Title: The Swordsman
Characters/Pairings: Arthur/Gwen (or Swordsman/Gwen), Merlin, Morgana, Uther, Leon, OCs
Word Count: 7,319
Spoilers: None, really. Although it takes place after S1, as if S2 never happened.
Warnings: Besides general smut, JUST SOME CRACK. He has a secret identity! He's like a superhero or something! He's practically Batman! (Or the Nightwatchman, as I realized at some point. Haha. That was by accident.) (Cont'd in A/N)
Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin. Because if I did… I might actually try making up a reason to put Arthur in a mask for an episode…
Summary: Arthur takes it upon himself to protect the lower town from crime. Meanwhile, Gwen is romanced by a masked vigilante…
A/Ns: I swear I did my best to make the crackery believable! I just couldn't bring myself to go full-out crack (nor do I have the talent for decent full-out crack). So no clichéd narration, like "A shadow-shrouded figure crouched on the rooftops of Camelot, waiting for his time to strike. It was a tough job, protecting this God-forsaken city from seedy crime, but someone had to do it. And that man… was the Swordsman." No BAMs, POWs, or SHAZAMs either. However I couldn't help some of the Batman references… (and perhaps a weak Phantom of the Opera one, too)
Was written for LJ comm kinkelot's challenge of 'anonymity.' This somehow occurred to me & then the fic totally ran away with me…
"Will you stop complaining?"
"Well maybe if you stopped jabbing me like a pincushion."
"Maybe if you stopped moving."
"I'm only moving because you can never sew me up without causing just as much injury!"
"Do you want Gaius to do it?" Merlin asked, fully exasperated.
Arthur stopped looking over his shoulder at his manservant, where the wound on his back was being stitched up. "You know he can't. He would ask too many questions."
"Then you should wear armor so you don't get as many injuries. I'm sure Gwen could help us out. She still has armor in her father's smithy."
"I don't want her involved. Don't want anyone involved. The fact that you know is already risky enough; you're terrible with secrets."
"Oh, you'd be surprised," the manservant muttered under his breath.
"I said I could nick some from the castle armory."
Arthur shook his head. "Armor is too loud. Hardly ideal for sneaking around in the shadows."
"At least mail?"
"Still too loud."
"It would keep me from having to stitch you up so often."
"Then I guess I'll have to take my chances with you," he growled.
The lower town had grown dangerous in the past few months, particularly at night. A person being robbed on the street was now common. There were occasions of houses being broken into while people slept. There were even rumors of women getting violated in alleys.
Then there were the terrible instances when people were killed in a struggle with their attacker, if they didn't cooperate or the criminal got too riled up. Those were the most troubling.
The dramatic increase in crime had all started when King Uther had withdrawn the nightly guard patrol from the lower town. His reasoning was that the lower town had always been dangerous, because the common people would partake in such criminal activities with or without the guard patrol. He didn't want to waste the guards on a fruitless task.
The fact that it was cheaper also helped, no doubt.
And so the people's safety in the lower town quickly plummeted. Even those who were not yet victims did not feel safe. In a kingdom that had once prided itself with protecting its citizens, people were living in fear. A populace was supposed to be protected by their sovereignty, not neglected by it.
So if the guard patrol wasn't there to keep the people safe, something had to be done about it.
The streets seemed quiet tonight – not that it really meant much. There was never any tell-tale of what would take place any given night until the second it happened.
A few brave souls were on the streets. Brave or foolish… or criminal.
Although you could generally spot the innocent ones by how fast they walked. Even those who were locking up their adjacent shops scurried next door to their homes. And anyone that had to commute more than a block came close to running, like one unlucky woman that seemed to be making the longest journey of them all. She walked unusually fast for someone so small, her cloak billowing wildly. It was a near miracle she made it all the way to her destination without being accosted.
And that's how it went, night after night: lurking unseen in the shadows, watching and listening, until something went wrong.
It happened an hour or more later, when a man whistled softly to alert his companions and gestured down a street. There were three in total, the other two coming out of various corners to approach the figure the first man had alerted them to.
It was the same woman from before, walking in the direction she had come from previously that night. Then a fourth man suddenly blocked her way. She made to change her route, when the initial three came behind her.
The woman stiffened. "I don't have any money," she said quickly. Her grip tightened on her basket merely out of trepidation, as it was clearly empty.
"Well until we have a good look, I don't think we can trust you on that," the apparent leader answered, taking a step forward. While he did, another one suddenly grabbed her arms from behind, her basket falling to the ground.
