Gwen knew she was pregnant.
She just knew, even though she tried so hard to deny it for the first few days since the symptoms began. She felt flushed, strained and tired as she went about her business in the castle. She continued to work even though she felt unwell, having thrown up three mornings in a row.
Morgana wasn't very sympathetic; she didn't even seem to notice. Gwen didn't care, though. There was so much that Morgana failed to notice these days it was like they were existing in two separate universes.
It was as Gwen clasped her own hair back while bringing up her breakfast on the fourth day she decided there was no point in denying it anymore.
She straightened her back once the nausea had gone and looked down at the bowl. Swiftly, she covered the unpleasant contents with a cloth. Grabbing a waiting cup of water she removed the unpleasant taste from her mouth. The metal taste of blood and worry was unshakeable, though.
There's no point in pretending this isn't true, she told herself.
Gwen had been taught well by the palace cook what the earliest signs of pregnancy were. She made sure all the girls were fully aware so they could act quickly should 'accidents' happen.
"I'm pregnant." She had to admit it to herself before she did anything else.
Clutching the sides of the bedside table and cleared her throat and said it again. "I'm pregnant." She still found it hard to believe. There had always been a risk that it would happen, but she and Arthur had been so careful for so long...
Her heart stilled for a second.
Placing her hand on her still flat stomach she thought about that for a moment. She was pregnant with Arthur's child. Mishap or not, that was what it was. It still grasped at her even though she would have given anything for it not to be there.
This was something that had been created at the height of their most intimate moment. There were so many women in the world who did not love their husbands but were desperate to produce children for them, and there she was; an unmarried commoner who had fallen pregnant by the prince during an act of love.
Gwen wondered how long it might have been; the last time they had made love was several weeks ago before Arthur left for the northern borders to fight an invading enemy army in battle. They had known it would be their last night together for a while, that it could be their last night together ever although neither of them said so. Gwen remembered how handsome Arthur had looked that evening; but he always looked handsome. Just thinking about the way he smiled at her made her whole body yearn for him.
She closed her eyes and played the whole night over in her head from start to finish, from foreplay to climax. It had been so pleasurable, hot and sweet... but all Gwen could think about now, at this moment, was whether this was the moment they have conceived this child or whether the damage had already been done.
No, it had to be then. It was the only time it could have been.
To the best of her knowledge this was probably the moment. Gwen always kept a detailed check of her cycle, as advised by the palace cook, only lying with Arthur when 'the calendar was correct'. It had been hard at the start to keep from getting lost in the moment but after a few months of keeping to that ridged schedule, they learned to keep intercourse off the cards whenever they came together and instead played at other methods.
But that had nothing to do with it. The night before Arthur left for battle, the calendar had not been correct. It was still in the danger zone. She had wanted him that night and taken him despite her better judgement. He had asked her whether it was alright and she had still said yes.
Regardless of everything else, she just had to get rid of this thing.
Once she had fully recovered from her nausea, Gwen cleaned out her bowl and placed it back on the bedside table. She needed to go to work.
Gwen knew she had to go to the palace cook. That woman had taught the girls everything; how to deal with the monthly flow, how to calculate the safest times for copulation and, most importantly, she pointed women who had got themselves in trouble in the right direction. "The earlier you catch it, the easier it will be to get rid of it," she always told them.
"However," cook always added, "There is always risk; the risk outweighs the likelihood of it actually working."Nonetheless, at this moment in time, risking it seemed a more preferable choice than the prospect of seeing this 'blessing' through. Gwen loved children but she couldn't have one now; her situation aside it was not an ideal time for anyone to be bringing a child into the world.
She took a deep breath.
Arthur would be home in two days and she had to decide whether to tell him or deal with it herself and hope he never found out.
It wasn't until after lunch that Gwen had a chance to talk to the cook. As the last of the younger servant girls went off back to work, she carefully crept up to the middle-aged woman and cleared her throat to her get her attention.
Cook turned and smiled, "Hello Gwen, dear."
"Can I talk to you?"
"Certainly," the woman said, stirring a large bowl of something one more time before leaving it to simmer. She smiled and gestured for Gwen to sit at the kitchen table before she took a seat herself. "You can help me with these potatoes while you're at it."
