Disclaimer: "Merlin" is a series based on the varying legends of King Arthur, and is an original series belonging to BBC and all characters contained herein are under copyright to the previously named. They are used here at the author's interpretation and for entertainment purposes only.
Greetings From the Author: This little one shot was spawned by a lone image from series two, so to warn that there may be spoilery-speculation going on here doesn't really seem necessary. However it is only light speculation and you shouldn't feel like you can't read this and still enjoy series two. This is 99.9 % speculation on my part, only the gown is genuine .05 % genuine spoilery.
Spoiler: Most of us have by now seen the image of Guinevere wearing Morgana's purple gown with the periwinkle sleeves. It has also been speculated by most that she dons her mistress' gown because she has to pretend to be her, for some reason.
I really don't want to assume anything beyond that and neither am I going to write the particulars. I'd rather let the show itself tell me that, but I couldn't resist writing this one Arwen-centric ficlet. As for why Guinevere and/or Morgana is in such a situation, I'll leave that up to your imagination. ;)
So this takes place during series/season two, after the events in series one's finale of "Le Morte d'Arthur' When exactly, I'm not sure, so I've left it vague. I know the lot of us Arwen fans (self included) want to know how Arthur will react at first-sight to seeing Gwen all prettied up, but for that very reason I didn't write that part. I want to wait until the show tells me. This is more romantic than my last one-shot I think, and I feel like if this were in series two it would be that moment where Arthur and Guinevere go from this vague connection they currently to have . . . to something more than vague.
My specific knowledge on people or place names of the Arthurian legend is limited at best, so I blended some different names I'd heard in varying versions of the tales. The only Arthurian book I own is my favorite 'Once and Future King' and I did a quick run through her but I didn't read it solidly and sadly haven't read it in a few years. Since the names are just a flavoring in the dish of this one-off, I figure it matters little in the end. My friend Brooke-Lynne tells me that 'Taliesin' has been another name for Merlin, but in the story it is the name of a nobleman, far apart from Merlin. With that said, away we go!
Keep the magic secret, or the Great Dragon will eat you.
The Grand Facade
All my instincts, they return.
The grand facade, so soon will burn.
Without a noise, without my pride.
I reach out from the inside.
~ Peter Gabriel
As a consummate seamstress, Guinevere of Camelot knew all the particulars of the gown she donned and more than that she knew the young woman that usually wore it. Her mistress, Lady Morgana. Even for both of those matters, the petite handmaiden could not help the feeling of discomfort as she fidgeted, hands threatening to clasp the purple silk fabric at her hip into a knot. It wasn't the material that was the cause of her discomfort, and though Gwen was shorter than Morgana, it wasn't by enough to give the gown an improper fit . . . it was more the feeling.
That overwhelming drudgery that was pretense. Gwen was no lady of court. She was a handmaiden and this was trying her nerves something fierce. There were those in the wide Lord's Hall of the castle that knew who she was of course, as King Uther himself was the driving force behind the deception, but they played along, so that those whom the 'disguise' was meant for wouldn't catch on.
Gwen thought over that for a moment, allowing herself the luxury of reflection. Should she not begrudge her king enough to have refused this task? Not that it would have made much difference, she had no voice in the court; but no, she cared for his ward too much to deny an effort to keep the lady protected.
I hope this works. I hope Lady Morgana is safe. I hope I don't ruin all of this by some silly, stupid little slip of the tongue.
A head of dark brown curls had been left to hang loose, pretty ribbons wound in Gwen's hair. That had been the one thing on her person that spoke more of Guinevere than Morgana, but they'd allowed her that small comfort to ease her nerves. Fighting against a desire to nervously twine one of her free-falling curls, Guinevere addressed the two noble lords of Leoness standing before her, inclining her head ever so slightly.
"Certainly, I cannot claim to have any knowledge of the matters of Leoness, nor of the distinguished King Leodegranz." She said with an air of apology in her words, secretly grateful for the briefing she had be given. Though Gwen said nothing of it, she had a feeling it was more information than Morgana herself was usually given, but the paranoia of King Uther reflected in a flurry of facts. The hand-maiden was surprised she had even recalled the king's name, though likely the peculiarity of its sound had something to do with that.
