Title: Morgana's Favor, Part 2 of 2
Genre: Romance, slight AU (could happen after or during S1, but like me, it maintains that the train wreck that is S2 does not exist, so really it is AU)
Disclaimer: I own nothing from the BBC/NBC show Merlin, and I make nothing from writing about it either. Suing me would be silly, as all you would get is a very grumpy King.
A/N: This is a sequel to Arthur's Coat. I hadn't intended to write one, but because of your requests – and you know who you are – it exists. This is for all of you lovely people.
Summary: Now that Arthur's coat and some significant looks have been exchanged, all that's left is to show your favor…..
Written first in Arthur's POV, then Morgana's
Before I entered the lists, I stood beside my stallion and looked toward the royal box. There was my father, on his throne under the canopy. To his right, my chair was empty, as was customary. But to his left sat Morgana. Her hair was pulled up into masses of glossy black curls spilling down her back, a delicate diadem of silver and gems graced her forehead and circled into her hair at the sides. She was dressed lightly for the warmth of the day, the filmy sleeves of her purple and blue gown fluttered in the slight breeze, her flawless skin luminescent like the moon. My god, she was beautiful. Was it only now that I noticed how my breath caught in my chest at the sight of her, or had it always been that way?
It was perfect that she'd decided to dress in the colors of her house, making my public claiming of her so much easier and evident even to the peasants in the crowd. It was as if Fate Herself was lending me a helping hand. How could I lose?
With those thoughts to bolster me, I gestured for Merlin to help me mount up. After I swung into the saddle and was handed up my lance, I touched my heels gently to my horse's sides, and my faithful war stallion walked me boldly into the arena. I deliberately left the visor of my helm up, so there would be no doubt as to my identity, even if the royal tunic I was wearing over my chest armor was enough to name me. Besides, I wanted an unobstructed view of Morgana's face when she realized what was going on. I was nervous, but not like the nerves I usually got before competing or fighting. These nerves were because I was afraid of looking like an ass in front of the entire court and peasantry if Morgana threw my gesture back in my face. Wait, why had I thought this was a good idea? No matter. Too late to back out now. Besides, I knew it would work.
As I became visible to the large crowd, excited murmurs greeted me. Good. Everyone seemed to see and understand my message. I'd wrapped the handle of my lance in purple- and blue-dyed leather, rather than the red and gold of my house. But more damning yet was the lady's garter secured around my arm, its purple and blue ribbons dangling freely. Every eye outside the ring was glued to either myself or Morgana. And of course mine were locked with my lady's, as if by the strength of my gaze alone I could bend her to my will.
I expected the shocked surprise I saw there first. After all, it wasn't as if she'd given me her garter to wear. But we were the only two who knew that. To everyone else, for me to be wearing it was only possible if she'd bestowed it upon me herself as a deliberate – and intimate – sign of her favor. Next, I expected rage as she comprehended that I'd out-maneuvered her at best, manipulated her at worst. But I didn't see it. All I saw was mild annoyance, as if I'd spoiled some game of hers. And then after Uther turned and said something to her, she dropped her gaze from mine as a hot blush washed over her entire pale face. Then those succulent lips of hers kicked up at one corner. It was enough to make me almost loose my seat, something I hadn't done since I was a boy. That luscious mouth was lethal, in more ways than one, and I'd have to get my mind off it if I expected to win this tournament.
I dipped both my head and my lance in her direction in deference, and the crowd let out a huge cheer. Morgana looked up at me again, a blush still staining her cheeks, and in a moment of vulnerability, her feelings for me shone through her clear gray eyes. A bolt of lightening shot through me, and in that moment I felt I could conquer the world. I slammed down my visor with my gauntleted arm, and wheeled my horse around. Suddenly I was as eager as a child at the holidays. I just wanted to win my way through the tournament so I could claim my prize at the end. For the first time, what I had secretly sought and desired for all these years was attainable and within my grasp. I just wanted to get to it.
