Disclaimer: nothing that you recognise belongs to me. This one-shot was written by request for Don't-let-them-take-you-alive who wanted a romantic Gawain fic. It has nothing to do with any of my other stories and is set before the film. A bit of springtime fluffiness really.
"I don't know why you don't just go and talk to the girl." Galahad yawned widely, but could not be bothered to open his eyes. The sun - sun! in this forsaken country! Beat down upon his face, and what with the cool grass beneath his head and the soft sound of the nearby stream, he was struggling to stay awake, let alone pay much attention to his friend's troubles.
"I have spoken to her." Sitting up, Gawain shoved his tangled hair out of his eyes and looked at the younger knight with annoyance. "Several times."
Galahad gave a faint snort and snuggled his head into the lush grass. "One apple please," he mimicked. "Thankyou. One apple please. Thank you. Forgive me if I'm totally unsurprised that she hasn't thrown herself upon you after such elegant words. "
"I'm building up to it." Reaching for his shirt, Gawain tugged it over his head. "Anyway, at least I've spoken to Madelon. You've been mooning over Molly for how many weeks now? And I've yet to see you speak a word to her."
"I'm building up to it." The dark haired knight echoed his friend's words and scratched his belly idly. "When I make my move she'll drop into my hand like a ripe plum."
Gawain grinned, getting to his feet and stretching his well muscled arms above his head. "I think you might be a little late, pup. It was Billy the tanner's son who's hands were all over her last night behind the tavern."
"What?" Galahad's eyes snapped open and he sat up swiftly. "That whey-faced, scrawny little thing? With Molly?"
"Apparently you'll have to look for sweeter fruit," Gawain replied dryly. "The girl seems to have made her choice."
"But… He's…" Flopping back onto the grass, Galahad let out a long sigh of irritation. "If the lad can get it up at all I'd be surprised. I'll just have to comfort her when her longing for a real man gets too much for her."
Gawain made a non-committal noise of agreement and stifled a smile. Slumped on the ground, his pale chest freckling in the sunshine, curls tumbling over his forehead, Galahad looked barely sixteen summers old; still more boy than man.
It was tempting to stay by the cool riverside and let the sunshine and cool water ease his tired muscles and heart, but Gawain had other thoughts on his mind. Leaving his friend, he made his way across the meadow and headed towards the castle. It was rare for the knights to get a day off, but Arthur had informed them that today was a Roman feast day, and since he would be ensconced with a visiting nobleman all day, there was no need for his men to attend their duties. From the look in his commander's eyes he would have preferred to have been enjoying the warm summer day with his knights, Gawain thought with a smile. Certainly he did not envy the big Roman the prospect of spending time with the elderly Roman priest who had stepped from his carriage and almost collapsed in shock upon seeing the less than luxurious accommodation that awaited him.
Tristan had taken his hawk Ysolde out hunting within moments of being released from his duties for the day. Gawain looked back towards the forest, rippling in the summer breeze, it's danger camouflaged by the light dancing upon the canopy. Woads were rare this close to the Wall, but not unknown, as were thieves, but of them all Tristan could take care of himself, Gawain mused. He and his brothers in arms were pack animals, Tristan was not. But he would return come sunset, of that Gawain was sure. The rest of the knights had chosen more idle pursuits; either relaxing at the tavern in Bors and Dagonet's case, wooing the new chambermaid in Lancelot's, or merely enjoying the sunshine as he and Galahad had done.
Now, however, Gawain had his own task, and for once it was one that had he had set himself, or perhaps, one that the Gods had placed in front of him. How else to explain Madelon with her shy smile and dark eyes? Overlooked in the shadow of the confident tavern wenches, but all the more intriguing for it. For three weeks he had watched her; mentally traced the curve of her lush mouth when she exchanged jokes with the soldiers, watched her flit in and out of the shadows like a ghost. Her fingers were nimble when he bought fruit from her stall, her posture submissive when she realised who he was. She wasn't a beauty, but once when he had passed her a coin for an apple her eyes had met his and ever since she had been ever present at the back of his mind. Dark eyes like honeyed mead, he had thought at the time. As easily startled as the does that Tristan hunted and not so easily caught. Not wanting to crowd her, he found himself caught between caution and recklessness. Perhaps today would be the day that he found the pretty words that might charm her. Perhaps today would be the day when she might see the man and not the knight.
