I own nothing but the words. This was originally part of a series of ficlets that were tragically lost when my UBS suddenly refused to format. These are the only parts that were saved to the computer in their entirety.
"Where would you like me to put these, sire?"
Arthur turned his head. Gwen was standing at the closed door holding the freshly pressed washing, her eyes looking down trying to avoid his. She did not do this out of status – if anything Arthur had always felt the lesser should look their better in the eyes – but out of awkwardness. It was the same awkwardness he had seen the other night.
He gestured his hand around the room with a wine cup in his hand, "Where you usually put them."
Gwen briefly met his eyes before darting across the room to the linen basket to put everything away. She felt her cheeks heat up and she touched them with her cool palm, aware that his eyes were boring into her. Arthur watched her from behind, even tilting his head to admire her.
As she finished she turned around and his head snapped straight again. He sat staring at her, his good arm clutching his injured arm with an expression that could only be described as 'prattish' – as Merlin would say.
Gwen bit her bottom lip, wondering if he was debating whether or not to start teasing her or not.
"Was there anything else you needed, sire?" she said, finally.
Arthur pretended to ponder. "Hmm, I'm trying to think of something but I can't."
"In that case I'll go."
She walked towards the door but, suddenly, he called out:
"Wait; there is something you can do."
Her back still to him she bit her lip again and turned around. "Yes, sire?"
He was grinning. "You can repeat my favourite bit of that speech you gave me."
Gwen linked her fingers and tilted her head, "Which speech is this, sire?"
"The one about what a great king I'll be," he replied, gesturing his free hand and thinking back to his semi-conscious evening being nursed by Gwen. "I could do with cheering up."
She managed to smile back. "You seem happy enough, sire."
"Being happy and cheerful are two different things," Arthur replied. "I could do with a laugh."
She looked down, "With all due respect, sire, my words were not meant to be funny."
"Ah-ha!" Arthur said victoriously, pointing at Gwen. "So you do remember what you said!"
Gwen smiled through her blushes and began to twiddle her thumbs.
"Go on," he said, "tell me what you said again…"
"I told you before I don't remember!" she said looking up, still smiling.
"Yes you do!" he said, trying to remember quotes. "You said about how I would be a great king that people would love—that it keeps you going—" he noted her blush turn a deeper red at that point, "—and then you said the best part…"
"You seem to know it better than I do," she said, folding her arms. "Perhaps you should recite it to me."
"I would," he replied. "But I hate monologues—go on, tell me the rest!"
Gwen shook her head and rushed for the door, trying to hold back laughter. "I have to get back to work, sire."
Arthur chuckled and shouted after her: "Don't think I'm letting it drop, Guinevere! Third time's a charm, remember!"
He decided to let it go for the rest of the week, drag it out, lead her into a station where she thought he had forgotten the matter and then ask again.
He couldn't explain this intense desire to tease Guinevere on what she had said about him. He started to think he was developing a crush on her. Part of it was because he found the whole situation funny, as she had clearly not expected him to hear what she said about him.
Another part of it was that he found what she said very flattering, especially since she wasn't trying to flatter him at the time.
The final part was that he loved to see Gwen squirm whenever he pressed the issue. She had a funny way of keeping control of her feelings. When he raised the subject with her she always did the funny thing of backtracking as she tried to explain away her actions.
So, he decided to wait until next Saturday to raise the issue with her. Until then if he saw her in the corridor he nodded to her, smiled and sometimes said her name to greet her.
Every time he said her name she seemed to stop and shut up point blank. It was like a button he could press to automatically get her attention. Besides he liked to say her name. It felt unusual, more so than names like Arthur, Morgana or even Merlin. 'Guinevere' felt if it had meaning behind it.
On Friday, out of curiosity, he asked her about it.
"Guinevere," he said. "What does your name mean?"
Gwen looked up from the floor she was scrubbing. "It has many meanings, sire."
"What are they?"
She swallowed. "My father says… used to say… that my name can mean 'peaceful', and when I was little my mother said it meant 'wave' or 'spirit'."
Arthur tilted his head. "Spirit?"
"Someone who is always in the shadows, I think it suits me."
"Yes, I suppose it does" he said in agreement. "But not because of the meaning."
She looked down again and smiled. "If you say so, sire."
"You should use it more often."
"It's a bit of a mouthful, sire," she replied. "Guinevere, Guinevere, Guin-e-vere… Gwen is quicker to say. It's endearing."
