At first there seemed to be no light, no hope and no feeling that love would find a way. There wasn't before 'the incident' and there wasn't afterward. Deciding to become lovers would have been the easy part. It was deciding what to do next, that was the difficulty. That was the question that had constantly plagued Arthur's mind the months that followed after the joust, after his stay with Guinevere.
Every time he saw her whether it was in court, in the corridor or from afar standing by a window looking down on her he searched for the answer. Even when he did not see her, when he was alone or with Merlin or his father, he was thinking about her. His mind became devoid of all things except her. Thinking of her made him feel both happy and sad, often at the same time. Every time he thought her his heart felt like it was slowly breaking.
And he thought of her all the time so his heart was in a constant state of agony.
As he walked along he would see couples walking arm in arm. The ones that were his and Guinevere's age seemed to be constantly linked: lip to cheek, lip to neck, tongue to ear. Then there were the older couples who walked modestly and pleasantly, always discussing (or arguing) about some domestic issue. Yet the look in their eyes was always the same. They had that look, the look that said their love had stood the test of time; a look of complete adoration.
That hurt too. The look was one that Arthur recognised. He had seen it there in Guinevere's eyes that morning of the joust when she gave him that token. It had been there again before he made the first joust, as she helped him from his horse after he was hit, as she handed him his lance and told him not to joust a second time. And then when he returned to being 'Prince Arthur' it was there again in the seconds before he told her nothing could happen.
And he was certain she would have seen the look in his eyes too, the moment before he kissed her for the first time and then again as he was forced to walk away from her.
He knew he had no right to feel angry that she might find another man. He had expected it. Even if she felt the same way he couldn't blame her if she did move on and marry someone else. It was all very well for them to say 'one day when you are king'; it was all talk, just an idea... just a fantasy. It was a dream they shared, a little game they played. He knew it would be wrong to deny her a chance to have a normal life of being a wife and mother to a good man. Arthur felt that there were better men out there than him, and he hated to admit Lancelot was probably one of them. Merlin was one, too. They were ideal matches for Guinevere.
But seeing it there, right in front of his eyes... hurt so much.
For a brief second he felt like hating her. It seemed that as long as she existed in his life he would never be able to let her go and move on. Yet he could no longer imagine a world that did not feature Guinevere. That was the rub. To look at her, knowing that she was flattered by another man's intentions; that she would cry over loss of him... that hurt more than anything Arthur had ever experienced. He had never believed that such pain could exist without a visible wound. But he was wrong, and the wound was there in his eyes.
He could never bring himself to hate her. He just couldn't and he hated himself. Arthur had felt like a fool. He reminded himself that he was a prince and that if he should direct hate at anything it was the situation itself. And oh, how the situation hated him. It gave him nothing but pain and misery and his father and Lancelot and more pain and more agony and he had had enough!
Arthur could still live as a normal human being even if there seemed to be no end to the nag of torment in his head and his heart. There would forever be part of him that was empty. It hurt to see her whether she was with another man or not. It just hurt to be without her, and now he would always have to be without her. Merlin had briefly given him a glimmer of hope but seeing her with him had killed any chance Arthur might have foreseen. He wouldn't be hurt like that again. Never. And he wouldn't hurt her like that again, having to lie for shame of his own self-denial. After everything that had happened Arthur knew this for certain—love hurts.
There was only one thing he could do, and that was block it all out. He would simply have to cut open the wound and live with the scar. The only way was to never look her in the eye or allow himself to think of her... even if it meant being mindless for the rest of his life.
And if he saw her he would just smile and pretend nothing was wrong.
He tried to convince himself that he was doing a mercy to Guinevere too. He already had to live with the strong possibility that she did not love him, but he could not bear the thought of her pitying his feelings if she ever discovered the truth...
Gwen hated Arthur sometimes.
It wasn't just because she found him annoying in his snobbery or his childish attitude. The thing she truly hated was his inability to speak his mind, to tell the truth about his feelings and to show the inner nobility that he kept tucked under his prattish exterior. He left her hanging all the time so she didn't know whether she was coming or going. He left his feelings ambiguous; one moment he would defend her, the next he would just look at her with that unreadable face and say nothing. She didn't know whether he did it intentionally or was completely oblivious to the effect his actions had on her... but she hated him for it.
She hated him so much that she would sometimes go to bed, close to tears thinking about him. She'd think about that wonderful man that was so brave, honest and kind... and then compare him to the haughty idiot that tried to keep the real man hidden. Then she would toss and turn over her feelings for the man and the prat whilst bearing in mind they were both Arthur.
How she hated him! And she loved him. Gwen knew her feelings better than she liked to admit. The impossibility of their situation tried to convince her that she disliked Arthur because he was annoying. But she couldn't lie. The word 'hate' only came when you felt very strongly about a person.
It wasn't until Arthur that Gwen realised just how much the words 'love' and 'hate' were intertwined. There truly were days when Gwen would hate Arthur for the way he was, that he would irritate her and downright infuriate her. (Furthermore she suspected there were times when Arthur felt the same way about her.) But she would succumb to the quickening of her heart, the warmth that spread from her stomach to her whole body and realise that her 'hate' was fuelled completely by the fact that she loved Arthur.
It would be so much easier to love someone with a straight forward personality, someone who lacked the annoying and tightly wrapped layers that Arthur had. Lancelot was such as person. There were moments when Gwen could convince herself that she would be happier with a man like Lancelot, and that being with a man like him would make her forget Arthur.
But that would never happen.
The intense feeling of hopelessness, annoyance and adoration that mixed together in Gwen's view of Arthur made her all the more certain that her feelings for him would not fade. If anything it would only intensify. She knew she wouldn't even be able to hold another man's hand without the fear that she would look over her shoulder and see Arthur there.
And she was right.
The moment she looked into Arthur's darkened blue eyes there was nothing else but him and fear. It was fear she would lose him, even though she didn't actually have him. But she would lose those stolen glances, those dreams and fantasies that passed between them; their make believe game that 'one day' they would be together. In one quick swoop she feared she would lose the only insight she had into Arthur's soul. She suspected that she could spend years of her life picking apart his many layers to try and 'discover' him.
And all the waiting would be worth it.
It was because her feelings were so intense. It took up most of her time as she went about her duties around the castle. Each time she passed a corner she both hoped and dreaded crossing Arthur's path. The sight of him made her feel excited as she hoped at the back of her mind she would see something in his eyes that mirrored hers.
But he had only saved her because he was begged. That had hurt more than anything.
In those seconds she scolded herself for believing he could ever think of her more than a serving girl, for letting herself be taken in by his whims and letting him kiss her. It hurt how much she had loved that kiss too, how often she relived it; the feeling of his lips against hers.
Gwen hated feeling so sad but there was no helping it; she loved Arthur and it was not reciprocated. It hurt. There were moments where she felt she would have nothing to look forward to; she couldn't even have the half-decent reality let alone the thing she wanted. Lancelot was gone and Arthur didn't love her.
She felt like a fool.
When they meet in a corridor a few days after the incident they only allowed their eyes to meet briefly. Arthur has resolved to end their pointless forlorn gazes. Whenever he was in the same room as her, especially when Uther was holding court he kept his eyes straight forward, trying to ignore her standing in her usual spot in the corner of his eye.
They carried on walking towards each other. As they came closer Arthur prepared himself to force a smile in his attempt to pretend everything was 'fine'. There was a moment when Gwen looked as if she might even mutter a 'Good morning' or even just a simple 'Hello'. But it didn't happen. Arthur felt hurt but he imagined that Gwen was still angry with him.
Then came the crucial moment where they crossed paths. The entire length of the cloisters had seemed like a mile as they dreaded and anticipated the moment they would have to pass each other. It was a test of wills; would they be able to pass without revealing their feelings? Then it happened. They were side by side for less than a second yet somehow (likely due to lack of space) their arms momentarily brushed. The focus was gone and they looked at the other one's face.