Resolutely, I focused my concentration on my task. I had to force thoughts of Morgana out of my head if I was going to win and avoid getting it knocked off in a moment of distraction. With single-minded efficiency, I plowed through one opponent after another, the long afternoon of lists falling by the wayside as I would not allow anyone to come between me and what awaited me in victory. After the last joust, after the last champion was unseated and there was no one left to challenge or conquer, I was left at the top. There had been no doubt in my mind that I would be, as both God and Fate were with me, and with none of the fatigue that usually accompanied me after a tourney, I made my way with triumphant energy to the royal box.
As I was still mounted, my eyes were level with those seated under the canopy, and though I wanted nothing more than to sweep Morgana off her chair and ride away with her, my father stood and had to be acknowledged first.
"My son," he began. "I could not be more pleased with your accomplishments in the lists today. You do the royal house of Pendragon proud. And as the winner of the day, you may now claim your prize." He gestured to a knight stationed behind him, who held out the purse of gold coins which was the usual prize for a royally sponsored tournament. But of course, this was not what I wanted.
"Sire," I said loudly. I wanted everyone to be able to hear what I was about to say. "Despite the richness of the prize offered, I respectfully decline it. In its stead, I would like to request the hand of the Lady Morgana in marriage, as she has laid claim to my heart, as I have laid claim to hers."
A gasp went through the crowd. Everyone was shocked. Morgana and I had been seen by both the court and the peasantry as foster brother and sister, and while it was not unusual for them to marry in cases of fortune and property alliances, this was not expected between us. Though some people would nod wisely, and claim later on that they always knew there was something between the King's son and the King's ward, at the moment it was absolutely silent as the crowd strained not to miss a word.
My father laughed delightedly, and I must confess I was surprised by this. I thought at the very least he would be shocked, and at the worst angry because he had not engineered the match and had greater alliances in mind for me. But Gorlois had been his closest friend, and he'd always loved Morgana, so perhaps he was happy things worked out this way after all. I heard him give his whole-hearted approval, though he jokingly said the final decision as to whether she wanted to take on a headstrong like me was up to the lady.
Here comes my humiliating set-down. I'd thought to avoid this by appealing to my father first and circumventing Morgana's agreement, but should have known things wouldn't be that easy. Dreading the triumph I'd see in her eyes, I reluctantly looked at my lady.
But rather than mockingly denying me in front of everyone, Morgana rose and stepped up to the rail I was up against. Her face was closed, her expression guarded, but her gray eyes sparkled. She was up to something.
"My King, I do believe you are in error in giving me as a prize to this worthy knight so soon. He has won the joust, but not the day."
What? Where was she going with this?
One of her brows rose at my alarmed expression, and she continued. "You forget, Sire, that the mêlée is still to be fought, and one foreign knight has challenged your son to one-on-one sword combat."
Then her voice rose to be heard by the crowd. "If your son wins that contest, then I will gladly be his and give him my hand. But until that happens, this is the only prize he will receive from me." She leaned over and kissed first my left cheek, then my right, whispering in my ear, "Well played, my champion. And well met."
It was all I could do to restrain myself from grabbing her around her gorgeous neck, and forcing that troublesome mouth to heel under mine. After today, I would have the right to do that any time I wanted. It was almost too much for me to grasp. The day before, we were as we'd always been. Yesterday everything had changed.
Flashing her the cocky grin I knew got on her nerves, I shouted as I wheeled my tired horse away, "First you give your lips, my lady, then the rest shall follow. Bring on my challenger, I am unbeatable today!"
I could have sworn I heard, "We shall see," as I galloped away.
When Arthur first came out, wearing my garter as a favor, I was just as astonished as everyone else. Then I was disconcerted. I had my own plans for the day, and as usual, Arthur had ruined them with his own bloody-mindedness. It seemed that he'd beaten me to my own punch, and I was thrown a bit. But as the tournament wore on, I'd had time to think, and realized that my plans may actually be enhanced by Arthur's declaration, and not necessarily thwarted.