She immediately struggled against him and her cloak's hood fell, revealing tanned skin and dark curls.
Guinevere? What was she doing here?
The revelation was a spur to action.
The first attack was a slash to the leader's arm. He retracted it from Guinevere, yelling out in pain and turning toward where it came. Another man approached, raising the club he carried. But his grip on it was loosened and the club sent flying with one calculated strike of a sword. He was knocked off balance, on the ground with one kick. The leader seemed to have recovered the shock, drawing a knife and running forward, but a second slash to his face discouraged him. Meanwhile the third advanced, getting in one good swipe with his own knife. The attack was nearly avoided, a defensive jab mortally catching him in the chest.
As the body hit the dirt, the other three halted before turning and running.
Guinevere stumbled forward once released, glancing over her shoulder at the retreating figures.
"So you are real," she said breathlessly.
"What do you mean?" Arthur asked, keeping his voice low in hopes to disguise it from her.
"I heard rumors about the Swordsman, but I hardly thought they were true."
"That's what you're being called. There's not exactly much to go by. Or would you prefer something else? The Masked Man? The Dark Knight? The Caped Crusader?" she quipped.
Arthur made a face that was barely visible under the mask and hood, but said nothing and sheathed his sword.
Seemingly undeterred by the attack, Guinevere reached down for her basket which was empty save for a cloth and breadcrumbs.
"You shouldn't be here. It isn't safe."
"Well that's too bad. I live here."
"You live in the middle town."
Her eyebrows drew into a suspicious expression. "And how would you know that?"
"I saw you come down from there," he answered, thinking quickly. "So what are you doing here?"
"You're not the only altruist, you know."
"Oh, you're defending the streets as well?"
"No. People need food and medicine. Crime isn't the sole problem here, but it certainly isn't helping."
"And if you keep wandering the streets at night, you're going to get yourself killed."
"How about you do your job, I do mine?"
"You putting yourself in harm's way is interfering with my job."
She sighed. "I know you're doing good here. And I admire that. But I'm not going to stop helping these people."
Arthur's fists balled up and he put them on his hips. "So you're just going to keep putting yourself in danger."
"Yes," she answered distractedly, staring at where his cloak had been pulled back by his jutting out elbows. "You're bleeding."
He glanced down. "I know."
Gwen's hands went to his shirt, pulling it up and revealing a horizontal cut across his torso from the thief's slashing knife. She took the cloth from her basket and pressed it to the wound.
"You're lucky. It's not much more than a scratch," she said upon further inspection.
Her fingertips grazed over his skin while she held the cloth against him. He nodded and swallowed, his abdomen contracting under her touch.
"So you don't need to look so guilty," he returned, trying to keep his voice steady.
A moment passed, while they just stood there in silence. Her eyes flickered up to him, both thrilling him strangely and making him fear she recognized him.
Gwen's next breath was shaky. "I suppose I should thank you."
"That's not necessary."
She pulled back her cloth, checking that the wound had stopped bleeding, and put it back in her basket.
"I will anyway," she whispered.
And without any warning, she lifted up on her toes to kiss him.
Gwen couldn't stop thinking about the Swordsman.
It wasn't just because she was somehow attracted to him – not that she had any idea what he looked like. His mask covered the upper half of his face and the rest of it was shadowed by his hood. All she could make out were the light color of his eyes – blue? grey? green? – and the vague shape of his mouth.
Not that she needed to know much about the look of his mouth when she knew what it felt like. For those few seconds she'd pressed her lips to his – longer than she had meant to, but it was hard to stop when he didn't pull away – she'd forgotten that she was kissing a strange man and just focused on how good it felt.
But, no, she wasn't just thinking about him like that.
She knew the Swordsman was a good man. That was apparent in his actions. Yes, for all the stories of the Swordsman being a hero, there were a few that speculated he was wicked. But Gwen had seen his righteousness firsthand. He'd saved her.
And he gave her hope. She needed hope, especially in these times. The Swordsman proved that at least some men were still decent and would stand up for the people, to fight for them, to protect them. That gave him her utmost admiration.
It was all these thoughts that distracted Gwen while she stood in court.
"What has you in such a dreamy state today?"
Gwen tried to keep from blushing at Morgana's question.
"Nothing of importance, my lady."
"Really? Because I would have guessed it was a man."
"No, not a man." More like a specter, she mused.