Their eyes met and they finally spoke. "Guinevere," Arthur said hoarsely. "My lord," Gwen said neutrally.
Gwen tried hard to maintain a dispassionate expression, (unwittingly twisted the knife even deeper into Arthur's still fresh scar), but then she saw the look in his eyes. It was just as harrowing as the one he wore when they returned to Camelot. His eyes had never looked so blue then, or now. Her expression melted immediately and she could not help but slow down and turn her head to maintain eye contact.
But Arthur turned his head away. He felt ashamed as her expression softened. He could feel Gwen's eyes following him as she stopped and watched him stride further and further away. He wanted to look back desperately but he forced himself not to. He didn't know whether it was pride or determination but he just couldn't do it.
"Have a good day's training," Gwen added to her polite greeting.
Without thinking Arthur turned around. She had now stopped in the corridor completely, her expression soft and sweet to match his failed attempt to 'smile and pretend nothing was wrong'. She picked up on this too. There was something very wrong.
Arthur quickly turned away, muttered a 'thank you' and strode speedily away. He didn't breathe until he was out of the corridor and out of her sight. Then he gasped his chest painfully tight and his heart hammering within it. This just won't do! He would have to try harder next time.
"Are you feeling alright?"
Morgana had taken to asking Gwen that question a lot since the abduction. It was a question Gwen expected and dreaded every time she walked through the door because it meant she would have to plaster on a half-hearted smile and say 'I'm fine'. The lady did not press the issue as she knew Gwen would tell her if and when she wanted to. Morgana had many things on her own mind and didn't think Gwen's upset could be anything much. Nonetheless she would continue to offer opportunities to talk, while Gwen kept turning them down.
This was a trait that had been going on for months now.
Morgana knew something was troubling Gwen and she wished she knew what. She even considered asking Merlin whether he knew anything but for some reason she just never managed to do it. It wasn't exactly proper for a lady to converse with her brother's manservant and she was wearier than ever of Uther watching her actions. Nothing could appear to be amiss.
"I've never seen you like this, Gwen," Morgana said suddenly, deciding to press further for the root of her friend's distress.
Gwen looked up and forced another one of her smiles. "Well, I suppose I am still a little stressed over what happened... but I'm fine!"
"No, I don't mean... Of course there's that too but," Morgana began, reminding herself of their conversation before they had been attacked by Hengist's men. "You've been acting like this for months..."
Gwen felt her heart thud painfully in her chest. All she could do was make the same amused laugh that she had done before when Morgana approached her on the subject. "I cannot think what you mean, my lady. I'm fine."
"I know you so well," Morgana said, a knowing smile creeping up across her face. "Whenever you say the words 'I'm fine', you're not fine." There was a moment's pause as Morgana read Gwen's face. The young maid looked down away from her lady, smile fading and sighed helplessly. "It is a man, isn't it?"
The nervous, embarrassed beam briefly returned to Gwen's face, before she turned away knowing how revealing it was. "Don't be silly!"
Morgana's face lit up, "I knew it! It is a man!"
Gwen said nothing this time. She just turned away, touched her hand with her cheek feeling blushes come to her face and her palm to her chest as her heart began to beat faster. Then the pain started to bubble up again.
"I wish you would tell me who it is," Morgana said to Gwen's back, very keen to start guessing names. "Let's see if I can guess, um..." A sudden, slightly unpleasant thought came to her head—she didn't quite know why the thought bothered her. "It's not..."
Gwen glanced behind her over her shoulder, wondering by Morgana's tone whether she had worked it out. "It's not... who?"
Morgana took another moment before she said it: "It's not Merlin, is it?"
That relaxed Gwen as she couldn't help another, more genuine laugh. She shook her head, "No, my lady. It's not Merlin."
"Oh," Morgana said, relieved. She supposed the reason that had bothered her was because he was the only one that knew who she really was, and she dreaded Gwen ever finding out. "Fine, well, there are plenty of other men. I'll figure it out... err." It was then an inspired thought came to her, as she remembered the joust—around the time Gwen started to act strange—and she smiled. "It wasn't that Sir William was it?"
Gwen's ears burned at the sound of that name. She bit her bottom lip, trying to remember that Morgana didn't know about the deception she, Arthur and Merlin had pulled over everyone. "Not exactly..."
Morgana's eyes lit up again. "I'm getting warmer, then?" she tilted her head at her friend, "You can't blame me for asking about that William. I saw the way you looked at him during the joust."
"You did?" the maid asked nervously.
"One minute you'd be cheering, clapping and smiling at him," Morgana remembered, having occasionally looked in Gwen's direction to take her mind off the painful clatter of metal. "Then next you'd be scowling at him and saying he's 'an arrogant pig'."
Gwen turned around and smiled, "Those are hardly the words of a woman in love."
"They are the words of a wrangling couple hopelessly in love," Morgana joked. She then thought of the final and looked away again, "Besides it was the look on your face when he was hit with that lance that made me wonder..."
Gwen looked away again too. "Oh, why do you say that?"
Morgana glanced over to her. "It was the way you reacted; you sort of rose from the crowd in complete horror, then you scooted out of the crowd like your dress was on fire, helped him off his horse and carried him off to his tent..." she smiled knowingly, "You can't blame me for wondering whether it was Sir William that had been playing on your mind; you seemed to complete adore him."
Gwen slumped into a chair and closed her eyes. Morgana's words brought back all the regret she had felt that morning of the joust. Arthur had been far from an acceptable lodger but Gwen still wished he could have stayed with her for a few more days.
It also brought back the fear she had felt when Arthur was hit with that lance. He was in so much pain and she knew that another hit would kill him. In one fell swoop she could have lost him forever, Camelot could have lost him forever...
Gwen neither denied nor confirmed that it was 'Sir William' although Morgana assumed it must have been him. Eventually Morgana realised that Gwen didn't want to talk about it.
So she stopped asking,
"I know you're upset but—"
"Shut up, Merlin."
"But shrinking away from your feelings isn't going to do any good," the manservant finished.
"And you are such an expert on these matters aren't you, Merlin?" Arthur said sarcastically.
He thought it both annoying and frustrating that Merlin, someone who had never even been in love felt qualified to lecture him. Even in the middle of a hunt. He kicked himself for ever admitting his feelings for Guinevere to Merlin. It was the worst thing he ever did; now he got face-saving little talks like this.
Merlin sighed, "I think you need to tell her how you feel."
Arthur spun around. "What!"
He was so quick that he nearly let the arrow in the crossbow go right into Merlin's chest. The young servant ducked out of the way. Merlin scrambled to his feet and said it again, "You need to tell her how you feel."
Arthur looked at him as if he was mad. "What good would that do?"
"It would put your mind at rest," Merlin told him. "You need to know how she feels."
Arthur looked away gingerly. "I know how she feels. You were there, you saw it... what possible good would telling her my feelings do?"
Merlin shook his head. "You don't know how she feels for certain; there's still a good chance that she feels the same way as you."
"I told you Merlin" Arthur said firmly. "I-I just can't tell her how I feel. I just can't. I can't. I couldn't tell her before this happened... and there is no way in hell I can tell her now."
There followed an awkward moment of silence. Merlin stepped forward carefully, "Lancelot is gone. He left... He saw what passed between you and Gwen. He could see the way you two were with each other, so he left."
"That's just it!" Arthur snapped back. "I can't tell Gwen my feelings now because... even if she does in some way return them, I will always have him at the back of my head and so will she."
"So I don't want to be second best," Arthur retorted. He dropped his weapon and rubbed his eyes, "I don't want to be the favourable choice just because I'm here. I want it to be me, not just because he slinked off into the middle of the night without saying goodbye or explaining himself— the bastard. Even I wouldn't do that!"
