He shifted. Tomorrow he would marry; for the good of the kingdom and for the good of the people. He had never seen himself marrying for an alliance between lands but that was exactly what he had to do. The uneasy feeling in his stomach kept him awake. He hadn't seen her face in days. He could hardly blame her from staying clear of him. It would only serve to make the ordeal harder.
Merlin had said she had been keeping her head down doing what needed to be done in silence. What he would give to hear her voice.
She'd have to serve at the wedding feast. He had tried to talk to her, to get her to take the day off, but whenever she saw him she would turn and walk the other way. He'd asked Merlin to pass on the message but he had returned with her reply saying it would improper and cause unnecessary trouble from her superiors.
She was so stubborn.
The hall was prepped; flowers were set to arrive in the morning. He was to marry another. One that wasn't Guinevere.
The thought of her name made his heart clench in his chest. He couldn't lose her, he couldn't but he had no choice.
He fell into a fitful slumber soon enough, with his mind no longer able to keep his body awake.
There was a bright light.
Arthur was certain he must be dreaming.
A figure in a long cloak stood before him, he couldn't see their face.
"What do you want with me?"
"I've come to show you, Arthur Pendragon, of the grave mistake you are to make. Understand Young Pendragon, it does not have to be like this. What I'll show you, you can change," the bright light shone again and he was standing next to the cloaked figure on the training ground just beyond the castle wall, his old manservant stood with a target, and he saw himself standing with his friends.
"This is the day I met Merlin," Arthur said, looking around at those present and sure enough by the stone wall he spotted Merlin approaching him.
"It is, but there is a person watching you that you never noticed before," the cloaked figured raised his arm to point towards one of the castle towers, towards a girl hanging out of the window with a piece of embroidered material.
"Guinevere?" the Prince whispered on seeing her. The figure was right, he'd never noticed her. So many times he knew.
"She was present in your life more than you remember."
"Until she saved me. Nursed me," despite his memory being hazy, he could still remember what it was like to hear her voice. She was distant, but she was there, and afterwards he couldn't help but smile and tease and flirt.
"Yes. You owe her more than you imagine."
"She's always been there," Arthur acknowledged, watching her frown at his royal pratliness. He cringed at his actions, how he was treating Merlin. It wasn't like he treated him that much better these days, but now it was teasing in jest rather than with mean-spirited intentions.
The scene changed before him, Arthur saw himself lying in his bed, Guinevere at his side. After his attack, back when she'd spoken to him, back when he'd finally seen her for who she really was and how she saw the world that surrounded her.
Hearing her words Arthur smiled to himself, watching her every move as she took his hand and brought it to her lips. He could feel the trace of them over his skin. He clenched his fist loosely and ran his fingers over the back of his other hand, "She always said he couldn't remember."
"She could," the figure confirmed, "She was far too embarrassed to admit it, but after Ealdor her impression of you changed," the confirmation of this was something he had known, she had told him as much, "You started to notice her too, started seeing more than her evidential beauty."
"It was impossible not to," though her looks were certainly something nobody could fail to notice, inside she was so much more, "Especially after this day," he caught a glimpse of himself then, so pale and helpless yet she still showed undying faith in him.
The room merged into another, Gwen's house, the morning of the tournament. She was giving him her token, and he could feel it all. Every emotion he had felt in that one moment coursed through him again, it was electric.
"Things changed this day," the figure said, though Arthur knew it, it was obvious. He didn't need to be told. Arthur said nothing. His mind reeled with the emotions he'd felt. He watched himself lean to kiss her; he could feel her lips on his own, the flip in his stomach, and the high of his mind.
It changed around him again. This time it was the same place but it was night and the pair of them had disappeared. He felt a pang of disappointment, he missed the feeling instantly and he wished to stay, yet this wasn't the point of the trip and he knew that too. Convincing him to change the course of his life and push for what he wanted, he needed the brutal truth.
"This is tonight," the figure turned around and gestured to the bed. Guinevere sat leaning against the wall, hugging her pillow tightly to her chest. She rocked slightly, fighting the tears that threatened to fall down her cheeks. His heart thumped in his chest.
"I do not need to make you feel it as you already do," Oh how he could feel it, the heart break, the sense of loss and longing, "The pair of you make one coin. Two opposites that make a whole," Arthur reached out his hand to place it against her tear stained cheek, "You cannot touch her. We must go."
