with light fingers, watches the sun peer shyly from behind the hills as though afraid to be outshone by her beauty.
He also knows that she keeps a bow and quiver hidden in the stables. Not such a strange thing for a Woad to do; those raised in combat are often careful to prepare for any eventuality. He also recognises the carvings upon the arrows so carefully hidden away. Ask any of his knights, the soldiers at the wall; the first cut is the deepest no matter how shallow it may be. The moment when you realize that death is not reserved for other people, and that knowledge is like ice water or crude liquor to swallow. Bitter, brief and leaves you gasping. Most faced with their mortality will kick, bite and fight to escape its clutches, but he hadn't done any of those things when an arrow slammed into his shoulder when he was younger. Shock could explain some of it, pain most of the rest. Most of it but not all. He had looked at his men fighting as the warm flow of blood soaked his tunic and arm and felt a dizzying shame. This was the truth of battle. This was what he offered the young men that had been dragged from their homes and into his employ.
He hadn't died. Hadn't even spent much time in the infirmary, but nonetheless he kept the arrow that had been torn from his flesh, and now in a strange twist of fate, the woman that had put it there in the first place. But the lesson had been learnt, and as one by one his men were buried, his awareness of his own failings were unearthed. A word, an order, a bad decision could mean the death of another, and while the people in the villages look at him in awe, his knights for guidance, the reality is that he is just a man and a flawed one at that.
Guinevere doesn't wake as Arthur watches the sunlight creep across the floor and gild her hair. In the corner his coronation robes are neatly folded on the chair. Carefully pressed and waiting for him to don them. Waiting for him to accept a crown upon his head and with it the hopes and expectations of a thousand people. Sighing, he drops his head onto the pillow and knows that although his skin is goose-pimpling in the cold morning air, standing in front of the people entrusting him with their future he will be truly naked.
A/N. Ties in a bit with Cinderella Redux which I wrote for Guinevere. The idea for that came from spy girl (thanks !). Only Bors left to go in this series - and I'd like to make a complete set of stories because I'm a fuss pot like that. Suggestions welcomed J