"Fine, keep me in suspense," Morgana finished light-heartedly.
Gwen shook her head a fraction, still denying it, and turned her attention toward court.
"And what is the next matter of business?" King Uther asked.
"Reports from the lower town, your majesty," Sir Leon offered, stepping forward.
The king signaled for Leon to continue.
"A man was killed last night in the street."
Uther nodded. "Unfortunate, but it is known to happen in the lower town."
"Yes, your majesty," Leon continued apprehensively. "But the circumstances seem to have been… different than usual."
"Instead of the dead man being a victim of thievery, he seemed to be the thief himself. Killed by a man," Leon swallowed in his hesitance, "known as the Swordsman."
Gwen stiffened at the name.
"What do you mean 'known as the Swordsman?'"
"There were only ever rumors of him before, your majesty. No proof whatsoever, just stories people told of a man who went after criminals in the lower town. They started calling him the Swordsman, as that is the weapon he carries. Hearsay is –" Leon stopped himself, but the king's eyes widened and the knight knew he must finish his thought. "Hearsay is his sword skills could match the prince himself," he concluded quickly.
A booming laugh came from Prince Arthur, seemingly more amused than offended.
"But no one knows who he is?" Uther asked, ignoring his son and far more serious.
"No one has come forward with concrete information. But it is said he wears a disguise."
"So there is an unknown vigilante roaming Camelot?"
"It would seem so, your majesty."
Uther's jaw stiffened, a sign of his mounting anger. "The fact he disguises himself only convinces me of his guilt, his actions no more forgivable just because they are believed to be done for good. The man is taking the law in his own hands and that is inexcusable. I want it known that Camelot does not tolerate vigilantes. And I want this – Swordsman arrested like any other criminal."
"Father, if I may?" the prince interrupted.
"I think if this… 'Swordsman' is as good as they say," he said in good humor, "then he might go uncaught. But perhaps if the guard patrol is returned to the lower town, the swordswinger will disappear and the trouble he causes gone with him."
Uther turned his head toward his son, his voice low and rigid. "Arthur, we've discussed this before."
"And I stand by my opinion, my lord. The guard patrol will probably discourage him," he returned in an equally quiet tone.
The king ignored him, addressing Sir Leon. "See to the vigilante being captured."
"I told you you shouldn't come down here anymore."
Gwen turned sharply to see the Swordsman emerge from the shadows. Catching her breath, she stepped into the alleyway to address him. "And you shouldn't be down here either. The king considers you as much of a threat as the rest of the criminals."
"Well, until the king sends guards to patrol the lower town, I don't plan on stopping."
"You plot against the king?"
The Swordsman scoffed. "Hardly."
"Regardless, he wants you caught."
He just shrugged. "Maybe if there are guards around to try and catch me, they can do some of my work for a change. Or maybe their presence will be enough to deter the criminals."
"You're not worried?"
"Well you should be."
"Are you worried?"
"Worried about what?"
"About me being caught."
Gwen's breath stuttered in her chest. "Why would I be?"
"You did kiss me."
"That was just for saving me."
He nodded slowly, watching her face for a moment before continuing. "Nevertheless, I don't want you coming to the lower town anymore."
"We already had this conversation. Some people here depend on me."
"But it's unsafe for you."
"Are you worried about me?"
"I just don't want to have to keep saving you."
"You mean you don't want any more kisses."
The Swordsman smirked. "I never said that."
"Well maybe you'll get lucky again."
Gwen turned to step back out of the alleyway, but he caught her hand.
"I think it brave and extremely kind to come help those who need it most. But I don't want you killed in the process."
"I think that keeping me safe would be one of your responsibilities. That's what you are, aren't you? A protector of the people?"
"Except you're deliberately putting yourself in danger."
"I'm not going to stop helping people just because you tell me to."
"So you want me to keep risking my neck to save yours?" he joked.
Despite his tone, his words sobered Gwen. Her free hand hovered over his shirt, where he'd been cut. "How are you?" she whispered.
"It's fine. Nearly healed." He lifted his shirt as proof.
Gwen's fingers slowly reached out and gingerly traced the cut. "I'm sorry you were hurt while saving me."
She felt his abdomen move as he slowly took a breath. "I've had worse. Believe me."
"How can I believe anything you say when you wear a disguise?"
"Actually, I think the disguise makes me freer to act how I want and say what I feel."
"And what do you want?"
