Gwen had always been a modest woman. She had never worn make-up on her eyes, powdered her cheeks or rouged her lips. It was only on special occasions she would even consider lining her eyes ever so slightly. As a servant she could only wear light coloured fabric and didn't have the money to afford jewellery. Nonetheless men seemed to respond better to her more natural look. She had never lacked male attention, much to Arthur's annoyance.
Of course had it been up to Arthur, Gwen would have been showered with everything a gentlewoman at court had and more. When the soon-to-be crowned king announced that he had married a commoner and former servant in a private ceremony, the noblewomen at court had been disgusted and made it their business to snub and ridicule her.
"It is the noble women who keep the doors of society firmly locked to the people outside because they're worried some of them will sneak through and realise there's nothing behind them."
Yet Gwen felt a deep satisfaction in their backstabbing and name calling.
She didn't care what they thought of her because it didn't matter. Once she was queen she would be entitled – and would be expected to have – clothes, jewellery and many other trinkets twice as valuable as any of them wore. She didn't especially desire them but they would be hers. No material goods really mattered to her; the greatest prize of all, the love and heart of the king, was hers.
Gwen knew it was wrong to feel smug but she couldn't help it. For too many years she had been treated beneath contempt by the arrogant nobility. They had mocked her worn hands and lack of cosmetic beauty as if any of these things mattered. Now they were not only irrelevant but redundant for she had everything they had and more.
Guinevere had Arthur, beauty and soon she would be queen.
When she was queen nothing they said would matter at all. If they wished to remain respected at court, they would have to curb their displeasure at their new queen... and then she would snub the lot of them. She would grant favours only to those that had shown her kindness when she was still just a servant; the lower classes and a few select members of the knights and gentry.
Due to that wonderful thing called rank, Gwen was not obligated to talk to any of the more haughty noblewomen. No one was allowed to speak to the queen unless they were granted an audience with her. Even at social occasions it had to be Guinevere who addressed them before they could even say "Hello."
Again, she knew she shouldn't feel so proud to watch those pampered dogs grit their teeth and spout insincere praise to her. She hated it, really. However to be able to stand there dressed as modestly as a future queen and wife to a new king could without looking ridiculous, her arm firmly looped around Arthur's and her hand warmly clasped inside hers... how could any woman resist beaming with pleasure?
Then the day came to walk through the crowds of knights, lords, dukes and their wives to take her place on the stage of monarchy and seat herself in the throne as Queen of Camelot.
She made sure that her make-up was minimal; faint lining around the eyes and a fingertip of shine and rogue. Her hair was dressed by an 'expert' servant and dressed with modesty-decorated hair pins bearing the mark of the family house, the Pendragon. It was a symbol of her position and of her 'ownership'. She belonged to Camelot.
The dress was the finest she had ever dressed in, made especially for today. On the new queen's insistence it would not be dressy or frilly. A blend of tasteful cream and reddish-topaz, it made her appear more like an angel from Heaven than a queen.
When they had finished dressing her in the frock that had taken a month of ten hour days to perfect, Gwen looked at her reflection in the mirror and wondered for a brief moment how she could ever appear in public looking so regal.
Then the servant girls covered their mouths and jumped excitedly at their former co-worker's beauty. At first Gwen suspected they were humouring her and that deep down they all envied her what she had now. Maybe they did, but she was pleased none of them put their displeasure on display like the noblewomen did.
Gwen felt proud that now she could help girls like them, like how she used to be.
"Gwen—" one of them began excitedly, before swallowing her words and starting again. "My Lady, you look... indescribably beautiful."
The young queen started at herself in the mirror.
"But is this really me?" Gwen said with a true sense of doubt. "I don't want to look a fool, to show myself or Camelot up. It's not just our nobility out there but visiting kings too..."
"Your highness looks perfect," said the eldest among the servants, a middle-aged woman too old to envy the young queen but also too old to make the mistake of still calling her 'Gwen'. "A woman's ability to be queen is not determined by the way she looks."
No it isn't, Gwen agreed to herself. Nonetheless the eyes of the land are on me now...
The final touch was to add the scarlet cape about her shoulders, and she was done.
She stepped off the stool, her train and cape trailing behind her. Her heart was pounding with anticipation. She wondered what Arthur would make of her transformation, whether she would look like his queen or just a doll dressed up.
Either way Gwen wanted to render Arthur speechless. She wanted to stun him. She wanted to dazzle him. She wanted to astonish him. In short, she wanted him to think she was the most beautiful she had ever been.
Gwen turned to walk out the room.
She glanced to look at the servants again. They curtsied politely. Her eyes then wandered back to the mirror, still holding her image in the corner of it. Once again she felt a guilty surge of satisfaction run through her.
Another servant opened the door for her and she stepped out into the living area of the royal apartments where Merlin was helping Arthur on with his red robe too. He himself was dressed in his new green ceremonial robes.
Gwen bit her lip and cleared her throat to catch their attention.
They turned, stared and gawped.
"Wow," Merlin gasped immediately.
Gwen stepped closer to them. "Do I look alright?"
