Title: Freefall to Fate – AU Camelot

Show: Merlin

Characters/Pairings: Gwen/Arthur, Gwen/Lancelot, Arthur/Morgana, possible Merlin/Lady of the Lake, possible Morgana/OC, Uther, & OC.

Rating: T for violence (NC-17 in later chapters…)

Word Count: 1,364 (Ch 1 alone)

Disclaimer: I obviously don't own, because if I did…let's just say it wouldn't be a "family" show

Warnings: some clichés/plot devices and angst.

Summary: Sir Arthur is assigned as Princess Guinevere's personal protection on the trip to meet her betrothed, Prince Lancelot. And thus began the freefall to fate.

A/N: Written for the "Challenge 04 – Alternate Universe" in the merlin_rarepair LJ comm

I should perhaps clarify that this is *not* a 'this is how the legend really happened' fic, more of an AU/Legend fusion (mostly AU with snippets from legend when it so suited me… which became more and more as I progressed). I also claim only minimal knowledge of the Arthurian legend.

This fic just soooo ran away with me. Luckily, the particular challenge allowed WIPs, otherwise I would be so screwed. I wish there was a bit more to present for the challenge, but ironically a lot of the stuff I wrote is for later chapters (and it's now 5am & I'm feeling sick, so I can hardly write more). So I stopped it where it is and will add more later….

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For being a princess, Guinevere was surprisingly unpursued by suitors. She was beautiful in her own right, not to mention her highly prized position. But any man that met Guinevere would eventually come across her adoptive sister, Lady Morgana, and the competition would end there, Guinevere clearly outshone.

But Guinevere didn't mind, as she was not the sort who enjoyed attention; she got enough of it as being princess alone, she didn't need a hoard of suitors vying for her affection, as well.

Morgana, of course, was everything that men seemed to want. She was beyond gorgeous and had the sort of demanding presence that claimed all men's attention as soon as she entered the room. Men fought over themselves for her affection, although none seemed to be a clear winner… except perhaps Sir Arthur.

Arthur was Camelot's best knight and champion of the annual tournaments. He was brave, handsome, and headstrong. And similar to the way that men fell over themselves for Morgana, women of all ranks took great notice of Arthur.

He was lucky in some ways, because Arthur was of a peculiar station, technically neither a peasant nor noble, so he had little restrictions on who he could marry. He had originally been a squire when he was young, an awkward boy who ran around carrying the swords and shields and helmets, and not without his share of bullying from the knights. But years ago that had changed in a rare tournament open to all, which Arthur had won. And although it granted him a small fortune that he could use, what he had really desired was the recognition, the glory. There had been consideration that he would be allowed to join the knighthood, which was made official after he helped the knights slay a great beast, saving Camelot and receiving another sizeable reward.

That was how Sir Arthur had managed to rise through the ranks, now sitting rather high in class. Not so high that he would be allowed to marry a princess – Uther's only daughter by birth – but high enough that few doubted his ability to have Lady Morgana's hand, if he so chose to ever ask King Uther.

Guinevere was convinced that the two would marry, and she couldn't be happier for her adoptive sister. Personally, she found Arthur's personality a bit abrasive – his great success had seemed to go to his head so that he'd become a bit of an arrogant bully. But he got on with Morgana well enough, complete with slight teasing and verbal sparring, but it was part of a game, Guinevere was sure. And Morgana might need someone as headstrong as herself.

Besides, Arthur wasn't all bad. First of all, he had an unshakeable dedication to Camelot, which was admirable. And it wasn't like Arthur had ever been personally rude to Guinevere, instead perfectly polite and gentlemanly – not that he seemed to acknowledge her much at all in front of Morgana, but Guinevere was used to that.

If Guinevere hadn't known that she would have to get married one day – as the only man that could succeed the thrown would be whoever married the princess – she would have doubted that she might ever wed. But one day it had finally been decided by her father. She would marry Prince Lancelot, the second son of King Ban of Benwick.

In a week's time, she would travel to Benwick, where she would meet her betrothed. There she would marry him, returning to Camelot soon after as husband and wife.

The plans had been made, everything arranged to the letter. She would travel in a small party, with some protection; her father was arriving two days after (to reduce the amount of time that the king would be away from Camelot). The arrangement had been so perfectly set up to both kings' satisfaction, that Uther was afraid of letting the smallest detail being changed and risking the deal to fall through. So when there was news of higher danger on the roads, Uther hesitated with risking his daughter's safety, but decided against any altering of plans.

lll

"You should be careful," Merlin said, holding the bridle of his master's horse as Sir Arthur mounted.

"I know all about the increased bandit activity, Merlin. It's why the king is having me go as Princess Guinevere's personal protection."

"That's not what I mean. I'm saying that you need to be careful with Guinevere. Even if you feel that something is right, it's not. Because it will lead to your fall. To Camelot's fall."

Arthur rolled his eyes. "You're speaking in riddles, Merlin," he said and snapped the horse's reins for it to move towards the traveling party.

"It's not a riddle," Merlin called to Arthur's retreating back. "It's a warning!"

lll

It was a long journey, taking two full days and requiring that they camp for a night.

The first day had gone smoothly. But the real test was when they approached the edges of Camelot's boundaries, where the roads were not so well policed.

The horse Arthur rode was acting a little nervous. This didn't surprise him, as his usual horse had thrown a shoe right before they were to leave, so he had to take this one instead. Arthur wasn't familiar with this horse, and more importantly, it wasn't familiar with him. It especially didn't help that he suspected the horse was newly broken, since it acted a little skittish at times – especially at the moment.

It was most likely just this stretch of road. The path was on a hillside and rather narrow. Arthur was riding on the outside of Princess Guinevere (who'd barely spoken since their departure yesterday), so the horse probably didn't like being so close to the steep drop off.

Arthur tried his best to soothe the beast, patting the side of its neck reassuringly. But its ears kept pricking nervously.

It was when the horse's snorts broke through the strange silence and it stamped its feet that Arthur gave pause, turning his head suspiciously.

He had no more than a second to respond, pushing the princess down low to her horse before a hail of arrows fell onto their party from the ridge above the road.

Arthur drew his sword and yelled something, although he wasn't entirely sure what. His horse reared up in panic, an arrow in its hindquarters – not enough to seriously injure it, but enough to give a good spook. The horse lost its footing on the edge of the road, stumbling down the slope. Arthur jumped from the saddle, rolling to avoid being crushed by his steed. It bolted, but Arthur couldn't worry about that now with the attack on the road above. He clambered up the hillside, slipping in the loose dirt as he climbed.

As the scene above him became more visible, he saw how easily the guards were going down. They had been surprised by the shower of arrows and were outnumbered two to one. The guards could barely fend for themselves, let alone protect the princess. But Arthur couldn't find her through the foray.

Finally, he spotted a flash her purple dress in the sea of dirty brown highwaymen and red and silver guards.

Guinevere was on the ground, either thrown or dragged from her horse, being accosted by two of the bandits. He ran to her, drawing his sword and cleanly stabbing one of her assailers in the back while he saw the princess punch the other one square in the nose. It surprised him a bit, enough even that he didn't realize at first when she drew the short sword from his belt and killed the second man herself.

Unable to ponder it any longer, he took her by the hand, trying to pull her with him through the fight. What he wanted was a horse, but they'd all run off as soon as their riders had been killed or dragged off. Instead they would just have to run for their lives.

Three more criminals tried to prevent them, but Arthur took down two while Guinevere agilely snuck between the blows to finish the third.

Then they just ran for their lives.