The light eyes behind his mask locked on hers. "What I want…" his hand pressed hers flat against his bare abdomen, "is for you to kiss me again."
Gwen flushed. Truthfully, she'd been thinking about kissing him again since she'd last seen him. "I thought you wanted to help people."
"I do and I am. I'm helping you."
"Because I think you want to kiss me. You're just afraid to."
"I'm not afraid."
"Ah, but you don't deny wanting to kiss me."
"So maybe I do."
"Then why don't you?"
"I don't know who you are."
"That's what makes it fun."
She smiled, but shook her head.
"Truthfully, you might be one of the few people who know me best."
"And just how do I know you?"
He leaned forward. "You know I'm the type of man who wants to help the people of Camelot. I'm like you, I suppose."
"Except I don't wear a mask."
"You would, too, if you were me."
"And why is that?"
"Because I am very ugly," he whispered an inch away from her lips.
She couldn't help her giggle.
"I live in the caverns under the city and only come out at night because sunlight burns my skin."
"You poor thing."
Her hand went up to stroke his cheek, which he promptly snatched. They both froze.
"I wasn't going to take off your mask, if that's what you're worried about," she whispered, still startled.
He swallowed. "Sorry. Just instinct I guess."
"Why do you care so much if I know what you look like?"
"As you said, I'm a wanted man now. Knowing who I am puts you at risk."
Gwen nodded her understanding. "I just wanted to touch you."
His grip loosened, letting her hand slide out to reach his cheek again. He practically shivered at her touch as she stroked what the mask exposed of his cheek, traced his jaw, and then ran her fingers over his mouth until just her pointer rested on his bottom lip, pulling it slightly down. Then she felt his tongue skim against her fingertip, making her gasp soundlessly at the sensuality of it. He seemed to deflate a little when she withdrew her finger, but was quickly gratified when she replaced it with her lips.
She pressed a soft kiss on his bottom lip before pulling back to see him. It was hard to gauge his expression with his mask and the darkness, but he remained perfectly still, as if spellbound.
The hand that had since been resting on his stomach shifted to clutch his waist as she moved closer. Her breaths became heavier as she hovered over his mouth once more. She slanted her lips against his, carefully tasting him. His tongue met hers before pressing back against her lips a little harder. Their mouths angled further, kissing deeper, tongues sliding against each other. Gwen was getting lost, grazing his lip with her teeth and sucking on his tongue. His hands were at her waist, pulling her closer, so she pushed against him to back him into the alley wall.
He winced sharply, making her jump back.
"Wound on my back is still healing," he explained quickly. "Told you I'd had worse."
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
"You didn't know."
Clearly unfazed, he turned them both around to press her against the wall. Gwen's stomach swooped when his whole body seemed to connect with her.
He resumed the kiss, now bolder with her as he coaxed her lips back open. His tongue worked deep into her mouth so that she moaned, her hands on him gripping tighter. She didn't want him to stop, didn't want to let him go. Didn't want this moment to end.
"People are going to think you're ill if you keep sleeping in all the time."
Arthur groaned, picked up a pillow next to him, and threw it behind him in hopes he made his target. A muffled oomph from his manservant told him he'd succeeded.
"You have no idea what it's like to always be saving people without getting any appreciation for it," he mumbled into his pillow. "That on top of my constant everyday duties… It's exhausting."
"You're right, sire. I would have absolutely no idea what you're going through. Not-a-clue."
Arthur ignored him, closing his eyes and trying to fall back asleep.
Well, maybe it wasn't entirely unappreciated. He has gotten to kiss Guinevere. Quite a lot of times, actually, since he'd saved her those weeks ago.
He opened his eyes to see Merlin hovering above him, Arthur's smile replaced with a scowl. "I was having a pleasant dream, Merlin."
"It involved me sleeping without having any annoying manservants waking me up."
"Fine, then I won't help you get ready for your meeting with the king in a half hour."
"I don't say it enough, Gwen. You are too kind."
"Thank you, Rosa. But I can't stand to see your family or anyone else suffer misfortune."
"I don't know what we would do without you, after Jeffrey died."
"You still get by."
"Only just. And I would fear for Amelia's fever if you hadn't brought that medicine. But I am afraid you do too much, coming down here at night. I worry for your safety."
Gwen placed her hand on Rosa's arm. "I feel perfectly safe with the Swordsman protecting the streets."
"The Swordsman!" a young voice interrupted their whispers.
All four children sat up in their beds, crying out about the Swordsman.
