Epilogue, part 3/3: The Rules of Love
Arthur knocked on a house's door. While he waited, he gave a quick look over his shoulder to check his horse was still firmly attached to a tree.
After a few seconds, a woman with a baby in her arms opened.
"Good morning sir, can I help you?" she queried.
"Yes, I'm looking for Guinevere, I was told she lived here," Arthur answered.
"Indeed, she does," the woman confirmed. "She's -" she began as she looked to her left inside the house, and remained briefly silent until she looked back to Arthur. " - not here at the moment," she finally finished.
Convinced there was someone else inside, Arthur tried to sneak a peek, but the woman partly closed the door before he could.
"Can I take a message?" she offered from the reduced opening.
Arthur shook his head. "No, I'd rather tell her myself," he stated. Then, talking louder, to no one in particular but towards the inside of the house. "Guinevere, I will not leave until you agree to speak to me."
There was no answer. The woman looked inside the house again, and Arthur could hear some rustling, but no answer.
"Gwen!" he called.
"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to leave, now," the woman advised.
Arthur kept talking through the door. "I'll wait. I don't care how long it takes, but I'll wait."
"Good day, sir," the woman concluded as she closed the door.
He stood there, immobile, while two muffled female voices rose inside. He only managed to hear the first demanding "who was this", and heard nothing of the second, but he knew it was Gwen, refusing to see him.
It didn't matter. He would wait.
He turned around and watched villagers walking right past him with complete indifference, going about their business. No one had recognised him when he had asked for directions earlier. This coastal village was probably too far from Camelot and the castle for its inhabitants to have any idea who he was – including Gwen's cousin apparently.
Deciding he couldn't remain waiting all day right in front of the door, Arthur moved away across the street and towards the pier, from which he knew he could be seen from the house. Then, he sat at the very end of it, facing the sea and away from the house – he didn't want to stare at that door if it remained irremediably shut.
And he waited. He watched the sea. The waves splashing against the shore's rocks. Gulls diving into the water to catch their food. In the heat of the midday sun, he started feeling hungry. But he remained.
In the middle of the afternoon, boats began to return one after the other from a day of labour at sea. When the sailors unloaded their catch, a few looked at Arthur quizzically, but none commented. He looked briefly above his shoulder back at the house, but the door was still closed. All he saw was a curtain being pulled back in its position.
Arthur shivered when the wind started to blow harder. His attention was now focused on the dark clouds on the horizon, growing near rapidly. It didn't look good.
As he had feared, an hour later, it started raining. It was not a light rain like they usually had inland. The drops were heavy, and within minutes he was soaking wet. But he remained.
He started losing the notion of time with the arrival of rain. The sun had disappeared behind the clouds, but the light was clearly diminishing. It would probably be sunset soon. That meant he had probably spent an hour, maybe two in the lashing rain already. And still no sign of mercy.
Arthur was drenched. Freezing cold. Starving. Bordering desperate. He felt miserable. But he remained. And as he was beginning to consider his options for the night, his tenacity was finally rewarded.
He heard the sound of a latch in the distance behind him. His heart started to beat faster, but he didn't dare look back. Instead, he kept staring at the skyline until, from the corner of his eyes, he saw feet and the hem of a dress covered by a thick coat.
"You shouldn't have come," Gwen whispered next to him, her voice almost lost to the wind.
"We have to talk," Arthur stated as he looked up to her.
Gwen wasn't looking back at him but ahead of her. Despite the hood protecting her from the rain, Arthur could see part of her face, and it appeared conflicted. After a long silence, she sighed.
"My cousin says that no matter what you did, what you're doing today is... way too romantic to let you catch your death out there in the cold."
Arthur couldn't help a broad smug smile. "And what do you think?"
"I think you're just being incredibly stupid," Gwen answered coldly, still not looking at him, "and my cousin would too if she had any idea who you were."
Arthur's smile vanished.
"But if she knew who you were, I suppose she wouldn't let you catch your death out there either," Gwen continued. "She's inviting you in," she finished and turned on her heels, not waiting for him.
Without hesitation, Arthur stood up and followed her immediately. Once inside, Gwen headed to the kitchen without sparing a glance for him, and began slicing some vegetables there, probably for dinner.
