St. Swithin's Masque

"Your pardon, sir," the young woman said after she bumped into Gaius as she hurried by carrying an armful of sheets. She had turned the corner and was out of sight before the court physician could respond. The whole castle had been this way for several days. It was the upcoming St. Swithin's Masque, the big July event at Camelot, that had the entire castle and village in a tizzy. There would be food aplenty in the afternoon, then after a three to four hour break, there would be the Masque with dancing into the night.

King Uther had relaxed the number of deer and boar to be taken from the forest to ensure that there was enough for everyone. The castle's bakeries had been going full tilt to make small, individual loaves of bread, tarts and cookies. And the kitchens were preparing meats, pies, and sauces. Several deer and boar, slowly turned on spits by young boys, cooked gradually throughout the night.

The villagers had their own festivities. King Uther donated three deer and five boar for their feasting, as well as paid for all the baking and cooking. In the castle's arena, because of its floor of sand, several fires and spits were set up to slow roast the venison and pork overnight, which would then be cut up and served. As at the castle, village bakeries had been going all out to prepare for the feast. Long tables were set up outdoors throughout the village. The families would dine with friends and relations al fresco. Camelot – village and castle – smelled of fresh baked bread, roasting meat and tangy sauce. The village dancing would take place on the practice lawn that Arthur and his knights used. Whereas the castle would have professional musicians, the village procured homegrown minstrels to provide the music.

On the day before St. Swithin's Masque, in the castle, merchants had been coming and going delivering newly made garments and masks for the noble inhabitants. Most of the servants had to make their own clothes and masks, but if they were lucky, they might be given cast-offs from their higher-ups. However, some had saved their coin so that they could hire a semi-professional mask maker. However, highly skilled tailors and craftsmen constructed the outfits and masks for the king and his court. Since most masks covered the whole face, part of the game the court played for St. Swithin's Masque was to keep their mask identities secret, but it never really worked. Everyone knew that the grandest outfit and mask would be worn by the king, the second grandest by the crown prince, and the most elegant lady would be the king's ward. It always ended up that way.

Certain rules and protocols went with St. Swithin's Masque. For instance, a woman could ask any man to dance, even the king, and he couldn't decline. All she had to do is walk up to him and curtsy. However, if two or more women curtsied at the same time, it was his choice. A man could ask any woman to dance by simply asking her, but she could decline the offer. The climax of the St. Swithin's Masque was the unmasking. The musicians played a particular piece, "Reveal to Me Your Smile," which had a pause where all would unmask. But also, the woman had to permit herself to be kissed by the man who was partnering her at that moment. Then the music and the dancing would continue.

The Crown Prince's manservant was carefully putting away his master's new outfit in the wardrobe while Arthur gleefully tried on the new gold mask. The head of a lion sat comfortably on his head with hanks of blond flax fibers covering the back and framing the face to form the lion's mane.

"You are not to tell anyone what my character will be, especially Morgana," he told Merlin. "This is going to be a surprise for her."

"Of course, my lord," Merlin replied. "Not a dicky bird. And thank you for inviting me to attend the castle's Masque," he added. Normally, the staff went to the Masque held in the village.

"Think nothing of it," Arthur said.

"No, really, I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. The village Masque is fun, but it always gets a bit rowdy late in the evening."

"Well, you've earned the invitation, Merlin," Arthur said. "You've done good work these last two years."

"Thank you, my lord."

"Good. Now, your outfit, Merlin," Arthur said.

"I am not wearing that hat again," Merlin insisted.

"No, no, you won't have to," Arthur agreed. "However, you will have to wear the rest of the official Camelot livery during the feast tomorrow. And personally, I don't see what so bad about that hat. I thought you looked rather dashing in it."

"It did not!" retorted Merlin. "I looked like an ass in it."

"Well, never mind the hat, I was talking about your outfit for the Masque, anyway. I've got something for you to wear," said the prince as Merlin watched him apprehensively. Arthur went to another wardrobe and brought out a somewhat dusty, definitely wrinkled outfit in red (what else?) with the mask of a wolf.

"You can wear one of my old masque outfits," Arthur said generously.

"Thank you, my lord, you are too kind," Merlin said as he took the outfit. "Will there be anything else?"

"Have you've finished polishing my boots?" he ventured.

