Author's Note: Second part of 'Blood is thicker than water'. Please read previous chapter or previous episode prior to reading this.
Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin. I do not own its characters.
"Blood is thicker than water" (continued) – by AudiRox
Deciding to put away his thoughts of Gwen for at least the present moment, Arthur arrives in the throne room to greet their guests, who seem to have already arrived. He sees his father greet Godwin and Elena.
Uther looks up at his son, "Ah, there he is!" he says as he gestures towards the entrance.
Arthur hurries to the guests with Merlin following closely behind.
Elena, looking as beautiful as she did on their faux wedding day, turns around and smiles at the prince.
"Lord Godwin," says Arthur as he greets the visiting king with a strong shake of the hand.
"Arthur," nods Lord Godwin.
Arthur turns to the princess and holds out his hand, "Princess Elena, welcome."
With a mischievous smile, Elena briefly offers her hand to the prince and curtsies, "Prince Arthur. Lovely to see you again."
"The pleasure is mine," smiles Arthur.
"I have accepted your father's kind invitation in hopes that we may go riding again, so that I can show you some real talent."
Uther and Godwin laugh. Merlin can't help but suppress a laugh as well.
Arthur subtly rolls his eyes. "Of course."
Hearing Merlin's snickering; Arthur turns around and gives his servant a warning smile.
That evening, Kings, Uther and Godwin and their respective offspring, Arthur and Elena are in the dining room enjoying a fine meal. Uther and Godwin seem to be engaged in their own conversation as Arthur and Elena try to find a topic that they both agree on.
"So," says Elena as she swallows a bit of her supper, "what else is new in Camelot since we last saw each other?"
Arthur tries to think of pleasant things that have happened in the kingdom, more appropriate things that can be shared with the princess. "Well, we have recovered quite quickly and…" he tries hard to think.
"And?" asks the princess.
"Oh!" remembers the prince. "We have a new school."
"A school?" inquires Elena.
Godwin and Uther turn their attention.
"Yes," answers Arthur proudly. "A place where the people of Camelot, especially the children, can learn to read and write."
Impressed, Godwin turns to his old friend, "Why Uther, you failed to mention this new addition?"
Uther chuckles a bit, "Indeed, I did." He looks at his son, "I'm sure Arthur can fill you in."
Arthur proudly continues. "It was an idea of Camelot's very own… Guinevere."
Uther suddenly interjects trying to cover up the fact that she was once a servant, "Sister to one of our finest knights, Sir Elyan."
Elena wonders if she had heard that name before, "Guinevere?"
"You may remember her as Gwen, from when you visited us last," says Arthur.
Merlin can't help but wonder if Arthur is still filled with thoughts of Gwen after their brief encounter earlier that day.
"Ah," says the princess as she subtly smirks, remembering very well the woman in question, "I do remember Gwen."
Arthur can't help but smile every time her name is mentioned.
"I would like to see this school," Elena looks at the prince, "perhaps a tour? In the morning?"
Uther, Godwin, Elena and Merlin look at Arthur.
"Yes, of course," nods the prince.
Early that morning, as soon as he finished attending to his master, Merlin decides to visit Gwen in her new school. He walks up to the entry way to find her with just a two young boys, seated on one of the two benches. She is helping them write on old pieces of parchment with old wooden quills.
Looking up, Gwen notices her friend standing by the doorway. "Merlin," she says and stands up. She looks down at the children, "Practice what I just taught you. I will be right back."
"What is it, Merlin?"
The young man smiles, "Nothing. Can't I visit my dear friend?"
Gwen smiles and stands closer to him. "I'm sorry."
"How is it going? The school."
Gwen sighs, "Frustratingly so."
Merlin nods and looks at the two boys.
"People are afraid of change. It has been very difficult to convince them of the benefits of learning to read and write. I've visited some of the families multiple times to convince them to send their children at least once a week. But no such luck."
Merlin smiles sympathetically. "In time, Gwen. And I promise to help get the word out."
Gwen can't help but smile. "Thank you, Merlin."
