Uther Pendragon and Guinevere would never know they shared a common annoyance at one time during their lives. It was (and is) a very mundane and domestic thing, but nonetheless it was something that both of them could call alike.
In both cases it involved their sleeping partners, an annoying habit they both had.
That was snoring.
For Gwen it had been a complex issue. She always tried to beat Arthur into bed and fall asleep before him. She would get off to sleep easily, especially after being tired out before bed time in the usual manner by Arthur (A task he was always willing to perform). Then she would somehow manage to sleep through the perpetual oinking.
He would never wake her up with it.
It was impossible for Uther to beat his queen to bed.
He was usually up until the early hours trying to finish up state business. There was the Privy Council to help him but he was a young and brand new king that wanted to make his own mark. He had been married and on the throne less than a year. He was filled to the brim with bright ideas to improve life in Camelot after the disaster of the previous king's reign.
Some nights he and Igraine would be up for hours trying to figure out which area they should address first. Should it be taxes, welfare, levies, law and order, food production, cloth production, trade, monopolies or something that was really new and different?
Two twenty-six year olds who after years of struggle had finally been put in a position to implement the changes they wanted, and it never occurred to them how inexperienced they were. Thankfully Gaius was there to help.
Eventually Igraine would get tired of the paper work and retire to bed. Uther would sometimes be persuaded to put it down and give in for the night too... but he was still in that honeymoon stage of his reign when every little detail mattered.
"Don't try to do too much," Igraine said softly, and hugged his shoulders from behind. "I'll try and wait up for you."
Try but rarely succeeded; once she had buried her head in the pillow, Igraine was out like a light. She would try pacing around the room, even hopping around at times to try and keep herself awake. She would hum songs to herself and begin to tidy up the room in a bid to stay awake a bit longer. But then she would get too tired and think 'I'll just sit in bed...' and that was it for the night.
Elsewhere Uther would resolutely work on. Usually after Igraine went he would suddenly be struck with a grasp of tiredness (or the other thing) and want to retire also. But he thought that would look like he had given up or become bored, and he didn't want anyone to think ill of him, least of all Igraine.
Plus he wanted to work until he was absolutely knackered. It would be half an hour before he finally felt so sleepy he had to put state business to bed for the night.
He would drag himself towards the royal apartments, disrobing into his night shirt the moment he walked into the living space. When he had been working so long and so late he didn't want anything to prevent him from collapsing immediately into bed.
A sound wafted in from the bed chamber next-door.
Uther sighed: he had heard it the moment he entered. This was the reason he had to work until he could no longer concentrate.
He poked his head around the corner.
Igraine looked like an angel. She was lying in the middle of the bed, faster asleep. Her hair was sticking out the top of her head like a halo, her were arms sprawled out over the mattress like wings but her snoring sounded nothing like a holy chorus.
She sounded like a little piglet, snorting away.
It amused Uther that his pretty, sensible queen and that snorting usurper of half the bed was the same woman!
He crept quietly into the room, not wanting to wake her. Igraine was a mild-tempered and polite woman but heaven help anyone that woke her up.
Her head snapped from one side to another, causing her to snort particularly loud.
Uther could have always slept next door but he liked the company even if her snoring kept him awake. There were always his wax earplugs to dull the noise and there was more chance of heir-making in the morning if he bore the noise tonight.
So he would make do.
In would go the wax earplugs, uncomfortable as they were, and then he would slip into the side of the bed to gently roll Igraine onto her side. A very neat trick he had picked up during the early days of the marriage. Igraine had a habit of tossing and turning as well as snoring, but she wouldn't snore if she lay on her side; so rolling her over would make her stop... until she rolled onto her back (or tummy) again, of course.
Then there was no stopping her.
Uther carefully slipped his hands underneath her body and gently tried to tilt her over. He hooked the arm stretched over his pillow across his shoulders to make it easier. Finally he tipped her onto her side and she settled with a tiny murmur. Her snoring ceased; she snuggled her head against the pillow – almost on her stomach but not quite – and buried her arm underneath.
Then there was silence.
The young king sighed and arranged the covers around his wife, not wanting them to be too tight so she was uncomfortable or too loose so she was cold. Satisfied she was tucked in good for the night, he himself finally settled down beside her, close to her back.
There was no snoring now, but her blonde hair was getting in his face now. Not that he minded; it smelt like the lavender she used to soothe her headaches. It had a soothing effect to him too.
