Part 1: The Pursuit

Arthur couldn't remember when Guinevere changed from being the maidservant of his father's ward, to being the object of his desire. Perhaps it was when they were in Ealdor, and she had let her mouth get away from her. She had shown great bravery, not only in speaking up to him, but in her willingness to fight for those who needed her help. It was then that he first took note of her and saw that she wasn't a mere servant girl, but a woman with steel in her backbone, and great heart.

After that he began to notice her more around the castle. Whenever he spent time with Morgana she was always there. Whereas before, he had paid her no attention, recently he had started to include her in their activities. If they had lunch together, he pulled up a chair so that Guinevere might join them. If they played a game of chess, he would ask Guinevere for her advice on his next move. If they were in a heated argument he would ask Guinevere to act as arbiter, and always found her judgments to be fair and wise. She laughed whenever he teased her, and had even on occasion gotten in a few digs of her own. Even though he was constantly admonishing Merlin for similar insolent behavior, when she did it, he didn't mind. She was never disrespectful or unkind, but she saw the humor in situations, and was quick to point them out. She acted as kind of a touchstone, and for that he admired her.

She was very beautiful as well, but he didn't think that she realized just how much. She never batted her eyes coquettishly at admiring men, or fidgeted with her clothing to draw attention to exposed flesh or sumptuous curves. He didn't even think she owned a mirror. Her beauty was understated. Arthur had seen many other women most people might consider more beautiful, but no other woman captivated him the way she did. He loved the way her skin glowed in the light. It was a color he had never seen before, and it fascinated him. He wondered if it felt as smooth and soft as it looked. His hands itched to touch it, to run his fingers along her collarbone, up to her face, and through the dark curls at the nape of her neck as he leaned forward to touch his lips to hers. Now, whenever he looked at her he felt his heartbeat quicken and his loins tighten. He wanted her and he would have her.

As the prince, he had the right to take her whenever he wanted her. He knew that his father sometimes plucked the flower of some pretty little girl who washed his clothes or brought him meals. Arthur had never been one to force himself on the maidservants, though. And the women he had taken to bed who had wanted him to indulge them in rape fantasies had disgusted him. He wanted no part of that. He wanted her ready and willing. That might take some finesse on his part. At the moment Guinevere saw him as nothing more than a friend, he was sure. He would need a plan.

Guinevere was doing her best to avoid him. Whenever she was in a room with him, she could feel the heat of his gaze, and when she looked up, their eyes would lock. Blue eyes would stare at her with an intense, indecipherable expression. Whatever it meant, it made her feel slightly uncomfortable.

But avoiding Arthur in his own castle was easier said than done.

She still saw him almost every day in the hallway, as his chambers were near Morgana's. On one such occasion she was carrying a load of sheets in a basket when he stopped her to offer to help her. To say that she was surprised was an understatement.

She had just left Morgana's rooms, and he was standing right outside of the door, as if he were waiting for her. "Guinevere," he called out to her, "let me help you carry that."

Startled dark eyes met intent blue ones. She curtsied. "Thank you, milord, but I can manage on my own."

"I insist." With a disarming smile he grabbed the hamper full of linens from her. Guinevere could do nothing but nod her head in acquiescence, and return the smile.

"Now that you have relieved me of my burden," she said, teasingly, "I must ask how you wish me to return the favor."

Arthur lifted an eyebrow, and eyed her enigmatically. "I have no other purpose for helping you with your task other than to earn your good graces."

"Indeed, sire? Do you wish me to scrub your floors? Or iron your clothes?" she joked. "Although, don't you have Merlin for that purpose?"

"He has disappeared somewhere for the day as he is wont to do." Arthur let out an exaggerated sigh.

"I see. Then perhaps you need me to change your bedclothes. Have you made a mess of them again?"

"Again?" Arthur barked indignantly. "Did Merlin tell you? I swear, the moment I see him again I will wring his skinny neck!"