Leodegranz . . . It does not fall off the tongue so easily.
One of the noblemen, the elder, laughed. "Dear lady, you say that you have no knowledge and yet you speak the name with the practice of one familiar with it." Taliesin smiled at that, well humored, and it brightened his aged face to make the man look almost as handsome as he had been in his youth.
"Well, one must be versed with their neighbors. How else are friendships and alliances to be made and nourished between the kingdoms, if we cannot pause for the courtesy of learning our allies proper names?" Where that bit of speech had come from, the hand-maiden wasn't sure, but blissfully her voice had stayed strong throughout. She had surprised herself, but on consideration the words sounded very true and right, so Gwen nodded her head slowly to seal the point.
"Camelot and Leoness are not neighbors as near as all that, but the sentiment is a good one. You should learn from Lady Morgana, my son." Taliesin patted a hand against the shoulder of his heir.
Benwyck only nodded, peering closely at Guinevere. "Forgive me, my lady, but you almost have the look of our queen."
"Do I? But I had heard Queen Alienor was a fair woman of blonde hair, blue eyes and natural beauty." Guinevere responded.
Father and son shared a looked between them.
"That she is, but her grace is the second queen of Leoness. The bride of his highness when first he stood in front of the great altar, was Queen Lelandra. She possessed a fine dusky skin and the clearest brown eyes you ever did see, and a great beauty to be sure. Just as you are, my ladyship." Benwyck smiled cordially, bowing before her.
If only they knew who they were really talking to.
A great beauty he had said. Guinevere hardly thought they had anything in common then, but it was kind of him to say so, even if he did say it to one he thought was Lady Morgana. "If the resemblance pleases you, then it pleases me as well." Her words were genuine.
Taliesin was quite taken aback. He had not been to Camelot since before the young prince was born, but could not recall any, save the queen herself, that were so graceful and kindly as the lady standing in front of him. She had a shy honesty about her, and a gentleness in her tone, but for all that she carried herself as one with a great strength of character. There were rumors that Lady Morgana might be the intended bride for Prince Arthur, and if that was true, Lord Taliesin thought it a good match. The thought prompted his next bit of speech.
"When might Leoness receive word on the future queen of Camelot, do you think?" He smiled knowingly, but the look faltered when he noticed the lady's discomfort.
"Well . . . it is difficult to say." Gwen felt her insides twist up. That was not one of the scenarios in socializing that she'd been briefed on for the evening. She could not bear much more of it, feeling on edge as if she would say something untoward at any moment . . . and that was only with kindly nobles. How much worse could it have been with less cordial members of nobility? Almost panicked, her eyes looked about the room. She spotted Merlin but he was all caught up talking to Gaius, then a flash of a red cloak and blonde hair passed by, blue eyes glancing her way and Gwen could have sighed with relief.
Prince Arthur could see the distress on the girl's face even from his distance, and her look when her brown eyes caught his was clear. Excusing himself from his company, he fit a smile on his aquiline face and went to Guinevere's side.
"Gentlemen, how are you this evening?" He asked pleasantly, already with a courtly hand at the girl's elbow. There was enough time for them to answer positively before Arthur was engineering his escape, and Gwen's. "Good, excellent. I'm afraid I must steal Lady Morgana away from you for a time."
The air on the long stone balcony felt far cooler for the relief it offered Gwen's warm cheeks. Prince Arthur had thankfully wasted no time in letting her get out of the room, but now that she had a moment to relax and catch her breath she could wonder why. How was it that he knew she was ready to fall apart from the stress? Tired of wondering, she steeled her nerves and just asked him.
He was leaning against the railing, apparently enjoying a bit of a reprieve himself, and he faced her when she spoke. Shrugging one sculpted shoulder Arthur looked at the young woman next to him as if the answer was obvious. "The look on your face spoke volumes." A sly grin curled the corners of his lips, bringing a twinkling light to his blue gaze. "Besides, I've been there myself."
"Been where, sire?" Gwen asked, honestly unsure.