With each shattering of a lance, I winced. I tried not to show it, but for the first time I worried as I watched Arthur compete in the lists. Usually I enjoyed the competition. I was competitive by nature, but women were never encouraged to do anything besides marry and produce children, and so even though I knew how to fight as well as any man, I was forced to sit and watch and experience it vicariously. And I had always loved to watch Arthur. The tourneys were one of the few times I could watch him for hours in public and I didn't have to sensor myself. But today was different. Now that I knew he returned my feelings, I was suddenly worried for his safety. Fate wouldn't be so cruel as to give him to me and take him away in one day, would it?
My worry was for naught. In his usual arrogant style, Arthur cut through the field of competitors like a team of oxen and a plow. If I wasn't in turn worrying for his wellbeing and worrying over my next planned move, I would have enjoyed it immensely. Until it was over, I was a huge bundle of nerves. Then a curious excitement filled me, as I awaited what he would do next, and what I would do later.
Still, his refusal of the prize money and his petition for my hand stunned me. Luckily Arthur was looking at his father while he said it, and it gave me the few precious moments I needed to guard my expression from the shock and joy I felt. I had no idea he felt that strongly about me – as strongly as I felt about him. And it made what I planned for later so much easier for me to do. I couldn't keep the excitement out of my eyes, though, nor could I resist teasing Arthur a bit. The kisses, I admit, we all for me.
After Arthur rode off, the crowd buzzed excitedly like a hive of bees, and both Uther and Gwen were hugging and bussing me, teasing me with congratulations and admonishments for keeping everything so secret. I smiled wanly, thinking it had been a secret to me too, and then pleaded faintness from all the excitement. Gwen immediately offered to help me back to the castle, but I put her off, saying I needed time alone to ponder my good fortune. I was amazed I could say it without choking on the words, but they did the trick. I was able to get away and slip into the simple tent set up in the knight's encampment.
"Merlin?" I whispered into the dimness as I entered.
"Milady, we must hurry. Arthur expects me in his tent, and I was only able to get away by pretending to step in horse dung."
I giggled – poor Merlin – but did as he bid, and quickly donned my bindings and then had him help me with my chain mail. I disliked fighting in plate mail, as it hampered my movements and quickness. Lastly, I wound up my hair and placed the full helm upon my head. Taking my sword from Merlin, I asked, "Well?"
Through the slit in my visor, I could tell he was grinning at me. "Perfect, my lady. Even I can't tell that you are anything other than a slight, 'foreign' knight." He went to the tent flap and ducked his head outside. "It's clear." He held the flap up for me, the grin still on his face, his eyes faintly glowing. "Good luck! If you pardon me, milady, I hope you knock him flat on his ass."
Smiling, I left the tent, a shiver of what felt like magic tingling along my spine.
Seeing the unknown knight from a foreign land walk into the arena, I know I had nothing to worry about. It looked as if a strong wind would knock him over, the full helm upon his head with the visor down looked heavy enough to snap his neck in two. Who had allowed this challenge? Clearly this knight was not in my league, and this fight was allowed as a favor to some foreign court. Feeling magnanimous, I decided to go easy on the poor idiot. No need to kill someone over pride. Not that I'd allow him to win – far from it. But I didn't think I'd score any points with my future bride if I ran some milksop through with my sword and killed him on our engagement day.
Deciding to play along, I slammed the visor down on my own helmet, thinking it wouldn't do for him to get a lucky swipe in and damage my face. I had a betrothed to look handsome for.
Facing off against my lesser opponent, I took a few wild swipes in the air with my sword to up the intimidation factor. Let him know how foolish he was to challenge me. I don't know whether I expected him to go running off in fear or not, but it would have been fine with me if he did. Regrettably, he stood his ground and I was forced to decide whether or not to make the opening move, or let him fall on his face first. Victory was so close. I was suddenly tired after my long day, and my patience was almost at an end.
As we faced each other across the dirt center of the ring, it was so quiet you could hear the shuffle of clothing as the crowd shifted restlessly. Arthur and I circled each other slowly, two combatants trying to take each others' measure.