Her cousin greeted him a little more warmly.
"You're soaking wet, you should change," the woman declared. "Here are some clothes from my husband," she continued as she handed him a pile of clothes she had obviously prepared before he arrived. "He's away at sea for a couple of days."
"Thank you," Arthur said and left to change in the next room.
When he returned a few minutes later, he wasn't as grateful. Those clothes smelled, itched, and weren't his size. One quick look at his reflection in the window glass confirmed he really didn't look his best in this. But it would have to do. At least he was dry now…
"You're wounded," the woman pointed out as she saw the bandage on his arm, revealed by the shorter sleeves.
Gwen briefly looked over her shoulders at this statement.
"No, it's nothing, really," Arthur dismissed.
"My baby is crying, I'll go look after him," the woman stated suddenly.
Arthur nodded and watched her leave, but he wasn't fooled. The house was silent, there was no baby crying.
He was now alone with Gwen, but she kept working on her task. He decided to sit at the table. "Gwen," he called, but she didn't react. "Can we talk?"
She remained silent.
"Will you at least listen to what I have to say?"
He watched her shrug, and sighed.
"When you left the ceremony the other day, you missed a few... events."
"Was it interrupted before the end?" Gwen intervened coldly.
"So you did get married?" she asked sharply.
Arthur was dying to tell her everything at once. But during the entire trip, he had imagined how this reunion would unfold. And he may be willing to understand Gwen's defiance, not even in his worst case scenario was he confronted to so much distance. Piqued by this attitude, he decided to take his time.
"Yes," he answered simply.
Gwen resumed cutting the vegetables.
Arthur continued his story. "But at the very end of the ceremony, we were attacked by four sorcerers. They tried to kill me and the King."
The movement of Gwen's knife slowed down noticeably as she started to listen more intently.
"We were both fine," Arthur clarified. "But we found out those sorcerers were mercenaries hired by King Colgrin."
The knife stopped moving entirely, but Gwen remained standing still, her back to him.
"As a consequence, there's been a war with the Saxons."
This time, Gwen turned to face him with concern.
"We won," Arthur continued, "it's over now. Colgrin is dead and the Saxon troops returned to their Kingdom. Considering the terms of the peace treaty were violated, the wedding has been declared null and void. Angharad has probably already left the castle by now."
He fell silent, and waited while Gwen's gaze became distant.
"So... You're not married?" she asked with incredulity as she focused on him again.
"I'm not married," Arthur repeated, waving his naked ring finger victoriously.
A series of conflicted emotions followed one another in Gwen's eyes, a mix of both hope and doubts. Eventually, she turned her back on him and picked up her knife again.
"I... suppose there are already plenty of other Princesses from other Kingdoms waiting in line..." she said slowly.
The unmistakable jealousy in her voice after all this coldness made Arthur smile. "Probably, yes."
After his answer, the knife's blade slammed on the wood of the table a little more furiously than before.
Arthur stood up and walked close to her in silence. When he was standing right behind her, he laid his hand tenderly upon hers. She flinched at the contact of his skin and the knife fell on the table.
"Guinevere..." he whispered in her ear.
She glanced above her shoulder to look back at him at last, but she remained silent again. She seemed to be waiting for something.
And then, Arthur suddenly realised there were things Gwen would never be able to say first. Because of the rank difference. It would always be up to him to take that risk, to take the initiative.
"I won't marry any of them," he finally said. "I made a mistake by agreeing to marry Angharad, but I won't make that mistake again." He paused, his heart beating wildly just thinking about what he was going to say next. "Because I love you, Guinevere. With all my heart. And as long as I have a say, I won't marry any other than y-"
Before he had any chance to react, Arthur felt successively Gwen's hands on each side of his face and then her lips upon his in a passionate kiss. The initial surprise vanished quickly as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer.
In that instant, after a month of stress and emotional frustration, after speaking his heart so honestly and being proven better than with words that his feelings were returned, absolutely anything could happen, he probably wouldn't notice.
And indeed, he didn't notice when Gwen's cousin returned and giggled briefly at their sight before leaving them alone again.
