Camelot, Morgana reflected, never did anything by halves.
The city was decked out in splendour for the festival, knights and merchants and farmers all mingling in the soft haze of the summer morning. From her window, she had seen market stalls being set up even before dawn, lining the streets of the city to sell all kinds of wares, from lovers' trinkets to foods brought in from outlying villages. It was as if the misfortune of the past year had brought people closer together, united for a single day in an attempt to forget the worst that had befallen them.
"My lady?" Gwen prompted, in a tone of voice that indicated she was repeating herself. Morgana turned, watching as the laces of her dress slipped from Gwen's fingers.
"How do I look?" she asked, and Gwen beamed.
"Beautiful," she said. "As always."
Morgana smiled at her maid, holding Gwen's gaze for a second before turning away.
"You didn't sleep last night," Gwen said in a quieter voice, and Morgana shrugged. She shouldn't have been surprised that Gwen had noticed.
"I feel fine," she said. "Just excited for the festival, I suppose."
Gwen looked sceptical, but she didn't dispute Morgana's claim. "I could ask Gaius for a stronger sleeping draught."
"You will do no such thing," Morgana said, and took Gwen's hands briefly in hers. "Your only duty today is to enjoy the festival. I won't have you wasting half your time worrying about me."
"As you wish," Gwen said. She looked torn for a minute, and then excitement seemingly won out over concern. "If you don't need me any more ..."
"Go," Morgana said, smiling. "And buy yourself something frivolous."
Gwen hurried away, and Morgana turned to study her reflection one final time before following her. As she moved out into the corridor, she nearly ran into Arthur, who stepped back, looking her up and down.
"You're a little underdressed," he remarked, and she cocked her head indignantly.
"I'm perfectly decent," she said, resisting the urge to tug at her skirt. "I had this made specially for the festival."
"You look like a peasant," he said, smiling in the way he did whenever he was teasing her.
"That's kind of the point," she retorted, squaring her shoulders.
"Trying to play at being one of the people?"
"Something like that," she said, brushing past him. At the last minute, he caught her wrist, and spun her around to face him.
"My father won't be pleased," he warned.
"Uther has better things to worry about than my dresses," she said, tugging free of his grasp. From the look on his face, she suspected he had let her go.
After a moment of silence, she turned away.
"I'll see you at the festival," she told him, and left before he could say anything else.
Outside, the noise and the crowds only added to the atmosphere, people bustling along the streets and congregating in usually forgotten corners of the city. Morgana paused a minute on the castle steps to take it all in, then made her way down to the markets, stopping every so often to browse the stalls, admiring a trinket or two and smelling the flowers arranged in simple bouquets.
"It becomes you," the woman behind one of the stalls said as she studied a small necklace, delicate and finely wrought. Morgana turned it over in her hands, smiling faintly.
"It's beautiful," she agreed, and let it fall back onto the counter. It wasn't the sort of thing one bought for oneself.
The woman was persistent, however, and slid the necklace back towards Morgana. "Even more beautiful on its owner."
"Perhaps later," Morgana demurred, turning away before the woman could insist further. She made her way slowly down to the end of the row of markets, and stopped at the edge to buy a cup of spiced wine, sliding her money onto the stall as the man looked away.
Morgana turned to see Arthur, leaning casually against the stall behind her, and raised an eyebrow. "I was."
Arthur clutched at his chest, a mock hurt expression not quite hiding his smile. "You wound me, Morgana."
"I wish," she muttered into her cup, taking a sip of the wine. After a second, she smiled. "And you?"
"I'm having a wonderful time," he said, grinning openly. He stepped forward, stopping in front of her as he leaned over the stall, his body almost touching hers. He picked up a cup of wine, taking a long drink, and made no move to put more space between them as he spoke, almost in her ear. "I'm planning on making the most of the festival."
"Don't let me stop you," she said, weaving around him as she began to move away. Instead of letting her go, he fell into step beside her, and she glanced sideways at him. He looked innocent enough, his expression one of familiar good-natured cheer, and she decided to let the matter drop.
"There's a tournament this afternoon," he said after a moment. His expression hadn't changed, but there was an edge of anticipation to his voice.
"I know," she said, stopping as they cleared the markets, sitting down on a nearby ledge. Arthur sat down beside her. "I suppose I'll have to make an appearance."
She smiled, then, to let him know she had understood his unvoiced invitation, and he returned it before finishing his wine. Their legs were almost touching, his hand resting slightly on top of hers, and if it wasn't exactly appropriate, she found it didn't quite bother her, either.
Arthur spoke after another minute, looking out across the open square. "Gwen looks as if she's enjoying herself."
Morgana followed his gaze to where Gwen was standing, talking to one of Arthur's knights. "Indeed," she agreed, taking another sip from her cup. "I suppose you have Merlin mucking out stalls, or cleaning your bedchamber?"
"Actually, he's polishing my armour," Arthur said. A second later, a smile crept over his face, and Morgana nudged him gently with her shoulder. "No, I gave him the day off. He should be around here somewhere."
"How magnanimous of you," she said, finishing her drink and turning the cup over in her hands. She studied Gwen for a moment longer, and added, as casually as she could, "I think Sir Agravaine might be interested in Gwen."