"Morgana could do her hair in them," Merlin replied.

"Well, then, you have to rest of the day free to whip this into shape for you to wear tomorrow. Now, off you go," Arthur said cheerfully.

On his way back to his quarters, Merlin met Gwen.

"Hi Merlin, what have you got there?" she asked him, eyeing the outfit he was carrying.

"It's one of Arthur's old masque outfits. He'd graciously allowing me to wear it," Merlin explained.

"How noble of him," she quipped as she examined it. "I think I remember it, maybe three or four years ago."

"Oh great," Merlin said. "I don't know what he expects me to do with it. It's filthy."

"Well, I could try to clean…." Gwen started.

"No, you'll have your hands full with Morgana's outfit as well as your own," Merlin interrupted. "But thanks for offering. By the way, what will you be wearing? A Morgana hand-me-down?"

"No. Morgana's actually had someone in the village make me an outfit as well as her. Since she invited me to the castle's Masque, she said I was to have my own new outfit," said a pleased Gwen. "So, you'll see it when everyone else does." And with a coy smile, went on her way.

"Ah, Merlin," Gaius said as his ward entered. "I was afraid you'd gotten trampled in the hallways. I almost was. Anyway, there's a package here for you."

"Fantastic!" Merlin said with enthusiasm. "I think it's my masque outfit."

"And who would be sending you a masque outfit?" Gaius asked.

"It's from my mother," Merlin replied. "Two years ago I got some fabic and stuff with my wages and sent it to her so she could make a masque outfit for me."

"I don't recall you wearing anything new last year," said Gaius.

"I wore the official ceremonial robes of the servants of Camelot with that damned silly hat," Merlin said. "My outfit wasn't ready then. But now it is and I plan to enjoy myself at the Masque tomorrow. By the way, what will you be wearing, Gaius?"

"I will wear the same thing I always wear," Gaius said. "It saves a lot of time and expense."

"Well, I'm going to try on my outfit," said Merlin and vanished into his room.

St. Swithin's Day was sunny, not too overbearingly warm for July, with a pleasant breeze to take the edge off the humidity. The morning air smelled of roasting meat around Camelot. Periodically, a stomach could be heard to growl. The castle's chief cook, Aurelius went to the arena to check on the spitted venison and pork, to make certain it was fully cooked. The king didn't want his people getting ill from underdone meat. Village cooks were ladling sauce over the pork with large spoons while a cherry sauce was ladled over the venison. The cooks stepped back as Aurelius walked up the roasts. Drawing a very sharp small knife, the chief cook sliced off bits of each carcass to taste. Then he took a longer knife to cut deep into the meats to see that they were thoroughly cooked. Aurelius pronounced the venison and pork delicious and fit for consumption, and went back to his kitchens in the castle.

The smell of freshly prepared food was driving everyone in the castle crazy. Many had eaten very lightly the day before to make sure there was stomach space for the feast, and no one had breakfast this morning. The servants feasted in shifts. Those assigned to clean up and move tables out to create a dance floor ate early, when the rest of the court did, but in the kitchens. Those serving at table would eat during the break. Gaius as court physician would have a seat at a table, but Merlin as the crown prince's servant would not eat until later as would Morgana's servant, Gwen.

The Feast in Camelot castle and Camelot village began about Noon with the sound of horns trumpeting the hour. The inhabitants of the village walked to the arena and lined up with plates in hand to receive a slice of venison and a slice of boar. Even the children received slices of meat.

The inhabitants of the castle made their way to the Grand Hall. Gwen was standing behind her mistress at the high table, waiting for the king. Gwen was dressed in a yellow dress of fine linen with a brown leather belt and brown leather shoes. Morgana was in a dark pink gown of silk with a deep scooped neck decorated in embroidery of blue and green flowers. Her belt was a gold chain of large links from which her chatelaine hung. Merlin followed his master into the hall and stood behind him at the high table. Arthur was in a red shirt of silk and black linen pants with shiny brown leather boots. Merlin was in the official ceremonial robes of the servants of Camelot, but true to his word, Arthur did not make him wear the hat.