"Oh no," Rosa laughed. "I'm afraid they'll never let you go if you start talking about the Swordsman. A lot of the children in the lower town seem quite taken with him." She walked over to pat little Jeffy's head. "Especially this lot. However they need to say goodnight to Gwen," she then addressed them.
"But the Swordsman!" Amelia piped up.
Gwen was at Amelia's side in an instant, coaxing her to lie back down. "Alright, I can tell you about the Swordsman. But only if you all promise your mother you'll go to sleep right after."
Four frantic nods answered her.
"What do you know about him?"
"Why does he wear a disguise?"
"It's not a disguise, Hannah. He wears it to protect his skin."
"How's it protect him?"
"Because the Swordsman's skin is extremely pale. So fair, that if he goes out in the sun or even too much moonlight, his skin would burn."
"But the Swordsman can't be hurt!"
"Yeah! He's invin-i-bul!"
"Of course he can be hurt. He's as human as you or me. He's just like any of us."
"Then why is his skin so pale?"
"Because he lives…" Gwen widened her eyes, keeping the children in suspense, "in the caves under the city – with the bats."
"Isn't that scary?"
"No. The bats are the Swordsman's friends. They taught him the ways of the night."
"But why does he help us?" Amelia's small voice asked.
"Well, because he used to live in the lower town when he was a little boy. But one night he was walking with his parents when a thief demanded their money and ended up killing both his parents. Left an orphan, he went to live in the caves. There he vowed that he would never let what happened to him happen to anyone else. That's why he protects us."
All four children stared at her with wide eyes, until Jeffy broke the silence.
Arthur's hood was off.
Sure, he still had his mask on. And they were in a particularly dark part of an alleyway, where he couldn't see anything but vague silhouettes. But his hood had fallen down and that was risky. What if that was enough for Guinevere to recognize him?
Not that she seemed too concerned, the way she was kissing his neck.
She was pressed up against him, holding herself up with one hand on his shoulder, the other stroking the back of his neck. And he was keeping her body tight against his with his hands on her back, her breasts crushed flat against his chest. She felt amazing this close to him, her body warm against his and her breath hot on his skin.
He bit his tongue, wanting to moan her name. Guinevere. Or even just 'Gwen'. But she thought he didn't know her, so she'd question how he knew her name.
"Tell me your name," he gasped out.
Her mouth moved up to his ear. "You tell me yours, I'll tell you mine," she whispered sensually.
He bit his lip to keep from grunting his frustration. He couldn't tell her his name.
Then she sucked on the lobe of his ear and he couldn't hold back a whimper. God, he just wanted to reveal himself so he could say her name.
In the next moment, he found her mouth again and kissed her fiercely for everything he couldn't tell her.
My name is Arthur. And the man you're currently kissing is the bloody prince of Camelot.
Gwen had a stranger's thigh between her legs.
Well, no. She knew him… in a way.
But she had no idea who he was, what he did in the daylight hours… She didn't even know his name.
She had hoped she'd get it out of him two weeks ago, when he asked – practically begged – for hers. But he apparently wasn't going to give it up that easily.
And now she was pressed between him and an alley wall, his thigh rubbing against her through the material of her dress and she didn't so much as know his name.
Though there was something strangely arousing about that. The indecency of letting some strange man do this to her in an alleyway. The mystery and the suspense of not knowing who he was. Even some danger about it… Well, she knew he'd never hurt her.
But he could – hypothetically, of course. And that was exciting somehow.
Or maybe it was just the fact that she was riding his leg as he ground it against her, the friction of her dress, his trousers, and his thigh working her into a frenzy. By now she was panting so heavily, she had to stop kissing him or risk passing out. So he settled for kissing her shoulder and neck, which she'd exposed to him after throwing her head back against the wall.
She was well aware of the sounds she was making – quiet, but perfectly audible to him in the silence of the night. Each gasp and moan, growing more insistent as she felt something build inside her.
Her hands traveled down from his shoulders to his bum, making him grunt. She gripped him tightly, urging him forward with each oscillation he made against her body. She had to bite her lip to keep herself from getting too loud, each pass of his thigh between her legs feeling better and better…
A shout permeated from somewhere in the distance.
"I have to go," he said hurriedly. In an instant, he was gone, no doubt toward whatever had caused the commotion.
Gwen leaned back against the wall, unable to hold back a frustrated sigh.