"This is you in twenty days time. Look at you," Arthur looked. He was hunched over his table with a quill in his hand. He looked miserable, he looked lonely, and far from the man he saw when he looked at his own reflection after spending a second with Guinevere, "The life is gone from your eyes. You've been married for less than three weeks but she is gone. The last time you spoke her was a week before your wedding. And that will be the last."
Arthur noticed something in his left hand then, under the table. A slither of white material bundled into his hand, fingers intertwined with it as he seemingly concentrated on reports for his father.
The token. Gwen's token to him. It was still in the draw next to his bed, he rested his keys on it every night. To see himself in a world he dreaded knowing that he would still be missing her pulled at his heart; "All this will happen if you let it. The woman you love will walk out of your life forever unless you stop this engagement. I can show you your future, how it will go for you, for your wife, for Guinevere."
"No," Arthur said sternly, the scene fizzled back to his bedroom. They were both standing by his table, in the same place they had been standing before, but it was empty now, and Arthur knew it was home again.
"I can show you-"
"I don't trust you."
"I can show you what you can have," Arthur held up his hand to stop him. He couldn't see it. If he saw it he wouldn't go through with the wedding and he needed to. For the good of Camelot, as he had told himself over and over again.
"It's all lies, all of it, she won't ever leave," he was trying to convince himself more than anybody now.
"She will leave you and she will leave Camelot."
The Great Hall hadn't been so grand for over thirty years, since Uther Pendragon married his Queen. Flowers garnished every surface, drapes hung from the walls and every noble was dressed in their best robes. The King stood beside his son. The other leader stood opposite him beside his daughter.
Merlin was at the side of the congregation next to Gwen. He watched her out of the corner of his eye every second. He could see the hurt etched on her face, but she was too stubborn to admit defeat. She was determined to see this through. Even if her gaze was trained to the floor.
Arthur stood looking at the blonde before him. Geoffrey was speaking his traditional drivel. Gwen clenched her jaw and blinked a few times in quick succession. She wasn't going to cry over the Prince. Not again.
All of a sudden all eyes were on him. Was he supposed to do something?
From the corner of his eye he saw Guinevere turn and leave with Merlin soon turning to follow after her. It hurt that he could be so close to her without anybody batting an eyelid.
Arthur knew that this was it, the hooded figure was right. He needed to act now or she'd be gone forever.
"I'm sorry I can't do this," he announced to the room. There was a collective gasp from everybody in presence including his fiancée before him.
"Arthur?" his father probed looking at his son in concern.
"I'm sorry," he turned on his heel and walked up the central aisle of the procession without looking back. Looking back was something you did when you regretted your action. He'd only looked back once in his life, and he wasn't about to start a life of living looking backwards.
He'd barely walked out of the Great Hall and around the corner when he came across his manservant and the woman he loved, she was in his embraced, tears down her cheeks with her chin hooked on his shoulder, at the sound of movement she opened her eyes to see Arthur stood before her. She gulped nervously only to see her pull away from Merlin and turn to make her exit, "Guinevere," Arthur called out making her stop in her escape.
"Please don't do this."
"Do what?" she turned back to face him, tears brimming in her eyes. Arthur didn't noticed Merlin wonder off to hide behind the next corner to attempt to give them a little bit of privacy.
"And watch you marry another? I don't think so, Arthur."
"Where will you go?" Arthur demanded. He wanted to reach out and touch her but he couldn't, he didn't feel like he had the right, she would only walk away from him.
"Away from here," she swivelled and without acknowledging him she went to walk away. Unable to let that happen to him, again, he reached out and grabbed her wrist to pull her back around to face him.
He looked her in the eye and tried to plead with her, "I didn't marry her."
"Not ever," she pulled her wrist from him sharply only to have him grab at her hand again and take it in his, "I can't. I don't love her."
"That's not the impression you gave from an engagement that you instigated," she jabbed him in the chest with a pointed finger, upset gone from her eyes and replaced with a firm anger that flared throughout her.
"For the good of the kingdom and my father."
"When have you ever done something you didn't want to because of your father?" Gwen asked, her eyes now bone dry and her annoyance evident in her voice. She had known Arthur to defy his father over many things in the past, saving two servants lives, riding out to find the Dragonlord, which she had only heard from Gaius and not the Prince himself who hadn't even thought to say goodbye to her before he left.
"This wasn't about what I wanted. Now it is. I can't watch you walk out of my life."