Trumpets sounded as King Uther entered the Grand Hall, everyone stood. The king acknowledged people with smiles and waves. Taking the center seat at the high table, which was very throne-like, he greeted his son and his ward who sat on either side of him. After all had wiped their hands on wet cloths brought to them by serving boys, the food began to be brought in. There were four courses. The salad course consisted of large bowls of cutup lettuce, baby spinach, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, boiled eggs, and cold chicken. The only dressing was oil and vinegar. The meat course was the slow roasted venison and boar, but there was added chicken, turkey and game fowl. And there were several sauces for each meat, and several different cheeses. The fish course came from the streams and lakes - salmon, trout, and eel – with their own sauces. Mead, ale and wine helped wash everything down. In due course, the feasters were nearing their fill as dessert, consisting of cakes, pies, and cookies, was brought in. Many took pieces back to their rooms to snack on later. When the prince saw that most had reached their limit, he stood and addressed the hall.

"My lords and ladies, pray charge your glasses and be upstanding," he said. Servants hurried to fill empty vessels and the assembly stood. "I give you our most noble, generous, and kindly king, and my father, Uther Pendragon, King of Albion."

"Uther Pendragon, King of Albion," the feasters repeated with raised goblets and drank the toast.

Their sovereign nodded and smiled to his subjects in acceptance of their toast to him, then he rose and left the hall. Everyone left the Grand Hall to the servants who had to set it up for the Masque. Servants who had waited tables went to the kitchens for their share of the feast and the noble personages returned to their quarters for a couple of hours rest before they dressed for the evening event. Merlin and Gwen went to the kitchens where they found the staff in line for the buffet that was set up in the small courtyard off the rear door to the kitchens. Merlin and Gwen sat on the grass together, eating and discussing the upcoming Masque.

"So, what will Arthur be wearing tonight?" Gwen asked. "You know I won't tell Morgana."

"Sorry, Gwen, I promised Arthur I wouldn't tell anyone, not even you," Merlin replied. "But I can tell you it'll be different. Well, different for him."

"Well, that sounds intriguing," Gwen surmised. "I know, he's wearing a dress," she joked. Merlin simply looked at her and raised his eyebrows.

"Merlin, Arthur is not really wearing a dress, is he?" Gwen said, just a bit concerned.

"I'm not saying one way or the other," Merlin said. "You'll just have to wait and see for yourself."

"Alright, I can wait," she said. "Well, were you able to clean the outfit Arthur gave you for tonight?"

"Nope, I didn't bother," he answered.

"Well, what will you be wearing tonight if not that?" Gwen asked.

"You'll see," he said slyly.

It was still fairly light out when Merlin returned to his quarters. He tip-toed in quietly, because he knew Gaius would already be on his bed resting. The court physician was lightly snoring as Merlin slipped by into his room. He could use a couple hours sleep with all the food he'd eaten. He didn't have to worry about oversleeping. The castle's timekeepers would see to that. In a tower chamber, windowless to prevent breezes, they kept careful watch on the time candles – long tapers that were marked in intervals to indicate the passing hours. Each hour on the hour, criers would walk through certain parts of the castle crying the hour.

Merlin lay naked in his bed with his eyes closed. It was a bit too warm to wear a nightshirt or to be covered in a sheet. He'd made sure the door was locked. The window was open and luckily the wind was in the right direction for a breeze blew through the window and across Merlin's bare body. His tummy protruded slightly from his hefty meal. Merlin was excited about the upcoming castle Masque, but a full stomach made sleep come quickly.

Presently, the criers could be heard calling out the eighth hour after the noon day. To make sure the heavy sleepers were roused, they banged portable gongs as they went through the corridors. Merlin stirred and sat up. The sun had gone below the horizon but there was still light in the sky. He had prepared for the evening by having a bucket of water ready for washing. He got a rag and cleaned his body. It helped to wake him more fully and felt refreshing. Then Merlin anointed himself with a fragrant ointment Gaius concocted for him. He made especially sure to clean his teeth and fingernails. He would be dancing with high-born ladies this evening. Lastly, he sucked on mint leaves to freshen his breath. Merlin went to his clothes chest and pulled out the new outfit his mother had made him. She'd had two years to work on it, in between her usual farm chores, and she'd done an excellent job.

