Guinevere had always dreamed of becoming a knight. She envied the men who commissioned her father to forge their weapons, knowing she would never be able to draw any such weapon in the name of Camelot.
Since she was a child, she had been sneaking away to the palace, watching the knights run their drills from a peephole in one of the stables. Sometimes, she would fall asleep to the sound of clanging steel and distant battle cries. As she got older, she would watch and remember.
Her father must have known of her secret. When pieces of armor and weaponry would go missing from the armory, she would come up with some half-baked explanation and he would smile, shrug and tell her it must have been the work of magic. Sometimes she wondered if he knew more about magic than he let on.
During the day, she would dutifully perform her chores. At night, she would run off into the forest and practice what drills she remembered. She had become quite deft with a sword over the years but she knew she was mediocre at best compared to the knights of Camelot.
She was a girl, and the only fate that awaited her was marriage and childbirth. If she were lucky, she would become a servant in the palace, but never a knight.
For 18 years of her life, she believed becoming a knight was an unattainable dream. One day, her luck changed in the most extraordinary way.
The day, where our story begins, was not unlike any other day for Guinevere. She awoke at dawn and prepared breakfast for herself and her father. She, then, cleaned the cottage and polished the weapons her father had made the night before. There was so much work to be done that she never had a chance to sneak off to the palace.
The sun was just beginning to set as she finished polishing the last piece of armor. Her heart filled with excitement as she grabbed her favorite sword from the wall and ran inside the house to find a lantern.
There was nothing she loved more than the feel of a sword in her hand. The sword she held was different from the ones her father usually forged. It was smaller, lighter and seemed to fit perfectly into her hand. It had been in the armory for as long as she could remember, but she refused to believe that no one would purchase it. No, her father had made this sword for her.
She ran as fast as she could to her alcove in the forest wondering which of the many drills she would run today. Her "Rising Dragon" was a bit rusty, but so was her "Crescent Moon" formation. Maybe she would do both with the addition of—
Gwen stopped in her tracks as the ringing sound of steel filled the air. Someone, no, two someone's were in her alcove. She crouched down in the bushes and carefully moved some branches in the hedges to observe the scene before her.
"Please!" pleaded a young, boy as he held his blood-soaked hand against the wound in his side. "I'll give you whatever you want, just don't kill me!"
The man standing over him laughed raucously. "Don't be ridiculous you coward! Where's the fun in that? You should have known better than to take a shortcut to the palace. You're as stupid as they come! I'll be doing Camelot a favor!"
The boy whimpered and covered his face with his free hand. The bandit lifted his sword and prepared to plunge it into the boy's stomach.
Gwen wasn't sure why, but she suddenly sprung into action. She jumped from her hiding place in the bushes and raised her sword to block the bandit's blow. The bandit jumped back in surprise. The silence that followed was deafening.
The bandit was the first to regain his composure. He grinned revealing his yellow teeth. "A girl? Might I say that luck is definitely not on your side, lad! Fate has sent a woman to rescue you!"
Despite the situation, Gwen scoffed. "You say that like it's a bad thing.
"You have just sentenced yourself to death!" the boy cried from behind her. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
She glanced back at him and answered, "What is right."
"You are a fool," he said, closing his eyes and turning away from her.
"Indeed you are," said the bandit, laughter in his voice. He prepared himself to strike her. "Very well, woman. If you do not wish to stand aside, I have no choice than to strike you down where you stand."
"Funny," she said, stepping back into her own stance, "I was thinking the same exact thing."
The bandit shook his head before attempting to strike her side. She easily parried his strike and jumped back, regaining her stance. The bandit rushed at her again, this time swinging the sword in an arc towards her middle. Again, she parried the blow and jumped back.
The bandit lowered his sword slightly and laughed at her. "Whoever taught you how to wield a sword should have mentioned that the only way to win is to attack. Defense is for the weak. This is how it's done, woman."
He attacked her several times with more fervor. His strikes came down harder and faster than before, physically pushing her back as she blocked each and every one of them. Within a few minutes, the bandit had pushed her so far back that her back slammed into the tree. She slid down the trunk and hissed in pain as she slumped to the floor.
The bandit loomed over her and lifted her chin with the point of his sword. "To think that you, a woman, thought you had the capacity to defeat me. You put up a good fight, I'll give you that, but—"
Suddenly, Gwen's eyes shot open. She kicked the sword from his hand with her right foot, and plunged her sword as hard as she could into his chest. The Rising Dragon.
The bandit screamed in pain as he fell to the ground, blood seeping through his tattered clothing.
Gwen stepped toward him and stepped on his chest, looking down at him. "Whoever taught you swordsmanship should have told you to never underestimate your opponent no matter how small."
The bandit looked up at her, his lips forming words, but making no sounds. He coughed and sputtered, causing blood to spatter across her training pants. His eyes filled with anger as he tried in vain to have the last word.
Then he lay still.
Gwen wiped her sword on the ground as she approached the boy. He moved backwards as she approached him. His expression was fearful.
"Who are you?"
"Guinevere. Most people call me Gwen. Too lazy I suppose," she said. She stopped walking and placed her shaking hands on her hips. "Why are you moving away? I need to tend to that…"
A sudden wave of nausea washed over her, prompting her to run a few feet into the forest and wretch. She grabbed the drinking flask at her hip and took a swig, washing the taste out of her mouth, and returned to the alcove.
"Right," she said, her hands still shaking. "I need to tend to that wound of yours."
"You've never killed a man, have you?" the boy asked. It was more of a statement than a question.
"No," Gwen said, glancing downward. She felt ashamed at herself for her moment of weakness. "I've never killed anything. Not even the spiders that live in my closet. Which is surprising, because I find them so gross."