"I swear if I ever see him again I'll—I'll damn well throw him through a wall!" Arthur shouted, and he swooped down to pick up his weapon. "I just can't bring myself to face her. I could barely face her before but now... I'm just... terrified of what she'll say."
"Arthur Pendragon, terrified?" Merlin said with humour, but Arthur glowered at him. He raised his hands and nodded, realising that was not the best thing to say. He then finally managed to make his point, "Who's to say that you are second best? I know Gwen and if anything she was just grateful to Lancelot. Maybe she could have loved him... but any chance he might have had was lost the moment you showed up, and the moment he walked away he blew it. I mean the way she reacted when she saw your face, I don't know, there was something there."
"Who are you to presume the workings of Guinevere's mind?"
"Who are you to presume them? Arthur—you say you can't bear to face her without even knowing for certain how she feels."
Arthur looked down. "Sometimes I think I'd rather not know..."
"Oh, what, you'd rather live the rest of your life wondering?" Merlin challenged him. He waited as Arthur's head slowly lifted, finally considering what his manservant was saying. Merlin took a few more steps forward before he leant down to crouch beside Arthur. "If you don't tell her how you feel you won't be able to move past this. If you don't tell her then she'll assume you don't feel anything for her..."
Arthur hated to think about his feelings let alone admit to them. It was becoming increasingly hard to think, too. His attempts to pretend to Gwen that nothing was wrong intensified his feelings even more. He couldn't help it because now he could no longer deny how much he adored her. It hurt having to pretend he didn't care about her because it meant more lies. He had happily spun lies before but he couldn't bear any longer to lie about Guinevere.
Even if he couldn't admit his feelings... he could talk to her, maybe? He didn't know. Maybe he could try? But then she might rebuff him, still angry about his previous lie. But he couldn't go on like this...
"If you tell anyone about this Merlin—"
"Yeah, I know, you'll make my life worse than the living hell it already is."
Arthur got to his feet and smiled wickedly, "And... don't think you won't go through the wall too. The only consolation you'll have is that Lancelot will break your fall."
Gwen was standing in one of the many unoccupied wings of the castle, preparing the bedroom for a visiting princess to whom she had been assigned as a temporary servant. She had to dust down the room, clean the floors, fetch the bedding and strip the mattress of the old bedding, which then had to be taken down to be washed. Morgana had warned Gwen that this princess liked nothing more than bright, shiny colours so Gwen was sure to accommodate for this—choosing colours of bright blue, green, yellow gold and white.
She spent hours on the room, moving things around and making sure everything looked nice. In a way she was glad of it as it briefly took her mind off Arthur, who was still avoiding her. He would happily laugh and smile with her, but then he would return to the prince and excuse himself gracefully. It hurt, hurt just as much as it always did. It was best to distract her mind with work.
All in all Gwen spent most of the day in that room, cleaning. When she looked around at the beautiful and spotless room that had been dusty and dreary just that morning she felt proud like a housewife. She even thought to put in some fresh flowers to brighten up the room.
It was as she was arranging these flowers that the door behind her creaked open. Gwen span around with her eyes wide and saw Arthur standing before her.
"Arthur—!" she gasped out, before backtracking upon realising the intimacy of calling him by his name. "I mean, sire..."
Her heart began to pick up pace again. This was the first time they had approached each other in what felt like a very long time. It hadn't just been the incident that had skewed them; they had been silent before months before that, existing in the memory of how happy they had been in those few days, living together. Now they had both slipped into a situation where their brief run-ins resulted in the same laughter and happiness, and then the same awkward interruption or with Arthur deciding to walk away.
Gwen had begun to think Arthur had 'gone off' her. And she couldn't blame him. In months of reflection she had come to feel it was partially her fault after what happened. She felt like an idiot.
Arthur locked the door to ensure no one could come in (because they always did), and turned to face her. It was hard to find the right words. He had spent all day trying to locate her around the castle. Now he had finally found her he wasn't quite sure what he should say, or whether he should say anything at all.
"Guinevere," he began, as most of his conversations with her did. The trouble was he didn't know where to go from there; her name was just so lyrical and easy to say. "Guinevere—I," he paused, distracted by her large dark eyes gazing at him, "I... don't mind you calling me 'Arthur'. I'd prefer it, actually, if you don't mind."
She nodded awkwardly, "Yes, Arthur."
"You don't have to," Arthur said, realising she had taken it almost as an order rather than a request or allowance or whatever it was he was telling her. "But I'd like it if we did given that we... are not just a prince and a servant."
Gwen looked down, wondering whether she should speak. "Aren't we?"
That was painful to Arthur but he managed to hide it. "I hope are," he muttered, looking down with awkwardness that equalled Gwen's at that moment. "I know it's hard to believe given how things have been recently but... It doesn't change, well..."
Gwen bit her lip uneasily. "What are you trying to say Arthur?"
Arthur looked up again, his dark blue eyes piercing through her again and sending the burning sensation through her veins and stomach. She was surprised when a small, uncertain smile crept across his face briefly. "I don't really know what I'm trying to say," he confessed, and looked down again. "I suppose what I'd like to say first is..."
Gwen watched him struggle with his words. She wished she could help him but she hadn't a clue what he was trying to say or do. It made her heart beat more wildly as every second he stood there trembling over his words made her burn more with anticipation.
"Is that..." he said, finally looking up into her eyes, "I'm sorry if I have appeared... distant the last few weeks or so, or if it upset you at all."
Gwen's heart skipped one of its timid beats. She smiled nervously, "It didn't upset me." Arthur's face changed slightly and she couldn't tell with what. She found herself backtracking. "What I mean is—I don't want you to think I was upset. After all it's not like I have reason to be upset. I think we've got along very well the last few months; you, Merlin and I—you and I—we've had a laugh, aren't we? You didn't upset me or..."
"Guinevere," Arthur interrupted. The words of her backtracking were drumming like fingertips on his chest. She stopped immediately as she always did when he called her name. The trouble was he still wasn't sure what to say next. "I'd also like to apologise if I have done or said anything to upset you or make you angry up until now..."
Gwen wondered if he meant the lie, but said nothing other than: "Anything in particular?"
"Probably a lot of things," Arthur commented quietly. "I'm not the most tactful of people."
Gwen nodded, "Neither am I..."
There followed a long moment where neither of them said anything. They just looked at each other, unable to break the connection. It was like their secret language, the language of eyes. No one else noticed most of the time or could tell what they were saying; it was just them trying to pick apart the billions of things they spoke to each other in that once glance.
Arthur thought another moment of silence would drive him mad, especially since he had not yet managed to say what he had gone there to say.
He stepped forward, "Guinevere, I—" Gwen braced herself, she didn't know why. Arthur could sense her apprehension and that made him stumble all the more over his words. "I—have to tell you something."
"What is it?" she asked, her voice quivering.
Arthur still didn't know how he was going to say it. He didn't know why he was following Merlin's advice at all. He hated admitting that, after thought, he had begun to believe that his manservant was right. But that didn't make the task any easier; it was even harder than he thought it would be.
"Well," he began, trying to keep his voice a regular tone. "It's quite important. I... don't know how to put it so I suppose I should," he laughed nervously, "come out and say it..."
Gwen moved forward, keenly waiting. "Yes?"
Arthur didn't know whether to look down or at her face, so he kept switching between the two uncomfortably. Eventually he stood up straight, forcing himself to look at her: "Guinevere, I—" but the sight of her face made him falter again, and he became terrified of her reaction, of what she might say.
He shut his eyes tight and turned away.
"I—I... have to go."
Arthur quickly turned to make his escape. He struggled with the door he had forgotten that he had lock and shakily turning the handle to rush away down the corridor.
