OKAY FIRST OF ALL I am really, really sorry that it's been so long. I kind of lost track of time.
It's the illustrious Elfpen's birthday on Friday, and this chapter is pretty much an early present. I'm really hoping to have another oneshot up, but in case that doesn't happen, this is it. Gift wrapping not included.
Spoilers: None that I can think of. However, this does take place in an AU where Arthur knows everything and everyone knows he knows, and it's all fine. If you want, think of it as a post-Due Knowledge arc fic, although it doesn't have anything to do with Due Knowledge. Enjoy!
Arthur waited until Guinevere's hand went limp in his and she began to snore her familiar, gentle, breathy snore. Then he stood and turned. One of the physicians by the door sprang forward with a bow. "Keep an eye on her until I get back," he ordered.
"Yes, sire," the man said with another bow, and the four physicians behind him echoed the words and bowed their heads. Arthur nodded at them and left the room.
He nearly ran into his captain of the guard as he did so, in his attempt to bustle around the hedgewizards hovering outside the room. "I've had the gates closed in case the assassin is still in the city," Alan began. "Several knights are already searching the city. It may not help if we're looking for someone with a magical background, but I brought in the local sorcerers to see if they could help—"
"Thank you, Alan. You are a credit to your profession," Arthur said, smiling and clapping Alan's shoulder. He nodded to the court magicians milling around. "You're all free to look around our room, but let the queen rest. I think she's had enough magic for the time being."
The sorcerers bowed and entered the royal bedchambers, already muttering spells. Arthur turned again and headed down the hall. "Sire," Alan called, jogging to catch up with the brisk pace the king set. "I'd rather you keep someone with you until the assassin is deemed no longer a threat."
Arthur sighed. "I won't be in danger now. I'm on my way to speak with the Lady le Fa. From the way she left after administering the antidote, I believe she already has an idea as to the assassin's identity."
That was a lie if there ever was one. Morgan had run from the royal chambers like a kicked dog as soon as Guinevere was out of danger, and it was no coincidence that Squire Terence had been glowering at her the entire time she worked to heal the queen. He had followed her at a discreet difference when she left, with Sir Gawain trailing after them both. If the dukely expression on Terence's face was any indicator, it was he who knew who had left poisoned candies in Guinevere's sewing room, and wasn't happy with Morgan's inaction.
"Still," Alan insisted, keeping up with the king for every step. "I would rather not let you travel alone. Sire."
"I'm only going to my nephew's chambers. I'll be fine." Alan squared his shoulders and kept following. The king paused as the footsteps behind him did not fade. He turned his head and smiled woefully at the guard. "Did I say you were a good soldier? My mistake. You're a pest." The corners of Alan's mouth curled up as Arthur continued his walk to Gawain's rooms.
The muffled sound of furious voices funneled into the hallway outside the knight's rooms. Alan raised both eyebrows and eyed Arthur as he stepped up to the door. Arthur shrugged at him. "You can go now, Alan. I'll get Gawain or Squire Terence to take me back when I'm finished speaking with Lady le Fay."
"Are you certain you'll be safe in there?"
"Ha. Shoo." The guard bowed and left. When he'd disappeared around the corner, Arthur pushed open the door and edged his way inside.
Gawain was pouring cider into a wineglass at the smaller table by the fireplace. He looked up as Arthur came in, and when he saw the king, he reached behind him and retrieved another glass from the shelf. The shouting voices were coming from behind the closed door of Gawain's bedroom. "I don't see how…" Arthur caught form Morgan's voices, followed by a very loud "NOT TO BLAME?" from Terence before the shouting became unintelligible again.
"Mummy and Daddy are fighting," Gawain said, filling the second glass with cider as Arthur sat across from him.
"So I noticed before. I'm surprised you're not halfway to Orkney by now." The king waved at Gawain when his glass was half-full. He took the glass by the stem and waved it under his nose, catching hints of apple, honey, and something flowery outside the alcohol. The fight must be serious if Gawain was breaking out the Avalonian wassail.
"Why would I be going to Orkney?"
"Hiding, nephew. It's not a secret that you tend to hide when your squire is angry."
Gawain looked insulted. He straightened in his chair and planted his hands on the tabletop. "I do not," he said. He also winced and looked nervously at his bedroom door when Morgan and Terence's voices rose again. Arthur raised an eyebrow and Gawain went rosy. "Well…it would be bad form, leaving while the queen is ill. And the gates are closed, anyway. And Terence is angry at Morgan, not me. And…and gog's blood, what do you think it is I'm doing now?" He grabbed his glass and threw back the cider in a single gulp.
Arthur chuckled as Gawain reached for the bottle again. "Hiding," he said, taking a sip from his own glass. "Why are they angry at each other?" You'd think Terence would be pleased with Morgan for saving Gwen."
A crash came from the room. Gawain winced again. "I have my suspicions, but you wouldn't like them."
"I think I know them. But it does not make sense to me—"
Gawain's door flew open and Morgan floated down the few steps into the sitting room. "None of it matters anyway, because I healed her," she said to the squire over her shoulder. Her eyes were closed, and only the hard set to her jaw revealed just how angry she was.
Terence stomping down behind her, on the other hand, looked furious. "It does matter, because you shouldn't have poisoned her in the first place!"
Gawain turned as red as his hair and sank onto the table. "Lord, have mercy," he muttered and chugged his second glass.
