Geoffrey was analysing the citizenship role for the city when Merlin came into the library. The young servant often wondered how Geoffrey managed to pass the time as there couldn't be too much call on the palace library. Whenever he came in to run an errand for Gaius, the old man seemed perfectly content with making notes and 'updating' information on the library catalogue.
Merlin wondered what he did for fun.
The librarian smiled at the large record book, placed the thread through it and closed it with a loud thud that echoed through the room.
Finally he turned his attention to Merlin.
"How can I help you?"
"Afternoon," Merlin began politely.
He always felt a bit nervous when talking to Geoffrey. He was a bit of a doddering old man – or as Catrina had called him 'an old crone' – but being a veteran of the old days like Gaius, he had the presence of an old teacher at times.
"I want to research – something," Merlin said, finally explaining his reasons for being there. "I'm not sure where to start, though."
Geoffrey leant forward, "Well, what is it that you wish to research? I might be able to point you in the right direction."
Merlin bit his lips.
"Um, maybe a book about... Caerleon?"
Geoffrey chuckled softly, "Which Caerleon do you mean?"
"I'm not sure," the young servant said awkwardly.
"How can you want to research something when you don't even know what it is?" the old man asked, confused and a little frustrated. "Why do you want to research it?"
"I'm just curious..." Merlin said quickly before trailing off.
He tried to remember what little details he had garnished from Gwaine's background to try and be more specific for Geoffrey. He was very curious to find out who Gwaine's parents might have been and where they came from. He knew he was the son of a knight – but who had he been?
"I want to know about the Army of Caerleon," he finally told Geoffrey.
The old genealogist's eyes lit up.
"You mean the 'City of the Legion'!"
"Did the 'City of the Legion' have an army of Caerleon?" Merlin asked slowly.
Geoffrey rolled his eyes, "Caerleon is the 'City of the Legion'! Doesn't Gaius teach you anything about Albion's history?"
Merlin inclined his head to one side; he was getting better at the arts of being a physician but he still had little interest in history unless he needed it to fight an enemy better.
"Caerleon was known for its vast army," Geoffrey continued. "There once was a time where there were over five-hundred knights from all over Albion who served under the King of Powys, Vortigern."
"When was that?"
"Oh well," the old man said. "I'd say it was at its height about thirty years ago although it fell into decline just over twenty-years-ago with the fall of Vortigern. Gwynedd, Powys and Rheged all became independent kingdoms again and the city is now part of Rheged's kingdom, although it lies on its border with Powys."
The timing seemed right and what Geoffrey described seemed like what Gwaine had told him about his father. It was entirely possible that his father was one of the many knights who served in the army of the City of the Legion but was killed in battle. Merlin didn't know a lot about history but he did know of Vortigern; a much-hated and vilified king.
"Are there any books about Caerleon?" Merlin asked hopefully.
"There are many histories and records kept about it even today," Geoffrey told him.
"Are there any dating from the time of the city's decline?"
"There are written accounts from the time, histories written a few years later, lists of the battles the knights fought and their casualties, lists of the knights' names and deeds..."
"Is there anything about their families?"
"You could find that sort of information in the court genealogies."
Merlin smiled; it would be like finding a needle in a haystack but he couldn't fight the curiosity to look and find out. Gwaine had had a strange effect on him. He was one of the most insightful and brave men he had ever met. Born into a noble family but raised in poverty. Never knew his father, his only connection to him from stories. His innate belief that nobility came from the heart not rank and titles had been strangely touching... as had his joyful lust for life.
"Where do you keep the records?"
Geoffrey pointed east, remembering Merlin's terrible sense of direction.
"At the very end of the eastern section," he explained to him. "Take a sharp left and you will find all the records there. Do you know which way is left?"
Merlin rolled his eyes and smiled snippily.
"Yes, thank you..."
It took an hour before Merlin located the record book he wanted and was able to sieve through the names to find the names of knights who served at Caerleon and had the remote chance of being Gwaine's father. It was especially annoying because the genealogies of Albion were surprisingly vast. Still, he knew once he found the knights who served at Caerleon and managed to find the right date it was only a case of finding one that had a son named Gwaine.