Half way down the hallway he instantly regretted his flight and thought to go back and finish what he had started, but he just couldn't physically turn himself around. He couldn't.
Back in the room Gwen stood silent for a moment, dazed and almost unaware that Arthur had fled her presence. She almost wondered for a moment if she had been daydreaming and his presence had only been fantasy. Everything about her interaction with Arthur felt too good to be anything more than a dream. In them she could pretend he wasn't the prince and appreciate who he was as a man...
But even in that fantasy she could never get Arthur to say the right words. Even if it wasn't what she wanted to hear and he was just going to tell her that he liked her as a friend she wanted to know. A great part of her dared to believe that there was something to hope for behind his words.
She just wished he had finished what he was going to say!
Arthur watched Gwen from one of the castle balconies.
Not wanting to risk being seen by Gwen he watched her from a distance. Every movement she made filled him with a wonderful but painful sense of euphoria. He felt he could stand there and watch her for hours. It would be even better just to listen to her. She never spoke much but when she did the sound of her voice and the words she used always caught his attention. She could reprimand him but he couldn't care.
His entire body ached with craving, almost making him groan out loud with frustration. He wasn't going to lie and say his interest in Gwen was still purely based on her strength of character. That was the reason he had fallen in love with her but now he was in love with her it was about more primal desires as well.
He couldn't lie about that—of course he desired her. He hated wanting someone that he could not have, and it made him love her and want her all the more.
Arthur turned away from and walked inside.
Gwen was not going to lie to herself and say that what followed didn't hurt with the most unbelievable pain imaginable. Even after the event was over she didn't want to think about it. It hurt that much.
The longer it went on the more it became like torture.
It had been driving Gwen mad how Arthur was being. One moment she thought he was breaking down the barriers, stepping through the fog of uncertainty, cornering her out to tell her this very important thing... but now, now...
While Gwen was forced to trail on behind the beautiful, air-headed and bad-tempered lady her mind began to drift off into fantasies. They were worlds where Arthur had the courage to speak his mind. It all relied on the truth being what Gwen wanted to hear, but that was the wonderful thing about fantasies. In this world she had the courage to place her hand against his cheek, look up into his eyes and say the words (she hoped) he wanted to hear...
"Gwen, pass me my brush!"
These words, finally spoken, would then lead to a kiss. It would be long and savouring like their last kiss, their first kiss. It would be just as tender but passionate, determined rather than spur of the moment. He would wrap his arms around her waist while she curled her arms around his neck. It would draw them closer than they ever had been...
"Gwen, help me with this fastening!"
There were many times Gwen imagined what it would feel like to have Arthur pressed against her. The closest they had ever been apparent from their kiss was during the attack of the stone gargoyles where she saved his life. Twice. Tragically with his armour on all she had felt vaguely through the material of her dress was his chainmail digging into her.
"Pass me that hair pin!"
His armour never posed a problem to Gwen in her fantasies. As the blacksmith's daughter she was well reversed in removing armour from a man as well as putting on. Her expertise had never once in her mind had the connotations it now did... and it made her cheeks turn somewhat red. Where are all these thoughts coming from? She kept reminding herself that she should be angry with Arthur, but she couldn't remember for what exactly...
"Actually," the princess said, handing the pin back, "I think I shall wear the golden one instead. It shall go with my sash and train much better, do you agree?"
Gwen just nodded and smiled. In between describing how much more lovely her room at home was compared to this one she had asked to see Gwen's clothes—which admittedly was a small wardrobe—to pick out what she wanted her to wear.
"I like my handmaiden to match me," she explained. The moment she had seen Gwen's old red dress she recoiled at its sight. The noblewoman pointed at Gwen's turquoise dress. "Wear that one. I think I'll go with turquoise and gold after all."
After that the entire situation went mad.
There had been a time when she was a child that she had touched some iron, still hot from the ore. Her father had warned her not to go near it but she couldn't help her curiosity and was burned. Tom had attempted to scold her but he was too gentle to keep a firm voice and tended only to soothe the scold, hoping his daughter had learned her lesson.
Gwen often felt her father should have disciplined her more.
That scold from the iron's ore was like the prick of a needle compared to the agony of believing, even just for a few hours, that Arthur didn't love her or even consider her feelings at all. It hurt more than any pain she had felt before. It had been enough to make her distrust her feelings completely. She felt it was a wound she could not recover from.
He treated her so mildly and carelessly that she wondered if she had ever known him at all. She felt she would hate him forever... she had no idea how much danger he was in, how close to 'forever' Arthur was.
She swallowed hard. I really have been a fool.
Then Merlin ran in. Arthur needs your help. Gwen scoffed. I do not think that Arthur needs me. Yet her friend persisted, his eyes looked at her with understanding she not received from anyone in a love time. Gwen... I know.
"You know what?" she snapped.
"Everything" he said firmly.
Was it really that obvious? Did she really appear that bitter? Gwen didn't know whether to laugh cynically or start crying.
Then everything turned on its head again. Or back on its feet. Merlin became frustrated with her vain attempts to appear hard. He's enchanted. Gwen felt weak, frightened to believe him and frightened not to. How can you be sure? But Merlin insisted that he was, and that she knew it. Search your heart, you know who he loves. She knew, at least she thought she knew. What do I need to do? Merlin held her hand, tight and reassuring. Only the kiss of true love can break the spell...
Everything that they had fantasised for so long came true in that kiss.
For Guinevere, it had been about making amends. Arthur stood there, smiling insanely as he stared death in the face. It wasn't that he didn't mind dying; he just couldn't see just how much danger he was in. The moment she saw him she realised for the first time since this madness began that this wasn't Arthur. She had been so swept up in her pain that she had missed just how obvious it was that it wasn't him...
Then she felt shame. This enchanted Arthur was gullible, air-headed and stupid... yet it wasn't Arthur. He hadn't meant to hurt her even in this enchanted state. And then a chill went through her. She realised something that hadn't occurred to her in her anger. Gwen had tasted her own medicine, the bitter taste that Arthur had to swallow when Lancelot trotted in and out of the scene. For the first time she realised why he had lied and why he had looked so hurt when she saw at him over Morgana's shoulder. Yet Arthur had not complained nor held it against her afterward.
"Let me make amends."
Arthur had resisted less than two seconds before Gwen felt him soften against her. Her earlier fantasy came true. His arm wrapped around her waist and hers around his neck. He tilted her to the side and deepened the kiss, threading his hand through her hair and cradling her neck in his hand. He wanted to make it last forever.
For him, it had been the conformation he had always wanted. It all felt too perfect as the kiss finally broke, and he looked into her eyes, the warm feeling of her fingers delicately brushing down from his hair, down his neck and to his shoulder... too perfect to be real. He had to be dreaming.
That was when the pain hit him. God, so much pain! It felt like he had been hit with a mace; he wasn't to know he had.
Arthur stumbled. Gwen clutched his forearm, keeping him up. He took a startled breath and looked around. This wasn't a dream. He couldn't remember anything, truly was in pain and Gwen had really kissed him.
"W-what am I doing?"
Arthur grabbed Gwen by the forearm and pulled her into his room.
She had been passing and was startled by his sudden movement. Yet she was glad. They hadn't spoken since that day in her house. She regretted the way that went ever since it happened. Even then she had hoped that after he walked away Arthur would immediately come back, pull her into his embrace and kiss her with the same passion she had before in the tent.
Or at least she had wanted him to come back and argue his case more, tell her that she was wrong. She wanted to be proven wrong. But he had just left, silent and crestfallen. That had been two weeks ago, and she had just been as silent and crestfallen since.
Arthur ushered her into his chambers and closed the door, wasting no time in making his point.
"You're wrong," he declared finally.
Gwen stared at him, "I'm wrong?"
"About what you said before," he told her, trying to clarify his point. He was speaking as if it was two weeks ago and he had just returned after walking out on her moments before. "You're wrong."