The king closed his eyes briefly, then cleared his throat. Both faeries turned to him, startled, then shocked. Morgan's shock lasted significantly shorter, however. Her eyes widened before she tossed her head and sat in an armchair by the fire. Terence's armchair, to boot, the cheeky wench. "I did no such thing," she insisted. She crossed her legs and folded her hands on her knees, tilting her face up. "All I did was go into my dear sister-in-law's sewing room and leave a box of sweets that might possibly have been tampered with when I was not looking."
Gawain laughed and reached for the bottle of cider again. Terence flashed a look at Arthur, who nodded and took the bottle away. It'd be a waste to down the whole thing in a single night. "Morgan, why," Arthur insisted.
"She wasn't supposed to eat them," the enchantress snapped. "I enchanted several of her ladies-in-waiting to tell her specifically not to eat them. There was a note that said don't eat these—maybe not in those exact words. I disguised myself as a crone in the garden this morning and warned her against eating any strange foods."
She shrugged. "It was a bet."
Terence massaged the bridge of his nose, then walked over and took the cider from Arthur. He took a swig straight from the bottle before locking it in the cupboard. The king frowned and shook his head slightly. "You…poisoned the queen over a bet?"
"She wasn't supposed to eat anything."
"Did you know anything about this, Terence?"
For a moment, it looked like the duke was going to open the wine cupboard again. "No," he said shortly, carefully avoiding Morgan's gaze. "No, we never explained to you, did we, sire? Morgan is out of my…jurisdiction. As long as she's careful, she has certain…rights."
Arthur's eyebrows rose and his chin slowly dropped. "Certain rights including poisoning the queen of England?"
"If she's careful…yes," he admitted through gritted teeth, now avoiding looking at Arthur.
Morgan made an unladylike grumbling sound deep in her throat. "I didn't poison anyone!"
"Morgan, on that point, you have no argument and you will be silent," Terence snapped, and his voice was somehow amplified through the room, to the point of booming, without him raising his voice at all. Morgan wilted and stared bitterly at the fire. The knight chuckled into his sleeve at the sound, having long since buried his face into his arms on the table. Arthur tilted his head curiously. He had never before heard what Gawain had called the boy's duke voice.
Terence drew a long breath, kneading at the bridge of his nose again. When next he spoke, his voice returned to its usual gentleness. "The queen is safe, right?"
"Sleeping," Arthur said. "Are the hedgewizards currently ripping apart my rooms for the poor servants to clean going to find it free of all magical ensnarement? Are the physicians examining those sweets going to find the poison was not lethal after all?"
"The lethality of the poison I used is under debate," Morgan said, glancing at Terence out of the corner of her eye. "I never counted on her actually eating them. The bet was supposed to be for a fun trick, a good game. I thought five warnings against something would be enough to dissuade even the stupides—" She cut herself off at the look of rising anger on Arthur's face.
He had held his temper in check until this point, knowing Morgan and Terence had held some measure of control over the situation. He hadn't realized just how much control Morgan had. Terence spoke again before he could work himself up into a good rage. "For a faery, perhaps, or someone with experience in magic. Guinevere is not, and has none, and she is not to blame for the consequences, even if she was warned." He crossed his arms. "I've heard your warnings before, and there is very little clear about them, no matter what you may say."
"So I failed to warn for a purely human mind?"
"You failed to recognize her humanity. You've never done well working with those without a scrap of magic in them. Or those with, for that matter."
Morgan stood, smoothing her skirt and turning toward Terence for the first time since leaving Gawain's room. "Honestly, I don't know how you stand it."
The duke sighed as she walked across the room, but it was Arthur who watched her leave. "Morgan," he called as she opened the door. She looked at him over her shoulder. "If I were you, I would leave court now, and I wouldn't return for quite a long time," he said quietly, and although he couldn't hear it, his voice was booming the way Terence's had just moments before. Gawain was laughing into his arms again, hearing the regality of tone his squire had learned from the king.
"That," Terence said as Morgan blinked, "is a good example of a proper warning."
She scowled at them both before whirling away, leaving the door wide open. The squire rolled his eyes and walked over to shut it after her. "Welcome to the world of faery politics," he said to Arthur, suddenly sounding exhausted.
"I hope it isn't always like that."
Gawain barked a laugh, pulling his head up to slump back in his chair. Terence frowned at him, and the empty wineglass in front of him. "How much cider did you have? It's not that potent."
"I'm not drunk, lad, I'm as nervous as a spooked deer," the knight snorted, shaking his head. "Who broke what in my room? I want to know which of you lost it and threw something, and where it was thrown."
"You'll just have to wonder, then. I'll clean it up before you go to bed."
Arthur stood, finished his quarter-glass of cider in two gulps (which was a shame, it really was good stuff) and left the glass. "Well, gentlemen, now that I know Gwen is fine, I have a bedside to anguish at until my lady awakes. Can you spare Terence for a bit, nephew? I promised Alan I'd have someone walk me back, and I don't trust your legs just now."
Gawain chuckled at the jests, but recognized the concern in the king's voice. "Go on, then," he said, waving toward the door. "Just keep your voices down if you're going to talk state secrets on the way."
Terence shook his head as he opened the door and let Arthur take the lead. When Arthur stopped just outside the rooms, the squire nearly walked into him. "How do you stand it?" he asked quietly.
He shrugged in response, then offered up a sad, crooked smile when he realized that wouldn't be enough. "Don't tell anyone else. Sometimes—almost never, really, but that's still sometimes—I ask myself the same question."
Happy 21st, Elfy! We must enjoy these two months where we're the same age. (also, 21 is much, much better than 20 in my experience, although it does make you pretty old)