He was still looking when Geoffrey came up to see how he was getting on.
"Any luck with your research?" he asked.
Merlin glanced up, "Not yet – there are an awful lot of names here."
"Is there a knight you are looking for in particular?"
"I don't know his name," the servant admitted. "I only know that he was in Caerleon's army and that he was killed in battle about twenty-four years ago, give or take."
"That could be one of many men who died around that time," Geoffrey observed.
"So I gathered," Merlin said, exasperated.
He stopped searching for a moment and pondered over Gwaine again.
"I only know the name of his son," Merlin said.
"Many of these knights had sons..."
"This knight only had the one son who was born around the same time he died," the servant added, hoping it might jog something in Geoffrey's memory. "His wife was left penniless."
At first it seemed unsuccessful as Geoffrey stood silently with a confused look on his face. Then, however, his eyes lit up again as a thought came to him. The shine in his eyes was not as bright as it had before, more surprised and concerned.
"Could you possibly be referring to Loth Lwyddoc of Eidin?"
Merlin felt his ears burn with anticipation.
"Did he serve as a knight in the Army of Caerleon?"
"Well yes," Geoffrey nodded.
He walked over and turned the book Merlin was looking at around so he could see the pages. As usual he was slow in his search, analysing every page before turning to the next one to analyse that one too. Merlin couldn't fight back an irritated roll of the eyes.
Finally Geoffrey found what he was looking for.
"Here he is," and he turned the book around to show Merlin the credentials of Loth Lwyddoc. "He joined the army of Caerleon when he was twenty-one and served until his early death in battle about ten years later. It was a tragic thing..."
"What about his family?"
Before Geoffrey could reply one of the knights called for him at his desk. Typically he nodded his apologises to Merlin and quickly made his way back down the stacks to assist the nobleman.
Merlin decided not to wait and flicked through the pages of the record books until he finally found what he was looking for.
He read it aloud: "Gwaine, only son of Loth Lwyddoc of Eidin, a Knight of Caerleon."
Pride of achievement fluttered in Merlin's chest as he stared down at the family tree of the House of Lwyddoc and there, right at the bottom, was Gwaine's name. His was the only name at the bottom of the page. That meant he was the last heir to the House of Lwyddoc. The last in a long line of apparently great and noble men... yet he had nothing in the way of money or power. He lived the life of a commoner.
Up until he met Gwaine, Merlin had assumed all nobility were born into a privileged and wealthy life style. It made him feel humbled to discover he was wrong. It further confirmed Gwaine's philosophy to life – titles and rank mean nothing. Despite being a happy-go-lucky troublemaker Gwaine possessed more nobility than many of the nobility in Camelot.
"If Uther knew Gwaine's credentials," Merlin muttered to himself, staring at the illustrious family tree, "He'd damn-well eat his crown!"
Uther had dismissed Gwaine as a commoner and nearly executed him twice. He thought the world of those with titles seemed to believe those with rank were worth more than the common people who – in all fairness – are the ones who keep his precious kingdom going. Yet if he knew who Gwaine was... he would immediately throw praise and pardons at him.
"Knowing Gwaine he'd probably tell Uther to stick it up his kingly-arse," he chuckled to himself.
He looked back to the family tree of the House of Lwyddoc.
Merlin wanted to know who Gwaine's mother was. The young impoverished nobleman had less to say about his mother than his father. However from what Merlin had gathered from talks with Gwaine his mother had raised him until she died just over ten years ago. He was curious to know what her name was and whether she too came from a noble background.
There was only one spouse attributed Loth Lwyddoc. Merlin read the name out loud as he had done for Gwaine:
"Anne Dubois, second daughter of Amlawdd..."
He paused for a moment. Anna Dubois... the name sounded familiar but he couldn't remember where he might have heard it before...
Geoffrey re-appeared and he was not alone. Arthur was with him.