"Then turn your back," she pulled away from him again, she flicked his hand away with such force that he took a small step back before he advanced after her again. She wasn't getting away this easily, he couldn't allow her to walk out of his life without a fight.
"No," she stopped and looked over her shoulder at him, not wanting to let him win. They had played his game for too long, their holding pattern had been plain to see yet he had done nothing for it. She couldn't be sure he wanted a future with her, his words meant nothing when his actions betrayed him like so many times, "This day was bound to come. I just didn't realise what it would take to stand back and watch."
"I don't intend to," she moved to turn away again, only to have him grab her shoulders and wrench her body back around to face him.
"Don't stand back. Step forwards."
"And why don't you, Arthur? Why don't you stand up for your own feelings?" Gwen challenged, "You could tell your father. But you don't. We carry on in secret. You assume that I will stay for you if you ask me to, that I will accept a proposal that never comes. You say you wish to marry me but you have never even asked. You depend on Merlin and I to tell you what is right and wrong, you need to start taking responsibility for your actions Arthur, you can't be dependant on others forever."
He clenched his jaw, now was not the time for arguments over petty home truths, certainly he could have told his father, but he knew ho that would end. He'd laugh him out of the Great Hall and tell him he was being childish. Proposing to her had been something he had wanted to do for so long, but she'd always say no until they knew they could have a future, "Tell me what it is you want."
"I want to leave."
"The truth, Guinevere," she closed her eyes and sucked on her bottom lip. She turned to face him. She looked at him and couldn't help but want to tell his sorrowful face everything.
"I don't want you to marry her."
"That isn't what you want," he reached out and ran his hand over her arm, not wanting to impose himself on her, giving her the opportunity to pull away, "Be selfish for a change, Guinevere. Tell me what you want."
"I want to be left alone," she argued defiantly, "I want to leave. I want you to be happy. I want-"
"The truth," he implored, running his hand up her arm to cup her jaw, forcing her to look at him.
Her eyes locked with his and all she could manage was a strangled gulp before she closed her eyes to escape the intensity of his blue gaze, "I want you to love me."
"Then it's a good job that I already do."
"You can't," she shook her head only to have his firm grip stop her.
"I can. I want. Learn to think like a selfish prat. It does you some good, some of the time," he joked in attempt to lighten the mood, only to be met with a stony glare.
"I want…" Arthur prompted, looking at her meaningfully, he knew their time was running short; his father wouldn't take too much longer to catch up with him after he settled the crowds.
"To be happy. To be loved. To never leave your side. To-"
Arthur stooped, he'd heard enough to know he wouldn't be wasting his time. He pressed his lips gently to hers, pulling her closer to him in order to wrap one arm around her waist. She kissed him back knowing full well it could be the last time they would have any contact if the king found them. Arthur ran his tongue along her lip only to be greeted with her own.
"Arthur, what is the meaning of this?" It had only been a matter of time before somebody had found him and he hadn't exactly gotten far before he'd stopped her. He just didn't want his father to stop him, not now, she could run.
"I cannot marry her," Arthur stated, looking sternly at his father, guarding Gwen from him.
"You cannot marry her, either."
"The heart wants what it wants, father, I will not pass on a chance at love when the option in its place is a necessity."
"Do you wish Camelot to fail?"
"No, father, but it would fail if the King had his heart ripped from him," their voices were rising feverously; each word was shouted louder than the last.
"What are you talking about?"
"Guinevere is my heart. I am yours. If you do anything to take her from me, I shall only go with her, wherever that may be. Be it Cameliard, Heaven or hell."
"Don't be so preposterous."
"I have never wanted for anything," Arthur said, his voice suddenly quieter, "apart from her," he reached behind him to take Gwen's hand, he needed the extra comfort.
"To warm your bed perhaps," The King scoffed eyeing the maiden with such disgust.
"Not once. Not until I marry her," he stood squarely to his father, standing his ground against him was the best way to ensure that the King wouldn't think him a joke like he had so many times before.
"You say it as if it is fact," the tone of the King's voice left little to be desired, he was practically laughing off what his son was telling him despite his honourable intentions.
"If you will not allow it, I shall change the laws when I am King."
"She will never wait for you."
"I think I can speak for myself, my lord," on hearing Guinevere's voice, Arthur looked over his shoulder, his father's gaze following the same line.
"Excuse me?" He hadn't expected a serving girl to speak out to him, she ought to know her place.
"You do not know me, sire."
