A/N: This is set some time after series 1 episode 12. I wrote it largely because I thought we never got enough of an insight into what losing her father meant to Gwen - she just grew into a woman between series 1 and 2 without an explanation... Considering how much he meant to her, and how difficult it was to be a woman on your own then, I imagine Gwen's life was extremely hard. I just felt like giving her a voice... I hope you think I did her justice :)
Gwen wakes up at the same time she has always woken up at; that first second of the morning when it isn't quite morning. When night still hovers thickly in the air, waiting for the sunshine to get a move on.
She smiles, because she hasn't remembered yet.
Shifting slightly onto her arched, aching back, she turns to recite her peculiar dream to her father; worn hands stroking the space beside her where he ought to be in confusion, searching… Where is he?
And then the same realisation that shocks her into getting up every single day hits her: he's dead.
She doesn't sit up with a scream or a start; she merely hauls herself up, and prepares for another hollow day, as her hands run over each other, seeking comfort that they cannot offer.
Bare feet slide out across the cold, wooden floor, attracting splinters that go unnoticed as she sets about preparing food in a pattern so rehearsed her mind is left free to wander as her hands repeat the same empty movements. Did it hurt? Did he suffer? She gasps, wincing slightly, imagining the moment of impact, as the sword slices through him, the seconds before he dies surrounded by uncaring faces…
It doesn't do to dwell on such thoughts…
It doesn't do… She agrees with a sigh, sinking down onto the same spot in the bench, leaving his place empty as always. But what else is there to dwell on?
The unwelcome tears slide down into her breakfast as she reminds herself that she needs one bowl, not two. One bowl…
Practised fingers lace up her bodice, which she straightens a little, before slamming the door shut behind her.
She collects herself; leaning on the door, fingers grasping at the handle. Does she struggle to leave because she fears her trembling legs simply will not hold her for a day, or is it because she does not think she can bear another day of the mindless, menial tasks at the castle? Or is it really because she cannot bear another day of living?
Nonetheless, her feet seem to make their mind up, and on she goes…
Guinevere leaves her tears behind her, in that cottage, for the day, as she does every day. Because life goes on.
Her lady lies, unsleeping, staring at the ceiling in a fashion that worries Gwen.
My Lady, are you unwell?
Oh, Gwen… I am always unwell…
Have you not been sleeping?
Do I ever sleep?
Was that the conversation they had? Well… It was the gist of it. Much the same conversation every morning, as Gwen gently tends to Morgana, easing her out of bed; her fingers fastening their second corset of the day.
They talk as Gwen runs the silver brush through familiar brown curls.
It is largely of castle gossip.
If Morgana sees the vacant expression of her maid in the mirror, she does not comment.
Eventually the topic of Uther is broached.
Gwen stops. Literally, stops. For a second, the entity that is Guinevere is simply put on some kind of cosmic pause. Her hand, clutching the ornate hairbrush, hovers in her mistress' hair; her eyes freeze intently on the patch of floor they had been observing; her breathing is halted and even her heart seems to refuse to beat.
And then Gwen flushes, and smiles unconvincingly. Is Morgana talking? Probably, Morgana is usually talking. Gwen only ever seems to be nodding and smiling…
She is awfully good at nodding and smiling.
When Gaius grasps her hand meaningfully, and asks her if she is well, she nods and smiles; when Merlin passes her in the corridors, and his eyes search hers for some indication of a problem, she nods and smiles; when Arthur tracks her down as she slowly weaves her way down the crumbling servants' staircase before heading home, inquiring as to her health, she nods and smiles.
Why? She ponders, as she offers the same meaningless nods and smiles to nameless, faceless friends as she returns home. Because she hates the words. The words betray her. When she speaks, there is a risk that she will say too much; reveal too much… They cannot know. She does not wish to be a burden…
Reaching that same door, she pauses, her hand holding the handle, almost a perfect imitation of herself this morning.
She does not want to go in.
She wants to be inside that cottage even less than she wants to be left to the drudgery of a day at the castle, because the emptiness of her home is inescapable. The stark, blank nothingness of the gap where someone else ought to be is just too painful.
But what else can she do?
So she goes in.
Withered fingers remove coarse clothing in the same order it is always removed; food is prepared with the same air of detachment it is always prepared; thoughts that sting at her soul are pushed back to that same corner of her mind, left to claw away as she pretends they have been forgotten.
Who is she pretending for?
Why, for her father, of course.
Who else is there?
Sinking down onto the mattress that once smelled of her cooking, rust and a blacksmith's sweat and now smells only of bland lavender, she muses to herself that she ought soon to replace the bed with a smaller one.
She pulls the covers closer around her, anticipating her favourite moment of every day: that blissful ignorance when she forgets what has happened. Just for a second…
Her first genuine smile of the day flits across her lips, as memories of her father she had feared were fading dance back to life behind her eyelids.