After a moment of silence, Merlin decides to pursue the real reason for his visit. "So…"
Gwen looks up curiously. "What is it?"
"You haven't been seen around the castle, lately."
Gwen wonders what this is leading to. "I have been in the castle, Merlin."
"No, I don't mean down here."
"Then what do you mean?"
Merlin points a finger up, "Up there… where Arthur is."
Realizing what her friend is up to, she looks down at her hands. "I've been busy."
Merlin looks at the two boys in the room and back at Gwen, "Too busy to visit?"
Gwen is not thrilled at the change in subject, "Merlin, I do have a life beyond these walls."
"And what about Arthur?" He cautiously continues with a slight chuckle, "You seem to be a very large portion of his life."
A look of worry appears on Gwen's face, which makes Merlin lower his head and observe his friend. "Camelot is his life, Merlin."
"Have your feelings changed?"
"Of course not!" She sighs and continues, "I don't know anymore."
Merlin waits for her to continue.
"Things are starting to make more sense now."
"What do you mean?"
Gwen stays silent.
"I'm wondering if I'm holding onto false hope that one day, things will change for the better. That Arthur and I can finally be together."
Merlin speaks up for his master, "Arthur always keeps his promises. You know that."
"Of course he does. But Uther is right…"
"Uther?" Merlin asks curiously.
Gwen shakes her head, "I shouldn't confide in you. Arthur is your friend. I don't want you to be in a difficult…"
Merlin cuts in, "You are my dearest friend. Ever since I arrived in Camelot, you have been nothing but kind to me." He places a hand on her shoulder, "I'm here for you, Gwen."
Gwen decides to continue, "Arthur's first priority should be the wellbeing of Camelot and its people. Peace and prosperity comes with forging alliances with other kingdoms." She takes a brief moment and continues, "Now tell me, Merlin… what kingdom out there will accept a King's marriage to a servant?"
Merlin shakes his head, "You can't think that way, Gwen."
"Uther is right. I'm not of royal blood. Arthur was raised to be a ruler and his success depends on the respect and alliances of other kingdoms. Customs of hundreds of years can't be broken. Breaking them will only bring negative consequences. It's Camelot that will suffer."
"I will not let Arthur make any decisions that will hurt our people."
"What are you saying?"
Distressed, Gwen looks behind her to make sure her students didn't hear their exchange.
"Gwen, don't make any haste decisions. Take some time away from Camelot." He suggests, "Go visit my mother in Ealdor. Away from it all will help you realize what you really want. If it is to be with Arthur, forget what Uther thinks or says. Arthur loves you and he will do whatever it takes to be with you. You know that."
Gwen shakes her head. "Uther may have his faults, Merlin. But he isn't a bad man. All he really wants is the best for his son… which is also the best for his kingdom."
Just then, they hear footsteps behind them. Gwen turns around and sees Arthur followed by three other people. Merlin quickly steps away to make room for their visit as Gwen holds back the tears that were about to fall at the thought of leaving Arthur.
With his eyes on Gwen, Arthur walks up to the doorway of the school. "Guinevere," he says softly as he stops and turns to face her. "As I'm sure you already know," he starts, "Lord Godwin and Princess Elena are visiting and upon hearing about our new school, insisted that they be given a tour."
Not being able to face her prince, she turns quickly and curtsies, "My lords," she continues, "my lady."
Of all people, it is Uther that catches onto the unusual air between his son and Gwen. In the past few months, whenever they were in each other's presence, the king couldn't help but notice the attraction and attachment between them. But today, it wasn't the same.
"Gwen? Is it not?" asks the princess with a smile.
She nods, "Yes, my lady."
Still looking at the love of his life, Arthur steps aside so that their guests can enter the school.
"The prince tells me that you suggested the idea of a school," says Godwin as he steps inside. "A noble cause."
Gwen subtly nods, but is uncomfortable with the attention… especially that day.
Not wanting to interrupt the children, Elena and her father stop close to the entrance.
"Unfortunately, convincing the people of such a thing has been difficult."