But I already knew my opponent's measure. The one advantage I had was that I already knew Arthur's strengths and weaknesses, and he knew none of the "foreign knight's" in front of him. For me to be victorious, I had to use my superior quickness and surprise of attack to disarm him early. Arthur was slower than I was, true, but he was also much stronger and had more endurance. If the fight dragged on, his strengths would soon outweigh mine, and I'd be done for.
I couldn't see his face, as he'd chosen to wear his visor down since I had. But I imagined it still wore the superior smirk and air of entitlement that it'd had on all day, knowing the tournament was his for the taking. If I didn't love that gorgeous face so much, I'd be tempted to separate his head from his virile body. My handsome prince did need taking down a peg or two, and I was just the woman to do it.
So I lashed out first, with a series of quick swipes, the steel of my sword slapping against his. Not expecting the lightening flashes of my blade, Arthur's weight shifted back as he took a defensive posture. Pressing my advantage, I came at him again, my blade whirling and slicing. It would take Arthur little time to figure out where he'd seen this style of fighting before, and I wasn't about to give him any extra moments. Pressing forward again, I forced more of his weight to his back leg, and then I dropped low and spun on one foot, sweeping my other leg out straight for the back of Arthur's weight-bearing knee. I let the momentum of my body swing me around to his side, just as he pitched forward from his knee buckling, landing face-first in the dirt.
I jumped up just as Arthur gave a bellow of rage and rolled over onto his back, his blade coming around with him in a deadly arc. I was able to use my standing position and both arms to give me the strength to block his forceful blow with my blade, though it sent pain shooting up my limbs to my shoulders. I lashed out again with my foot, knocking his sword out of his hand, and then planted my boot squarely on his heaving chest. My own breath was huffing and puffing out of me, making it easier to lower my voice to a less feminine octave.
"Do – you – yield?"
My sword was poised over his heart, my arms shaking from exertion and nerves, but I was able to keep the blade steady.
He ripped off his helm. Furious eyes glared up at me, his breath labored, and underneath the anger, the humiliation of having been bested on the field blazed through. And his rage at his dreams of winning me slipping away.
Oh my love, be patient. I will be yours. But this is for your own good, you'll see.
His lips closed tightly. He was on his back in the dirt, disarmed, yet still fighting me.
Stubborn wretch. No wonder I adore you.
My blade shifted until the point pressed down upon his vulnerable throat. Only when I nicked the skin did he capitulate.
"Yes," he finally hissed.
A wave of relief and elation broke over me. My trembling arms threw aside my sword, and I tore off my own helm. Sweaty hair tumbled free and down my back, and my gaze locked with Arthur's.
There was a loud gasp from the crowd. But my world was focused on the incredulous blue orbs staring daggers into my own. I lifted my foot from his chest, and I offered him my gloved hand.
"Then I claim your heart as my forfeit. And your hand as my prize."
The crowd was murmuring in excited disbelief. I made my declaration loudly, so there could be no doubt as to my desires.
"You claimed me earlier in the joust, and now I claim you, Arthur, Prince of Camelot. And so our love and marriage shall be – a partnership, equal, strength to strength. This is my true favor."
Thank God Arthur was now grinning at me from ear to ear. The love I saw shining at me from his glorious eyes would scorch hotter than a thousand suns, if one did not bask in its warmth as I did.
Laughing, he yanked me down on top of him, and rolled us over until he was on top, and his mouth was crushing mine. I could dimly hear the crowd cheering over the sound of blood pounding in my ears, but I paid them little attention. There, in the dirt, my beloved kissed me with all his heart and soul, and I reveled in every second of it.
"God, I love you," Arthur finally said to me when we came up for air. He tenderly brushed my messy hair off my forehead. "You're amazing. My heart. My life. My Queen."
Happiness burst out of me in a joyous laugh. Wrapping my arms around his neck, I planted another peck on his luscious lips.
"I'm still not giving you your coat back."