The outfit consisted of pants and doublet in fine black linen. The tunic had long sleeves and closed down the front with braided loops and covered buttons. The black braided trim was also used down the sleeves and around the neck. His mother even added a braided stripe down the outside seam of the pants. The mask was felt painted black and had been molded to his whole face. He'd had to sit for that when he brought his mother the linen. A falcon was perched firmly on his head and real feathers covered the stuffed body of the bird who's wings were raised and swept back in the "stoop" position.

"How do I look?" Merlin asked Gaius as he posed in the doorway.

"Very impressive," the physician replied, dressed in his usual long blue tunic. "You look like a noble. Be careful to remember your place, tonight," he admonished. "You may have been invited by the prince, but you're still just a servant."

"Gaius, why do you always seem to find the dark side of things. This is a party. We're supposed to enjoy ourselves," Merlin said.

"Be that as it may, do not get above your station," Gaius insisted. "Now, where's my mask?"

"Gaius, are you ever going to wear something different?" Merlin questioned as his friend and mentor picked up a strip of black cloth with two eye holes cut into it and tied it around his face.

"This is sufficient for my needs," Gaius answered. "Well, I'm ready, let's go."

The Great Hall had been decorated with streamers and banners, and in the gallery above, musicians tuned their instruments. Since this gig would be a long one, there were two quartets that would each do two hour shifts. The timekeepers provided marked candles to keep everyone honest. Many of the court had assembled when Merlin and Gaius walked in and some were wondering who the falcon was when an old friend of Gaius' came up to them.

"Geoffrey," the physician greeted. "Gaius," replied the historian and librarian. He, too, wore only a simple black cloth across his eyes. Since the two friends would talk about things he wasn't interested in, Merlin took a walk about the room. Several women eyed him up and down as he walked by and he smiled quietly to himself. The last of the desserts was being put out on a table next to the one with the remainder of the beer, mead and ale. Since Merlin was famous for not being able to hold his liquor, he drank the mead which had barely started to ferment and was more like punch.

A flute and harp were playing simple tunes as everyone waited for one of the royal personages to appear. Presently, a magnificent man entered the Great Hall dressed in green and gold. Arthur's suede pants and velvet doublet were decorated with gold thread embroidery. The full face gold mask with a lion's head on the crown added to his height. Arthur was parading about the room greeting his fellow knights when a young man in black came up to him.

"Your highness, I'd like to thank you again for allowing me to attend the Masque," he said. Arthur stared at him for a moment.

"Merlin? Is that you?" asked Arthur in astonishment. "Where did you get that outfit?"

"My mother made this for me, my lord," Merlin replied. "I think she did a good job."

"I dare say," said Arthur. "Where's the outfit I gave you?"

"It's in my room, sire. Do you want it back?" Merlin asked.

"No, that's alright. You can keep it," Arthur said. "Well, go and enjoy yourself."

"Thank you, my lord," Merlin said and off he went. Arthur watched him go. Merlin was full a surprises, he thought.

As Arthur stood with his knights, Morgana and Gwen entered. They were breathtaking. Morgana was a phoenix in red and gold, and Gwen was a peacock in blue and green. Each wore a full face mask with the appropriate bird on top. Morgana's phoenix was adorned with red and yellow ostrich feathers to represent flames. Gwen's peacock had blue and green ostrich feathers and peacock eye feathers. Heads turned as they progressed into the Great Hall. Since it was plain that the phoenix was Morgana, the general assumption was that the woman with her had to be her maid, Gwen.

"Ladies, you look magnificent," Arthur said as he came up to them. While Morgana accepted the compliment as her due, he guessed Gwen was blushing under her mask. If she was going to rub shoulder with her betters, she needed to learn how to appreciate a compliment. "Shall we get some refreshments," said Arthur and offered an arm to each lady.

At the drinks table, they met Merlin who was on his fourth slightly alcoholic mead. And though he wasn't tipsy, Merlin did feel rather nice. "Gwen, Morgana, you look amazing," he said, forgetting to use Morgana's title.

"Thank you, Merlin," Morgana said. "You look rather dashing yourself. Are you enjoying yourself?"

"Oh yes, the mead's really good," he replied happily. "When does the dancing start?"

"As soon as my father arrives," said Arthur.

"I think he's here now," Merlin said as he looked at the hall's entrance. There stood a man in red velvet with gold embroidery and gold buttons. His full face mask was also gold and it rose into a crown topped with a bouquet of red ostrich feathers. His boots were red leather. It was indeed the king. The court applauded as he entered and he waved back. Uther Pendragon strode up to his son and his ward.