Gwen didn't know snoring could sound so... pig-like.
It wasn't the snoring itself; her father used to snore so she had learned over the years to cope with the noise. In fact Tom's snoring had been even louder than Arthur's, so it wasn't even the volume that got her. The thing that amazed her was that Arthur actually sounded like a pig.
The first time she had heard this noise emanate from the handsome prince was during his stay at her house. It was bad enough to be sleeping on sacks of flour and potatoes but then, just as she was on the point of falling asleep she had been jerked out of it by that throaty oinking sound.
That can't be Arthur, Gwen thought as she listened to him. Surely the Prince of Camelot doesn't make such an awful noise?
She wondered briefly if it was a real pig.
She sat up and looked towards the curtains separating the pantry from the rest of the house. The sound filled the house. She couldn't hear pattering from trotters.
"It has to be him," the maid muttered to herself. He would have woken up by now and started whining. She could hear him in her mind saying 'Guinevere, Guinevere! There's a pig in the house!'
Gwen pulled back the curtain to look into the neighbouring room. Just as she suspected there was no sign of a pig. The origin of the sound was none other than Arthur. She couldn't help but groan – hoping in vain that she might wake him up – but his snoring was undeterred.
He was lying on his back, hanging half-way out of the bed as he was too big for the little cot. It was clear that with his head tilted back on the small hard pillow and his mouth wide open, the noise was worsened. Gwen was very tempted to hold his nose... but she knew she'd never get away with doing that.
He made a particularly loud snort, smacked his lips together and closed his mouth. The snoring stopped.
Gwen sighed quietly and turned around to get back to her flour sacks. Then moment she closed the curtain again, the snoring started up again. She rolled her eyes. It wasn't as loud as before but it was still annoying.
She lay back down, fringing to get comfortable again and listened to the noise as it filled the room. She didn't have earplugs anymore, not since her father died. That would be the first thing she would do tomorrow; before going to the tournament she would buy some earplugs. It seemed a little pointless given he would only be there for another three nights, but Gwen still thought it was worth committing to another pair of plugs.
Like she was preparing herself long-term for Arthur's snoring. Even though there was no reason why.
She must have drifted off somehow as the next time she woke, a few hours later, Arthur's snoring had stopped. It was actually the silence that woke her up.
I wonder if he's awake, she thought.
She peaked through the curtains again but Arthur was still asleep. He was lying on his side, facing her. Unlike before his cheek was buried into the pillow and his left arm was sticking out from under the covers. He then shifted slightly, going from on his side to resting on his stomach.
Gwen pulled the material back a bit more to get a better look at him.
He looked quite angelic now he had stopped snoring. Dare she even say endearing? The bed was undoubtedly uncomfortable by his standards yet he seemed to have made the best of it. His expression was soft as his eyes flickered slightly. He was probably dreaming.
I wonder what about, Gwen thought as she tucked her knees under her chin to watch him quietly. I suppose about the joust, she reasoned. Or some sort of activity that involved him swinging a sword or knocking men off a horse.
She noticed a faint smile cross his lips.
Whatever it is something good must have just happened.
She found herself smiling too. He was making incoherent little sleep-noises. They are a bit more pleasant than the snoring, although Gwen didn't want to complain about the snoring. It had been strangely comforting because for the first time in a while someone else was there with her.
Then Gwen remembered herself, blushed and yanked the curtain closed again. She knew she shouldn't be doing this.
Igraine didn't know that she snored.
It wasn't too long after she had been married when she found out. It was another night when Uther had returned late and had entered their chambers where she was already asleep. He had been out with the army, tracking down a mythological beast that had been attacking the outline villages.
He was completely exhausted, which was probably why this happened:
Rather than being sweet and gentle in nudging Igraine to the other side of the bed, turning her over and stopping her snoring – he accidently yanked a bed sheet from under her as he tipped her over, causing her to spin over and...
"Uther" Igraine squeaked in a high-stressed voice. "What on earth are you doing?"
Thankfully she hadn't fallen the distance from the high bed to the hard floor, but she had been left hanging upside-down in the tangled sheets. At the last minute Uther had wrapped his arm around her waist to stop her falling fully out.
With his help she hoisted herself back up and she glared at him through her deep blue eyes. She said again: "What were you doing?"
Uther bit his lip. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry – I've had a very long day."
"But did you have to nearly knock me out of bed?"