Across the square, Gwen was looking on raptly as Agravaine gestured wildly, no doubt telling her of some grand battle or triumph in the arena.
Arthur glanced over. "In Guinevere?"
"Look at him."
"She's a maid," he said, and she turned to look at him sharply.
"What, and you've never been interested in a maid?"
Arthur coloured faintly, but he met her eyes. "That was one maid. And it wasn't like I was in love with her or anything."
"I never said he was in love with her," Morgana said, trying to keep her voice at a reasonable level.
"I very much doubt he would be," he said dismissively, and she fought the urge to reach out and slap him. "And you'd better pray that Gwen's not, either, or she's likely to have her heart broken."
"You're insufferable, do you know that?" she asked hotly, jumping to her feet. Arthur did the same, staring down at her imperiously. "Just because she's a maid -"
"And he's a knight," he interrupted, sounding for all the world as if he were lecturing a child. "He'll be expected to marry well."
"I never said they had to get married," she said, and pushed past him stiffly. Arthur said nothing, and after a second, she turned back. "And he could do a lot worse, if you ask me."
He remained silent, and she turned away from him, trying to calm her anger as she walked away. She meant to enjoy herself, and she was determined that nothing Arthur Pendragon said to her was going to ruin her mood.
She contemplated touring the markets again, but she had no desire to shop, and anyway, she had seen almost everything that was on offer. She took a turn instead along the city walls, being careful to stay away from where she had left Arthur. She hadn't meant to let him get to her, but she counted Gwen as a friend, and her happiness was almost as dear to Morgana as her own. If Arthur couldn't see that she was more than simply a maid, that was his problem, not hers.
She came to a stop around one of the more open areas of the city, watching children run around, laughing. Her thoughts flashed immediately to another child she had known, the druid boy who had come to the city. Arthur had helped her then, had defied Uther and the unreasonable edict he had passed. He had proved he was capable of more than simply following in his father's footsteps. How he could still occasionally be so unrelenting, so willing to blindly follow tradition, Morgana had no idea.
The sun was high by the time she made her way back to the castle. The sudden rush and the direction of the crowd alerted her to the fact that the tournament was probably about to begin, and she made her was reluctantly towards the arena. She had no desire to cheer Arthur while he fought, but it was not at her discretion to choose not to attend.
She spied Gwen closer to the arena, and hurried to catch up, taking her arm in silent defiance of Arthur. Let him think what he would; she knew Gwen was destined for greater things.
"Are you enjoying the festival?" she asked, as they made their way to their seats.
Gwen nodded, her cheeks a little flushed. Possibly from too much wine, or possibly, Morgana thought, from the attentions of a certain knight. "Did you need me for anything?"
"Nothing at all," Morgana assured her, "except to watch the tournament with me. Shall we?"
The first few matches were predictable, the knights only beginning to warm up. Morgana sneaked a glance at Gwen when Sir Agravaine was fighting, but caught no obvious reaction. It was a pity, she thought, that he lost so quickly. Perhaps Gwen should have given him some sort of token for luck.
She straightened a little when Arthur entered, cursing herself for betraying her interest. Perhaps, she thought spitefully, he would lose his match, and learn a little humility. He certainly was going to wear no token of hers.
Arthur did not lose, and a cheer went up from the crowd as he bested his opponent. Beside Morgana, Gwen clapped enthusiastically, and she copied the gesture with a minimum of effort. Camelot's prince, she thought bitterly. Of course he was victorious.
She and Gwen exited the arena quickly once all the fights were won, finding a seat outside where they sat to watch the festivities. She had almost succeeded in putting Arthur completely out of her mind when he inconveniently appeared, bearing two cups and a smile.
"What do you want?" she asked before he could speak, and he shook his head.
"Now, Morgana. Is that any way to speak to your champion?"
She snorted delicately, and didn't watch his expression. "Camelot's champion, maybe. Your victory has nothing to do with me."
As she looked up, he held out one of the cups, still smiling. "I brought you a peace offering."
She took the cup, but didn't thank him for it. To her surprise, he didn't drink from the second, but offered it to Gwen.
"No, thank you," Gwen said, waving it away. "I think I've had enough for one day."
So that was the reason for her colour, then, and not Agravaine. No matter. Arthur grinned at her, almost as if he had guessed the direction of her thoughts, and she smiled back.
"So," she said, keeping her tone carefully neutral. "Was that Sir Agravaine I saw you talking to earlier?"
Arthur snorted faintly, and covered it by taking a drink from the wine Gwen had rejected. Morgana narrowed her eyes at him, and then turned to Gwen.
"Yes, my lady," Gwen said, her eyes downcast.
"I see," she said, and risked a glance at Arthur. His face revealed nothing, and she decided to press on. "What did he have to say?"
Gwen sighed, though it didn't sound much like the wistful sigh of someone in love. "He was telling me all about how he was going to triumph in the tournament." She paused, and smiled wryly. "In detail."
"That sounds like Agravaine," Arthur said.
"He seemed to think I would be very impressed," Gwen agreed. She didn't sound impressed.