Nodding to the two guards at the entrance of the castle, Gawain paused before going much further and tucked himself into the shadows cast by one of the pillars that bracketed the courtyard. There were always small stalls set up in the large square; vendors offering fruit or vegetables, Children with baskets of eggs still warm from the hens, a tanner who would mend broken bridles or hauberks for a few coins. From time to time there would be a travelling peddler amongst the usual faces, but although his attention was caught briefly by a couple of swarthy men cajoling passers by with rolls of brightly coloured cloth, there was only one person whom Gawain sought.
Her dark hair was unravelling from its plait, her cheeks flushed. Hefting up a basket of apples onto the table in front of her, Madelon swore under her breath as one of the apples rolled off the lip of the basket and bounced over the cobblestones, her dark eyes following its progress with weary resignation.
Stepping from his hiding place, Gawain snatched it up before the fruit rolled into the gutter and approached the young woman, who, obviously having given up the apple as being lost, had turned her attention to straightening the threadbare cloth that covered the table.
"Yours I believe." His low voice made her jump, and for a moment she looked at the apple he held with confusion.
"Oh! Umm." Her cheeks flushed as she regarded the proffered fruit, but she did not meet Gawain's eyes. "Thank-you Sir, but I fear that it is not fit to be eaten." Nervously, she tucked her braid over her shoulder, realised that she was fidgeting and returned her hands to her sides. "Unless you would like it?" Realising her mistake, she fumbled on. " Not that you would eat dirty fruit. Please have a fresh one - the apples are plentiful this year, and sweet too." Panicking, she almost snatched the apple from his fingers and grabbed a fresh piece of fruit, pushing it into his big hand as fast as possible.
Both of them stared for a moment at the plum that nestled dark and gleaming in Gawain's calloused palm.
"Oh. I'm sorry. I have plenty more apples if you'd like, I didn't mean to…" Medelon dropped her eyes to the ground and wondered if she wished especially hard some of the cobblestones might suddenly move aside and provide a convenient hole in which she could disappear. The Gods must be playing a joke at my expense, she thought miserably. Why else make a man so fair to look upon and then curse me to never dare meet his eyes and make a complete fool of myself every time we meet?
"I have always thought plums to be sweeter than apples."
Dragging her eyes back to the knight, Madelon watched as Gawain finished off the plum with obvious relish, licking the juice from his fingers. Aware of the heat suffusing her cheeks, it took a few moments nonetheless before she tore her eyes away from his full mouth, stained with plum juice and looking far more inviting than a man's lips should look to a maiden like her. Not daring to meet his gaze, she nevertheless shook her head when he tried to give her a coin.
"No, Sir." Madelon shook her head. With a small smile tugging at her lips, she found the courage to glance up at the handsome man before her. "Consider it a gift from my horse."
"Your horse?" He looked at her puzzled. "And what have I done to earn his favour?"
"Her." Growing a little braver she nodded towards the elderly bay pony tethered nearby, its tail swishing idly at the flies that tried to settle on its flanks. "Since the apple is not fit to be sold then she shall have it as a treat when we are home."
"Ah." Gawain nodded thoughtfully and gave Madelon a quick smile. "Perhaps your mare might put in a good word for me with her mistress then."
Before Madelon had a chance to ask what he meant, a familiar voice called out her name.
"Maddy?" David, her brother emerged from the stables, a broom in one hand, a scowl darkening his features. His dark eyes flicked from his sister to the big knight that stood in front of her, and Madelon trotted over to him quickly when she saw his knuckles whiten on the broom handle.
"David!" Hoping that she didn't look half as guilty as she felt; and why did she feel guilty? she mentally chastised herself, it wasn't as though she had done anything wrong. "Have you finished for the day?"
"Almost." Although he answered his sister automatically, he did not take his eyes off the blonde man who watched their conversation with narrowed eyes. "Is that man bothering you?"
"He's not a man, he's a knight," Madelon hissed. "He's not causing trouble, he's just being kind."
"Kind." David's voice was emotionless, but his eyes were anything but as he pulled Madelon into the stable and out of sight. Trying to keep one eye on the little fruit stall and the other on his sister, he gripped Madelon's arm tighter than he meant to, only releasing her when she yelped in pain.
