Part 4: The Coronation
Uther Pendragon had been dead for seven days, and now it was time to bury him and crown Arthur as king. It was merely a formality, as Arthur had been de facto ruler of Camelot for months during his father's lengthy illness.
The week had given nobility and dignitaries from all of the neighboring kingdoms the chance to make their way to the funeral, including the Lady Margaret of Kent and her entire household. It was on that occasion that Guinevere was able to lay eyes on Arthur again for the first time in nine years. She watched him from her place at her lady's side as Merlin, the First Royal Wizard, placed the crown upon Arthur's blond head.
Guinevere felt incredibly proud to see him in all his majestic glory. He had become the kind of king that she had always known he would. Since Uther became ill, he had been able to unite the kingdoms of Albion and restore the use of magic. Despite being relatively young, he had been able to instill confidence in his people and was renowned as a fair and just ruler. He had also established an order of knights made up of his most trusted comrades, who guided and counseled him, and who he was able to count on to help him govern his vast and ever growing populace.
She watched as his knights led the procession in the swearing of fealty. And then it was the nobles' turn to welcome their new king. Lady Margaret, of course, was also to be presented to the king and Guinevere with her. With every step that brought her closer, apprehension filled her as well as eagerness. She dreaded the thought of what he might do or say, but wanted nothing more than to meet with him once again.
"Your majesty," said the royal announcer, "may I present to you the Lady Margaret Belhaven, Countess of Kent?"
They bowed deeply, Guinevere's curly tresses hiding her face. She dared not look up, but when she did, Arthur was holding his hand out to be kissed. He hadn't even noticed her! Disappointment filled her, turning her stomach into a ball of lead. She took his gloved fingers into her own and kissed them, whispering, "Your majesty." Suddenly she felt them stiffen, and glanced up to find his blue eyes wide with surprise. He snatched his hand away as if he had accidently set it on a hot stove, and then curtly dismissed her and her lady away. If it weren't for his somewhat stony expression, she would have believed that she had imagined the whole encounter.
"That was rather rude," the lady Margaret whispered to Guinevere as they returned to their place in the crowd.
"He was probably just impatient. He has a lot of people to meet and he wants to get through the line as quickly as possible. Try not to take it personally, mistress." But she knew his reaction had been very personal. And she had come away from the encounter feeling lowlier than a servant. She felt like a tiny insect to be grounded underneath the heel of one's boot. She should have expected such a response, but she couldn't help but hope for something different.
For the rest of the interminable procession Guinevere kept her head down, struggling to keep the tears that welled up in her eyes from falling. When at last it was over they returned to her mistress' chambers, and after helping the lady get ready for an afternoon nap before the evening's feast, she was at last able to seek the privacy of her own little room and cry her eyes out. She fell into an exhausted sleep on her hard little cot, but was awakened abruptly by a knocking on her door. Wiping the dried tears from her face, she opened the door to find Merlin standing before her. He was no longer adorned in his ceremonial wizard robes, but instead was dressed in a simple tunic with a bandana around his throat. He looked just the same as she remembered him. It was as if mere days had passed rather than years. His expression, though, was one of anger. "You didn't say goodbye," he said, interrupting her thoughts.
"I'm sorry," she replied, lamely. "I didn't have time." She lowered her eyes so as not to see the contempt in his eyes only to find herself warmly embraced.
"I've missed you, Gwen!" he exclaimed, hugging her tightly. And then she looked up and they both smiled.
"Look at you!" She eyed him up and down meaningfully. "You're now a Royal Wizard of the highest sort."
"I know. Can you believe it?" Merlin grinned.
"I always knew there was something different about you, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Imagine all those years under Uther's nose, and he never had any idea."
"It was a lot harder than I thought it would be."
"I can only imagine. So what brings you here?"
Merlin held up a piece of parchment. "I have a message from Arthur."
Guinevere's smile froze on her face. "The king? Why would he have a message for me?"
"It's not my place to say. Just read it." He placed the letter in her hand, and then hugged her again, taking his leave.
Guinevere stood rooted to the middle of the floor holding the piece of parchment as if it were a precious stone. It weighed heavily on her heart. After his less than cordial reaction to seeing her earlier, she was afraid of what it might say. But if it were really so terrible, would he have sent Merlin to deliver it? If he were banishing her from the castle wouldn't he have sent armed guards? Unable to take the suspense any longer she broke the seal. It was Arthur's personal seal from the ring he wore, rather than an official seal.