Merlin slammed the book shut and gave his master a sheepish look.
"I'm sorry if I was late for... something," he said quickly, leaning on the books around him. "I was doing some research for Gaius."
Arthur gave him his most sceptical look. "Gaius wanted you to research the court genealogies?"
"Yes," the servant replied with a grin. "He wanted me to look up the background of a certain knight."
Even Geoffrey tilted his head, this not having been the version of events he remembered Merlin telling him. He remained silent, though.
Arthur rolled his eyes at Merlin and turned to walk away.
"Training field. Now."
As they walked out to the green Merlin decided to probe Arthur knowledge of the 'City of the Legion'. It seemed like a subject he might know about given that Arthur's interests were very limited. They consisted of training, eating, sleeping, governing, lusting after Guinevere and making Merlin's life a living hell. While no one could ever accuse Arthur of being bookish, he knew a great deal or warfare and it stood to reason he must have come across Caerleon at one time or another.
"Arthur, do you know anything about Caerleon?"
The prince looked at Merlin as if he were stupid.
He picked up his sword and swung it about with dexterity.
"Of course I know about Caerleon," Arthur replied simply. "Every military commander worth his salt studies the histories of the great armies of Albion. Caerleon is basic knowledge – I've taken interest in its workings since I was old enough to read."
"You, reading a book? What a novel idea!" Merlin remarked cheekily.
Arthur glared at him.
"I'm surprised that you have taken an interest in Caerleon, Merlin," Arthur replied sarcastically. "Given what a pushover you are."
Merlin hissed through his teeth.
"I was just wondering... whether you knew of Loth Lwyddoc?"
Arthur stopped dead, nearly tripping over his own feet. He hadn't heard that name in a long time. It made his heart tug in his chest slightly.
"He was one of the Knights of Caerleon. Why?"
"Nothing, it's just... that was the name Gaius wanted me to research," Merlin muttered quietly.
Arthur said nothing and turned away to join his men on the field. The truth was he didn't know what to say to Merlin about the subject. There was nothing more to say. He wished there was...
"You don't know anything about his family, do you?" Merlin asked curiously.
The prince was distracted by Merlin's question but he couldn't give him an answer. So he shrugged and turned away.
That evening Merlin asked Gaius about the name 'Anna Dubois' as after an entire day he still couldn't figure out where he had heard it from. Arthur had known about Loth Lwyddoc on virtue of the fact that he had been a knight of Caerleon, but nothing of his family. There was little chance he was aware of Loth's wife Anna or their son, let alone that their son was Gwaine.
Merlin knew he had heard the name 'Dubois' before... but where?
"Is the soup alright?" Gaius asked as he cut a piece of bread and handed it to Merlin. "I think I might have put too much salt in it."
"It is fine," the servant assured him.
He slowly sipped the vegetable soup up through his lips. He was waiting for a good time to ask Gaius the question. He slowly put the spoon now.
"Gaius," Merlin began slowly. "Have you ever heard the name 'Anna Dubois'?"
The old man's head shot up. His spoon dropped into the bowl with a clatter and splash. It surprised the young warlock that his guardian reacted in such a way. They stared at each other across the table.
"Where did you hear that name?"
"Just... I heard someone mention it. Who was she?"
Gaius said nothing, turning his head away from Merlin.
Merlin added, "I recognise the name but I can't remember from where..."
There was a moment's pause before Gaius turned around again, his expression stony. He spoke frankly and slowly, "Anna Dubois was the younger sister of Arthur's mother Igraine."
Merlin felt his heart stop still for a second. He couldn't believe it!
"She... was Arthur's aunt?"
"Are you sure?"
Gaius pulled a face, "Of course I'm sure! I knew her myself when she was a young girl. Anna was always very lively and adventurous, a constant worry for Igraine. Nonetheless she was very thoughtful and wise for someone so young."
"Sounds familiar," Merlin grinned.
"She married very young," the old man finished with a tint of sadness in his voice. "His name was Loth Lywddoc, a knight from the north of Albion. He fought at Caerleon and Eidin... a very brave man."