"I'm sorry Maddy." Touching her cheek, he tried to damp down his anger. "I'm not angry, but you know the reputation that the knights have. I promised mother that I would look after you, and here you are with one of Commander Arthur's Samartians. You can't trust them - they're little more than savages. Some of the stories I've heard…"
"He wasn't doing anything wrong!" Madelon's protested. "Gawain returned an apple to me that's all - you don't even know him." Wrenching her arm from her brother's grip she put her hands on her hips defiantly. "You're the one who tells me not to listen to gossip - maybe you should take your own advice." Marching back into the courtyard, she smiled at the two children who eyed the apples on her stall, but felt her heart sink when she realised that the blond knight was nowhere to be seen.
Well it was his own fault, Gawain thought, resting his head against the cool stone of the battlements. He'd teased Galahad for not acting swiftly enough when it came to wooing women, but it seemed that he was guilty of the exact same thing. Above him a couple of swallows swooped down and perched upon the lip of the nest built beneath the eves of the roof. The chattering of hungry chicks broke the silence for a moment before the adults swept swift as shooting stars back into the dusk. Gawain watched them go.
Strange that the little birds chose to make their homes here, strange that they raised families above what was little more than a glorified prison for most of the men below, he mused. Of course Madelon would have a husband - why wouldn't she? Even if she wasn't wed then what did he have to offer her? The Samartians were looked upon as little more than tame barbarians by most, and while Arthur was exceptional in the way he treated his men as equals, he was still under orders to send them to their potential deaths at a moments notice. Better that the girl should have a man that she could rely on, even if it caused his heart to constrict with pain. Stretching out his legs, Gawain let out a sigh and watched the plume of his breath dissipate in the cooling air. At least David? (That had been what she'd called the young man who had looked at him with such hostile eyes wasn't it?) had been looking out for her. With a twinge of unease, he remembered the way in which the lad had marched Madelon into the stables. He'd seen too many men who took out their frustrations on their women and dug his thumbnail into the wooden handle of his axe at the thought of Madelon suffering the same fate. He didn't believe himself to be the hero that some of the more fanciful stories that spread around the castle painted him to be, but when faced with a man beating a woman he always intervened. Women were to be protected and cherished - he had learned that at his father's knee, and it was a code of honour that was much a part of him as the colour of his eyes or his skill with an axe. He would make a few discrete enquiries come morning, Gawain decided. A couple of coins slipped to the stable boys would ease his mind when it came to learning the truth of David's character.
The sweet, spicy smell of cooking wafted up through the chill air, and getting to his feet, Gawain rolled his stiff shoulders. Vanora was no doubt serving up the evening meal in the tavern - stew or casserole from the smell of it. There he would find comfort, company and too many questions from Lancelot and Galahad. Two "brothers" who were well aware where his heart lay and had apparently not deigned to enlighten him of the fact that the lady in question was already taken.
He almost didn't hear the scream; it was cut off before the woman who had uttered it had time to take a breath and so it was little more than a muffled squeal, but it with over a decade of training behind him, it caught Gawain's attention
"Shut up, bitch." The unmistakable sound of flesh hitting flesh had the blond knight stepping forward and peering down into the shadows cast by the castle wall. High as his position was, he had a good view of what was happening, and what he saw sickened him.
Two men held a woman between them, one yanking her arm behind her and covering her mouth, the other tearing at her clothing. She was twisting and fighting, but there was no way that she could break the grip of the much bigger men that held her. Grabbing his axe, Gawain bounded down the steps of the castle, shoving open the door at the base of the wall with his shoulder.
The first man went down easily enough, felled by the blond knight's momentum when he knocked him to the floor. Rolling away, Gawain bounded to his feet and swung his fist, connecting with the jaw of the other man. It was a decent punch, but the man was big and apparently had a jaw as tough as granite. Shaking his head, the attacker returned the blow with an uppercut that knocked the wind out of the blond knight. Staggering backwards, Gawain barely had time to note the gleam of light upon a blade before the other man slashed it towards his throat. Bringing up his arm, he hardly felt the pain as the knife sliced through his forearm, somehow managing to grab the other man's wrist and twisting it, using his weight to drive it into his attacker's chest. The man fell to the ground with a soft cry, but off balance, Gawain dropped to his knees.
"Look out!" The warning came from a female voice behind him, but Gawain did not have enough time to react when he saw the other man poised to slam a rock down upon his head. Twisting, he tried to avoid the blow. It never came. Instead the swarthy man looked at him with faint puzzlement before crashing to the ground. From his back protruded a very familiar looking sword.