Meet me at the cottage tomorrow night.
Instant flames of anger engulfed her. Of all the insufferable, pigheaded, selfish things to write! There was no greeting. No Dearest Guinevere, or even a simple Gwen. Just a command as if nine years hadn't passed. As if he hadn't gotten married, and she…she would rather not think about that.
She was of a mind not to go. What could they possibly have to say to each other after all this time? And especially after Arthur had completely dismissed her earlier as if she were nothing to him. However, what else could she expect? It was she who had left like a thief in the middle of the night. And she had surprised him by showing up at the coronation without as much as a by your leave. If the roles had been reversed, and he had come to her unexpectedly, she probably would have reacted the same way. So despite all of her misgivings, if she was honest she really did want to see him again.
That evening at the banquet she watched him and felt his eyes wander over to her table several times as if he were searching for something…or someone. But their eyes never met. She was perhaps too far away. But she took the opportunity to try to gage his mood. He seemed to be at ease. Not like a panther about to pounce on its prey, which is what she felt like. It gave her little comfort, though.
That night she couldn't sleep, but instead paced her tiny quarters until her candle died out, and then forced herself to lie prostrate in her bed as the darkness slowly changed to a dull gray.
The next morning her kind mistress took pity on her and bade her to take the day off to explore Camelot since she believed that she had never been there before. Guinevere had no desire to see any of the people she had known for fear that unlike Merlin they would not be as forgiving of her abrupt departure nine years ago. And so instead she spent the day in the gardens. She found a spade and some clippers in the shed and went about weeding and cutting back dead leaves, letting the light exertion of her task reinvigorate her senses, and the sweet smell of the flowers and soil soothe ragged nerves. She had always loved the gardens at Camelot. She worked until just before the sun went down and returned to her quarters sweaty, but calmer from weariness to take a quick bath. Then once the stars came out, she donned her hooded cape and set out for the secret hideaway.
As soon as she opened the door she saw him standing there in front of the fire. He turned immediately when he heard her enter. He started at her unblinkingly, blue eyes drinking in her face as if she were water and he was a dying man. She stared back at him taking in the details she hadn't noticed before. He looked just as handsome as ever, but there were more lines and creases on his forehead and around his eyes, and his hair was just a little bit thinner near his temples. She could only hope that her face had fared as well in his eyes. She knew that her hips had become a bit wider and her hair was sprinkled with salt and pepper, but other than that, she felt that she had aged quite well. But who could know what Arthur thought? His face remained coolly distant and she felt her confidence waiver.
Then he spoke. "You can imagine my surprise at seeing you again after all these years. I had no reason to believe that I would ever see you again, but then there you were…"
"I'm sorry, milord. I didn't mean my presence to cause you any…discomfort." She didn't know what else to say.
"Discomfort?" Arthur let out disbelievingly. Some emotion—anger perhaps, marred the smoothness of his forehead, but then it quickly disappeared. "It is I who must apologize. I'm afraid I was somewhat rude to you and the Lady Margaret."
"Apologize? There is no need, sire!"
"I'm afraid there is…for much more than just yesterday. But I'd like to start at the beginning. Please have a seat." He gestured for her to take a seat at the table and so she did, confusion mixed with relief overtaking her emotions.
Arthur continued to stand, but looked at her solemnly. Then when he began to speak, the shock of his words caused her to tremble.
"I love you, Guinevere. I've always loved you and I'm sorry for never telling you sooner. I've thought about you every day for the past nine years, but I knew that you left for my sake, and I didn't want your sacrifice to be for naught." Then he knelt in front of her and grasped a shaking hand to bring it to his lips.
"What are you saying?" she asked.
"I'm saying I want to do what I should have done long ago. Seeing you again has made everything crystal clear to me. I love you and I want to be with you—"
"But it's been nine years. How can you be sure?"
"I'm as sure now as I was when I first proposed our bargain."
"So that is what you want?" Guinevere tried to withdraw her hand from his, but he refused to let her go. "You want to continue our prior arrangement?"
"No!" Arthur shook his head emphatically. "That's not what I meant at all."
"Then please explain this to me because I don't understand at all. I'm just a servant and you are a king."
"But you are not just a servant to me. And soon you'll be more than that to everyone."