"You look incredible, sire," Morgana said. "It suits you right well."

"Thank you, Morgana. You look lovely, my dear. And who is this?" the king asked.

"This Gwen, sire. You didn't recognize her?" said Morgana.

"No, I didn't," he said with a tight smile. "Well, you look lovely too."

"Thank you, your majesty," Gwen replied with a curtsy.

"And this is Merlin, Father," Arthur said. "His mother made the outfit."

"Very nice," king said, still with a tight smile. "Your mother appears to be quite talented with a needle."

"Thank you, your majesty," Merlin said with a bow. Just then, the first group of minstrels in the gallery began to play. "Shall we dance, Gwen?" Merlin said. They bowed and curtsied to the king and he led her to the dance floor.

"Arthur, Morgana, why are your servants here?" Uther asked, the smile gone.

"We invited them, Father," Arthur answered. "We felt they deserved the privilege as a reward for their hard work."

"I see. Well, I hope this doesn't become a habit," he warned and left them.

"See, I told you it would be alright," Morgana said. "Arthur, you shouldn't be so afraid of your father."

"I am not afraid of my father, I just know how he feels about protocol," the prince said.

Changing the subject, Morgana observed, "Well, I must say, they seem to be enjoying themselves. Merlin is quite a good dancer."

Arthur hadn't noticed before, but Merlin was a good dancer. Where'd he learn to dance? Gwen, for her part, carried herself with the confidence and ease of a high-born lady. Not to be outdone by a mere servant, Arthur asked Morgana to dance. They joined the couples line for a pavane. It was a slow stately court dance with simple steps and used to allow the ladies to show off their finery. This was followed by a couple of bransles, another pavane and three almains. Then the musicians played a galliard which was a sprightly dance with five somewhat intricate steps to a phrase. Merlin and Arthur had no trouble keeping up with the music and traded step phrase for step phrase. When the music ended, there was a short break as the next group of minstrels set up.

"Merlin, I don't know how you can be so adept on the dance floor and so ungainly on the hunting field," Arthur said to his servant.

"Well, my lord, maybe if there was music on the hunting field, I'd wouldn't be so bad," Merlin jested.

"I'll see what can be done the next time we go hunting," Arthur retorted. Then he held his hand out to Morgana.

She declined. "I would like to change partners for a while, if you please," she told him.

"But my father expects us to be dancing should they play the unmasking music," Arthur said.

"Well, we can't always get what we want, now can we?" Morgana asked.

"Suit yourself," Arthur replied and went to ask the sister of one of his knights. Immediately, another knight sort to partner the king's ward.

"I'm going to speak to Gaius a moment," Merlin told Gwen.

"Fine. It'll give me a chance to speak to Arabella," Gwen countered.

As Gwen went to her friend who was tending the dessert table, Merlin strolled over to his mentor who was still talking with Geoffrey.

"Are we having a good time, gentlemen?" Merlin asked them.

"I would say the evening has been quite pleasant thus far," said Geoffrey. "You appear to be having an enjoyable evening," Geoffrey said.

"Yes, I saw you dancing Gwen," Gaius said.

"She a very good dancer. I suppose that comes with practicing with Lady Morgan," Merlin said.

"I'm glad to see you've listened to me and haven't overstepped your bounds," said Gaius. "See that you continue to do so."

"And why should I do that?" Merlin asked with a sly smile. "It's St. Swithin's Masque." And with that Merlin walked over to Lady Edith Rose, a distant cousin of the king, and asked her to dance. Much to Gaius' horror, she accepted.

The music and dancing continued on into the night. Merlin danced with two duchesses, three vicountesses and a marchioness. Occasionally, he led Gwen in a turn around the floor. Likewise, Arthur and Morgana also danced with different partners. Periodically, Uther was even coaxed onto the floor. Before long, Uther decided it was time to allow the older members of his court to go to their beds, for no one would leave before the unmasking. Giving a signal to the minstrels in the gallery, they played the introduction to "Reveal to Me Your Smile". People hurried to be with partners they wished to unmask and kiss. Seven women scurried up to King Uther and curtsied. He chose one and led her out to the floor.