"Maybe, but it's also just shortening a good name" Arthur replied. "From now on I am going to always call you 'Guinevere' unless time constraints demand otherwise."
She laughed, "What time constraints?"
"Like if I was telling you to 'Look out!' or something. Otherwise, it'll be Guinevere."
She put down the scrubbing brush and looked at him. "Forgive me sire, but you're already the only one who calls me Guinevere."
"Then I will continue to spread the joy," he replied with a smile. "I like being special."
As he walked off she chuckled and shook her head. "Yes I know you do."
"Come on, it's time to face the music!"
Gwen shook her head. "Why do you even care what I said?"
"I'd like to hear it again."
"Please, sire," she replied. "You're only doing it to tease me."
Arthur smiled. "So what if I am? Other servant girls would cut off their hands to try and get my attention."
"I'd rather keep both hands, thank you."
The prince sighed and sat back in his chair. "I swear it's not about teasing you. I just—liked the way you said it. You have a nice voice. And you sounded as if you were being honest."
Gwen looked at him. "I was being honest."
"You don't get a lot of honesty as the prince," he said thoughtfully. "Most of the time people just tell you what they think you want to hear. Everyone does it, everyone except for you."
Gwen tilted her head. "Morgana tells you the truth, doesn't she?"
"I hope not!" he replied. "She's bent on attacking my sense of chivalry. She believes a man is either a fighter or a lover; I'm the former and Merlin is the latter."
"That's not bad is it?" Gwen asked.
"Why can't someone be both?"
Gwen tilted her head to the other side. "You think? Only I've never really seen you as a romantic type…"
Arthur stared at her and scowled. "Oh, 'thank you'."
Gwen realised the way it had sounded to him: "Oh no, sire… I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you. It's just that… Merlin is a very passionate, 'tear-the-sky-down for the people he loves' sort of man… and you're…"
"A rough, 'tear-the-sky-down just because I can' sort of man?"
Gwen twiddled her fingers. "Well, you might be in disguise…"
Arthur folded his arms, realising that she was serious. He hated being compared to his own servant particularly when they were saying that Merlin could or would do things he couldn't or wouldn't do.
"Maybe I haven't found the right woman to love."
There was a long pause. Suddenly Arthur started laughing. Gwen looked at him, bemused. "Is that funny?"
"This is what I mean—you're painfully honest and yet don't do it in a nasty way," Arthur glanced over to her. "You might as well tell me what you said because you've depressed me now. I'd like to hear my good qualities from someone as honest as you."
Gwen grabbed a strand of loose hair and shook her head. "All I said was that… I knew you wouldn't die because one day you would be king."
Arthur managed to smile. "You are the only one who never loses faith, aren't you?"
"I don't know that I'm the only one," she said. "But for me to lose faith would be for me to die, and I have no intention of dying."
"And… what is the faith that keeps you going?"
Gwen blushed and looked down. She felt little sharp sensations in her stomach and chest. It was embarrassing to be asked that, especially since he already knew the answer.
"You know," she finally said, "Little things."
"I hope for a better Camelot than this one," she replied. "I hope for a fair and just kingdom where the people loved their king rather than feared him, and the king was not just a king… but a man."
Arthur tilted his head. "You know, technically, talking about the current king's death is treasonable, but don't worry I won't tell anyone."
"I wasn't talking about the king's death," Gwen said firmly. "I was just saying what sort of Camelot I'd like to see, and how I think a king should be like, well, like…"
Arthur's smiled became teasing again, "The man I am inside?"
Gwen looked at him before nodding. "Yes."
"And what sort of man is he?"
"He is considerate, and fair," she replied.
"That doesn't sound like me…" Arthur commented.
"Maybe that's because you can't see you," she replied with a smile.
His face was now devoid of any teasing or mocking. She rubbed her hands awkwardly, realising that Arthur was actually listening to her.
He smiled earnestly. "And that's what you think a king should be, is it?"
"It's what a man should be like," she said with an awkward smile. "At least, that's my opinion."
An odd sensation sprang up in both of them as they regarded each other.
It was funny that as soon as he was starting to come to terms with his 'crush' on the befuddled Guinevere she did something like this. There was something about her composure he found warming. What he liked the most was the fact she never spoke unless she felt the need to, and when she did everything that came out of her mouth had meaning. Not a word was wasted. He not only liked it, he loved it.
It was a while before Arthur finished the subject off by saying, "Thank you for being honest, as always."