Merlin can't help but observe Uther, the man who has poisoned Gwen's mind into believing that she is not worthy. He can't help but think of bad thoughts about the man, thoughts of potions that could take care of the flawed king.
Uther, on the other hand, can't help but observe his son as he stands quietly watching the woman in front of him.
Elena continues softly, "In time, Gwen. I'm sure the people will come around."
Godwin nods, "Yes, don't be disheartened. People will come around… they always do."
Gwen is thankful, and so she nods, "Thank you, sire."
Elena steps out of the school and looks up at Arthur and then at Gwen, "I would like to get to know you better, come riding with us this afternoon?"
Gwen is caught off guard, "Oh, umm… my lady" she shakes her head.
Merlin can't help but feel this is a bad idea.
Arthur is speechless as he isn't sure what to think or say.
Godwin chuckles as he walks up to Uther. "My daughter is very stubborn. I wouldn't protest."
Gwen is forced to nod. "Yes, it would be my pleasure, my lady."
Elena is thrilled. "Brilliant!"
Again, Uther notices the awkward glances between Arthur and Gwen. But to break the awkwardness, he turns to Godwin and pats him on the shoulder, "Come Godwin, we shall talk more over some fine mead."
After a bit of riding away from the city, Elena, Arthur, Gwen and Merlin dismount their horses by a small stream. A stream very similar to the one Arthur and Gwen once had their very own picnic.
"I'm starving," says Elena as she is helped off her horse by the prince.
Arthur nods, "Then we shall eat." He looks at his servant, "Merlin can you please set up here?" He looks at Gwen and sees that she has already dismounted and is walking towards his servant.
"I will help," says Gwen as she tries to stay away from the prince and the princess.
Arthur is a little disappointed but in order to not show any awkwardness, he looks at Elena. "A walk, perhaps?"
"Indeed," smiles Elena.
Gwen softly speaks to Merlin as Arthur and Elena slowly move away from horses. "This is very awkward."
"Tell me about it!" says Merlin as he de-rolls a rug. He smiles and shakes his head, "You don't have to help me, Gwen."
"I know, but I want to. Besides, I'm not comfortable with the alternative."
After a moment, Gwen asks, "Merlin, what you said, about leaving Camelot for a while."
Merlin stops what he's doing and asks, "You have decided to visit my mother?"
Gwen nods, "Would you arrange it?"
"I will make sure that the school is taken care of while I'm away."
"As soon as we get back to the city, I'll arrange it for you." With a smile, he assures her, "You'll see, everything will be fine."
Gwen smiles and places a hand on his arm, "Thank you."
Further down the stream, Elena and Arthur continue to walk in silence. He very badly wants to look behind him and see Gwen, but forces himself not to.
Not for a lack of trying, but Elena's every attempt at striking a conversation is struck down by Arthur's obliviousness. Thoughts of Gwen and their recent distance distract him. "I wish I could speak with her alone," he thinks to himself as he continues to walk along the stream with Princess Elena. He vaguely hears his name being uttered, but thoughts of Guinevere keep his mind busy.
Elena suddenly stops walking.
Arthur, however, continues on.
"Arthur?" says the princess increasing her voice ever so lightly
The prince stops and turns. "I'm sorry."
Elena chuckles. "It's alright; your mind seems to be occupied with other thoughts."
Arthur realizes what a horrible companion he has been to the princess. "I'm very sorry. What were we talking about?"
"We were talking about the weather," smiles the princess.
"It's a wonderful afternoon."
The prince nods, "It is indeed." He catches a glimpse of Gwen at a distance, helping Merlin. But he quickly pulls his eyes away. "What else is new with you since we last saw each other?"
"Well," the princess begins to walk again with Arthur following closely behind, "ever since Grunhilda went missing, I've started to see things."
Arthur makes a confused, almost afraid to inquire, facial expression, "See things?"
"I mean, to really see the world around me."
"I see," says Arthur.
"Don't get me wrong, I miss her dearly, but I sometimes wonder if she kept things from me."