"Are you alright? Are you hurt?" The woman who stumbled over to him was also familiar. Madelon's face was ashen, her eyes wild. "Are they…" She looked at the two bloody bodies and promptly threw up. Gawain got to his feet and patted her on the shoulder while she retched. Madelon had a bloody nose and her dress was torn, but other than that she looked unharmed he noted with relief. A flicker of movement drew his attention, and looking up he saw Lancelot approaching. The older knight was naked except for a blanket wrapped around his waist and looked none too pleased to have had his evening interrupted.
"Gods, Gawain." Lancelot wandered over to the dead man and retrieved his sword, pulling the blade from the corpse's chest without flinching. "You really know how to show a girl a good time don't you?" Winking at Madelon and hitching up the blanket draped around his loins, he headed back to his quarters, the pretty blonde who had been watching from behind the wall yelping when he slapped her on the bottom and urged her back upstairs. "And don't expect me to save your hide again until morning," he called back, before disappearing into the shadows.
Gawain bit back a retort and returned his attention to the girl beside him. Several soldiers, alerted by the commotion, were hurrying towards them. With a nod, the blond knight gestured for the bodies to be removed and muttered a less than flattering comment regarding bloody Roman soldiers who were as useful as an extra bollock on a gelding.
"Come on," he said to Madelon. "I'll take you home."
She followed meekly enough, but stopped when they reached the gateway. Gawain looked at her wearily.
"It's alright, girl. You have nothing to fear from me, come on, let's get you home before it's dark."
"It's not that." She looked a bit embarrassed. "You're going the wrong way, that's all."
"The wrong way?" This time it was Gawain's turn to be confused. If David worked at the stables then he would have a room in the quarters housed behind the yard. It was important that horses could be readied quickly whatever the hour of the day or night and so all those who worked in the stables were accommodated nearby. "I thought that David worked in the stables?"
"He does." Madelon looked utterly bewildered. "But I share a house with Freya - she works at the Tavern. It's that way," she nodded down a track that led past the pig pens.
"You don't share your quarters with your husband?" Gawain asked incredulously. Trying not to stare, he took in Madelon's neat figure and pretty face. "What's wrong with the man?"
"The.. My what?" colour flooded into the girl's pale face. "I'm not married!"
Gawain was beginning to feel rather foolish. "But David…"
"David." Despite all that had happened earlier, Madelon felt the beginnings of a giggle forming and squashed the urge down. "My brother David. He works in the stables but we don't live together - there isn't room. I came to tell Freya that Gheris was looking for her. I know that I should have been more careful, but I got talking and…" Her voice trailed off.
"Oh. Right." Feeling a complete idiot, Gawain patted her arm and walked in the direction that she had indicated, urging Madelon to follow him.
Madelon, however, still shaken and a little hysterical couldn't resist a snort of laughter.
"I do love my brother, Sir, but I don't love my brother."
Gawain rolled his eyes and gave a quick grin that silenced Madelon far faster than if he had glared at her.
"I'm glad to hear it. Which one is your house?"
Ahead of them was a little row of small cottages. None were particularly big, but they looked tidy and cosy. A collie dog barked a warning, but other than a candle lit in the furthest house, there was little sign of life.
"This one." Madelon walked up to the smallest of the houses and unlocked the door with a key attached to the chatelaine looped around her waist. Pausing in the doorway, she looked at her rescuer nervously.
"Thankyou. For what you did, I mean. If you hadn't have been there then I don't know.." She scuffed the floor with a worn shoe, feeling silly and unable to put into words exactly what she wanted to say. Making a decent effort at a smile, she crossed her arms and frowned when she felt the stickiness on the sleeve of her dress. The liquid that stained her fingers was almost black in the dim light, but there was no mistaking it for anything other than blood, and it certainly wasn't hers.
"You're hurt," she said in surprise. Practicality overcame shyness and she stepped closer to the blond knight, noticing for the first time the gash that marred the curve of his forearm and the gleam of blood running down to his wrist.
"It's nothing." Gawain tried to pull his arm away, but Madelon took his hand and so he stood still, shivering slightly as she ran gentle fingers over his skin, assessing the damage.
"It needs wrapping," she said finally. "Come inside, I've still got some bandages left from the time Vanora hit Bors on the head with her skillet."
Gawain gave a low chuckle and let her lead him inside the little house. "So I am not the first knight that you have tended?".
