The Word Of A King
A/N I have two stories on the go from another fandom that I am determined to finish when I can. However, for some time I have wanted to write something based on Merlin and the third series finale finally prompted me to get something out. This isn't based on the finale as such, but does contain spoilers, so you have been warned.
My idea was to write a simple little one-shot where Arthur makes a speech to Gwen on their wedding night, but the idea wouldn't stay in its box. I found myself being whacked around the head by an idea to fill in the blanks between the end of series three and the period of time before Guinevere becomes Queen, and this is the result. I blame Merlin's writers for inspiring me with a stunning finale. It will be a two-shot, no more than that, because this is my first Merlin fic and it scares me to death!
Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin, unless we're talking about the DVD's for the first two series, in which case I do.
Guinevere stood in the dim light of the chamber, staring through a half open window at the scene below. In the square people still rejoiced. As Gwen looked down she saw people she'd known all her life exchanging greetings. Some even embraced, laughing loudly together in their shared joy. Even the guards, usually so serious and solemn, didn't hesitate to be part of the revelry in their midst, as they stood around a brazier to keep warm, the flames dancing gold and blue in the night air. Gwen could hear the men singing. She smiled. Singing might not be the most accurate description for what they were doing, for none of them were in tune, and each held a bottle of something in his hands. Between songs, some of the words of which would make a real lady blush, Gwen thought, the men raised a toast, clinking their bottles together and cheering, before the next song started the cycle again. Reaching out, Guinevere closed the window, leaving the guards to their celebrations and making a mental note to ask Gaius to send them all something for the headaches they would be sure to have in the morning.
Moving away from her view of the square, Gwen went into the inner chamber, where another window afforded her a view of the lower town. She looked out at the houses below, where it seemed candles were lit in every home, and smoke rose from every chimney. All of Camelot seemed to glow in brightness this night, and no one seemed ready to sleep, not when there were celebrations to be had.
It had been a wonderful day, Guinevere mused. Right from the dawning Camelot seemed to shine, bathed in sunlight and the happiness of its people, for this was the day when their new King took a wife, a commoner, to be his Queen.
Guinevere cast her mind back over the day, remembering her ladies as they giggled excitedly as they helped her prepare for the hand-fasting ceremony.
In spite of living in the castle for months, and having Arthur insist that as the future Queen she could have anything she wanted, it still felt odd to Gwen to have help to dress and do all the things she'd done by herself for years, or that she'd helped Morgana do when…..Gwen closed off that particular thought. She was not going to think about Morgana today. Not today. Instead, Gwen recalled her ladies chatter. She remembered one of the younger girls, Sally, stumbling over her words and blushing profusely as she forgot how to address her lady, and receiving a glare from one of the older, more experienced women for her trouble. Gwen suppressed a chuckle as she remembered the woman's scandalised face when, taking the young girl's hand, Guinevere said conspiratorially, "The King calls me Quinevere, the Knights and the Guards call me 'My Lady', you may call me Gwen, as my good friend Merlin does, because you and I will become good friends, I'm sure of it." The young servant girl blushed in delight, her pleasure shining in her eyes. The older servant opened her mouth to say something, to object, or perhaps to admonish such impropriety, but Gwen waved the words away with a dismissive hand. Obviously knowing she was beaten, the woman left the room, dropping into the briefest of curtseys as she went, giving Gwen a look that spoke volumes for her disapproval. Gwen ignored her. She remembered what it was like to be a young serving girl in the castle, to feel looked down on by people who thought they were better than anyone else because they had been there for years. Besides, she thought wistfully, it would be nice to have someone close by who knew her as Gwen, it was a reminder of where she'd come from, a link with a past she would never forget, no matter if she would soon be Queen.
Soon Guinevere was all alone, listening to the familiar sounds of the castle around her. It gave her time to think. As so often in recent days, Gwen's mind turned to her parent's. Her mother, a distant but cherished memory. Her father, a good man, who had died an unjust death. Gwen looked down at the train of her wedding dress, the intricate lace-work that adorned it. At the bottom of the train, the part that would trail the floor as she walked down the aisle, amongst the familiar patterns of flowers and other symbols of love, lay a horse-shoe beneath a crown, to symbolise both the past and the future. As she gazed down at the intricate design Gwen knew her father was with her this day and that he was happy. It was enough.
A knock on the door broke in to Gwen's thoughts. It was time. The door opened to reveal Sir Elyan, who beamed with pride in his red cloak as he took his sister's hand to escort her to her new life.
The Great Hall seemed to hum as Gwen made her entrance on the arm of her brother. Horns blared out and the people stood as the huge doors closed with a resounding thud behind the entering bride. Gwen glanced around at the faces of the gathering before her as they turned to face forwards. She could see Sir Leon, who nodded in greeting before he seemed to remember himself and stood a little more upright. Gwen inwardly rolled her eyes. Memories of her childhood ran through her mind, growing up with Leon in his family's household where her mother was a maid. Gwen remembered another time, a darker time, when Leon had ended up in the cells, when the only way to free him and get him out of Camelot was to dress him as a woman. Gwen stifled a smile at the memory of Leon's face when he realised she was serious and that he did have to wear a dress. He'd been mortified, but he'd done it, for the King, and for Arthur, because he was loyal and dutiful, and because he believed in the future Arthur would bring.