"I assure you," he said slowly, "that was not my intention..."
Igraine sighed, folded her arms across her chest and looked at Uther with a more apathetic look. She was still tired and while she had been shocked at being awoken in the manner he had, she wasn't particularly angry with him.
"Why did you... shove me over like that?" her voice now calm and more Igraine-like.
"Um, well..." Uther began slowly. He hadn't wanted to tell Igraine about her habit because he thought she would be embarrassed. He had kept her snoring secret since their wedding night. "It's... no, it's nothing. Don't worry about it."
"It must be something," she said firmly, curiously wanting to know what her husband was withholding from her. He looked away, trying to hide an awkward grin. Igraine found it hard not to pout. "What is it?"
Uther cleared his throat.
"I wasn't going to tell you this," he said slowly, now starting to chuckle. That annoyed her even more and she slapped him on the forearm. "Alright, alright if you really want to know... the reason I tried to roll you over is because, well you... snore."
Igraine's eyes widened and she forced herself to swallow her embarrassment.
"I. Do. Not. Snore," she began slowly, "I might make noises in my sleep but I do not snore."
"I assure you that those noises you speak of," Uther replied teasingly, "are definitely snoring noises. You sound like a little piglet."
"Ha," Igraine bleeped, her eye widened as she began to see the humour of the situation. "That really is charming. Time was you called me an angel, but now I'm a piglet. Thank you Uther Pendragon, you certainly know how to 'charm' a lady."
"I wasn't calling you an actual piglet," Uther said defensively. "I merely stated that your snores sound like a piglet."
Again, she pretended to take offence but she didn't mind his light teasing. There were many times when Uther's bad temper, grumpiness and occasional egocentrism annoyed her but she would always remember that he was ultimately a good and well-meaning person. He was by no means perfect but she found perfect boring. Like Gorlois – a lord and gentlemen who stood for duty, honour, courage and all that legend listed a man should be. That was just appearance; underneath Igraine thought Gorlois was a deeply dark and troubled man. More trouble than most people wanted to deal with...
At least Uther is truly honest, Igraine thought to herself. Even if he keeps things back to try and impress me or keep me from being embarrassed.
She knew that was why he hadn't mentioned her snoring.
"Alright," she finally conceded.
Igraine lay back down in bed. This time she left enough room for Uther to also lie down, but still took up enough so he would have to stay close. She looked at him and smiled warmly.
"If it makes you feel better I'll... see if I can get some advice from Gaius on how to stop the snoring. Or make it more tolerable for you, maybe, like a sleeping draught?"
"Oh you don't need to bother," Uther said, and rolled over to pick up his wax earplugs lying beside the bed. "I have these."
Igraine gently pushed him, smiling.
She then pointed accusingly at him, "But I am still furious at you for nearly knocking me off the bed."
"I know," Uther nodded. "I'm sorry."
Igraine nodded. "I could have been badly hurt I hope you know."
"I know that too."
He sounded concerned. Uther may not have meant to send her flying off the bed but he still felt bad about potentially having put her at risk of injury. He didn't know what he would do if any harm came to her, even something as minor as falling out of bed; he'd become frantic, probably.
"You know I would never intentionally hurt you."
Arthur was too heavy for Gwen to roll over.
Merlin had taught her that trick: he had read it in one of Gaius's old books that people snored usually because of the position they were lying in. Gwen knew her husband only snored when he lay on his back, and sometimes his stomach. Unfortunately these were both his favourite sleeping positions.
But Arthur wasn't light enough to tilt with ease. Even if she did prop him on his side he fell either back down or tummy-down. Sometimes she would bet on which it would be.
"Sometimes I think you do this on purpose," Gwen had muttered to herself one evening.
Arthur, who was pretending to be asleep, smirked against the pillow he had landed face down on and said, "Would you judge me if I was?"
Gwen slapped him on the back playfully and tried to fight back a grin. It was hurting her face.
"I knew you were just messing around," she huffed as he rolled onto his back again. "We're getting too old for this, Arthur."
"It never gets too old!" he declared, beaming.
Gwen lay down beside him and rested her hand on his chest, above his softly beating heart. His hand reached up to hold it firm. This might be a pleasant way to sleep, thought Gwen. It usually was, after all.
"You want me to perform an act of mercy?" Arthur suddenly asked, tired and flirty.
She raised her head slightly to look at him, also weary.
"I don't think you could manage it," Gwen replied with a smile. "You're exhausted."