Even though Arthur was out as the Swordsman every night, Guinevere was only in the lower town a few times a week and her schedule did not have a clear pattern.
So when he finally saw her walking back from the houses she'd visit, he couldn't help his smile… and sigh of relief.
"And I thought you'd finally followed my advice to stay out of the lower town."
It had gotten to the point that Gwen no longer jumped when he snuck up behind her, turning calmly and sliding into the nearest alley with him. "When will you learn I don't scare so easy?"
His voice turned from charming to sober. "Actually, I'd been wondering if I'd scared you away. You haven't been here for awhile."
"Just a couple days."
She couldn't help the smile. "But what would you have done that scared me away?"
Arthur sighed. "I mean…" When I'd nearly gotten you off? "The last I saw you. Before we were interrupted."
"Oh," she whispered coyly. "I thought it was clear that I liked that."
"In the moment, yes. But I didn't know if you had regretted it since then."
Guinevere placed her hands on his chest. "I only regret being interrupted. I hope whatever called you away had the culprit dealt with accordingly."
"I tied him to the nearest post to be found by the guards the next morning. I've been doing that lately, leaving gifts for the guards now that they know I'm more than a rumor."
"Just be careful you're not caught."
"I don't have to worry about that."
Guinevere sighed at his stubbornness.
Arthur knew she worried for him, and he wished he could ease her fears. Because as prince, he was privy to all the details of the plans to catch the Swordsman. He memorized the guard change schedules and knew all the routes they took. He had all the inside information he needed to keep from being caught.
And even if he was caught, he knew once his identity was known that he would not receive punishment. His father would be livid, of course, perhaps even throw him in the dungeons for a day or more in an attempt to 'make him think about his actions'. But there wasn't any actual threat to him, besides his father's disapproval.
All that might happen would be his father still refusing to have guard patrol in the lower town, preventing Arthur from returning as the Swordsman, and leaving the citizens there to fend for themselves again. That would be the real punishment.
Arthur covered her hands with his in a hope to soothe her. "You don't have to worry about me, either."
"You're hurt again," she said disapprovingly, eyeing the long cut on the back of his left hand.
He shrugged. "It's barely anything."
"You get hurt a lot, don't you?"
"Occupational hazard. I'm used to it by now." He had been since he was young, training to be a knight.
"And what were you just saying about me not worrying about you?" She bent her head, pressing a gentle kiss to his hand.
He smirked. "Actually, I kind of like that you worry about me."
"I just wish I believed you were invincible like the children do. Then I wouldn't have to worry."
"The children that idolize you. You've become quite popular among the lower town, especially with the younger citizens. I know a little boy who's made himself a cape and mask and runs around in it with his siblings, playing games. They all fight over who gets to be the Swordsman."
He laughed softly. "You're pulling my leg."
She grinned and shook her head. "And you should have never told me you lived in the caverns under the city. I told a few of them that and now it's being spread around."
He chuckled. "I rather like that, actually."
"You're much of what people talk about, these days." Guinevere paused, glancing down at her hands and smiling sweetly. "They're beginning to feel safe again."
She had that look of adoration in her eyes again; Arthur loved when she looked at him like that.
"Sometimes you must wish you could take the credit for all you've done."
"Sometimes," he agreed. "But the admiration of one woman is all I need at the moment."
Guinevere smiled and kissed him.
"You mean this?" she whispered against his mouth.
He hummed his affirmative, recapturing her lips as he backed them both against the wall. Her surrender was immediate, followed not long after by a counterassault. Hands snaked up to his shoulders, pulling him closer and pressing her lips harder against him.
"Make love to me," she whispered.
The Swordsman stopped kissing her and pulled back. Though she could not see his face, she knew she must have caught him by surprise.
"I want you," she assured him. "Please."
He wet his lips and said raggedly, "But… your honor."
She shook her head. "That was taken years ago by a boy with more promises than virtues."
"It leaves me free to make love to a man that deserves it, without second thought," she replied with a shrug of her shoulder. "And this time I know I will not regret it."
"What happened to you not knowing who I am?"
"I know who you are," she said smiling.
His eyes widened. She knew?
"I know you're the Swordsman and I know your heart," she said, placing a hand back over his chest. "That's all I need to know."
She bit her lip as he stood in silence for a long minute. "I thought… you would want this as well."
He didn't waste a moment before kissing her firmly. "Of course I want this," he panted.