Gwen picked up a potato and began to skin it.
"What's the problem, dear?"
It took ten seconds before Gwen said it, "I need an abortifacient."
Cook stopped dead. She had never expected Gwen to be one of the girls seeking her help. There were many girls who came to her for help in getting rid of their unwanted pregnancies. Most of girls only realised once it was too late for herbal remedies. After six or seven weeks, swallowing these juices was the equivalent of swallowing poison. Surgically removing the child was the only way for them. The local midwives were known to carry out the procedure... for a fee.
"I see," the woman said after a moment's contemplation. "I'll make you some parsley tea."
As she brewed the tea, she asked Gwen how long it had been and was relieved to hear it was only a few of weeks. "You are lucky to have caught it early," Cook told her. "Even so, you understand the risks of terminating any pregnancy, don't you?"
"Of course," she nodded slowly, taking the tea.
"Hopefully," the cook said with equal caution, "if you take the herbs now, the problem will be over in less than two weeks. It's not a guarantee and chances are it might not work... but better do it now than later."
Gwen just nodded again and sipped her tea.
"If you are only just due your monthly blood then we might be getting ahead of ourselves," the cook explained. "Drinking parsley tea should bring it about if that is the case."
Gwen looked down at her cup, "Thank you, but it's not just that; I've been sick for the last few days now."
"Nonetheless, drink that parley tea. Drink about two cups a day for the next two days and see if the flow comes. Remember to drink in moderation, for heaven's sake."
"I know, I know," Gwen nodded, sensing that cook was disappointed in her. "What happens if I'm right?"
...and the flow doesn't come, she thought but didn't add.
"Then you take the abortifacient," the cook told Gwen. "As the herbalist advises you to."
There was a long silence. The only sound was of Gwen picking up, drinking and placing her cup down.
"Does your mistress know?" the cook asked.
"No, thank goodness," she gulped the last drops of tea. If Morgana ever found out that Gwen was pregnant and that Arthur was the father that would be it. "Knowing how she is these days she would tell the king, and then I'd be sacked."
"Definitely," the cook agreed. "You had best deal with this whole thing now before she does find out; whose is it, anyway?"
Gwen felt her cheeks flushed. "You mean who-?"
"...was the one who left their memento behind, yes."
Cook knew that Gwen was a very private woman who never shared any details about her relationships, but it didn't take a lot to make a short list of men it could be if she fell pregnant three weeks ago.
"Was it Merlin?"
"It certainly is not!" Gwen said quickly.
"Pity," the cook sighed. "He's a good boy and I always thought the two of you were... well, that's a great pity. If it had been him, he'd have been worth marrying."
The idea of procreating with Merlin seemed bizarre to Gwen. It took her a moment to remember she had once had a crush on and adored Merlin in that way too. It seemed so irrelevant now they were friends and she now had her relationship Arthur.
"It wasn't Merlin," Gwen confirmed again.
"Dear God, don't tell me one of the knights took advantage of you before they left," the cook said, horrified.
"No one took advantage of me," she replied steadily. I went to his bed plenty of times before this, she thought again to herself before adding aloud, "He and I... we have been 'together' for a while now."
Cook pursed her lips and handed Gwen a piece of paper with the herbalist's name and location on it. "If you love him – whoever he is – aren't you going to tell him that you plan to abort his child?"
Gwen said nothing; truth was she hadn't had time to think about how she felt let alone how Arthur would feel. It was all so sudden and confusing. For the most part all she wanted was to get rid of this thing while it was still new inside her and before she became too attached. But what if it worked? Would she feel guilty over the loss of their 'child'?
Arthur deserved to know the truth. It was her body but she wanted him to know because she couldn't bear to lie to him. Not about this.
"He has a right to know."
Gwen told herself she was doing the right thing. She looked around her house and knew she couldn't have a child. Maybe in a few years things would be different; she would be older, more prepared... and maybe the king would be dead? Right now it was an option between nipping the problem in the bud or hiding away for months, and then what?