The music continued and Gwen still looked around as all the people faced her. A few rows from Leon, Gwen could see Sir Percival, standing tall and straight, head and shoulders above all those nearest to him. Another few steps and Gwen spotted Sir Gwaine, who, when he realised he'd been seen, grinned and mouthed 'your majesty', before nodding deeply, in what Gwen assumed was supposed to be a bow, but one he couldn't quite manage in his confined space. Gwen frowned and Gwaine grinned again, knowing full well that he hadn't really caused offence. Gwen had to stare down at her shoes for a moment to cover a grin of her own. Gwaine would never change, he was still a clown. But still, he was a good man, a man who cared deeply for his friends, a man who served Arthur loyally, who would die for the King in an instant if called upon to do so.
In the depths of the throng Gwen could just make out Sir Lancelot. As she neared Lancelot seemed to look deliberately towards his feet, staring at them intently, as if they were fascinating.
Gwen remembered how she'd fallen for Lancelot when he first arrived in Camelot, how she'd missed him when he went away, and how glad she was when she saw him again at Hengist's castle, before he'd left her alone again, torn between sadness at the loss of him and confusion at the feelings that were starting to grow inside her for the man who would one day be King.
By the time Gwen saw Lancelot again, during the dark days of the battle for Camelot, she knew her future lay with Arthur, and that Lancelot could never be anything but a trusted and loyal friend. She knew that sometimes Arthur doubted. Sometimes she would be talking with Lancelot and Arthur would see them and would turn away, then he would brood for days, avoiding her, until he could keep his fears to himself no more and they would spill out in words she knew he didn't mean. Gwen tried to reassure him, tried to convince him that she no longer had feelings for Lancelot, but he wouldn't be convinced, only placated, until the next time. Eventually it came to a head, and all over something trivial.
It was Yule-tide and Gwen was determined to put together some small gifts for the children of some of the poorest families in Camelot, just some fruit, nuts, and other small tokens. Arthur had approved of the idea on the condition that she went in to the town accompanied by a guard, or at least someone who could watch out for any trouble. Gwen wanted to tell him she could manage alone, after all she'd walked about the streets of Camelot by herself since she was a child, but she knew Arthur was just concerned for her safety, so she'd conceded, and one of the guards was despatched to accompany her.
It was on the way back, laden with fruits and small gifts that Lancelot had appeared as if from nowhere and offered his assistance. Seeing no harm in it, Gwen accepted, and Lancelot took her shopping and walked with her back to the castle, dismissing the guard and giving him a few coins to get himself a drink in the tavern. The guard disappeared into the crowd before anyone could change their minds.
Gwen and Lancelot chatted companionably as they neared the castle. Then, as they went into the square, Gwen said she could manage and Lancelot handed over her packages. With her hands full Gwen couldn't take Lancelot's hand by way of thanks, and as she wasn't yet a noble it didn't seem quite right to dismiss him with a stiff thank you. Instead, reaching up on her tip-toes, Gwen kissed Lancelot on the cheek. It was then that Arthur appeared.
At first Arthur had tried to run away. Gwen, knowing immediately what he'd thought, and knowing she'd probably made a mistake, ran after him. He ran straight to his chambers, as Gwen knew he would, and slammed the door behind himself. He was furious. Gwen debated knocking, but she knew Arthur wouldn't let her in when he was in such a temper, so, gathering her courage, Gwen slipped inside the room.
Arthur didn't acknowledge her when she entered the room. He stared ahead of himself, a seemingly impenetrable wall of silence, as Gwen talked and tried to make him see what had happened. Then, out of the blue, Arthur stood. Sensing he was walking away, Gwen became afraid. She couldn't let him leave. She blocked his path to the door. She followed his every move; it was like they were human swords, blocking each other, fighting off a fatal blow. Gwen could see Arthur was getting frustrated, she knew his silence could not last in the face of her refusal to give in. Taking her chance Gwen told Arthur that she would be the one who left. She told him that if he didn't trust her he could not love her, so she would leave and go back to her house in the lower town. Her heart pounded with every word she uttered. Would Arthur really let her go? She found herself unable to look him in the eye. She was afraid of what she would see, or rather, what she would not see, in his face. Turning, not daring to look back, Gwen moved towards the door.