Arthur nods even though he isn't quite sure what she means.
"Also, my father still prefers me to marry sooner rather than later," she sighs. "But as you said all those months ago, one must marry for love."
Arthur smiles even though he isn't sure if his love cares for him the same way anymore.
"I hope to one day find what you have, Arthur."
Not sure what she's talking about, Arthur turns to her, "What do you mean?"
Elena stops, turns to face him and continues knowingly, "I hope to find love as you have."
Arthur is left speechless as Elena subtly looks back at Gwen.
"I feel as if I should enlighten you, Arthur," chuckles Elena. "Shall I be the first to say that a blind man can see how much you care for each other?"
Arthur gives in, "Oddly enough, you aren't the first to say that."
Elena nods, "I noticed months ago. And I'm willing to bet you my finest steed that it's thoughts of Gwen that are keeping you distracted this afternoon?"
Arthur is embarrassed, "I'm sorry. My worries have made me a horrible companion."
Elena shakes her head, "No! Of course not! I admire what the two of you have. What's there to worry about?"
Arthur looks down at his hands, "I don't know."
"If you don't mind me prying, how long have you loved her?"
Arthur looks in the direction of Gwen. "A very long time."
"You worry about your father's opinion?"
"You know she was once a servant, so my father will never give us his blessing. Nor will most people of nobility. In fact, I'm surprised you're being so openly favorable."
"What's not to favor? Old customs made by old farts have no place in our present day." She realizes she may have just suggested that the king of Camelot is an old far, and so she explains. "Not that I'm calling your father an old fart."
Arthur can't help but chuckle a bit.
"Gwen seems like a wonderful and noble woman." With a cheeky smile, she turns around and starts to walk back towards Gwen and Merlin, "And I must say, you're an extremely lucky man, Arthur Pendragon. Come, let's eat."
Arthur cautiously smiles and follows the princess.
The next morning, Merlin watches as Arthur trains with his knights. He observes Arthur's fine maneuvers, perfected with age. As Arthur continues to train with Elyan, Merlin looks around and sees the man he had searched for earlier. Gwaine stands alone holding a goblet in his hand and leaning on a pole watching the two knights train.
"Gwaine!" says Merlin and catches the attention of his friend.
Gwaine gestures for the young man to come stand beside him.
"Morning," says the young warlock as he stands next to the knight.
The two men watch Arthur and Elyan.
"In fine form," says Gwaine as he takes a sip of water from the goblet.
Merlin nods, looks around and speaks softly as he continues to watch Arthur and Elyan. "I was hoping to speak with you in private."
Gwaine looks at his friend, "No one's around."
"I was hoping you would do me a favor."
"A favor?" asks the knight.
"Of course! What is it, Merlin?" Gwaine chuckles, "Did you pass out in the tavern again?"
Merlin rolls his eyes and shakes his head, "No, nothing like that."
Curiously, Gwaine turns to face his friend, "Out with it, Merlin."
"I was hoping you'd accompany a good friend to Ealdor."
"Isn't that where you're from?"
"A good friend?"
Merlin nods again.
"Does this good friend have a name?"
Merlin makes an idiotic face knowing very well that Gwaine is going to question everything before he agrees to help. "Gwen."
"Gwen?" the knight says a little louder.
"Shh! Arthur might hear you."
Gwaine doesn't know what's going on and he doesn't like it. "Why is Gwen going to Ealdor?"
"She wants to get away from the city for a few days, that's all."
"Isn't there a banquet in a few days? I'm sure someone's bound to notice she's gone."
"You'll bring her back before then."
"So, I am to accompany her to Ealdor, stay with her for a few days, and accompany her back to Camelot?"
"Right!" nods Merlin.
"Merlin, if this is a lovers' quarrel, I suggest not getting involved."
"Trust me, Gwaine, I know what I am doing. A few days away from Camelot and Gwen will be back and happy to be… you know, wooed again by…" gestures towards the prince as Gwaine tilts his head wondering what Merlin's going on about. "You know… she will be back to her old self."