"Well, thank you," he said, smiling. "You saved my life. I am in your debt. Anything you ask of me I will gladly give to you."
Gwen got a good look at the boy at last. He was drenched in sweat, his curly hair stuck to his forehead, and his medium-toned skin flushed pink. She could feel something between them… a bond she couldn't quite explain. It wasn't attraction. Far from it, in fact.
"Have we met before?" she asked, kneeling down and gingerly removing his hand from his wound.
"Strange," he muttered, wincing as she examined his wound. "I was about to ask you the same question. I can't see how; you're a peasant and I'm a noble."
She deliberately pressed down on his wound causing him to yell in pain.
"Good God, woman!" He said as he glared at her, "What I meant is that we're hardly in the same social circle. I care not that you're but a peasant. You've already proven your worth to me."
"I shouldn't have to prove anything to you, my lord. We are both people. The only thing that makes us different is our blood," she said indignantly. She wiped her chin with her arm and placed it next to his blood soaked shirt. "You see? We are not that different after all."
"You certainly are an opinionated one, aren't you?"
Gwen smiled, suddenly feeling sheepish. "I get that a lot, Lord…"
"Leodegrance. Gwyddno Leodegrance. And I'm not a lord, I'm a prince. Father sent me here to learn from the best knights in the land. He thinks I'm not fit to be a prince as I am."
"I wonder why…" she thought.
"You don't need to be so snarky," he mumbled crossly. "I know I'm a coward. I was never meant to be a swordsman."
Gwen jumped back in fright. "How did you know what I was thinking?"
"Magic, of course," he said, brightly. "I know you guys don't look upon magic too kindly in these lands, but in Cameliard magic is seen as a gift because so few people are blessed with it. I have yet to find a master to teach me."
"I've never seen a wizard before," Gwen said, in awe. "You must never reveal that to anyone in Camelot or your life will be in grave danger."
"I've accepted that I will never become a full fledged wizard," he said, sighing dramatically. "I am doomed to become a knight."
"Knighthood is not doom in the slightest! It is the highest honor in the land. You get to learn from Prince Arthur himself! I can only dream of such a possibility."
Gwyddno snorted. "Arthur? Why would I want to learn from an arrogant prat like him?"
Gwen glared at him. "He's not a prat!"
He laughed, pressing his fingers to his wound. "You must have never met him if you can say that with such certainty."
"I've heard stories of his greatness! He defends Camelot with his life day after day! You don't know what you're talking about…" she trailed off, suddenly realizing who she was yelling at. "I'm sorry. Sometimes I get a little carried away."
"You know," said Gwyddno, suddenly standing up. "If I didn't know magic, I would have bled out by now and your bravery would have been for naught."
Gwen glanced down at his wound, confused. She then clapped her hands in front of her mouth in shock. "Your wound! It's healed!"
"No thanks to you," he said, winking. He wiped off his clothes and turned to face her. "You've got to control that mouth of yours; it may get you into trouble some day."
"Are you leaving?" she asked, sadly. It had been a long time since she had someone her own age to speak to. She had forgotten how nice it felt. "You won't even pass the first test as you are…"
"What did I tell you about that mouth?" he said, shaking his head at her. "You think I'm not aware of my cowardice? I am almost certain I will fail. If I am forced to return home, I can at least tell father that I tried. He may think me a failure, but he will disown me if I back out from a challenge."
"I didn't mean to offend you," she whispered. "I only worry for your safety. I know the entry process for knighthood is incredibly rigorous and you've just recovered from an awful wound."
"There is no way for me to escape my fate, Gwen," said Gwynddo, shaking his head. Then, suddenly, his eyes lit up. He glanced up and down Gwen's body, staring at her face for a long time. "Unless…"
He circled her, holding his chin between his index finger and thumb. "You know, if you were to cut your hair, you could pass as a man, albeit a very feminine one."
"I don't like where this is going," she mumbled.
"You seem to think highly of knights and you sure as hell fight like one…" he continued as though he couldn't hear her protest. "You could take my place! It's genius! You'll have access to all the books about magic and can smuggle some out of the castle for me."
"I really don't like where this is going."
He ignored her again, "Whilst I'm away practicing magic, you can learn to become a proper knight, which I'm sure you want to be!"
Gwen held her hand up to stop him. "You seem to forget that I'm neither a man nor of noble blood. I would have to lie and steal! That goes against the knight's code of honor!"
"Bend the rules! Show them you're worthy! Once you've done that, you can reveal that you're a woman. I'll reveal myself to my father once I become a great wizard."
"What if your father visits the castle? He will surely know that I am not his son!"
"We'll cross that bridge when we get there, Gwen," said Gwynddo, waving her away with his hand. "I'm giving you an extraordinary gift for saving my life. You'd be a fool not to take it. Are you in?"
Gwen's heart was beating so fast she thought it would jump right out of her chest. She never dreamed she would be given this chance. At least not under such precarious circumstances. It would be dangerous, it could result in her death or imprisonment, she would be lying to King Uther, the knights of Camelot, and Prince Arthur.
Sometimes, she thought, people just have to take a leap of faith and pray they land on victory's edge. Now was definitely the time to start praying.
"I am even
The natural fool of fortune."
King Lear Act 4, scene 6, 190-191
Hello! This is my first venture into the Merlin fandom. I am totally in love with the show and just discovered it about a month ago! Please let me know what you think. If there are some inaccuracies, it's because I am a novice in Arthurian legend. I researched a lot before I wrote this, but I'm no expert! Thanks for reading, and there will be more to come after I'm done with my final exams :) !