He pulled one of her knees up to his hip, pressing against her body in a slow grind. She gasped, helping him pull up her skirt and whimpering as his hands caressed her thighs. She clasped onto the waist of his trousers, struggling to untie them when his fingers began stroking her center. She was finally able to reach down his pants, being met by his groan as she rubbed him in return.
"I need you now," he rasped a moment later, pulling his trousers down and taking her hand off him.
He slipped into her slowly, drawing long moans from them both. His head bent down, hot pants running over her skin as he began to thrust into her. She held onto his shoulders for dear life as he drove into her and she met each stroke. One of his own hands found her breast, cupping it through the material, massaging it, working her nipple with his fingers – just more sensations to add on top of everything else.
It was intoxicating, making her forget everything else in the world but him and the pleasure he was giving her as it mounted higher and higher until she came crashing back down, him following a second behind, moaning something into her hair.
Gwen kept replaying her night with the Swordsman over and over in her head while she lie awake later that evening.
She should have been horrified that she let an unknown man have sex with her. Against a wall. In an alleyway. Where they could have been discovered at any moment.
Yet she wasn't.
Because she had wanted to give herself to him, regardless of his identity.
She didn't sleep. She only thought of him.
Of his kisses, impossibly hungrier and more passionate than ever before.
Of his hands, knowing exactly where and how to touch her.
Of his voice, the deep timbre as he moaned against her and spoke to her in ragged whispers.
Of his cock, giving her more pleasure than she had ever experienced, driving her toward the brink of ecstasy.
Yes, she thought of that moment especially, the explosion of pleasure and tide of contentment when she'd keened into his shoulder and he'd moaned her name.
… Sudden realization shook Gwen.
He'd moaned her name? He knew her name?
The next day, Gwen was torn between ecstasy and shock.
She had had one of the best nights of her life, and she was not planning on regretting that. But the fact remained that he knew her name. After more than an hour of deliberation, she knew that it wasn't just her imagination that he had called it out. At the time, she must have just been too wrapped up in the moment to realize that he didn't know her name.
Or at least that's what she had thought.
She supposed it was quite possible that he had followed her home one night and then asked her neighbors her name the next day without his disguise. For all she knew, she could have run into him on the street and not been aware of it. She could even see him every day with no idea that he was the Swordsman.
"You've been distracted a lot lately."
"I'm sorry, my lady," she addressed to Morgana as they walked down for court.
"You mustn't apologize, Gwen. It is forgivable for someone to be consumed by thoughts of their sweetheart. I can only be happy for you."
Gwen could only blush and shake her head in stubborn denial.
"I only wish I could hear more about this mystery man."
Well, he is a mystery. "It's not so easy to, my lady."
"Well what's his name?"
"I cannot give you that." For she did not know it.
"You can be so secretive sometimes."
Oh, she is not the one who's secretive.
"It only forces me to imagine the most outlandish and fanciful things."
"What if I told you it was the Swordsman?"
Morgana laughed and beamed. "Not even I would come up with something that fantastic."
Gwen shrugged and could not help a smile.
"Let me guess. He saved you from a band of miscreants before whisking you away to his lair."
"Something like that."
"Is it true he lives in the caverns under the city? I heard that somewhere."
"I would not know."
Morgana sighed as they reached the great hall. "At least you have given me a worthwhile distraction for the duller portions of court."
Gwen caught the ghost of a smile on Morgana's face every once and a while throughout court. As it seemed exceedingly monotonous that day, dragging on for what seemed to be hours. Gwen and Morgana did not seem to be the only ones who thought so, as the nobles' expressions grew vacant, the king kept shifting in his throne, and Prince Arthur repeatedly rubbed the sides of eyes out of tiredness with his finger and thumb.
That's when it caught her eye: the long cut on the back of Arthur's left hand. Like the Swordsman. Exactly like the Swordsman.
Gwen's heart began beating uncontrollably. It was getting hard to breathe.
It couldn't be. He couldn't be.
When Arthur lowered his hand from his eyes again, he must have noticed her looking at him because their eyes instantly locked. He saw his eyebrows work in confusion, before he seemed to remember his hand, glancing down at it in shock and looking back at her. His chest expanded in a deep breath, before she saw his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed.
And he knew that she knew.
"I must return to your chambers, my lady," she whispered quickly before hurrying out one of the servants' side doors.
Arthur had been on edge since court that morning. He didn't know what he was supposed to do. He assumed he should speak to Guinevere, but she'd rushed out of court and stayed with Morgana in her chambers all day, with no chance of him getting Gwen on her own.