"Standing in front of noblemen I barely knew, trying to be interesting and listen at the same time, while wanting nothing more than to get away." Arthur related to her with just as much honesty. "Only, I did not have anyone to so gallantly rescue me." He turned his honesty into slyness as he grinned at her.
That Prince Arthur could be so sarcastically playful and teasing was not such a mystery. Gwen had seen how he was with Merlin sometimes, but this was only the second time he'd turned that cheekiness on her, and that was surprising.
How was she to respond? He was a prince and she was a maid servant, propriety had a hand in the reaction, but how proper was it for him to be so . . . so . . . friendly with a servant girl anyway?
Gwen amended there and then that that time he wasn't going to get her flustered. She sent him a smile that wasn't intentionally sweet, but managed to be anyway. "Yes sire, you are very gallant to come to the rescue of a damsel clearly in distress. Thank you." Turning to face the near-empty courtyard beyond, she spoke again. "I would not want to keep you from your guests. There's no need for pretense here, sire, so if you wish to leave, I understand."
"You're right . . . there's no need for pretense. So you should know I'm being honest when I say I have no wish to go back inside anytime soon. I could use the fresh air as much as you." He leaned against the balcony in similar fashion as Guinevere was, and for a few seconds it was as if they were surveying Camelot together, then a thought occurred to him and he faced the girl. "What were you talking about when I came to the rescue? Your admirers seemed taken enough with you." The prince asked with a gruff curiosity.
"Taken with me? Oh no." Guinevere let out a trill of laughter at how ridiculous it was. "They were from the kingdom of Leoness and I think they were merely curious about the nobility of Camelot, then we got caught up in a discussion of their first queen." A light smile decorated her face. "They were very pleasant to talk to actually. I also think they were a bit surprised that I recalled the name of their King Leodegranz, but the name alone would make someone remember. It is very unique and as I told them, it is only common courtesy to know the names of your neighbors."
"You seem far more at ease with all the particulars of court than I am." Arthur admitted with a snort, the irony not lost on him. He had little use for the niceties, though he supposed he should get better used to finer points. "You told them it was common courtesy?" He asked, recalling all her words.
"Yes, more or less." Abruptly, worry festered in her mind. "Oh dear, do you think I should not have said that?"
Arthur laughed in genuine delight. It was a pleasant sound. "You worry about offending someone more than any other person I know, and yet you are the least likely to do so." He was aware of the curious look she was sending him, and widened his eyes for effect before continuing on. "You're honest, kind and considerate, and when you do speak out of turn you practically fall all over yourself to apologize for it."
Gwen's cheeks colored to a warm pink at the memory. "I don't 'fall all over' myself." A smidgen of indignation had crept its way into her voice, and when Arthur raised one sardonic brow at her, she blushed more fiercely. "I'm sorry, I've done it again. I keep letting my mouth get ahead of me and . . ."
He put a hand over hers where it rested on the railing. "Guinevere . . . it's fine." Arthur smiled at her, feeling her hand beneath his. Considering how hard she worked, her skin was surprisingly smooth. "Besides, tonight we're equals."
"Yes, but it is only an illusion." Gwen slid her hand from under his. "And I should get back in there to maintain it. It is not as if I can hide out here with you all evening." She nodded her head towards the large doorway behind him.
"What was it, that those nobleman said to you that made you come out here in the first place?" Arthur persisted, unwilling to leave their solitude so soon.
"Ah . . . I think they wanted to know when you were going to marry me, and I didn't know anything about that, so I had no way to really answer the question." Her words settled in her skull and she sent Arthur a look of alarm and apology. "N-Not me as in me, b-but rather Lady Morgana." The hand-maiden got out quickly, feeling so much a servant, even in spite of all her finery that evening.
Arthur wrinkled his nose. "I'd rather be wed to a mule!"
"A mule?! But she's smart, and brave and beautiful and . . . " Gwen went on the defensive for her mistress.
"And impossible to get along with for any length of time." Arthur continued, though a smirk on his face made it clear he really didn't think those were the next words in Gwen's list.
She narrowed her eyes at him. "That isn't true at all, I get along with her perfectly."