"And how, pray tell me, are you going to explain all of this to Arthur? You know, the prince of Camelot?"
Merlin sighs, "I'll tell him that Gwen had to visit a sick aunt outside of Camelot and that you are accompanying her… you know, for her safety."
"Right. And what about…" he gestures towards Elyan, "Gwen's brother?"
Merlin shrugs, "I'll think of something."
Gwaine can't help but smirk, "I better not get banished again after this."
"I promise you, you won't." Merlin says as he turns away to leave, "You leave early morning."
Gwaine shakes his head wondering what he has just got himself into.
The next morning, just after sunrise, Gwen and Sir Gwaine ride through fields on horseback. Not wanting to engage in too much conversation, Gwen decides to ride ahead. Gwaine, only a few feet behind her is clearly curious about Gwen's situation.
"So…" he says out loud for the young woman to hear.
"What is it, Sir Gwaine?"
"Sir?" says Gwaine with a chuckle, "Please, let's not use formalities here."
Gwen smiles, but responds with certainty, "You are a knight. Therefore, I shall call you sir."
"Gwen," he says, "please."
She briefly looks behind her and smiles, "Alright, I won't call you Sir Gwaine during our trip."
Gwaine smiles, "Thank you."
Gwen turns around and continues to guide her horse in the direction of Ealdor.
The knight continues to watch the woman riding in front of him. "If I may ask, why are we going to Ealdor, again?"
Gwen sighs and comes up with a vague answer, "To visit Hunith, Merlin's mother."
"Of course," says the handsome man but doesn't give up. "This has nothing to do with you and Arthur?"
Gwen tries to keep up her appearance, but halts her horse and takes a deep breath. Gwaine guides his horse to stand beside Gwen's.
He looks at his friend. She is his friend. He had tried unsuccessfully to woo her once, but her feelings for another man were too strong. Gwaine lowers his head to take a closer look at Gwen's face as she stares down at her hands. "What's wrong? What are you running away from?"
Gwen shakes her head, "Nothing. It's complicated."
Gwaine looks out at the horizon, "The Pendragons are complicated people."
Gwen looks up at Gwaine wondering what he's thinking.
The man looks back at the woman beside him, "That's what they are Gwen. People. Just like you and me."
Gwen shakes her head, "They are not like us, Gwaine. They're royalty. The fate of every man, woman, and child in Camelot rests in their hands. They're people with a lot of power."
"Yet weak when faced with love. Just like you and I."
"Don't run away." He smiles at the woman and prompts his horse to carry on, leaving Gwen to wonder if she is in fact running away.
Back in Camelot, freshly bathed after training again with his men, Arthur gets dressed as Merlin tends to his soiled armor.
"They are, I believe, the best knights in all of the land," says the proud prince.
"Indeed, sire," agrees Merlin.
As he fixes his sleeves, Arthur walks out to see Merlin picking up the armor from the floor. "They trained really well today, but that Gwaine…"
Merlin looks up at his master as he realizes that Arthur had noticed Gwaine's absence. "Oh," he says as he sets the armor back on the floor. "I forgot to tell you, sire."
"What is it?"
As he thinks of an excuse, Merlin utters his words slowly, "Sir Gwaine was absent this morning because he is accompanying Gwen."
Arthur suddenly steps forward at the mention of her name, "Gwen? Why is Gwaine accompanying Gwen? And where are they going?"
"They're on their way to the Northern Plains," Merlin lies. "Gwen's aunt from her mother's side has fallen ill."
A concerned Arthur responds, "Why was I not informed? I should go to her."
The young warlock suddenly steps forward with his hand up in the air, "No!" He calms down a bit, "Gwen wanted to be by her aunt's side and insisted she go alone, but I convinced her to let Gwaine accompany her on the journey."
Arthur takes a deep breath and nods, "Good, I'm glad you were able to convince her. She will be safe with Sir Gwaine." Arthur continues to wonder about the new information he has just been given.