Although that was assuming Guinevere wanted to speak to him. Maybe she wanted to never see him again.
That stung the most.
He was crouching in the shadows of lower town, unable to think about anything but Guinevere.
Making love to Guinevere.
Just holding her in his arms and hearing her whisper to him.
He wrapped his cloak tight around him at the nonexistent chill.
Now he'd probably never have that again.
At first he thought it was his imagination when he saw her walk past.
She had no basket with things to bring people, which made sense since she had just visited the lower town last night. Which meant she must be down here for another reason.
She must be here to see him.
He tried not to get too excited at that prospect, because she probably just wanted to confront him and tell him to leave her alone.
So did he even want to see her?
Knowing her stubbornness might keep her from leaving until she found him, he stepped out of the shadows and quietly called her name.
She turned, her face holding none of the delight he was used to when she saw him.
He gestured toward the nearest alley, both of them entering it in tense silence.
"I don't understand why," she finally began.
"Why… why you ever decided to dress up as the Swordsman, for one."
"If you haven't noticed, I've been trying to convince my father to return the guard patrol to the lower town ever since he removed it. Since he cannot be swayed, I took it upon myself. They are my people; I have a responsibility to them."
Her mouth became rigid, as she must not be able to find argument in that. "So you disguised yourself."
"I couldn't be seen as the prince, going against my father's wishes."
"And you let me think you were someone else," she said more forcefully.
"I cannot help what you thought," he defended.
"But how could you not tell me?"
"I couldn't tell you!"
"So instead you lied to me!"
"How was it any more a lie than before? You've always known I was keeping my identity secret!"
"But not telling me who you were had nothing to do with keeping me out of trouble. You did it for yourself. That was the lie."
Arthur shut his mouth tight, unable to deny that. "Fine," he said rigidly. "You're right. I was afraid of how you'd act once you knew who I was. But I think that was warranted."
In one swift movement, Arthur removed his hood and mask and took her by the upper arms. He leaned into her close, whispering, "Can you kiss me?"
"What?" she asked, her breath shaking.
"You never had any trouble kissing me as the Swordsman, but can you kiss me as Arthur?"
She glanced up at him fearfully before averting her eyes.
He swallowed hard. "I didn't think so." He let her go and stepped back.
"It's just… you're the prince now."
"And I was the prince before!"
"But this is different."
"Not for me! I am still the same person. I am as much of the Swordsman as I am the prince. But you clearly were only interested in the romantic fantasy of the former."
"That's not true!"
"My interest lay in your motives. In your willingness to risk your life to protect the people. In your care and dedication to them."
"And have I not always been that way?"
Guinevere closed her eyes and bit her lip.
"What you mean to say is that you just don't want me anymore," he returned vehemently.
"I never said I don't want you! It is an issue of not being allowed to have you. A servant can't call a prince her own. I don't have the right to do so."
"It's my choice who does or doesn't have a right to me. And I had given myself to you."
She was looking at him again, her gaze unwavering for the first time since he had taken off his mask.
"Servant or not, I couldn't help it," he finished quietly. Not wanting to lose this moment, he cupped her cheek. "Guinevere…"
He moved in slowly, anxiously hoping she wouldn't pull away and relieved when his lips finally pressed against hers without resistance. She gasped against his mouth and raised shaking hands to the back of his head. Her fingers thread through his hair, something she had never been allowed to do with the mask and hood. It felt good, her hands in his hair, keeping him close to her.
They finally broke, both of their expressions fearful as they watched the other.
"I should have told you," he lamented.
She bit her lip guiltily. "I understand why you didn't. I would probably not have taken it well."Her hands moved to cup his face and brush her thumbs over his cheekbones, which had always been covered by his mask. "But how did I not see it was you before?" she whispered breathlessly.
His arms encircled her waist to hold her near. "I'm sure it just never occurred to you that a prince would spend his nights lurking in the shadows. It is rather absurd."
"It's not absurd. Not when the prince feels such a duty to his subjects."
"Does that mean I have your forgiveness?"
"And what about your heart?"
"Do I still hold your heart now that you know my true identity?"
She sighed. "Yes. I wish it weren't so, since you are prince. But I cannot help what I feel."
"You forget something," he murmured lowly as he bent his head towards hers once again.
"What?" she breathed against his lips.
"Here, I am not the prince," he whispered right before kissing her. "I am the Swordsman."