Arthur tried to speak but Merlin got in first.
"I should say! I mean, you look so-so, you know..." he chuckled bashfully and tilted his head. He suddenly felt very weary of the fact that Arthur had turned his attention from Gwen to give Merlin a dangerous look. "You know. Nice."
Gwen bit her lip again. Many years ago when she was still just a girl, she would have sold her soul for Merlin to look at her the way he was now. Now it was funny and a little embarrassing to be gawked at like this.
"Merlin," Arthur muttered dangerously.
"Close your mouth and get down to the hall. Let them know we're coming."
Merlin nodded and walked backwards towards the door. It seemed ridiculous that this very former-servant was about to crown his former-master and yet another former-servant. The world had changed so much for all three of them. It slowly started to dawn on Merlin that he was about to face part of his destiny full on.
"You look great, Gwen," he said apprehensively.
"Thank you, Merlin."
Once he had gone Arthur turned to Gwen and was finally able to get his opinion out. He opened his mouth to start but shook his head, realising he could not phrase it as perfectly as he wanted to. She looked so faultless and he felt so inadequate. Today was his coronation too. He was about to be crowed the King of Camelot and his perfect woman was to be his queen.
Arthur took a deep breath and smiled with such sincerity Gwen might have melted into his arms at that moment had they not been due to begin the ceremony within a few minutes.
"Merlin's right," he said simply. "You look beautiful."
Again, that feeling of pride swelled through her.
"Thank you," she said, slipping her hand into his. "Are you alright?"
"Fine," Arthur replied.
Gwen could tell he was clearly nervous. He was usually more confident before a tournament but this was different. They were about to be displayed before the whole of the kingdom and every other kingdom in Albion.
"First they will anoint me as king, then you as queen," Arthur explained, for the fifth time since the dress rehearsal yesterday. "Then we will both be crowned."
"I know," she smiled.
For a moment her earlier pride was quelled somewhat and replaced with humility. She squeezed his hand reassuringly. This was his day more than it was hers yet every eye from every representative of every kingdom would be on her, The Commoner Queen.
She reached up to kiss him.
There ceremony went swimmingly.
The visiting kings and representatives of the kings who couldn't be there smiled politely and with interest. They were all surprised to see how elegant and becoming the former 'backstreet' girl was, dressed up to the nines. The front lines of the audience were the knights of the realm, most of whom were more relaxed in their attitudes than their mothers, wives or sisters.
Among them were Gwaine, Leon, Percival and Gwen's brother, Elyan.
Elyan leaned to whisper in Gwaine's ear, "My sister cleans up nice, doesn't she?"
"I should say," the enigmatic knight winked.
Merlin began the ceremony, his first royal duty. Gwen thought he brought a more of an edge to the whole thing than the late Geoffrey of Monmouth had done. He lost his place at one point and his hands were shaking as he placed the crowns of Arthur and Guinevere's heads. Other than that, it was all fine.
He stepped to one side to reveal the newly crowned king and queen of Camelot.
"Long live your most gracious majesties," Merlin yelled ceremonially.
He bowed, indicating the rest of the court's duty to bow also. Even the noblewomen had to bow. It was difficult for Gwen not to feel smug at the sea of pampered dogs lowering their heads and straining their knees. The neighbouring kings seemed much more polite even though they were only obligated to nod their heads.
Gwen surpassed the desire to beam, knowing full well that it was not proper for a queen to beam profusely at 'getting the cream'. Instead her smile manifested itself as a more appropriate regal smile.
Arthur took her hand and they stood side by side. They exchanged 'that smile' they had established so long ago, that one of mutual affection and love. Like performers on a stage they bowed back to the crowd majestically. They applauded appropriately.
Slowly the pair of them made their way to the balcony to address the people waiting outside. As they walked closer their chants of their new king's name got louder and louder. "Arthur, Arthur, Arthur," they cried.
"Long live the King!" someone suddenly shouted inside the hall.
The others soon followed suit. "Long live the King! Long live the King! Long live the King..." filled the hall in joyous chorus. It was the beginning of a new age; some welcomed it, some anticipated it... but for Gwen it was something she had waited for since her father died and any belief in the old Camelot died with him.
They stepped out into the open air; as the sounds from the hall drifted out into the courtyard, the humming of 'Arthur' faded into the same cry. "Long live the King!"
Arthur nodded his head gratefully to crowds. In both the hall and the courtyard the people were cheering and clapping.
Gwen freed her hand to join their applause, her smile now the beaming one she had tried to suppress. He looked so handsome, so noble and so... perfect. Now her pride was all for him. It was for Camelot, the kingdom that they would build together.
Suddenly, inside the hall, Gwaine shouted out at the top of his voice: "Long live the Queen!"
The king turned to his still applauding wife. He offered his hand to her again, which she took affectionately. The cheers were both a refrain of "Long live the King! Long live the Queen! Long live the King! Long live the Queen!" Arthur put his arm around Gwen and they stood there together, natural and both so very proud.
As the chants went on Gwen leaned her head comfortably against the crook of his neck. She knew that pride was a sin but it was such a pleasure after all these years...