"I'm going to make you a countess in your own right. Ever since the war ended I've been rewarding my lost loyal subjects with titles and lands regardless of their former status." Guinevere had heard news of this before. Some of the Knights of the Round Table, including Lancelot, were not of noble blood. But that didn't seem to matter to the king. Blood, as everyone had come to realize, did not prove nobility. Morgana had shown that.
Guinevere shook her head in disbelief. "But I have done nothing to deserve such an honor."
Arthur disagreed. "You can't know what a comfort it's been to me knowing that you were safe and out of harm's way all this time. I'm grateful that you left when you did because I would never have forgiven myself if something had happened to you because of me. And I know that if you were here, you wouldn't have wanted to sit idly by while I fought and I would have had to worry about you getting yourself into danger for my sake. For that sacrifice alone you deserve all that and more."
"But that's preposterous! No one would ever accept a mere servant as a noble."
"They will accept you as more than a noble," he began meaningfully. "I plan to woo you the way that you deserve. I will have a courtier teach you the ways of court and then after an appropriate courtship has taken place, I'm going to marry you and make you my queen the way I should have all those years ago."
Guinevere was completely stunned. She couldn't believe what her ears just heard, but there he was staring at her earnestly with the clearest blue eyes she had ever seen, and a spark of hope ignited inside her. She had never in all her wildest imaginings dreamed that the next time that she met Arthur he would propose to her. But it seemed as if he had thought it through. He wanted to make her a countess and teach her how to conduct herself in the ways of the court, which was a daunting task. Even if she had wanted to be queen, which she did not, she felt that it was a big responsibility, one that she could not take on lightly and it was as if Arthur had foreseen her reservations and thought of a way for her to get over them. His thoughtfulness touched her heart. But there was still a big problem—a gaping hole like a vast canyon in the middle of his plans.
"What about your daughter?" she brought up quietly.
Arthur's entire expression seemed to soften at the mention of his six year old daughter. Guinevere knew that just like her father, the little girl's mother had died in childbirth. "She is even more of a reason for you to become my wife. She is still young and needs a mother. I love her more than I can say, but there are times when I feel completely at a loss with how to deal with her. When I was a boy and I returned from expedition with a minor injury, my father would tell me to rub some dirt on the wound and walk it off. It was to make me strong and tough. But I'm not sure that's the appropriate reaction for a girl. She needs a woman's touch, and I fear my hand is much too rough and calloused."
Guinevere looked down at the hand holding her own and caressed the war-roughened palm with her thumb. "Those are all good reasons for you to choose another wife," she began softly, in almost a whisper. "But surely you hope to give your daughter brothers or sisters to play with?"
"That would be my heart's greatest wish. A son with your heart. Or perhaps a daughter with your sensibleness." Arthur grinned.
"But don't you need a son to carry on your name and inherit your crown?"
"Well, yes, of course—"
"There you see!" she let out in a half-strangled cry. "That is the reason I can't be your wife!"
"I don't see," Arthur replied, nonplussed. "Please tell me."
"I can't have children," she blurted out.
"You can't know that—"
Guinevere cut him off. "I was pregnant once. I carried him almost fully to term, but then there were complications…and I lost him. The midwife told me that I was too damaged and I would probably never conceive again. But that didn't stop me from trying. We tried…Lancelot and I," she said pointedly, "but nothing ever happened."
"Are you," Arthur swallowed audibly, "married to Lancelot?"
"No." He looked visibly relieved. "We were never married."
Arthur wrapped his arms around Guinevere, and kissed her forehead as he held her close. "I can only imagine you went through. The thought of anything happening to take Meagan away from me scares me to the core. I am so sorry for your loss. But it makes no difference to me whether you can bear my children or not. I love you. I always have. And I want to marry you. Please say that you will be my wife."
Being in his arms again made her feel incredibly safe and warm. He was telling her all the things that she had longed to hear, and everything he said made sense. They loved each other. He was the king that she always knew he had inside him to be. They had the world at their feet and after everything that they had been through, didn't they deserve some happiness? What other answer could she possibly give him?
A/N: So my first Arthur/Gwen fic is finished. Yay! Please let me know what you think and thanks for all of the reviews. Also, just a reminder, the full version of part 2 can be found on my livejournal page: BabyKay47.
P.S. I made an Arthur/Gwen music video based on Romeo and Juliet. I have the crappiest vid-making software, but inspiration struck me :) Please check it out on Youtube: BabyKay47. Links to both my livejournal and youtube channel are on my profile page.