After fumbling in the darkness for a moment, Madelon found the tinderbox and carefully lit four stubby candles, illuminating the small room. Gesturing for Gawain to enter, she shrugged and turned to rummage in a box under the corner table before answering. "Not me - Freya patched up Bors, and I didn't envy her the task. Apparently he passed out dead drunk and Dagonet had to drag him out and dump him in the water trough before he sobered up."
"Sounds like Bors." Hesitating, Gawain looked around the small room. Two cots were pushed against the wall, but to sit upon either of them might be misconstrued. Madelon had been frightened enough already this evening, he didn't want her doubting his intentions. She solved his dilemma before he had time to think of an alternative plan.
"Sit." She gestured to the nearest cot. "Don't worry about the blood, it's wash day tomorrow anyway."
Gawain did as he was told and waited for Madelon to finish her preparations.
Pouring water into a bowl, Madelon was glad for something to do with her hands. She wasn't afraid of Gawain; he'd saved her virtue, perhaps even her life after all, but sat on her bed and golden in the candle light he seemed too big, too bright, too much like something from a fairytale to be real. Glancing back, she met the gleam of his blue eyes and blushed. She picked up her supplies and carried them over to the cot before setting them down and reaching for the knight's injured arm. The shiver that ran through her at his touch made her catch her breath, and glancing up at Gawain she found that he was watching her - blue eyes dark with something that stirred an answering echo within her. Licking suddenly dry lips, Madelon worked swiftly, washing the blood away and cleaning the wound before wrapping it with strips of clean cotton. All the while she was aware of his gaze upon her, the heat and power of the muscles beneath her fingertips. Power that had been used to kill, power that had protected her. Heat that ignited something dark and insistent within her. When she had tied off the bandage, Madelon tried to step away, more to try and regain her wits than any real desire to escape Gawain's proximity, but found her progress halted by a warm hand that settled at the base of her spine. For a moment they were both still, Madelon's hand still resting on Gawain's forearm, his arm encircling her, strong but not forceful. I should probably move away and make my excuses, a tiny part of Madelon's rational mind said to her, but instead she looked into the kind blue eyes of her rescuer and did not pull away when he gently pulled her onto his lap and kissed her. His body was strong beneath her, his hair ticked her arms when he drew her closer, the rough scrape of his beard strange but not unwelcome when he kissed her throat.
"Sweet," he growled softly, the words almost lost against her skin. With one calloused hand he traced the curve of her ribs and cupped her breast, feeling the nipple harden beneath his fingers. Madelon whimpered, and with difficulty he pulled back. Much more of this and he wouldn't be able to control himself. Brushing back a lock of hair that had fallen over her forehead, Gawain smiled at the woman in his arms. Her eyes were huge and drowsy, her lips swollen. "Forgive me Madelon," he said quietly. "It seems that I have forgotten my manners."
She blinked at him, completely lost for words, but did not protest when he lifted her gently and placed her beside him. He let out a sigh, and dropped his head, his face shadowed, the candlelight turning his tangled hair to gold. Unable to help herself, Madelon reached out and touched one of the plaits that had been woven into the blond mane. His hair was coarser than hers but silky to the touch. He turned his head at her touch and dropped a kiss onto her palm.
"I should go," he said quietly.
"You should." The words were automatic and held no emotion. Curiously, she traced the line of his jaw, feeling the tickle of his beard, the steady thump of his heart in the tender spot beneath his throat. She felt brave, and dizzy and not at all the mousy girl who was happier in the shadows than the sunlight.
With a sigh, Gawain removed her hand and got to his feet. Cupping Madelon's face in his large hands he dropped a chaste kiss onto her lips.
"If I don't go now then I won't be able to tear myself away." He ran a calloused thumb over her cheek and smiled gently. "Will you save me an apple tomorrow?"
"No sir." Watching as he rose from the bed and tentatively flexed his injured arm, she smiled. "I will save you a plum. Someone told me that they were sweeter than apples."
Gawain grinned. "Then that person must be very wise."
"And modest," Madelon retorted with a smile.
"Indeed." With a respectful nod of his head, Gawain left, closing the door behind him. Madelon waited an interminable couple of seconds before scampering over to the window. Gawain's body was almost lost in the shadows but his hair gleamed silver gold in the moonlight before he disappeared behind the castle wall. Nonetheless Madelon spent several minutes gazing out at the cold clear sky, and when a shooting star flicked across the sky, she whispered a wish that only the mice curled up in the rafters could hear.