The warlock nodded, "And there is only one Anna Dubois?"
"She's the only one I've ever heard of," Gaius confirmed.
A slightly amused smile crept up in the corner of Merlin's mouth.
Gaius leaned his elbows on the table to regard his charge better.
"Merlin," he began, "where did you hear the name 'Anna Dubois'?"
"I told you," the boy replied quickly. "I just heard someone mention it, that's all. I wondered who she was... especially since I recognised the name 'Dubois'."
"You remember the Black Knight, don't you?" Gaius reminded him. "He was the wraith of Tristan Dubois, Igraine's brother. He was Anna's brother too. They were all from the House of Amlawdd."
Merlin leaned on the table, completely disregarding his dinner.
"What happened to her?"
Gaius sighed, "Loth died in battle shortly after Anna gave birth to a son. No one knows what happened to her after that. Many assumed that she and the child perished during the last few years of Vortigern's rule in the north. I'm sad to say it is probable that without Loth to protect them they did indeed both die."
"Didn't Uther try and help her?" Merlin asked.
The thing he was really wondering was whether Gwaine was aware of any of this? He made no indication that he knew anything about Arthur other than his name. There was certainly no suggestion that he knew they were cousins. So maybe Anna Dubois had kept it a secret from Gwaine? She was pleased to tell him stories about his father but not about her own family. Tristan Dubois had blamed Uther for Igraine's death, so Anna could have felt the same.
Or maybe it was because she felt Uther had let her down too?
Gaius continued, "This all happened shortly before Arthur was born. The last letter exchanged between the two sisters was just before Loth died. Anna was due to give birth to her son a month or so before Igraine was due to give birth to Arthur..."
"Thanks to the help of Nimueh," Merlin piped in cynically.
"...and Anna wrote to Camelot to tell them she had given birth to a son," Gaius went on, giving Merlin a sharp look that ordered him to watch his tongue. "That was the last we heard of her. Tristan went to Caerleon to meet his new nephew. After that, Igraine died and the Great Purge began. I don't think Uther found out about Loth's death or Anna's disappearance until Arthur's first birthday, by which time it was probably too late for Anna and her son."
It seemed that once again ordinary people had suffered as a result of Uther's hatred of magic. It might have been that Anna petitioned Uther for help but her pleas were lost in the sea of death warrants he was signing. No wonder she chose to disappear.
"Did he ever try and find them?" Merlin asked.
"There were some efforts but to no avail," Gaius said. "Anna Dubois was gone and her son with her. Uther has no authority in the north so he had no chance of locating them."
Merlin swallowed and finally turned back to his soup; it had gone cold.
"Maybe she didn't want to be found," he suggested.
"It wouldn't surprise me," Gaius agreed, taking up his own spoon to eat again. "Anna was a very proud woman."
"Just like her son," he chuckled, before he realised his slip and added, "...probably would have turned out..."
"Are you alright, sire?"
Arthur turned away from the window to face Gwen. He had been thinking about some of the questions Merlin had asked him earlier and how it had bought back old memories. He had been so engrossed by them that he hadn't heard Gwen come in. Nonetheless he was pleased to see her, as always.
"I don't like it when you call me that," he muttered with discontent.
Gwen bit her bottom lip, "It reminds me of my place."
"And I find it irritating," Arthur said coldly. "Stop doing it."
She was clearly taken aback.
"I'm sorry... clearly this is not a good time."
She turned to walk away.
Arthur was hit with a sudden desperate tug and he lurched forward to take her forearm. He felt her stiffen beneath his grasp and slowly turn back to face him. His eyes were soft and apologetic.
"I didn't mean to snap at you," he said quietly. "I just... really hate it when you call me 'sire'. Even if you think there is a need."
Gwen took a deep breath and smiled. "Then I'll stop doing it. I don't want you to hate me."
"I could never hate you," Arthur said simply. "I just hate being called 'sire' by you."