"You can marry her then." Arthur grinned, crossing his arms across his red-clad chest and leaned back casually against the railing to enjoy Gwen's little bit of temper. It was so rare that seeing it felt like a treat.
"Wha . . . You . . . Ugh!" The brunette had nothing to really to say to that, or to him, her angry disbelief was consuming her head. Then she realized she was yelling at Prince Arthur, at Crown Prince Arthur. She clamped a hand over her mouth, horrified at her behavior. Ducking her head, she bowed to him. "I apologize, sire, for my continuing inability to mind my manners with you."
"Do me a favor Guinevere . . ." He began.
When he said her name like that it was all she could muster to refuse him, and she couldn't just then. She nodded. "Of course."
"Stop apologizing." He smiled at her in a kindly way that was both surprising, given his usual demeanor, and yet suited him perfectly all the same.
Gwen was stunned for a moment, but she quickly recovered. Lowering her mahogany gaze to return the smile shyly, eyes bright where they peered from under her long lashes. "If it as my grace wishes, certainly I shall see it done." Then a frightening thought occurred to her, bursting into her mind like a wild rabbit running from a fox. She let out a gasp. "What if someone has heard us out here? Oh no . . ." Hands pressed to her cheeks she looked around her, peering into the small hallway that led to the balcony. "It would ruin everything!"
"Relax." Arthur laughed lightly at the quick change in her temperament. "We are quite alone, my lady."
"If we are so alone, what use is there for 'my' title?" Gwen asked.
"Is there another one you would prefer?" Arthur returned.
"Certainly not, your grace. I would prefer no title at all, but the illusion requires it." The handmaiden still felt restless in the pretty gown she wore.
"You called it that before, but if it is an illusion, it's a nice one." Arthur eyed her attire and took note of her blushing cheeks when she became aware of his attention. "It is a lovely shade on you, truly."
"Ahh, t-thank you, sire." Feeling horribly bashful, Gwen bit her lower lip and turned her head to look back out at the courtyard. "Well, we should both be getting back, or everyone will wonder where we've gotten off to."
Arthur nodded. "Yes, I think you're right." He curled his left arm for Gwen to take but she only just stared at him inquiringly. "Guinevere . . . my arm, take it." An amused grin tugged at the corner of his mouth.
"Oh! Oh, yes, right of course." Shy to do so, the handmaiden forced herself. When her hands clasped together just above Arthur's elbow, Gwen could not help but notice that it felt comfortable, as if the pair of them were made to fit in such a way. Self-conscious at the thought, she schooled her features as the young Pendragon led her back inside to continue the charade for the night.
Everyone at court had begun to question when Prince Arthur would take a bride, and he resigned himself to being asked such a thing with more frequency. That Gwen had been asked was not so surprising, considering who she was masquerading as. Queen Morgana. Arthur posed the image and title together in his mind, resisting the desire to crinkle his nose. There had once been an attraction between the ward and himself, but as the years went on, it dissipated. Lately he could think on Morgana as an adopted sister and the idea of marrying one's sister was not so pleasant.
Gwen held his arm timidly but with a steady grip, the hallway sconces lighting their faces as they neared the Lord's Hall. Her skin was lined with a golden silhouette in the candlelight and Arthur had time to admire her. The prince might have wondered why he had never noticed it before . . . but Guinevere was beautiful. Perhaps she was like a rare gem, left in the dust for so long that the beauty seemed faded, but as she was dressed to be a lady of court, that gem had been polished.
She must have felt him admiring her, because she tilted her head to smile up at him, bracing herself for a remaining evening of pretense. Arthur smiled in return, offering in that smile a bit of his strength and resolve that she might use for herself. A wave of chatter and music surrounded the pair as they stepped into the wide hall, more than a few pairs of eyes looking in their direction.
As Gwen wandered away to rejoin the fray, Arthur watched her go. The thought passed through his mind, and escaped through his lips in a very faint whisper, drowned out by the sounds of the festivities. "Queen Guinevere." The title and name seemed unexpectedly suited for one another and when the prince readied himself for an evening of his own form of pretense, he felt pleased by the notion.