It was like he had spent the last two weeks preparing just to say those words. Gwen sighed, "Is that all you have to say, that I'm wrong?"
"No," he said, and paused a few seconds before going on. He was clearly finding the words difficult; he always said he never knew what to say in moments like this. "I was wrong too."
"What were you wrong about?"
"About my whole attitude to this," Arthur concluded.
Gwen sighed in frustration, and moved to get past him. "This is ridiculous, Arthur... we're just hurting each other by going on like this."
Arthur caught her arm, just as he had done before—months ago now. It felt like an eternity. Gwen felt her skin burn beneath his grasp, her entire body felt tight and pliant. She swallowed, closed her eyes and slowly turned her head up to look at him. His expression was soft and sincere. Why was he so beautiful? Why did she long for him so completely? Why did it have to be Arthur?
"I don't want to hurt you," he said softly, and let her arm go gently. "But I can't go on like this with us—making promises, filling each other with dread one minute and hope the next, and then back to dread. It's just..."
Gwen's eyes never left his. "Then what do you want us to do?"
"I don't know," he replied honestly.
His expression changed again to one that was just sad. Yet he forced himself to smile. "In an ideal world I'd want us to..."
"To be together," he finished, as if frightened of her reaction.
Gwen finally looked down, defeated. "But we don't live in an ideal world, do we Arthur?"
"No," he admittedly, his face pained like it had been two weeks ago. "We don't but... that doesn't change how I feel."
"Nor I but that doesn't mean..."
"That doesn't mean what?"
"It doesn't mean that things may not change."
Arthur shifted his position. "You said things wouldn't change."
"I said that until they change..."
The prince took a deep breath and rubbed his eyes. "Tell me what you want to change, and I'll change it."
Gwen scoffed a laugh; he made it sound like he could snap his fingers and change everything. He may be a prince but he wasn't God. "We can't change the way society looks at us, Arthur" she said simply.
"To hell with society," he suddenly snapped.
They both stood in silence, the entire thing starting to get under their skin. The longer they spoke of how they wanted things to be and the impossibility of them ever being together the more intense their desire to throw off all barriers and just take each other became. Never did either of them imagine that love could be so painful. Yet it was a good sort of pain, one that they would both feel lonely without.
"I mean," Arthur finally said, composing himself. "I don't care what society says. When I am king I will make society what I want it to be, and anyone he disagrees can, can..."
"I don't know!" he stumbled awkwardly. "They can go somewhere else!"
Gwen stood quietly for a moment while Arthur pulled himself together again. She then said, simply "Then why haven't you asked me the obvious question?"
"What question is the 'obvious question'?"
She stepped forward. He took a quick breath. They were very close to each other.
"You never asked me if I would wait, until you are king" she whispered to him. "Never once have you actually asked me to promise."
Arthur looked down briefly before looking into her eyes. "I'd never ask you to promise me that."
"It's too much to ask," he said softly, his eyes now locked onto hers. "I can't expect you to wait for me when neither of us knows how long it will be before..." he paused, thinking it was wrong to think of his father's death though when it came to Gwen it was all he could think about. "It might be another ten, even twenty years before I am king."
"Why do you think I wouldn't wait?"
"It's not that."
"Then what is it?"
"I'd be asking you to give up a life, Guinevere" he finally told her.
Somehow his arms found her elbows, drawing them closer together. It sent Gwen's senses soaring. All she wanted was to touch him and have him touch her. She glanced down at the small gap between them; her forehead brushed his chest, causing him to quiver ever so slightly.
"I made it clear from the start that I would wait for you," Gwen told his, her voice broken from the intensity of this moment. "But that my fears were for the fact that—that you are a prince and I am a servant—that you would find someone easier to be with..."
Arthur scoffed. "Ridiculous."
"Is it so inconceivable that you might fall in love with another woman?"
"Yes," he said firmly. "I told you before that I have never loved another; if I loved you any less than completely I'd have given up on you by now but I can't, I just can't..."
Their foreheads met again. Their breaths were loud, intense and drowning each other out. Gwen could feel tears welling up in her eyes, so she closed them to try and conceal it.
There was a long pause.
Arthur closed his eyes and leant his tilted his head down to kiss her lips. The moment they touched, Gwen responded. She had missed the warm liquid feeling that lips on lips left on her. It made her tighten her hold on his cheek, cupping his jaw line to keep his mouth firmly on hers.
Arthur broke it and took a deep, painful breath.
Suddenly Gwen jerked forward again and recaptured his lips passionately with her own. She didn't want to lose contact. The helplessness of their situation made her fear that she might never have a moment like this again. She wanted to kiss him as if it would be their last kiss, to touch him and feel him against her. The warmth of his lips as he kissed her back was arousing and beautiful. He set her whole body alight.
Arthur's hands moved from her elbows to her waist, pulling her closer to him while her own hands moved from his cheek to around his neck and into his hair. The proximity of their bodies and warmth was almost maddening and they quickly found themselves completely lost with each other. The kiss steadily became more passionate as Arthur pressed his lips firmly against hers, as he had done before in the tent. This time however he achieved his goal of coaxing Gwen's mouth open.
A moan strangled itself in Gwen's throat as she tightened her grasp on his hair; it felt so war m, soft and crunchy. The more she twisted her fingers around his flaxen strands the more powerful and controlling their kiss became.
Completely lost in their arousal for each other they backed against the table for support. Gwen found herself lifting her leg to hook it around his leg, pressing herself harder against him. Arthur broke the kiss briefly as a gasp escaped him before he locked their lips together again, pushing her onto the table with instinct. One of his hands slowly made its way down from her waist to her leg that had now snaked its way around his thigh. It wasn't until he had pushed the material of her dress away to caress her skin that he fully realised what he was doing...
Abruptly Arthur broke the kiss and moved the pull away, but Gwen maintained her hold on him; she looked at him curiously. "What are you doing?" she asked breathlessly.
"We shouldn't do this," he said, catching his breath. "This is going too far..."
Gwen shifted her body to sit up on the table she had been pressed onto. As she moved her body once again she brushed up against Arthur, causing him to try and strangle a groan. Just in that movement felt she his arousal against her. It sent a thrill through her body. She was tempted to move against him again just hear him make that noise.
Instead she clutched the back of his head and pulled his lips to hers again, this time giving him a succession of kisses. First it was his lips, then his chin, and then his jaw line and then she pulled his head back to kiss his exposed neck. That achieved the sound again.
Her mouth stilled just below his ear. "I thought you'd want this..."
Arthur swallowed, doing everything in his power to keep himself under control. "It's not about not wanting this."
He struggled to speak at the sensation of Gwen locking her mouth around his earlobe, sucking and gently nibbling it. Against all his primal instincts he pulled her away to look her in the eyes. Her expression was so dark and longing. Arthur knew his expression was saying the same thing. God all he wanted to do was take this moment now...
"There is a question of... your honour" Arthur finally said.
He continued to stroke her thigh before he realised what he was doing and stopped, which only served to annoy Gwen. She gently reached for his stray hand and pulled it back towards her. She did not place it back on her thigh but pulled it up and rested it on her breast beneath which was her beating heart. It was hammering with anticipation.
Gwen leant forward and rested her forehead against his once again.
"I want to give my honour to the man I love," she whispered softly. "I want to give it to you."
She kissed him again.
Arthur's breath quivered as the last piece of his resolve broke down. "If we do this... this might be all we ever have."
Gwen tightened her hold on the hand covering her breast. "Then that is all the more reason to do this now."
After that any resolve either of them had collapsed. Gwen freed Arthur's hand and allowed him to place it on her hip to pull her closer to him. He recaptured her lips as he had earlier, no longer holding back and coaxed her mouth open with his own. Gwen hummed blissfully against his mouth. She felt a smile creep across his lips, and she smiled too.