As if by magic, the court opened a path between Arthur and Morgana. He gave her a smirk; she gave him a haughty look. Then, to everyone's surprise, Arthur walked over to Gwen and offered her his hand. She stepped back, embarrassed to be singled out, but he would not leave, so she reluctantly took his hand. Although it was her right to refuse to dance with any man, even the king, Gwen felt that she couldn't turn down the Crown Prince of Albion. In the moment of stunned silence, before any man could move or react, Merlin was offering his hand to Morgana, who accepted with a gracious smile. Uther was not entirely pleased with this situation, but he would not make a scene. After all, it was only a dance.

This particular dance was meant to be flirty with the women teasing the men. The couples circled each other, stepped to and fro, side to side, and turned in place. Finally, the pause was played. Actually, it wasn't a silent pause, because the harps continued playing to keep the tempo. The women removed the face masks of their partners, then the men removed the masks of the ladies.

Morgana and Merlin smiled at each other as they kissed. Lips touched and held the moment. It was a soft kiss, but unlike any Merlin had felt. He sensed that there was more there if he but lingered a heartbeat longer. His hands began to move to her arms and as hers slid to his shoulders. Morgana pulled him closer to her as the eyes of Gaius and Geoffrey widened. "Merlin" her mind said with passion. "Morgana" his replied hungrily. They continued the embrace until the sound of the king's voice broke the spell and parted them. Blue eyes stared into blue eyes as they tried to fathom what just occurred.

Gwen had carefully removed Arthur's mask to see him smiling down at her. He had removed her mask and she looked up at him momentarily then looked down in embarrassment. He lifted her chin up to his face and kissed her lips….and continued the kiss. It felt like home. His arms slowly enclosed her, unconscious of the staring court. Gwen felt her body fold into his. It all felt familiar, natural.

"Arthur!" The sound of his father's authoritative voice pulled the couple apart and out of their reverie. It was then that the two couples took note of each other. The minstrels picked up the tune and continued playing as the company completed the dance.

King Uther, who had merely removed his partner's mask and gallantly kissed her hand, was definitely not at all amused with the situation. He did not like the way the couples looked at each other and he was definitely going to have serious words with his son and his ward tomorrow. Still not wanting to cause any more trouble than there already was, Uther smiled, waved, and took his leave when the dance ended.

"The Masque continues," he ordered on his way out of the Great Hall. "I will let them have this night," he thought to himself, "but they will hear from me in the morning."

With a troubled look and a worried sigh, Gaius bid a good night to Geoffrey and returned to his quarters. As he walked through the corridors, he contemplated how he would discuss this occurrence with his young charge. It was better than thinking about how he would discuss this with the king.

Merlin and Morgana stayed through two more dances before she asked him to escort her to her room. They said good night to Arthur and Gwen and left the Great Hall. Neither spoke as they went through the corridors; neither knew quite what to say. At her chamber door, Morgana turned to say something, anything to Merlin, but he spoke first.

"Let it rest, my lady. Let it rest until tomorrow. Sleep well, Morgana," he said gently and kissed her hand before he left her.

Merlin returned to the rooms he shared with Gaius, to find the physician awake and sitting at his table with hands folded and a questioning look on his face. Merlin came in and as he passed the table he said, "Good night, Gaius," went into his room and closed the door. Gaius sighed heavily and went to bed.

When Arthur and Gwen left the Great Hall, the court bowed and curtsied to their crown prince, then gathered in small knots to gossip about the night's unexpected events. Arthur escorted Gwen to Morgana's rooms where she would assist her mistress in preparing for bed. At the door, Arthur caressed Gwen's cheek and kissed her hand.

"Good night, Gwen," he said gently.

"Good night, my….." Arthur gave her a queer look. "Arthur," she finished. He smiled and left.

Gwen went in to find Morgana sitting at her window. "My lady," Gwen offered with a curtsy.

"Gwen," Morgana returned as she stood.

The two women stared silently at each other. Then the stares slowly melted into smiles and the smiles into laughter as they rushed toward each other to embrace.

Morgana: "I didn't think he….."

Gwen: "I never guessed I.…."

Morgana: "I had no idea….."

Gwen: "I never thought….."

It was shorthand, but each knew what the other meant. They both understood that their futures now had the distinct possibility of being very different to what had been intended.