Merlin can't believe his success in deceiving Arthur. Instead of staying in the prince's chambers another minute, he quickly picks up the armor and leaves the space.
Later that afternoon, Gwen and Gwaine arrive in Ealdor. The sound of horses makes Hunith, Merlin's mother, exit her house. Gwen dismounts her horse with no help from Gwaine.
"Hunith!" she says with a smile.
"Gwen," welcomes Hunith with a warm smile. "It has been a very long time."
"Indeed, it has," says Gwen has she embraces the older woman.
Gwaine dismounts his horse and makes sure the animals are secured.
Gwen continues, "I thought you'd be surprised to see us."
Hunith softly explains, "Merlin sent word of your arrival."
Surprised, Gwen shakes her head, "How did he manage to send word so quickly?"
With a smirk, Hunith whispers, "My son has his ways."
It can be assumed that not only did Merlin use magic to send word to his mother, but he had also let his mother know of Gwen's situation and her knowledge of his abilities.
Gwaine walks around the horses and in front of the two women.
"Oh, let me introduce you to one of Merlin's good friends." She gestures towards the man, "Sir Gwaine."
Gwaine nods, "Pleasure."
Knowingly, Hunith smiles. She had heard of Gwaine and his heroics from her son. "Welcome."
Later that evening, in honor of Lord Godwin and Princess Elena's visit, Camelot celebrates with the people of its court. A few knights and other noblemen with their families are seen scattered around the hall. To a distance on the other end of the space, Uther and Godwin are seen chatting with a few others. Elena is with them as well.
Arthur wanders around the space observing the people around him. He sees Percival talking to one of the guards and so he walks up to him. Percival turns as he sees his prince heading towards him.
"Have you seen Merlin?" the prince asks.
Percival looks around and shakes his head, "No I haven't, sire."
Arthur nods, "Never mind, I'll find him." He walks a few steps further and notices Sir Leon speaking with Sir Elyan. "Elyan," he calls out as he makes him way towards them.
Elyan nods, "Sire."
Arthur acknowledges Leon and looks at his fellow knight. "Has your sister sent word? How is your aunt?"
A confused Elyan looks at Leon and back at the prince, standing in front of him. "My aunt, sire?"
Meanwhile, in Gaius' quarters, Merlin is seen cleaning up the space as Gaius sits by the table and reads a book of medicine.
Merlin stops dusting the shelves, turns to Gaius and exclaims confidently. "You know, I think this is just what Gwen needed. A few days away from Camelot."
With his eyes still on the book. "If you say so, Merlin."
"I know you don't like the idea, Gaius, but trust me… it's what she needs. What they both need. A little time apart will make her realize that she loves Arthur and despite what Uther and the rest of the… the snobs think, Arthur will marry her as he should."
Gaius looks over his book. "I can't believe Arthur bought your lie, and believe me; these things always have a way of being found out."
"Psh…" he dismisses it, "he's too busy entertaining Lord Godwin and his daughter to notice anything."
A knock on the door makes Gaius and Merlin look in the direction of the entrance.
The door opens from the outside and in comes the prince of Camelot.
"Sire," says Merlin in surprise.
Arthur walks in and nods at Gaius, who is now standing by the table. "Gaius, may I have a word alone with Merlin?"
"Of course, Arthur," says the physician and looks warningly at Merlin before he exits his quarters.
Merlin chuckles a bit nervously as the prince starts to pace. "Won't your guests notice your absence?"
"Don't worry, they're well entertained."
"Umm, what brings you here, Arthur?"
Arthur stops and turns to his servant. With a stern expression he speaks, "So, Elyan informs me that he does not have family outside of Camelot, at least not to his knowledge. You know what that means, don't you Merlin?"
Merlin chuckles again idiotically. "What does that mean?"
"That means that Gwen does not have family outside of Camelot either."
A guilty expression appears on Merlin's face.
"Of course, if I thought about it a bit more, I'd remember that Guinevere had no family outside Camelot."
Merlin tries to speak.