"Am not", Arthur protested, eyes closed. His arm curled around her shoulders and she laid her head down against his shoulder. "I don't want to keep you up all night."
Gwen giggled and kissed his shoulder. "Once is enough for one night – we need to grasp tiredness while it's..." she stopped to yawn, "You know, taking hold..."
"True," Arthur muttered, finding it difficult to remain coherent. "I can always perform my act of mercy in the morning..."
Gwen opened one eye. "It serves no purpose then, or do you snore when you're awake too?"
"You know what I mean."
She closed her eyes again, smiling against his skin. "I know what you mean – tomorrow morning it shall be."
Arthur could only grunt a reply as he was firmly on the edge of sleep.
Within a few minutes he was dead to the world and Gwen was not far behind. Even when he started a chorus of snoring she did not stir or wake. Even when he started to toss and turn, leaving her in an awkward position where her head was neither cushioned by pillow or shoulder; she caught up eventually during mid-sleep, crawling her head back into a more comfortable position again.
The funniest thing of all was that if given the chance Gwen wasn't certain she would choose to have Arthur's snoring fixed. It had become a part of him; she had first discovered he did it when he had stayed with her, when she had fallen for him. It was just a silly imperfection that made him human and truth was sometimes found his narrow-snoring as comforting as the feeling of his heartbeat.
It was a reminder that he was there, that she was with him and that they had achieved their love and marriage when all the odds had been against them.
Uther would have understood Gwen's sentiments.
Like Gwen, after years of sleeping with someone that snored he had become immune to the noise. Nay, he began to feel uncomforted by actual silence. Uther hated silence – he couldn't sleep in a silent room. He needed faint sounds lest he toss and turn and never once settle for the night.
Igraine, like Arthur, would not only snore but mutter incoherent nonsense in her sleep and toss and turn abruptly at different points in the night. Even towards the end of her short life, before she realised the truth about her miraculous pregnancy after nearly four years of married life childless, her habits continued (if not became worse). She was never comfortable, never satisfied and was still snoring.
The thing that had annoyed her the most was that she couldn't sleep on her stomach, her favourite spot to sleep. Moreover towards the end she was stuck on her back every night, still snoring.
"I hate this part," she had groaned one morning, rubbing her swollen belly. "All the waiting and I just want this to be over."
In his naivety Uther wanted it over with too.
Then Igraine was silent.
Once she was gone Uther had been forced to face that thing he had always hated and feared – silence. It didn't just mean the absence of her sound but the silence that came with her absence in his life as a whole.
The silence that she left was filled by something else. Hate. Uther's world had changed forever, and he made sure that the world changed with him whether it liked it or not. Then the silence was filled with something else, not with the soft sound of people sleeping safe and peaceful in bed but with screams, tears and anguish over the changing world, over the silence Uther had enforced on them.
Uther felt he could never treasure anyone as he had Igraine.
She had been his mind, heart and soul. He couldn't imagine anyone or anything filling his heart with such warmth and comfort. No, he didn't think he would find love again – certainly not of the romantic kind. He didn't think he would and he never did. Companionship was tempting but he never felt the same connection, the same meeting of minds that his dead wife had provided.
The worst part had always been living with the knowledge that he had betrayed it. He had lied to her; let her believe that Arthur's conception had been luck when all the time the magic used to create him was slowly draining the life from her.
She had died thinking he had sacrificed her for Camelot.
The painful irony was that Igraine knew how much Camelot meant to Uther. She would have laid down her life readily to maintain the peace Camelot had enjoyed – a peace that would be lost without an heir. Yet it was his lie and her death that ended the peace, a peace that Arthur would spend the first few years of his reign trying to put back together.
Uther couldn't bear to look at him at times as he reminded him too much of Igraine. He bore the name Pendragon but that was all Uther had handed down to his son. But he was Igraine's living memento. Everything else from his honourable nature to his fair eyes, hair and skin to the sound of his laughter and the way he smiled – it was all Igraine.
He was her son.
It was nearly eight months into the Great Purges before Uther dared to go into the nursery and look down into the cradle of his tiny infant son.
Like an angel he was sleeping soundly, quietly. Maybe Igraine's bad habit had died with her? Maybe there would be one trait he had not inherited from her?
Uther didn't care either way.