She continued to take her parsley tea as prescribed by the cook while keeping the 'other' herbs given to her by the secret herbalist, a youngish woman with secret connections to the druids and other peoples associated (but not necessarily involving) magic. Gwen knew it was wrong but she didn't care.
She had knocked on the woman's door and she had admittedly her cautiously. Once she heard the times, dates and weeks of Gwen's specific situation she seemed confident in giving her an apt prescription.
"Before I give you this, you must swear to secrecy," the woman told her. "If anyone finds out what I do, I will be arrested. I'm the only herbalist of this nature in town, do you understand?"
Gwen nodded. "I promise."
She handed over the money and the woman gave her another couple of herbs. "The first lot I gave you are harsh on the body. It'll be like swallowing poison; this second lot will hopefully soothe the transition after."
"Thank you," Gwen said, and placed the wrapped-up dried nettles into her basket along with the other she had been given. "When do I take them?"
"Start the day after," the woman said firmly. "Remember the names of the herbs I have given you so then, if you do become ill, the physician will have a better chance of treating you."
Gwen shivered; the thought of that happening was unbearable, of Gaius finding out about her current state by having to treat her for 'accidently' poisoned herself. It would mark the end of her innocence in his eyes.
"How will I know if it has worked?"
"In two or three weeks, it will expel and it will bloody hurt," the herbalist said unhelpfully before he tone became more sympathetic. "Like I said if you take the other herbs I gave you it will hopefully soothe the worst of it. It—it usually helps me, anyway."
Gwen nodded, feeling a huge lump form in her throat. She tried to swallow it but stayed firm.
"Thank you," she croaked quietly.
Two days later Arthur returned with the rest of the army as expected. The invaders had been vanquished with surprising ease. Nonetheless many casualties were carried in from the frontlines. They all lay out in the courtyard while the servants and guards worked together to prepare and move them into the great hall for treatment.
Gwen was called on to fetch water and bandages.
She had spent the last two days thinking of nothing but Arthur's home coming and talking to him about their problem. As she rushed back and forth between one end of the hall and the other she noticed that Arthur was nowhere to be seen.
"...I heard he was shot, right in the back!" she overheard one patient say to another. "We couldn't remove it, didn't know if it was safe or not..."
Gwen felt her heart start pumping wildly.
Surely, if Arthur were badly injured someone would have announced so at court? Then again there had been no word from Uther either, or any one important since the army arrived back in Camelot. Certainly not Arthur. There was no sign of Merlin, either. As for Morgana, she was probably sitting in her room getting drunk.
Gwen gave some fresh bandages to one of the elder nurses and rushed out of the hall. They called to her but she ignored them. She would probably get in trouble but she didn't care.
With a quick pace she made her way towards Arthur's chambers. Her stomach tightened painfully. Never mind the herbs; if something happened to Arthur she might just miscarry now from sorrow and shock. That had happened to a friend of hers when her husband nearly died and fell into a coma; if that happened to Arthur, if she lost him then, then...
A strange sensation went through her as a thought suddenly came to her. Gwen slowed down a little and placed her hand on her stomach. If she lost Arthur she didn't know what she would do. She couldn't bear it. Yet here she was now, carrying a part of him inside her...
It felt extraordinary.
She even felt tears form in her eyes.
Gwen bumped into Gaius on his way out, carrying a small bowl with a bloody arrowhead in it. The old man could read her distress even from a distance. He quickly walked towards her.
"Gwen," he said, patting her on her shoulder. "Arthur is fine; I have managed to remove the arrow. Everyone just felt it would be too risky to remove it while the army was on the move. Now he can rest. Merlin's in there with him right now."
The euphoria of relief swept right through her.
Gwen smiled genuinely the first time since the night Arthur left had. Every negative thought she had about the baby seemed to fade away for a few seconds. The only thing that mattered now was this moment, knowing that Arthur was alive.
"Thank you, Gaius," she said gratefully.
He gave her a fatherly smile, rubbed her shoulder and walked off to see to the other casualties, allowing her to go on to Arthur's chambers. Gwen stood for a moment and wiped the remains of her earlier tears from her cheeks.