"You are a servant, what is there to know?" the elder Pendragon bit back, narrowing his eyes at her.
"Know that I love your son."
"You love his position."
"I have witnessed Arthur without power, when he was vulnerable and in need of a friend. I have no wish for status and power. I am a servant and I am happy and unashamed to be one. I would happily work for you until the day you died if that is what it took."
"The council would never allow it."
"But would the King?" Arthur spoke out, "You have the power to override their decisions why don't you make one on your own, just this once."
"You will hold your tongue, boy," The king threatened, raising his finger to his son.
"No, father, I will not. I will not marry unless it is out of love."
"You can learn to love her in time."
"Why learn to love somebody else when my heart belongs to another?"
"No. There is no place in any heart for any other than one love. True love."
"You are both fools," The king looked between them; he saw an acute fear in the servant's eye and defiance in his son's. A look he had started getting used to over the years.
"Fools we may be, but I cannot live like this. I'm tired of sneaking around like she is my dirty little secret. She is far from that."
"That's all she can be."
Once upon a time Uther Pendragon had been where his son was now. Blindly in love with the most wondrous woman he would ever know, the only woman he had ever loved and he had married her. She was a Princess, there were no complications there. This girl was a servant; nobody would take the lad seriously if he married her. It was a ridiculous notion the boy would do better without. But he knew exactly how stubborn and determined the Prince could be, so much like himself in so many ways. And this maid, she was unafraid to stand up to him; she was stronger than Uther had thought her to be. She had the look in her eye that told him that all she needed was a chance in the world, a position.
"For now. You." He pointed at Merlin who had been loitering just within earshot, "Go and collect Geoffrey of Monmouth, immediately."
"Yes, my lord," Merlin disappeared back towards the Great Hall and the hubbub Arthur had created.
"I suggest the pair of you make yourselves scarce. I shall deal with this."
The King's trusted advisor stood with a bundle of papers, lines and names adorned them all. Uther read over the last of them, abandoning it on the table and rubbing the bridge of his nose, defeated; "You are certain?"
"Yes, my lord," Geoffrey confirmed, waving a piece of parchment in his hand as the King settled back in his chair.
"This is a great shame."
"How so?" The old man asked, looking to the nobleman.
"I wished to never deny my son anything in life. Now is the time I must say no."
"If I may speak, my lord, but just because the girl has no noble blood from the past, it does not mean that her heart doesn't make her so and able to start the line a new," Geoffrey recommended, looking at the King with suggestion in his eyes.
"The nobles were made noble somewhere along the line. Maybe now is the time to review ideals. Time for a little white lie."
Guinevere was trying to sleep. It was still early but with all the rush over the last few days her energy had finally left her. She couldn't comprehend the changes that were coming, if they were coming at all. Uther hadn't banished her or sentenced her, he'd sent them away.
They'd spent the next hour sitting in silence before she had excused herself from the awkwardness. She didn't know what to say, everything she had wanted to say had already been spoken in their heated moment, and now she was waiting for sleep to take her and it just wouldn't come.
There was a sharp knock on her door.
She sighed and rose from her bed.
"Good evening, Gwen," Leon stood on the other side of the door with another guard, "The King wishes to see you."
By his tone and expression he didn't appear to know what it was that the King wanted. She smiled at the knight gratefully before she grabbed her shawl and followed him back towards the castle.
"I shouldn't look so worried, Gwen, he has been in talks with Geoffrey of Monmouth all day, I do not think he would wish to speak with you unless it was good news."
"That or he wishes to send me away to stop temptation," she didn't know how Leon knew, but she guessed that somewhere somebody had started the rumour mill in the castle. Once it was worked up it wouldn't be long until the information spread like wildfire and the townspeople would all know by now.
"Arthur wouldn't let that happen."
"How can you be so sure?"
"I can't, but he's come after you before," she opened her mouth to reply but looked to floor with a small smile. Rumour mill, it had been hard at work, "This is where I leave you," the knight smiled as they reached the doors to the hall, "Good luck."
"Thank you," Leon opened the door for her, guiding her in before he shut it behind her again leaving her with the King.
"My lord," she bowed her head and remained stationary.
"Guinevere. You said this morning that I did not know you, and in truth you are correct. This can not do."
"My son loves you, I can certainly see why," he looked her up and down, she was still wearing her green dress from earlier in the day, her official castle business dress over her lavender one which she wore for more informal every day occasions, "but I would like to know why."