He looked at the boy and tried to understand him. He didn't blame him for what happened to Igraine. Normally when children caused the deaths of their mothers, fathers could come to resent those children... but this truly was a case where no blame could be set at the child's crib. Arthur had not asked to exist; his very existence was itself a magic based miracle.
That was what hurt Uther the most.
His blameless son was not only the living image of Igraine but the living image of magic itself. Uther feared that if he looked at Arthur, all he would see was the living soul of a force that had murdered Igraine and then taken a likeness to her to torment him. He had desperately wanted this child, but now he was here... had it been worth it?
Then his heart skipped a beat...
Arthur opened his eyes.
He didn't cry or make any sound whatsoever. He just stared up at his father with a confused expression on his face. Uther didn't know how much awareness babies had when it came to recognising faces, but it was clear that Arthur didn't know him. He had only seen him three times in the whole of his short life.
The king leaned further forward; Arthur seemed to shrink away. Who are you?
Uther sighed and carefully reached into the cradle to touch the little child's cheek. The baby just kept staring at him, as if trying to get used to and remember this stranger's face. Although he knew it was his own fault Uther felt hurt that his son didn't instantly recognise him as his father...
But was he really?
This child born of Igraine's body and beget by the magic of Nimueh. Uther's part in Arthur conception hadn't been in the traditional manner. It hadn't even been him that had asked Nimueh to use magic; he had sent Gaius with the request. The only part he played was making the decision. In many ways this child was fatherless.
Arthur coughed; Uther looked at him again.
"Nurse!" he called firmly.
A young woman that had been folding sheets in the adjacent room rushed in. "Actually I'm the nursemaid, your majesty," she replied.
"Should he be making that noise?" the king asked, feeling a bit worried.
The nursemaid looked into the cradle and smiled. "He's just coughing, my lord."
Arthur found Uther's worried face amusing and he made a happy gurgle.
In that moment the king felt his heartstrings tug tight within him. It had been a long time since anyone or anything had done that. The purges had made Uther cold and unforgiving, yet in just one sound Arthur had warmed him up once again. So much so that Uther smiled faintly down at the baby, now used to the sight of his father's face.
Looking at Arthur didn't hurt as much as he had thought it would. If anything he found it a comfort to look into the eyes of someone who possessed every look and fine quality that had belonged to his beloved Igraine. He would never feel that rush of romantic love and passion again, but that didn't matter now. He would channel it into this rush of adoration he felt for this tiny little child.
I am his father, Uther said to himself. Of course I am his father, and he is my son.
Igraine might be silent but she had left an echo.
The royal baby cried restlessly.
It had jerked the nurses, the maids and even the king and queen out of their sleep. Arthur had awoken with a snort. He looked dazedly around the dark room before he realised that Gwen had already leapt out of bed, despite being tired. He took a few seconds to gather his thoughts to follow her through the royal chambers towards the nursery.
He walked in to find the room already lit with candles.
The nurses were trying to convince the queen to go back to bed and let them handle it, but Gwen insisted on seeing to her baby herself. She hated the nurses. She didn't even want them to suckle the child because she wanted to do it herself.
"If it was good enough for my mother," Gwen had told Arthur, "it's good enough for me."
Of course there were noblewomen that suckled their own children – those that could not afford to pay a good wet nurse – so the fact the queen did it was not too bizarre. If she had lived to do so, Igraine had wanted to suckle her own child herself.
The baby fell silent once she found her mother's breast.
"She prefers me to any nurse, in any case," Gwen said, making her way to sit down in a chair close to the crib. "So why not give her what she wants?"
Arthur chuckled and rubbed his eyes. "This is coming from the woman that keeps warning me not to spoil our daughter when she grows up."
"That's a completely different thing, Arthur."
"She already commands control," he said with a tired smile, "with her mother and her nurses fighting over which of them gets to feed her."
Gwen just watched as her daughter fed greedily.
"A good set of lungs on her too," he added.
"Like her father," Gwen muttered under her breath. She then looked up at Arthur and smiled amusedly. "I wonder if she'll snore too."
"I doubt it."
"She's already a lot like you."
Arthur scoffed. "It's not hereditary... as far as I know."
The baby finished. Gwen placed her daughter back into the cot before being joined at the cradle side by Arthur. The baby seemed to drift off to sleep again quite peacefully; she was well-behaved for a royal baby.
"Besides," he added quietly, resting his chin on top of Gwen's head. "I have never known a woman that snored."
For the rest of the night their little girl slept like an angel.