Gwen could tell that something was bothering him, something more than the fact she occasionally chose to call him 'sire' rather than plain Arthur. She could always sense when Arthur had something on his mind and right now ill-thoughts seemed to be seeping off him.
"Is there something wrong, Arthur?"
He slowly let her forearm go and rested his hands on his hips. An awkward smile crossed his lips.
"Just thinking about when I was a child," he told her.
"It's making you feel nostalgic, is it?"
He nodded, "Yes – well, nostalgic and... just sad."
"How do you mean?" she asked.
"Earlier today Merlin asked me about one of the last knights of Caerleon," he explained to her. "I remember trying to read more about him when I was about seven or eight but I was forbidden to read anything that wasn't vetted by my father first. As soon as he heard I was reading up on Loth, he immediately put a stop to it. I pressed him to tell me why but he wouldn't. Eventually he only agreed to let me read his battle list, not his credentials."
Gwen didn't quite understand why that had caused him to feel sad but she reached out to stroke his forearm affectionately.
"I see," she said softly.
"I could never understand why," Arthur went on in frustration. "From what I gathered from reading about him Loth was a great warrior and someone worth studying. He saved the lives of thousands of people... but died suddenly and without ceremony."
"The king at the time was called Vortigern," Arthur explained to her. "He was more of a tyrant than a king. He abused the alliances he had with other kings and used his vast supporters in the east to maintain control over Caerleon. When he died the city fell into disuse."
Gwen had heard many stories of the knights of Caerleon, the greatest army in the known world all gathered in the circular city – which was more of a fort than a town – where all were equal in status and bravery. She didn't know how much of the stories were true but she could understand why Arthur would draw inspiration from the tales and exploits of the knights there.
"But why has Merlin been asking about Loth?" Gwen asked.
"He didn't really say," Arthur replied faintly.
He slowly placed his hand over the one Gwen had rested on his forearm and sighed.
"I don't know why I've let this get to me; it was so many years ago..."
"Why don't you read up on him now?" she suggested, wondering why he hadn't. "Surely your father doesn't still control what you can and cannot read."
"I suppose I could..." the prince agreed slowly, thinking for a second. He then shook his head and took Gwen's hand into his, holding it as a true lover or husband would. "I don't know why I never have thought of doing so until now. I suppose I just forgot about it until Merlin mentioned it..."
"Now you've remembered, you can just go and do it!" Gwen grinned, squeezing his hand. "I'll help you if you want. I know how long and wispy those battle records and credentials can be."
Arthur smiled faintly and nodded but stayed still, holding Gwen's hand.
Gwen moved closer to him.
They stood silently for a moment looking at each other. It seemed for a moment that one of them might pluck up the courage to lean in and kiss the other but for some reason neither of them had the gander.
"I still don't understand why it bothered me so much," Arthur told her, looking away awkwardly. "He was just one knight among many yet for some reason I felt a sort of... kindred feeling with his story and his background."
Gwen tilted her head, "A kindred feeling?"
Arthur nodded, "I know he and I weren't related but... I felt as though we should be."
He then laughed.
"It sounds stupid I know."
Gwen shook her head to tell him he was wrong. It didn't sound stupid and it did make her wonder all the more who this knight's family had been. From what Arthur had just told her he had died without ceremony, which suggested he had no family... but every man came from somewhere, particularly those of noble birth. Gwen could only trace her family back to her grandparents, both of whom died before she was born; people like Loth had family trees dating back over at least two hundred years.
"Do you know if he had any family?" she asked curiously.
Arthur thought for a minute. At first he was just going to say no but then he remembered rumours and whispers from when he was younger. Even then the name 'Loth Lwydoc' was fresh in people's minds despite him having been dead for years. It was actually a few years after he first took an interest in Loth, when he was about thirteen or so... the rumours that 'Anna, wife of Loth, might still be alive...' only to be countered with, 'No, she is almost certainly dead. Even the northern say so...'