"I wasn't completely sure until just now. Merlin said nothing." It wasn't until that moment that he saw the devilish glint in her eye, and her mouth curled into a knowing smile.

Embarrassed, Arthur began to explain, "I was pissed, you see."

"'Pissed' being the operative word, I imagine." Her smile grew wider. With that they both burst into laughter.

When Guinevere laughed, her whole face lit up with youth and beauty. Arthur couldn't help admiring the way her dark eyes sparkled with mirth. Her luminescent skin was tinted rosy with a blush. And those full lips…curled into a smile…just begged to be kissed. Unconsciously, they drifted closer to each other until they were touching.

She had her hand on his forearm and he felt it burning through the cloth of his shirt. When she noticed that he was no longer laughing, not smiling even, but staring down at her hungrily, she abruptly withdrew her hand.

"Forgive me, milord. It was unbecoming of me to be so indecorous."

"There is nothing to forgive," he immediately replied. Sensing that she was about to withdraw from him to retreat behind the barrier that separated them due to their different stations in life, he quickly thought of a task for her to keep her in his presence. "I see there is no fooling you, Guinevere. I do have a request for you."

"It is my duty to obey you, sire."

"Good. Then I need you to dust the curtains in my room."

Guinevere stared up at him in shock at the mundane nature of his task. "Of course, sire, right away. If you could just take these," she motioned towards the basket, "down to the laundry rooms, I'll go get the feather duster."

Since Arthur had no idea where the laundry rooms were, as soon as she disappeared down the hall, he swiftly deposited the laundry basket on some other unsuspecting servant with orders to take them to the laundry rooms. Then he went to his room to await Guinevere's arrival.

When she came into the room she immediately went to the window and began untying the curtains. There were four windows in all, taller than she, and draped with bright red curtains.

From the shadows, he watched her in secret as she worked, hands steady, and arms strong as she waved the feather duster up and down the length of the curtains. No clump, no sly hair, not even a particle of dust escaped from her. She worked thoroughly and methodically from one window to the next. Then she grabbed the small stepladder that she had brought along with the feather duster and placed it next to the window. She climbed to the top to give her access to the upper half of the curtains since she couldn't reach them easily on her own. This gave him tantalizing glimpses of slim ankles, trim calves, and the perfect view of her tight, round backside. As she reached up, he could see the curve of her breast straining against the fabric of her bodice. By all that was holy, how could she make dusting curtains seem so sexy? He was rather glad that he had thought of the excuse to get her into his room.

Without realizing it, he let out a frustrated sigh, and Guinevere turned suddenly, to see where the sound was coming from. The motion caused her to lose her footing and she tried to grab onto a curtain to steady herself, but the strength of her grasp caused the curtain to rip, which further unbalanced her. It happened quickly, but in a moment Arthur was in front of her, waiting to catch her as she fell straight into his strong arms. She let out a muffled "Mmph!" and immediately tried to push away from him, but his arms encircled her tighter, pressing her front flush against him.

She felt so tiny and light in his arms, just as he imagined she would. Her chest was almost in his face, and he was sorely tempted to bury his face into her cleavage. When he chanced to look up into her eyes, her expression was thunderous. Reluctantly he loosened his grip on her to let her slowly slide down the length of him, her legs brushing against hard thighs.

When her feet touched the ground, she immediately took a step back, trying to distance herself from him. "I would appreciate it if you would conduct yourself in accordance with the manners of a prince!" she reprimanded.

"And what manners would those be?" He laughed. "I could order you to kiss me, but what would the fun in that be?"

"You are the prince of Albion, sole heir to all the lands you see, including Camelot. Why should you be wasting your time dallying with a mere servant?" Her voice rose slightly, but she didn't yell. She was far too prim and proper for that.

He was taken aback. He hadn't been expecting that angle. Anger perhaps. Indignant even. He loved the way she set her chin jauntily when she was angry. But not this. And he had to admit that there was a piece of him that did feel shame. He felt the gentle rebuke in her words like a slap to the face.