Her hands quickly went to undo Arthur's belt as he continued to kiss her. Once she had tossed it to one side, her hands reached under his shirt to smooth over his back. He gasped, "Cold hands!" but he didn't mind and it didn't deter her. After another moment or two of passionate embraces and kisses Gwen moved to hitch her skirt up.
Arthur stopped her. "No not like this."
Gwen was about to protest but realised she had misunderstood his meaning. He moved to remove his boots (which he did surprisingly fast) and then removed her shoes, a much easier task. She watched him gently remove each shoe and then proceed to run his hand up her left leg, the one that had been curled around him all that time.
"I want to see all of you," he whispered.
She wasted no time in fulfilling that request, and moved to untie the strings of her bodice. She had thought to do it slowly and teasingly but the way he just stood and watched her hands unthread the ties, she found herself practically ripping the thing off herself.
Once it was off, she threw it to one side with the same lack of care she had shown his belt. Instead of seeing to the back of her dress she turned on him. "I want to see all of you, too" she said, threading her arms under his shirt again and this time pulled it off.
She might have stopped to consider the many scars littered about his chest, particularly the one given to him by the questing beast but they were well beyond the point of no return. Gwen barely had the presence of mind to notice the scars, instead trailing kisses all over him as Arthur tried his hand at her fastenings.
Eventually her ventures did take her to the questing beast scar; she ran her tongue from the top of his shoulder to the bottom near his nipple. She then proceeded to run her tongue around his nipple, sucking and teasing them gently with her teeth.
Arthur desperately wanted to do the same to her. He finally managed to undo the line of small buttons concealed at the back of her dress. He wasted no time after that. He pushed her away from his chest and quickly moved to pull away all the offending material, finally unveiling her to him.
He stood momentarily to look at her. Gwen wondered if she should feel embarrassed, sitting naked in front of him. Yet she was surprised at how at ease she was. The desire in his eyes and his hardness growing against her knee made her feel slick between her thighs. If anything she felt invigorated.
Her hands quickly moved to undo his trousers, but he stopped her again.
"Not here," he told her.
Arthur picked Gwen up and carried her to the bed, laying her straight out. Her head rested against his pillows and she watched as he undid and removed his trousers himself. The sight of him caused a gasp to escape Gwen's lips. She couldn't help but stare at him while anxiously waiting for him to join her. That was what she really wanted, to feel his flesh against hers.
It didn't take long before Arthur covered her. He propped himself above her and his lips immediately working his way down from her lips to her neck until he reached her breasts. He latched onto one of them, gluttonously suckling her nipple and causing new shocks of pleasure to burst through Gwen's veins.
He was driving her mad!
For Gwen, the mere contact of his skin against hers made her moan in pleasure. So many times she had thought about this moment but reality was so much more thrilling than the fantasy. The sensation of his mouth on one breast and then the other was perfect.
He reached down between her legs and nudged them apart. Then he placed his fingers against her, causing a staggered moan to escape Gwen's lips. He was pleasantly surprised at how wet she already was, as he rested his thumb against her sensitive point. Then she really did moan.
She moaned again when he gently pressed one of his fingers inside her, and continued to mew gasps and groans as he massaged her inner walls, first with one finger and then with a second once she became used to the feeling.
Arthur leant his head down and kissed her abdomen, running circles around her naval with his tongue. The truth was that he wanted to savour this moment for as long as possible. He relished in the way Gwen grasped the bed sheets, purred in pleasure and keened into his hand. He knew that this might be the only time he would see all of this and he wanted to draw out a memory that was perfect.
He withdrew his fingers and, bizarrely to Gwen's mind, brought them to his mouth to taste them.
Gwen wanted to touch him, too. She reached down and carefully took hold of him, caressing the head with care. He was already erect and needed no assistance from her handling him. He swallowed thickly and instinctively jerked his hips as she ran her fingers across him.
"Stop," he said hoarsely.
He pushed her hand away and moved into position between her legs. She felt him brush momentarily against her core, causing her to inhale huskily. Arthur placed a kiss on Gwen's lips, holding himself outside of her. He rested his hand on her cheek.
"Are you ready?" Arthur asked anxiously, stroking her cheek. "It might..."
Gwen shifted her hips slightly, brushing him once again. "Arthur."
He didn't make her wait any longer, slowly pushing into her. She let out a surprised moan at the unusual sensation of him inside her. It hurt but not nearly as much as she had thought it would. It was more sore than hurtful, like a burning. Then it hit her, a sudden bout of discomfort and pain. Gwen hissed, and Arthur placed another slightly misplaced kiss on her lips. Her hands buried themselves in his hair, clutching it in two great chunks.
Arthur kept kissing her.
"Guinevere," he said soothingly.
She loosened her grasp on his nape and relaxed her body. His hand was now resting on her hip now while the other rested beside her head. It took a few moments for the pain to ebb away and they readjusted themselves to find the right position, rhythm and place.
It started out awkward and clumsy as they instinctively grinded against each other, trying to keep their bodies close and their lips locked. Eventually they found the presence of mind to loosen their grips to allow for movement. It wasn't perfect to begin with; in their desperation to taste and feel each other their rhythm was harried and disjointed.
Once the pain subsided it was replaced with nothing but pleasure. Gwen gasped and moaned at the wonderful feeling of Arthur brushing against her softly and moving inside her, slipping in and out of her again and again and again...
Gwen lifted her head to kiss him haphazardly as the feeling began to build up inside her, and she dragged her leg up to wrap around his waist. Arthur groaned as he was pulled deeper into her, and found himself unable to stop placing kisses all over her face, neck, and whether he could reach.
Her muscles tightened around him; he groaned again, burying his head in her shoulder as he kept thrusting into her. The whole time his hands never stopped caressing her. Gwen couldn't even tell what parts of her body he was touching anymore. Her entire body was filled with euphoria. It wasn't just the pleasure of lovemaking; it was feeling him so close to her, closer than he could possibly be. It was the warmth of their bodies mingling as they moved, now in unison.
Arthur was desperate for her to come. As his movements became more frantic he felt his own tightening in the pit of his stomach. The sight of her withering beneath him as her hands stroked all over his back and across the muscles of his arms was enough to finish him without the warmth and smoothness of her inside and the experimental movement of her hips.
He reached between them and found her sensitive point again. Gwen arched her back and buried her head in the pillow at the reintroduction of that sensation. Moments later she finally came crashing to her climax, shivering with rapture and her sight fogged by the haze of Arthur and pleasure. Her hands stilled on his back as she took it in with deep breaths.
He pumped into her once more, and finally found his release. She felt the hot bursts of his ecstasy roll through her as he panted his way through the aftershocks.
"Guinevere..." he mumbled into her shoulder.
For a moment all they could hear was the sound of their exhausted breaths. Gwen thought she might not be able to stand as her legs felt like jelly. Arthur wondered if he would ever find the motivation to move off from her; the smells, the heat and the sweat dulling his willingness to find the energy to roll to one side.
Gwen lifted his head away from the crook between her shoulder and neck to look at him. His expression was hazed too, like the look he gave her after they had kiss for the first time and the second time. It was the look that said something wonderful had just happened. She chuckled and rested his head down against her chest.
Arthur rubbed his cheek against her damp skin as she ran her fingers through his damp hair, now all stood up on end. His own hands clutched, touched and felt her body and held it possessively. He never wanted to let go even though he knew very soon he would.
"I have to go soon," Gwen declared after a minute. "Morgana will be wondering where I am."
Arthur just stayed still and said nothing. He stared across the floor to where their clothes lay thrown aside across the table and the floor. He knew Merlin would be turning up for evening duty too. This moment would have to end soon.