She opened the door; Arthur was sitting in the chair directly in front of it, shirtless as Merlin tightened the last of his bandages and with a cup of wine, no doubt to have dulled the pain as Gaius removed the arrow point.
His face lit up when he saw her. "Guinevere!"
Merlin greeted her with a smile too, but the moment Gwen saw Arthur's face she felt that rush and he had her all over again.
"It's such a fuss," Arthur said, trying to act as if nothing had been wrong with him at all. Even though Gwen had tried to recover herself he could tell she had been worried. "Gaius assures me no damage has been done."
"He kept fighting even with that arrow in his back," Merlin added.
"It was just a scratch," Arthur assured her, giving him a hard stare.
"Like that scar the dragon gave you?"
"Shut up, Merlin!"
Gwen stepped in – now was as good a time as any to tell Arthur the truth and she couldn't afford to wait another couple of days to decide what she was going to do about the baby. He had to know be told now.
"Merlin," she said calmly. "I'd like to speak to Arthur, if you don't mind."
"Sure, go ahead," her friend replied, not moving.
There was a moment's pause.
"She means alone, Merlin," Arthur said patronisingly.
The servant smiled. "Know I was just messing with you both!"
Once Merlin was gone, Gwen turned and put the lock on the door so no one could enter without warning. She had been used to doing this when the two of them were alone, not only during intimate moments but when they were just talking too.
Nonetheless Arthur found it amusing.
"Wasting no time, are you?" he joked. "I should warn you, this wound may be just a scratch but it hurts when I move," Arthur shifted slightly and hissed at the burning pain in his back, "and I don't want to split my stitches."
Gwen bit her lip as she turned around. Immediately she rushed up to him, stopped and knelt before his chair. She took his hand and smiled bravely.
"Your stitches are safe because I'm not interested in that right now. I... have something important to tell you."
He chuckled, "Oh well, I'm not offended. What is it?"
Saying the words was so hard. Gwen looked up into his soft and adoring eyes and she knew that the moment the words left her lips, his heart would heart. He would never do anything to intentionally hurt her. To then find out that he had done this to her and now she had to do an awful thing to make it go away, swallow herbs that could do her harm... it would devastate him. This was the price of passion.
That wasn't the only fear going through Gwen's head.
Arthur quickly became concerned.
"What is it? Tell me," his tone now composed and serious.
Gwen placed her free hand on her abdomen. Being there with Arthur made her think about what she was carrying inside her. It was little more than the size of a thumbnail but it was still theirs. It was unwanted to a degree but it was a part of both of them. There was something oddly romantic about that.
She suddenly felt herself panic. What if he stopped loving her because of this?
In her mind (or rather her dreams) she had always imagined this moment so differently. In this beautiful world where everything they had ever wanted was true, they were married and Gwen could tell Arthur about her pregnancy with a smile, knowing that the child would be safe and secure rather than with great dread over what it would mean for them.
"Hey," Arthur said, cupping her chin as two or three tears trickled down her cheeks. "Hey, hey, come on – don't cry! Tell me, you know that I..."
He didn't know what to say to her, not without knowing what was wrong.
That was at that moment Gwen realised her mistake: she had personified the foetus. It was no longer an accident or thing that had happened after their act of love; it had become that act of love. She had made it into a living child, made up of him and her... how could she destroy it? But then again, how cruel and selfish would it be to expose this child to this life. What was she going to do?
She knew despite her doubts that Arthur would protect her and help her understand what they had to do now, whatever they ultimately decided that would be.
She wetted her lips.
If we ever did have this child, Gwen thought, looking blearily into Arthur's concerned eyes. It would have been so beautiful...
And with that thought in mind, she finally told him.
A/N: This fic is a very difficult issue to tackle but it isn't one tackled often (if at all) and one that can only be tackled in fandom-fics. I had been planning it for nearly a year until my friend's prompt egged me to finally get it done. I have never written anything like this before and this is my first update in a while since I decided to step back from the fandom a bit due to RL issues. I am still writing though and I have a Prompt me! Page which can be accessed through my Profile page, so people can prompt with ideas. I've already had some brilliant ideas for people's prompts and I'd like to that those who have been there already.