Why was he so insistent on pursuing her? Perhaps it was because every other woman in the past he wanted fell at his feet, maidservant or noblewoman. But Guinevere seemed to expect more, that it was her right to expect that the man she gave herself to would marry her, and that was something he could not do.

"Forgive me. It is unfair of me to use my position to force you into doing trivial tasks. I had no reason for calling you up here, other than that I wanted to see you."

"What reason do you have for wanting to see me? Am I just another conquest for you? Must you have every servant girl in Camelot before you will be satisfied?" Not every girl. Just you. Arthur thought, but she continued, "Well, I will have you know that I will not be so easily wooed. Prince or not, I want nothing to do with you."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because you are dangerous! You are sinfully handsome—" She blushed slightly when admitting that. "But not only that, you are kind, and funny, and one day you will become a great king. What is there not to love?" Her voice faltered a little. "I mean…anyone would be lucky to have you," she let out quickly. "I'm not saying that I love you!" She paused, then she looked him straight in the eye. "But I cannot be your queen, and I do not wish to become your mistress."

She always surprised him with her bluntness. He hadn't even realized that that was what he wanted. He hadn't thought beyond trying to get her to bed, but now that she had said it, he wanted more. He did want more than just one night with her. And what would the harm in that be? "There would be no shame in becoming my mistress. I could give you jewels, and a home, and you would never have to work for Morgana again."

"Have you ever offered any of your other female companions as much?"

"Well, no. But I'm making an exception for you."

"And why would you do that?"

"You must know that I care about you. Not only are you beautiful, but you are intelligent, and I respect you. If I cannot sweep you off your feet with my charms, then perhaps I can entice you monetarily."

Guinevere laughed out loud with incredulity. "This is how you show me you respect me? Do you think I could be so easily bought? And what happens when you become bored with me? Do I get to keep my house and my jewels? Or would I be forced out onto the street with nothing—not even my good name?"

"I will always take care of you."

"I'd rather not take the risk. Although I do feel quite flattered at your attentions, majesty," she bit out angrily. "I must humbly refuse. And if there's nothing else you wish to say to me, then I'd like to replace this curtain."

Feeling that the damage had been done, Arthur shook his head. "No, there's nothing else."

"Very well then, sire." Then she turned on her heel and fled the room like a gazelle with a lion after it, leaving Arthur to wonder how he could have been so clumsy as to let the situation get so out of control.

He hadn't meant to put things quite that way. He had basically behaved like a bumbling buffoon. He had meant to gallantly sweep her off her feet, and seduce her with his kisses. But Guinevere had managed to get right to the heart of the matter. Even if she did have feelings for him, which he was beginning to think was true, he would have everything to gain, but she would only have everything to lose. He didn't know her very well, but he did know that to her honor meant everything. If she were to become his mistress, she would not be able to respect herself. And then she would lose her respect for him, too, for being the reason for her situation. If he was going to get her to become his mistress he would have to find a way for her to do it where she could maintain her honor and integrity as well.

She had made her position on the matter abundantly clear. She would rather have nothing more to do with him. Now she would be wary of him, and he would have to give her some space. But despite the setback, he determined more than ever to make her his.

A/N: So here it is, my first attempt at frolicking in the world of Merlin. I have to admit that I haven't been following Merlin very carefully, so I'm sure some of my facts are wrong. I've only seen bits and pieces here and there, and intentionally tried to avoid it at first because I thought it looked silly. But my boyfriend insisted on watching it every week, and at some point last season I discovered Arthur and Gwen and I totally love the chemistry between the two actors. I still think the story is poorly written, the two fell in love way too quickly, and Arthur acts like an asshole most of the time, but I am a chemistry whore, and I love the angst. I don't have much optimism that the show will give me anything good other than lots of pretty to look at, but it has inspired my imagination.

This story will have four parts. It is completely unrelated to the show other than a few plot points I picked up, like Guinevere standing up to Arthur in "Moment of Truth". And is rated M for a reason. Things get heated up in the next chapter. Please enjoy.