On opposite sides of the castle, two men lay awake in their beds, staring at the ceiling. Well, one was staring at a ceiling and the other was staring at the canopy over his bed. Both were considering the consequences their actions.

"Father will not be happy about this," Arthur said to himself. "I'll probably hear it tomorrow."

"Gaius will not be happy about this," Merlin thought. "I'll probably hear it tomorrow.

The sun rose to a cloudless July morning sky, but there were clouds of apprehension hovering over four people and a tiny thunderhead over a fifth. Merlin stayed in bed as long as he dared, but he had certain duties to eventually perform, so he swung his legs out of bed and sat on the edge. That Gaius hadn't yet come storming in was a good thing, he supposed, but explanations would be demanded and reproofs given. Reluctantly, the young wizard washed, dressed and went to have a tough breakfast.

Gaius was spooning porridge into a bowl when Merlin finally came out of his room.

"Good morning, Gaius," Merlin said, trying to sound neutral.

"Good morning, Merlin," the physician replied, equally as neutral.

Merlin sat down and began eating. Gaius sat down and began eating. Merlin braced himself for the coming admonishment, but there was only silence. After several minutes, Merlin couldn't stand it any longer.

"Gaius, about last night….." he began nervously.

"What about last night?" Gaius asked calmly.

"You're not going to yell at me? You're not going to tell me how I've wildly overstepped my station in life?" Merlin questioned.

"It appears I don't have to," Gaius said patiently. "It appears you realize what you've done and you're prepared to face the consequences should there be any."

"I have don't anything wrong," Merlin said.

"I haven't said you did, however King Uther may feel differently," the physician warned. "Still, it was only a masque and at St. Swithin's Masque, certain liberties may be overlooked, even by the king. For your sake, I hope so."

Uther Pendragon paced about his room, trying to decide how to handle the previous night's imprudence. He was sure his son was expecting a roaring tirade, but Uther calmly decided to try a bit of reverse logic. He would not make a big deal about what happened. He would laugh it off as the St. Swithin's Masque liberty that it was. Nothing had changed. He was getting upset over a bit of youthful silliness. Uther decided to go see his son and relieve him of his impending doom.

Like his father, Arthur Pendragon paced about his room, trying to decide how to handle the previous night's imprudence. Well, he was certain his father would think it imprudent, but he felt he'd done nothing wrong. But there was something he had to be sure of, so he left his quarters and went to confront Morgana.

Morgana sat at her dressing table putting on earrings. She had excused Gwen from her morning duties and dressed herself. Presently there was a knocking at her door. "Come in," she called and Arthur entered the room.

"Arthur," Morgana said surprised as she stood.

"Morgana, about last night," Arthur began as he stood beside her.

"Yes, last night," Morgana echoed.

"Things happened that I…that no one expected, I think," Arthur said.

"I certainly hadn't," Morgana said.

"In light of that, I think we need to sort things out and we need to be totally honest with one another," said Arthur. He took her in his arms and kissed her, deeply. Morgana let herself be kissed, deeply. It was the first time they'd ever really kissed each other. Slowly they parted with eyes closed. Then, simultaneously, they burst into laughter.

"Oh-my-god!" cried Morgana, "What-was-that?"

"That was awful!" Arthur exclaimed. "Amazingly bad!"

"It was like kissing…." Morgana started.

"…..my sister," Arthur finished.

"Well, Uther always said he treated me like a daughter," Morgana giggled. "I guess the joke's on him."

"Morgana, I adore you, you know I do and I always will, but I don't love you in that way."

"I understand completely, Arthur, and it's alright. I will always love you and care for you as I would a brother."

They embraced again, laughing, completely comfortable in the new understanding of their relationship. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door and Uther came in.

"Ah, there you are, Arthur," the king greeted. "It pleases me to see that you've both put last night behind you. Good, good, no need to get in a snit over silly St. Swithin's Masque dalliances."

Uther patted his son on the back and kissed his ward's forehead. "Well, I'm off on a hunt, care to join me?" he asked.

"No thank you, Father, I have things to do here," Arthur replied.

"As have I, my lord," Morgana said.

"Very well, I will see you two at dinner tonight," the king smiled and off he went.

When Arthur and Morgana thought it safe to do so, they dissolved into laughter.

THE END