Anna... the name had always felt familiar to Arthur even though he didn't know how or why. He was pretty certain he had mentioned the name to his father when he was much smaller, no older than three-years-old. Uther's reaction had been vile.
"Don't ever mention that name," he had growled at the tiny child.
Arthur knew thereafter to never mention the 'Anna' rumours to his father.
"I think he had a wife," Arthur finally replied to Gwen. "I don't know about him having children though. The more I think about it... I think I heard rumours that his wife and son were lost after he died. No one knows for certain what happened to them. If they ever existed, they're probably dead now. I don't know for certain though..."
Gwen didn't have a clue, either; this was all well before her own time in the castle. She had entered service when she was six years old but made her business thereafter not to listen to noble gossip. It got servants into trouble.
"It would have been nice to meet his son, though," Arthur said thoughtfully. "I imagine he would have been a great warrior."
Gwen smiled and squeezed his hand tenderly again, "Maybe he is still alive?"
It was a vain hope but still possible.
Arthur smiled too, "Yeah... maybe."
At that moment, even in the far-reaches of Mercia, Gwaine's ears were burning.
He sighed and looked down at the family crest which still hung about his neck. The symbol of his father's house and his mother's wedding ring, the only two things left of their grand family. Their value to him went beyond the gold and silver they were made of or even the coat of arms which proves his nobility. It was what they had meant to his parents. The crest which had been worn by his father in the battles he fought in and the ring he had given his mother as a symbol of their love.
That was all that was left of those two find individuals; that crest, that ring and their son Gwaine, son of Loth Lwyddoc and his wife Anna.
Gwaine laid his head against his bag and looked up at the stars above. If his parents were anywhere it was up there, somewhere.
He wished often that he had known more about his mother's family. She had never tired of preaching him the glories of his father and the House of Lwyddoc but always clammed up whenever asked her about her own family.
Gwaine only knew she was of noble birth and had once been part of a sizable family, but that she was the last one of their clan. "I was the youngest of three with an elder brother and sister," she had told him once after a few too many drinks, "They're dead now though, both of them killed by an idle king."
He never learnt the names of this brother and sister or the name of the king who had killed them. It could have been one of many idle kings Gwaine had encountered.
It had never bothered Gwaine much when she was alive. He had her and that was all that mattered. Gwaine never felt a loss at not knowing who his mother really was until she died. Now he wished he had at least pressed her to tell him the names of his brother and sister. It would have been nice to know who his dead uncle and aunt had been.
He didn't know whether his aunt or uncle had children of their own. Even if they did, they probably didn't know about his existence. However he doubted there were any children other than him. When he asked whether he had cousins, Anna had swiftly changed the subject immediately to his father and distracted Gwaine from any more questions about her side of the family.
Gwaine doubted he would ever know the truth.
"You took that secret to the grave, didn't you?" he whispered to his mother's ring with a sad smile.
He decided not to think about it anymore. Look to the future and live each day as it comes, that was what he always said to himself. There was no point bothering about it.
Instead he thought about where he would go to next. Mercia was fun but it was starting to get a bit predictable. All these thugs, bandits and brainless cage fighters who can't find anything better to do with their skills that kill each other and wild animals for the entertainment of unscrupulous crowds. Especially since the pay was terrible. You were lucky to get a single gold-piece. The only other prize you escaped with was your life – and those who freely offered it for the sake of it probably didn't deserve to keep it.
Gwaine thought he would make one last trip to Bayard's capital before making his way west again. He couldn't return to Camelot to see his friends, though he would have liked to. Never before going there had he missed one place quite so much. It wasn't just the beauty of Camelot but the people. He missed Arthur, Gwen and Merlin. The moment he had set eyes on all three of them singularly he had felt a connection with each...
Gwaine quickly put these thoughts out of his head.
He couldn't go back to Camelot and that was the end. Instead he thought it might be fun to visit Ynys Mon, the realm of the Fisher King. His mother told him that his father had once met the old king before his kingdom became barren and dissolute. There were supposed all sorts of people there, all sorts of dangers and treasures.
It would be quite an adventure...