"There is not much to tell, my lord."
The doors opened behind her, she recognised the woman who entered as the Royal Seamstress, "Marie?"
"I would like you to take Guinevere, and measure her for a new dress-"
"My lord, I couldn't possibly-"
"Nonsense, I insist," he indicated for her to follow Marie as she exited the Great Hall, both led by a guard who guided the both of them to the nearest empty room.
"I don't need a new dress."
"The King insists, Gwennie."
"I'll take one you have already made and you can just adjust it, honestly, I don't need a fuss."
"If you insist, Gwen," she paused before she left to collect a few of the dresses she knew the maid would like. A smile spread across her face and she grinned at Gwen, "the girls will love to hear this."
Gwen stood waiting on Marie, she had said she would deliver the dress that morning and Uther had implore than Gwen stay in the Castle instead of her small home, when Merlin finally found her. She turned to see him and smiled. The look on his face told her that he had no idea that was going on. After a deep breath, Gwen started to explain.
"I don't have to call you 'Lady Guinevere' now, do I?"
"No, Merlin," she laughed, not wanting her friend to treat her with formality. If she had to deal with other people doing so, she didn't want Merlin to. During her fitting Uther had come to her, standing behind a screen with the King on the other side recalling information to her as she watched Marie work. He'd told her of supposed information they had found and what he could do for them with it. Gwen frowned, but she let him finish.
"Does everybody else?"
"Wow, Gwen," he said, not having much else to say in his shock.
"This is too strange," Gwen admitted, life was moving to fast.
"Does Arthur know?" He couldn't remember the Prince mentioning it just now when he had delivered his breakfast.
"His father wanted to inform him, once he's done with training he's going to tell him," Gwen wanted so much to tell him herself, but then who was she to deny the King. He was already offering her so much. She didn't feel that she had the right to deny the King of anything; she still felt like a servant.
"I won't say a word."
"Thank you, Merlin," the male went quiet for a moment in contemplative thought.
"I don't have to bow, do I?" Gwen laughed and shook her head; that was the last thing she wanted from him.
"Do you bow for Arthur?" she said by means of an answer.
"Father, what is the meaning of all this," Arthur charged into the hall, raging at his father. The King held up a hand to silence his son, "What is going on?"
The King gestured to his right towards one of the supporting pillars. Arthur turned. His eyes widened at the sight before him, "Guinevere?"
"My lord," she curtsied in her new dress. The under layer was white with a layer of pink material over the top of it, the sleeves poofed, a far grander attire than he had ever seen her in before.
"Father?" Arthur turned back to the king and frowned. He didn't understand.
"Geoffrey found that Guinevere's great grandfather on her mother's side was a knight in Olaf's lands before retiring to become a baker in Camelot. She has faint but noble blood in her."
"Father?" He looked between them again; his father couldn't possibly be telling him what he thought he was. He'd researched Guinevere himself; he knew the facts, where was his father getting his all from?
"With this knowledge I can allow you to marry. I plan on announcing your engagement to Lady Guinevere at the council meeting this afternoon, until then I beg you to be discrete," Arthur looked back over to Gwen who was looking at the floor with her cheeks tinged red and a small smile on her face.
"Thank you, father," Arthur beamed, for all the information in the world, Arthur no longer cared for the truth, he no longer had to lie.
Arthur shut his door behind them. Gwen had walked towards the table and was straightening the belongings that had been left scattered by the Prince and his manservant that morning, "He's lying," she told him, not looking up from her task.
"Who is?" the male asked, pretending to be none the wiser.
"Your father. My great grandfather on my mother's side was a baker, certainly, but he was no knight."
"Perhaps he was."
"My family has either been bakers or blacksmiths and they have never lived outside of Camelot," she admitted. She didn't want to break the spell but she prided herself on not being a liar. She was proud of who she was and for Uther to try and rewrite her past, her lineage seemed like a step too far.
"Then my father is backhandedly giving us his blessing in a way he can deem feasible by the court. I don't suggest we fight it. Unless you'd rath-"
"No, Arthur, if your father wishes it this way, who are we to defy the King?" Because who was Guinevere Leodegrance to deny her heart of what it wanted. To deny the Crowned Prince of Camelot what he wished. To deny the King, her future father-in-law, of something she had wanted him to grant for so long.
She was in love, and she wasn't about to pass up the opportunity for anybody, even if it meant telling a white lie, because sometimes, maybe a little white lie was good for the soul.