"No more lies," Arthur demands. "You're going to tell me the truth right now, Merlin. Or I swear, I'll have you put in the stocks."
Merlin gives in. "Gwen is with my mother in Ealdor."
"And why is that?"
"She needed some time away from Camelot…"
Arthur curiously watches his servant as he speaks the truth. "Why does she…"
Merlin cuts in and continues but with caution, "She needed some time away from you."
Surprised, shocked, and a little hurt, the prince looks at Merlin with curious eyes.
"I don't know the details but something your father had said to her has made her question things."
"Things? Things relating to me… to us?" With a bit of anger, he raises his voice, "What did Uther say to her?"
Merlin shakes his head.
Arthur starts to pace again.
Merlin nods. "I'm sorry I lied to you, Arthur. But…"
Arthur cuts in, "I must go to her."
Merlin shakes his head, "No, give her time."
Arthur isn't hearing any of it. "We'll leave now."
Merlin continues to shake his head, "No, you have guests to attend to. Arthur, please…"
"You're right. We'll leave at sunrise."
Merlin walks closer to him and tries to talk him out of it, "Sire, I really think you should give Gwen time. She's very upset over the whole thing. That is why she has not been herself lately."
His stubbornness overtakes him, "I need to see her. I can talk to her and make everything alright."
"Sire, what about Princess Elena. You are to ride with her and she will surely notice your absence tomorrow."
"She will understand."
"But," he calls out to his master as Arthur walks over to the door.
The prince turns around, "Make arrangements to leave first thing in the morning. It's an order, Merlin."
The future king leaves the young warlock worried.
In Ealdor, Gwen and Hunith are seated by the fire as Gwaine sleeps on the floor just a few feet away from the women.
Hunith looks over at the knight on the floor and up at Gwen, "Merlin writes to me about all the knights. He mentions him quite a bit," she gestures at the man.
Gwen smiles, "I'm not surprised, they are quite good friends."
Hunith smiles. "So much has changed since the last time I saw you."
"I'm sure your son has filled you in with his letters."
Hunith nods, "As much as he can divulge, I'm sure."
Gwen looks at the fire as Hunith keeps her eyes on the young woman.
"He has mentioned you and Arthur."
Surprised, Gwen looks up her dear friend's mother.
With a warm smile, she tilts her head, "You really care about him, don't you?"
A faint smile appears on Gwen's face as she nods.
"Then, why are you here?"
"We come from two very different worlds, Hunith."
"My dear child, don't deny yourself the one true thing that keeps us alive."
The young woman curiously looks at Merlin's mother.
"Love, true love… can withstand more than you think, Gwen."
Gwen faintly smiles and looks back at the fire.
Early next morning, Arthur and Merlin are seen on horseback traveling towards Ealdor. The two unlikely friends are riding quietly.
Arthur's mind is clearly occupied with thoughts of Gwen and what he is to say to her. "I can't believe my father!" he thinks to himself. "He has gone too far, but I'll have words with him when I return with Guinevere to Camelot."
Merlin wonders what Arthur is thinking, but is afraid that speaking now would get him in trouble for deceiving him.
A few more moments of silence pass before Arthur decides to speak, "Had she changed her mind about me?"
Merlin isn't sure, but he frantically shakes his head, "No."
"Is there someone else?"
"Of course not!"
"I'm afraid I cannot answer your questions, Arthur. Only Gwen can."
Later that afternoon, Arthur and Merlin arrive in the small town of Ealdor. Gwaine looks up from tending to the horses as he sees the two men riding toward him.
"Arthur," Gwaine says softly to himself. With an expression of guilt, he looks at Merlin, who shrugs and wears a sympathetic expression as if to say he's sorry.
Hunith, hearing the noises of more horses, exits her house and sees her son. With a wide smile, she takes a few steps closer to greet him. "Merlin!"
"Mother!" says the young warlock and jumps off the horse.
As they embrace, Gwen exits the house and is shocked to see Arthur as he dismounts and walks over to her.
"Guinevere," he says as Gwaine, Merlin and Hunith turn their attention to the prince.