He pulled himself up to kiss her lips again. They had kissed so many times that night but never tired of doing it. He still felt tired from their exertions as he trailed kisses across her cheek and down to her ear. "I love you," he whispered directly into her ear and causing Gwen to shiver.
It made her shiver because she knew once she put her clothes back on and left him that was it. They would likely never have this moment again. Never would they make love or be at this level of satisfaction and ease. Enough satisfaction and ease for Arthur to tell her he loved her. The words hurt because she was happy.
"I love you too," she said immediately, her heart swelling in her chest. And oh she truly did love him...
The next day Gwen felt fulfilled in a way she never had before. The memory of last night kept entering her thoughts and thrilling her, causing her to burn. She knew it was probably silly, foolish even, to feel so satisfied but she couldn't help it. She hadn't felt so clear and content for weeks. She felt nothing but euphoria.
As she carried out her tasks she found herself humming tunes and walking distractedly with a dreamy look on her face. It was all she could think about. She was distracted by her thoughts as she tided she did not hear the door open behind her or the sound of Arthur entering the room.
The sight of her sent a warm flood of emotion to his stomach despite only viewing her from the back. After a few second's hesitation he cleared his throat to alert her to his presence.
Gwen span around and was immediately hit by the same warm feeling that had affected Arthur just before. All the exhilaration she had felt after last night spread from her stomach to her chest, arms and between her legs. She wondered if she should have felt embarrassed but she didn't.
It wasn't any easier for Arthur. He had come to see her for a purpose, to say something important... but last night flooded back to him in bursts on pleasure and he found it hard to focus his mind. In the end he forced himself to speak while still remembering the feeling of them both together.
"Are you alright?" was all he said at first.
Gwen blinked, "I'm fine."
"Not," he paused awkwardly, "in any pain or anything...?"
She flushed. "No, it's... I'm fine."
"Guinevere," he croaked, before clearing his voice and starting again. "Guinevere, I wanted to... apologise to you."
Gwen was taken aback. "Apologise for what...?"
"For... my actions last night," Arthur tripped out, not knowing what other way to describe it. "I hope you are not offended."
Her eyes widened and she looked away, embarrassed. It wasn't the memory of last night that struck her but his implication that she might have been 'offended'. "You didn't exactly force yourself on me, Arthur."
Arthur saw that she was slightly hurt that he had sought her out to tell her this. He immediately feared she had taken it the wrong way and went on. "No, what I mean is, what happened last night, I want you to know it wasn't... planned. By that I mean when I pulled you into my chambers I didn't do it in order to... seduce you."
Gwen looked at him again, her shoulders tense. After another pause they loosened and she shook her head.
"I never thought that, not then or now. What happened last night," she paused again, noticing Arthur tense up now, "I don't think either of us could have planned it. It just happened. It happened because... we feared we might not get another chance."
Neither of them could even remember what had brought them together last night. Arthur imagined it was another attempt at expressing his love. They both knew they could have—and maybe should have—stopped themselves but instinct and longing had compelled them to take what they had longed to for so long.
Arthur took a step forward. "We can't let it happen again, Gwen."
That hurt. It hurt most because she had heard it too many times. It seemed that she and Arthur were never on the same page in regards to pursuing their relationship. Every time one of them saw hope the other snatched it away by playing the realist. Before now it had just been about their love; how Arthur's love came with a crown and that they would have to wait possibly decades before 'things changed'. Last night had been about none of that; but now today had come and Arthur seemed to be playing the realist card. It was his turn, after all. But it hurt all the more because Gwen had given him more than a token or a kiss; she had given him herself.
Not that she had thought it would happen again. That was why she had given herself to him and why they had made love last night. They didn't want it to be anyone else.
Gwen looked down to try and hide how much that hurt her. "Of course, my lord," she muttered dejectedly. "It would not do for it to happen again..."
"No," Arthur said quickly, taking another step forward. "No, I didn't mean it like that."
He took one of her hands and held it carefully in his. The touch rippled through Gwen's skin. She would have thought after last night, all the places he had touched, taking her hand would not have this effect any more but it did. She raised her eyes to look at him as he raised his eyes to look at her, his focus having been on their hands also.
"Last night," Arthur began warily. He was worried he'd say the wrong thing and confuse her again. She had to hear this. "I don't know what it meant to you but," he swallowed, "it meant a great deal to me."
Her heart pulsed. "It meant everything to me."
Gwen took a step forward. Her hand reached up to his cheek. He rested his cheek against her hand.
"You said before that I'd find someone else... you need to know that I can't think of another woman without thinking of you," he said slowly. "I can't think, full stop, without thinking of you. You keep me going."
Gwen bit her bottom lip; she had once said that to Arthur, so long ago now when he had been dying from the poison of the questing beast. She continued to stroke his cheek gently and clenched her eyes tighter.
"Even so," she said painfully, "as long as I am a servant then society prevents us from even being friends."
"I want to tear society apart..." he muttered angrily.
"You could throw it out all together," she told him. "I'd still be a servant, and I will be a servant for as long as Morgana needs me. If I weren't a servant then—"
He looked at her intently, "Then?"
She didn't know how to finish that sentence. There was no end to that sentence. If she were not longer a servant, if she managed to find another profession then she would simply be a commoner. Either way, be it a servant girl or a commoner Gwen knew that she wasn't the princess Uther probably sought for his son to marry.
"I will always be a commoner," she finally said.
He reached down and cupped her cheek with his hand. "If things won't change for us, then I'll make it change. After last night, what we said and what we did... I can't be without you."
Gwen smiled sadly but said nothing more on the matter. She was touched by his words but dared not get her hopes up that things would change or could be made to change.
"Have you had any luck in finding that renegade sorcerer?" Gwen asked, changing the subject.
It was all she could think to mention, since Uther's warning to those who helped this weasel escape. Besides there was nothing going on in her own life worth mentioning; her mistress was short-tempered and secretive, as usual and even Merlin seemed to be anxious and troubled rather than his normal, cheerful self.
"No," Arthur said guilty. "My father is furious; I offered to investigate how he could have escaped, but he said no."
They stood silently for a moment. He rested his hand on her shoulder, stroking a loose strand of hair.
"I hate to see a lunatic like him escape," Arthur confessed to Gwen. "There are times when I question my father's actions but this man... deserved to be cut to pieces. I should have killed him when I had the chance."
Gwen looked down. "I'm sorry. Um, didn't they say that the guards on duty were drugged?"
"Yes, though one of them woke up; the renegade cut his throat."
He tilted his head, noticing a troubled expression on her face.
"Is there anything wrong?" he asked.
Gwen looked up and forced a smile. "No, no it's... nothing. I was just thinking that it would take a very powerful potion to knock all of them out like that."
"The drug was mixed with the win, according to Gaius."
"Of course," she whispered.
That was something Gaius had always taught her when administering sleeping draughts to Morgana; never to let her take it with wine.
Arthur caressed Gwen's cheek with his hand and kissed her sweetly on the forehead. She couldn't help but lean against him and smile, remembering once again the events of last night. It distracted her from the unpleasant thoughts she was having.
Gwen thought she would be sorrier by Morgana's disappearance. She thought she would be worried for her, frightened for her and constantly thinking of whether she was alright. But she didn't. She worried at first, but it quickly went away.
It wasn't because she didn't care; it was because she suspected Morgana had for a long time wished to leave Camelot. Morgana had locked herself off from everyone and everything, becoming more short-tempered, less assertive and more prone to drink. It made Gwen feel weary of her.
She half expected some days to come to work and find that Morgana had slunk off into the night with no trace. Like she had done that time before, at least that's how Gwen thought it had really happened.
Then there was that business with Alvarr, that renegade that escaped. The moment Gwen heard that the guards had been drugged she knew that it had been Morgana. Just half an hour after putting her to bed, Gwen remembered she had forgotten to deliver Morgana extra blankets for the night. She had expected to find Morgana asleep in her bed but instead found the room fully-lit, and no sign of her lady. It was odd, so she put down the blankets and left.