It was as Gwen reached for the door that she suddenly felt herself spinning around before two strong arms grasped her to a firm chest. She dared to look up to see Arthur's face. His eyes burned with tears he was fighting to prevent rolling down his cheeks. Gwen moved to take his face in her hands, to try to talk to him again, to make him understand that there was nothing between her and Lancelot any more, and would never be again, but the words died on her lips. She suddenly found herself staring at the top of Arthur's head when he threw himself to his knees and rested his cheek against her stomach, holding her as tightly as he could. Gwen wanted to make him get up, she knew he would regret lowering himself in this way, but the words wouldn't come. Instead she listened as Arthur begged her not to go. She listened as he told her how afraid he was, how afraid he always was, of losing her. She listened as he said that he couldn't do what he had to do without her.
As Gwen listened to Arthur's pleas she realised something. During all their time together, from that first moment of realising the attraction between them, until the present, Gwen had thought that Arthur was the one with all the power in the relationship. She knew he sometimes doubted when she told him what a great King he would be, but she truly believed that between them he held all the cards. He could dismiss her and send her away in the blink of an eye. It never occurred to Gwen that Arthur, strong, confident, almost arrogant Arthur, could fear losing someone he cared about, because even in the face of his anger Gwen knew he did care.
Memories from the past rushed through Gwen's mind, how Arthur often felt unworthy in his father's eyes, how he'd never known his mother, how he sometimes felt that people cared for him because he was Prince Arthur rather than just for himself. Gwen knew that Arthur sometimes felt that his father had loved Morgana more than him. She certainly knew how Uther had never been himself since the time when Morgana tried to take the throne. Arthur had confided that his father had been broken and that even he, his son, didn't seem to be enough to fix him. At the time Gwen had told him to give it time, his father had been locked in the dungeons, afraid for his own life, he would recover in time. But Uther never did really recover. He slipped into a decline, leaving Arthur to take control and reign as Regent, refusing flat out to assume the throne whilst his father was still alive. Then, one morning, Gwen was woken by the warning bell's muffled toll. She knew without being told that Uther was dead and that Arthur was King. Now, looking back, Gwen realised how insecure Arthur was in himself, how his arrogance was a cover for a lack of belief in himself, not just as a Prince, and now a King, but as a man. It made her wonder which one of them held the power after all.
After more talking, and then after a prolonged period of time when there was no talking because their lips were busy in other ways, Gwen and Arthur made their peace. Gwen would soon look back on this time as the point when her relationship with Arthur really changed, when they reached an understanding of one another they'd never had before. Only Guinevere was surprised when, a mere month after their disagreement, Arthur went down on his knees again, this time to ask for her hand in marriage. Only Arthur was surprised when Guinevere accepted.
Guinevere's mind was brought back to the present when she caught sight of Merlin standing next to Gaius. Merlin was smiling broadly. He seemed to be almost bouncing on his heels in his glee. Rolling his eyes as Gwen stepped closer, Gaius nudged Merlin, whose face straightened immediately, before breaking out into a grin once more. Gwen watched as Gaius sighed, shaking his head like a stern parent, but as Gwen watched, she saw Gaius's own countenance begin to crack before he bestowed a benevolent smile on her.
Once passed all her friends, Gwen faced the last few steps that would take her to Arthur. Days before the ceremony she had made him promise that he would not turn towards her until she was at his side, but when he pressed for a reason she refused to say. Inside Gwen knew she wanted to surprise him with her dress, to see his eyes glow with pride when he looked upon her. Most of all though, Gwen worried that if he turned too soon she would feel her emotions too keenly. She feared that the memory of all the time when they had tried to deny their feelings, and then all the time when they could not be open for fear of his father finding out, would catch up, and she would greet her future husband with tear-filled eyes. Instead, when she was six, perhaps seven, feet away, Gwen focused on Arthur's back, as he stood before Geoffrey of Monmouth, who looked old and frail now, waiting for her. She took in Arthur's finest cloak which seemed to dazzle, and his hair which glowed almost gold in the sunlight streaming through the windows of the hall. A step closer and Gwen saw how Arthur seemed to be barely breathing and his back straightened, making him seem taller. Gwen also saw that like Merlin, Arthur seemed to be bouncing on his heels in his efforts to contain himself.
It was as Elyan released Gwen's hand, kissing her knuckles tenderly as he prepared to let her go, that Gwen saw a movement from Arthur. Her breath caught in her throat for a second. Everything in the hall seemed to still. The music, once so loud and strong, seemed to stop. Arthur Pendragon turned to face the woman who would soon be his Queen.
For one moment Guinevere feared that her legs would cease to hold her up. She felt their trembling and willed them not to fail her now, not when she was so close. She forced herself to take a steadying breath before she looked into Arthur's eyes. What she saw there almost made Gwen's breath catch again. Arthur was focused purely on her. It was as if he could see nothing and no one else. He looked down on Guinevere with such love in his gaze that she had to restrain herself from throwing her pride and dignity to the winds and running towards the source of such an expression. However, just as the effort of restraining herself threatened to overcome her, Gwen saw Arthur's hand reach for her. Stepping closer, she took his hand, feeling it tremble slightly in hers. The sensation gave her strength. He was feeling as she did. As Guinevere took her final steps as a commoner and the ceremony began, she knew she was home.