After a long while, when they finally stopped kissing, neither of them seemed willing to let the other go. Gwen rested her head against his chest, and they remained in each other's arms in silence.
Arther laid a gentle kiss on her forehead. How could he have ever let her slip away from him?
"Will you come back to Camelot with me?" he whispered softly.
He felt Gwen smile against him. "Of course."
"Your cousin... She really has no idea who I am?"
"Not a clue..." Gwen confirmed.
Just like everyone around there, Arthur remembered. While it had been frustrating to be entirely ignored a couple of times when asking for directions, he had to admit it was refreshing. There, he could be himself, he could be just Arthur, with no fear of what the people would think of the Crown Prince of Camelot.
He smiled suddenly as a thought crossed his mind. "My horse lost a shoe during the trip, is there a farrier around here?" he asked, already knowing the answer.
"No," Gwen answered, "this is a harbour, we have no farrier. I can direct you to the man who usually helps out with those matters, but it will probably take him a couple of days to get a new horseshoe."
Just as he had thought, Arthur concluded as his smile broadened. "So, that means we'll be stuck here for several days?"
"I suppose..." Gwen concurred. She frowned when she looked up at him. "Why are you smiling? You lost no horseshoe, did you?"
"Does it really matter?" he said softly, and watched in her eyes the realisation of what he had in mind.
A few days in peace, away from the castle and the court, almost only the two of them, with no need to be careful...
Gwen reached up to kiss him again. "I love you too," she murmured, almost shyly.
"Really? For a moment there, I wasn't sure," he teased before kissing her once more.
Gwen's cousin chose that timely moment to return.
"Ah! Looks like you made up at last!" she stated joyfully. "Does that mean you'll finally introduce this young man to me, Gwen?"
"Oh, of course, this is..." Gwen began, but her voice trailed off hesitantly.
"I'm Arthur," he said simply.
"Oh, just like the Prince, then?"
Arthur resisted the urge to burst out laughing. "Yes, just like the Prince..." he confirmed and exchanged a knowing glance with Gwen.
This story was entirely written before series 3 started, except the 4 battle chapters. The ideas for this story came from a few things that I thought SHOULD happen on the show:
- Arthur being forced into an arranged marriage
- Merlin interacting with sorcerers that are NOT psychopaths, but regular members of society
- Morgana finding out about Merlin's magic
- Seeing some of the future Knights of the Round Table (Peredur is actually another name under which Percival is known)
Those of you who have seen series 3 know whether none, several or all of the above happened on the show :-D
I think this is the first time I write a story entirely planned from the start (I remember planning all the chapters up to at least 20 right after finishing writing 6), so I hope it made it more coherent, as a whole, even if a couple of things shifted during the writing itself.
I give as much importance to the reviews than to story alerts and viewing stats in general. I believe someone who reads a story until the end HAS to have enjoyed it on some level. So big thanks to all of you who kept reading till the end, even if you never took the time to write a review (but, you know, it's never too late, *cough* *cough*)
However, I was a little surprised (dare I say disappointed?) to see that once the main intrigue was revealed, the story started getting less reviews (while the viewing stats remained just as good as before). So from now on I'll try to keep that valuable lesson in mind: keep some mystery until the end if you want to keep getting reviews...
As always, I would really enjoy some feedback about my writing (or about the story itself, if you feel like it). Especially about the battle chapters. There's a reason I wrote them last: they scared me. All the fight scenes in this story were sort of a first for me. So I'd really like your opinions on how it turned out. Because if I don't get any second opinion, I'd be forced to believe they were soooo good they left you all speechless (please don't let me believe that).
And if you're too shy to write your opinion in a public review, private messages are just as good! Any criticism is appreciated as long as it's constructive!
Talking about constructive criticism... My eternal gratitude goes to catch-katch: thanks to you, from now on I'll always 'make' a decision, and never ever 'take' one again ;-D
I've already started writing another Merlin story (it won't be a sequel this time). So, if you like my writing, keep an eye open for it some time in January...
I also have an idea for a sort of "challenge" story that should force me to work on one of my self-admitted writing weaknesses. But if I never get myself to write it, I'll give it away as a free plot bunny :-D