"Arthur," says Gwen softly. "What are you doing here?"
Arthur inches closer, "I'm here to take you back to Camelot."
Gwen shakes her head, "I can't go." She looks down at her hands with a strained expression on her face. "I can't go back with you."
Arthur is confused. "What do you mean? Why can't you?"
"Of course, the school is my responsibility and I will return for its sake." She looks up at the prince briefly as he continues, "but if you've come to take me back in hopes that we may finally be together," she swallows a bit and continues with a shaky voice, "I'm sorry but it's not possible. Not anymore."
Arthur chuckles in disbelief not realizing the sudden rapid beating of his heart is due to shock. "What do you mean, Guinevere?"
Gwen realizes that speaking with the prince outside is not wise or respectful to him and so she turns around and walks back into the house – prompting the prince to follow her.
"Guinevere?" he says as he enters the small space. "Why have you changed your mind?" He continues to follow her until she stops in the corner and turns. "If it is my father, I will let him know once and for all that we're to be together whether he likes it or not."
"It's not that simple," Gwen shakes her head.
Arthur responds earnestly, "Yes, it is."
Silence as Gwen looks out the small opening on the wall.
"Guinevere," Arthur takes a step forward, "I love you… with all my heart."
Holding back tears, Gwen shakes her head as Farewell to Gwen begins to play ever so lightly. "I can't go on pretending that things will change once you are king. That people will accept us as we are. It is only a dream, Arthur. A dream that Camelot cannot afford."
Arthur listens as his eyes turn red.
"Challenges you already face are great enough, you do not need to add this to your plate. Other kingdoms, especially Camelot's allies are not going to favor us."
Arthur shakes his head, "I do not care what others think."
"Yes, you do. You should! The wellbeing of Camelot should be your first priority."
Arthur takes another step forward, "Everything will be fine when we are married, you'll see."
Gwen takes a step back, which makes Arthur realize he's fighting a losing battle. "You do not understand me, Arthur."
Arthur looks down at the floor and utters his words softly, "Please reconsider."
With tears flowing down her cheeks, Gwen shakes her head, "I cannot, I'm sorry."
Holding back his own tears, Arthur looks up at the woman in front of him.
"I will of course return to Camelot and continue to serve the kingdom, but we will have to go our separate ways."
Arthur can't help but continue to look at her.
"You're going to be a great king, Arthur. I will support you with pride as my sovereign."
Clearly hurt and feeling nothing but numbness in his heart, he turns around to exit Hunith's home.
Outside, Gwaine, Hunith and Merlin observe as the prince dashes out of the small structure. It is clear from his expression that things did not go well with the woman inside.
"Arthur?" says Merlin.
Arthur walks directly to his horse, "We're leaving." As he reaches his horse, he realizes he had been rude to the host, and so he turns and briefly looks at Hunith. "Thank you, but I'm sorry we cannot stay."
Gwaine takes it upon himself to assume that he is to stay behind and accompany Gwen back to Camelot, whenever that may be, and so Merlin quickly nods at his friend, gives his mother a farewell embrace and hurries to his horse to ride back to Camelot with the prince.
Back in Hunith's small home, Gwen watches through the small window as Arthur and Merlin depart. As the volume of the music increases, Gwen plops down on a sack of potatoes and starts to sob.
To be continued.
End Notes: First, I would like to apologize for taking so long to update. A couple of things kept me from updating sooner. I was down with the flu and later, my PC laptop decided it didn't want to open any of my word documents, especially after a recent windows update. My MAC unfortunately does not have Microsoft Office; therefore I had to come up with solutions to fix the problem on my PC. Evidenced by this update, it was successfully fixed. Not that any of this matter to you, but thought I'd try and redeem myself.
As for the story: yes, it's a cliffhanger – a two-part storyline. I'm determined to touch on Lancelot and the love-triangle as well. So, there have been and there will be quite a bit of Gwen/Arthur in these couple of stories. The next part will be a new episode. Stay tuned for 4.06.
Your reviews are always appreciated!