Morgana ignored a knowing look from Arthur. "So you aren't interested in him?"
"Lord, no," Gwen said, sounding surprised. "He's a little ... arrogant for my tastes."
Morgana tensed, fearing the worst from Arthur, but Gwen's confession elicited no immediate reaction.
"No offence, of course," Gwen added hastily, and Arthur shrugged.
"You don't have to apologise," he said, and then glanced at Morgana. "Anyway, he'd be a fool if he didn't pursue you."
"I hope not," Gwen muttered, and Morgana smiled a little, though she still didn't look at Arthur.
A few minutes later, Gwen excused herself, probably trying to put as much space between her and the arena as possible, and Arthur quickly slid into her empty seat.
"I guess you were wrong," he said, a note of laughter still in his voice.
"I was not wrong," Morgana protested coolly. "I only said that Agravaine was interested in Gwen. I said nothing about her returning his affection."
He nodded his head, apparently condescending to let the matter drop. They sat in silence for a while, and when he spoke, his voice was teasing.
"So," he said, catching her gaze so that she couldn't quite look away. "Are you going to dance around the maypole?"
"I rather think that would give Uther the wrong idea," she said. She had intended it to sound censorious, but it was infuriatingly difficult to stay angry at him after he had been kind to Gwen.
"Well, we wouldn't want that."
Morgana took a long sip of her drink before she trusted herself to answer. "No," she said evenly. "We wouldn't."
Arthur looked at her as if he didn't quite believe her, but wisely said nothing. "No," he agreed finally. "I suppose not."
She didn't quite look at him then, finishing her drink instead and silently watching the festival. After a while, she noticed that Arthur was sitting closer to her, his hip touching hers. It was strangely comfortable, reassuring. After what seemed like an age, he spoke again, and there was a strange edge to his voice.
"Do you want to dance?" he asked, and Morgana almost had to strain to hear him over the noise of the crowd.
She didn't answer, a part of her oddly reluctant, and he smiled as if to reassure her.
"Come on," he said, his voice a little louder, as if his confidence could offset the fact that she hadn't spoken. "It's not really a festival if you don't dance."
She glanced over at a circle of nearby dancers, skipping and twirling to a lively tune. When she looked back at Arthur, he took her hand wordlessly and pulled her towards the group.
The crowd cleared a little as they joined in, entering the dance smoothly. Morgana clasped Arthur's hands, letting him spin her around, and laughed as she skipped along to the music. By the time the dance was finished, she was a little breathless, still holding his hands; she looked down, and he dropped them quickly, looking back at her speculatively.
"Thank you," she said, and he nodded, still not saying anything. She rolled her eyes. "You can talk to me, you know."
"And risk you biting my head off?" he asked mildly. "I'm quite enjoying not fighting with you. I wouldn't want to ruin it."
"Have it your way, then," she said, and turned to leave. At the last minute, he took her hand, only this time, he didn't let go.
"Morgana," he said, and she raised an eyebrow expectantly. He sighed. "Fine. Look, I ... just take it, okay?"
She glanced down, puzzled, and saw him holding out a small trinket. She took it from him, studying it more closely, and frowned.
"Were you following me?" she asked, but it wasn't quite an accusation in her voice.
He didn't answer her, but reached out to take the necklace. She drew her hand back quickly, and he laughed.
"Morgana," he said, more than a hint of exasperation in his voice. "Would you hold still?"
She did so, allowing him to take it, and he stepped forward, placing his hands around the back of her neck. She stiffened as he secured the necklace in place, touching her hand to where it lay against her skin.
"There. That wasn't so hard, was it?" He stared at her challengingly, and she allowed herself a small smile. "It even looks all right on you."
"Is that supposed to be a compliment?" she asked, unimpressed.
"What do you want me to say?" he shot back. "It's a stupid gift from a market stall. It's probably not worth half what I paid for it."
"Do you want to return it, then?" she asked, feeling herself getting angry all over again.
"Maybe I should," he said, leaning forward a little so his face was directly in front of hers. She met his stare, unblinking, and he looked away first. "I was trying to do something nice, you know."
She swallowed. "I know."
"And I thought, it's a gift. Even Morgana can't make a scene over a necklace."
"Maybe you should have bought a ring," she suggested, and after a minute, he cracked a smile.
"I like the necklace," she said finally. He looked at her warily, as if wondering where the next argument was going to come from, and before she could think better of it, she tilted her head up to kiss him, lingering in the embrace for a beat longer than she had intended. When she drew back, Arthur's eyes were wide, and it was a moment before he spoke.
"Well," he said, and his voice betrayed none of the shock that had been on his face a second ago. "If I'd known that was what would happen, I'd have started giving you gifts ages ago."
She didn't look away, her expression growing forcibly cooler as his grin widened. "I was right before," she said. "You really are insufferable."
"You love me anyway," Arthur said, and then froze for a second as he realised the impact of his words. It was barely noticeable, but Morgana caught it, and after a moment, she rolled her eyes theatrically.
"Who could ever love you, Arthur Pendragon?" she asked, and he smiled once more. She wasn't completely cruel; she was capable of letting his words pass by unnoticed.
For now, at least.