The moment Gwen heard that the guards had been drugged she knew that it had been Morgana.
She didn't say anything; she was too frightened to even tell Arthur. He knew that Arthur would tell Uther, and that could lead to disaster as the king clearly didn't want to be proven that Morgana was the perpetrator. The truth was she no longer trusted Morgana's actions; that woman was loyal to no one but herself now.
There was a moment when Gwen wondered if she had neglected Morgana—but how could you show compassion with someone who suddenly chooses to act aloof around you? Gwen never dared to entertain the idea that Morgana cared for her any more than for a favourite servant. Even with all the kindness she showed her, that was how Gwen – on reflection – felt.
The saddest thing really was that no one had time to mourn Morgana's loss. She was gone, and that was that. It was sad—maybe one day they would try and look for her but now... the dragon was attacking Camelot, destroying the city and killing innocent people. Morgana was the last thing on anyone's mind.
She was certainly the last thing on Gwen's mind.
As Gwen looked out at the chaos that Camelot lay under, the suffering and the pain surrounding her, she couldn't think about her lost mistress. All she thought about was Camelot; wishing she could do something to save it but knowing that she couldn't. The best she could do was help Gaius and nurse the wounded. It gave her a new purpose, one that didn't involving serving but let her help other people.
In some respect Morgana had freed Gwen.
When she didn't think about the pain and misery that Camelot was enduring, her mind would wander to Arthur. Gwen thought of him out there with Merlin, trying desperately to find the dragonlord to destroy the dragon. She did not wonder whether he would succeed; she wondered whether he was safe. Cenred's kingdom was notoriously brutal, especially towards Camelot.
"Are you missing Morgana?" Gaius asked her.
All Gwen could do was force a smile. She believed, for some reason, wherever Morgana was she was probably happier and better off.
Arthur knew that he would probably die. His father knew it; his knights knew it, both the ones that were ready to die with him and the ones that wished to stay in Camelot. He didn't think any less of the ones that stayed. They wanted to live. Arthur wanted to live—but it was his duty to throw himself into the heart of the fire and face the monster threatening his kingdom, or die trying.
Even Merlin knew that chances were they would die, yet he still declared he would go with him. It was something Arthur appreciated though he didn't say it. It was an unspoken thing, an idea that they were friends despite rank. "I care a lot about that armour," Merlin had said in his own unique way, "I don't want to see it messed up."
At least he didn't try to hug him again.
They would set out immediately and ride to the open field to face the dragon in combat, or in other words to face their deaths.
The knights filled out to their horses slowly as some lingered behind to say goodbye to their loved ones and families. There were ladies lamenting, children crying and mothers mourning all over the castle. Then again there had been those sounds for the last week. It was no new noise.
The only difference was that these families knew their men would die.
Arthur knew he should see his father before he left. He stood there stoically as his father wordlessly staggered about the room, filled with shame and sorrow before finally placing a hand on Arthur's shoulder and sending him to his death. Uther felt it was his fault, and he was right.
The prince chose not to torment his father any longer.
He stepped out of the room and closed the door. When he turned around he was immediately confronted with someone that had sought to find since he made the decision to go.
"Guinevere," Arthur said quietly. He took a step forward, "I was looking for you earlier. I asked Gaius but he said..."
"Yes, he told me" Gwen replied. Her voice was weak and her cheeks were glossed; she had clearly been crying. She swallowed, trying to put a good face on it, "You wanted to speak to me?"
He walked right up to her. "Guinevere, I wanted..."
But Gwen's resolve broke.
She honestly didn't know what to think. This was a matter of do or die. The worst thing was that the die part was just as likely to occur with the 'do'. It was just a swifter version of 'death'. Gwen could barely bring herself to admit that Arthur was leaving to face the dragon and chances were that he would die. She didn't want to believe it. It was like reality of the situation just kept dawning on her over and over again. This might be the last chance you ever see Arthur. That was what the voice kept saying.
She blinked a few tears away.
This man—this wonderful man and future king that embodied everything that Gwen hoped and desired would meet his fate on a battlefield defending his kingdom. And he would likely die. He would never be king and all her hopes and desires would die with him. This man that she loved so tenderly and knew loved her in return would be gone. All she would have in her own final moments would be memories of things that had never been. Knowing that her own death would probably follow shortly frightened her, but she imagined that when the moment came it would be a welcome release after Camelot's suffering and Arthur's loss.
But if by some cruel twist of fate she somehow survived—what then? She would have nothing, and would not even be able to mourn Arthur as his lover. She would be forced to mourn him as what he was—the prince. No intimacy, just one subject to a royal.
Gwen bit her lip, almost crying aloud 'I don't want you to die' but she stopped herself, knowing it was a foolishly obvious remark in a moment like this; one that helped no one.
Instead, she looked away to hide the tears springing from her eyes and quickly rushed into a nearby room, hearing the guards walk past behind her. Arthur followed her and closed the door behind him.
He took her by the shoulders. She flinched under his clasp, weakened by her sorrow. This was it. This was where it was going to end...
"I wanted... just to see you, before..."
"Don't," she said firmly. "Please, don't!"
He moved his hands away. They stood silently for a moment.
"I have to do this, Gwen" he softly. "I know the chances of succeeding are slim but... it's the last thing we can do. If I succeed then Camelot will be free of danger..."
"And if you don't, you will die" she finished woefully.
He reached over to stroke her hair, wishing he could feel it through his gloved hand. "There is nothing else to be done."
She turned around to face him. "If you die, then soon we all will too."
Arthur said nothing.
"If you die, that will be the end of Camelot" she added, no longer bothering to wipe away the tears in her eyes. "And I won't care; if you die and Camelot is finished then... there is no future. I won't care if I die."
"Don't say that!" he said firmly.
"Arthur," she said with equal firmness. "Ever since... for a long time now the only thing that has kept me going was the knowledge that one day you would be king; if you die then there ends all my hopes."
She now stepped forward and took his hand.
"That's why," she said, swallowing thickly again, "I will wait for you to return... because I'm not ready to give up on that dream."
Gwen looked up at him and Arthur looked down at her. They fought back an overwhelming bout of emotion at that moment. This could be the last moment they would ever see each other. He might die tonight and never see her again, and what about Guinevere? She might die tonight too; after the dragon has killed him he might unleash his most disastrous attack on Camelot yet, wiping the city from the landscape and destroying every life there. They might both die this night.
She reached up to stroke his cheek. "I will be right by this window, waiting until I see you again."
"And if I don't come back?" he asked, dreading her response.
Gwen looked down but did not remove her hand from his cheek. She then looked up again, her face resolved in her words, "I said I would wait until I see you again, whether it is in this life or the next."
Arthur didn't want to think about Guinevere dying. Not when he too was preparing to die. He wanted to think about her smile. He wanted to think about the kisses they had shared. He wanted to recall the details of the one and only time they made love.
He vowed in that moment that if he did survive he would make love to her again. Not just once more, but many times more. He would kiss her whenever he wanted and, when the time came, he would face his father. If he succeeded it would take a while to rebuild Camelot but when the time was right he would face him. He had too; he couldn't wait for death to take his father first...
But, if he did die he would wait for her too. He was sad to admit the chances were that she and many others would soon join him in death. But at least they would be together, and free from the society that tied them down in this life.
That would be the only consolation for not having each other in this life. But they would be together in this life. They would.
Arthur cupped Guinevere's cheek and smiled, "Until I see you again."
A/N: I did it! I finally published Epiphany and my first smut. I'd like to thank my friend on LJ for being my alpha and listening to me drone on and on and helping me improve parts of this fic. It can't have been easy and I am grateful! This was originally posted on my journal on LiveJournal.