Loholt shifted uncomfortably as he sat in his place at the round table. His newly washed clothes were itchy and uncomfortable and the navy blue jacket he was wearing smelt faintly of vomit from the last feast Camelot had hosted. Shivering as he relived that night, Loholt scratched at the irritating crown on his head.
"Stop fidgeting Loholt!" Gwen cried in exasperation. Loholt shot a wary glance to his mother who was sitting on his left, the king on her other side.
"Sorry Mother." He mumbled, managing to rearrange the crown one last time before slumping back in his chair, knocking the dratted thing off his head in the process. Gwen sighed. Mumbling his apologies, Loholt stood up and moved to crawl behind his chair to see where the crown had fallen. As he searched he heard the conversation above continue.
"So was Luna excited about tonight?" Arthur asked.
"It's hard to tell really, she doesn't say much of her opinion." Freya replied. Merlin coughed purposefully, causing Freya to continue hurriedly, "But I'm sure she was! She loves birthday feasts." Loholt rolled his eyes. At least that made one of them. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, Loholt saw a gleam of gold beneath the table.
"Well, she's reached a milestone now." Arthur said as Loholt stretched himself out and wriggled underneath the chair, "She's not a girl anymore, she's a woman." Freya and Gwen's gentle laughed echoed through the wood of the table.
"She's been a woman for a long time already, since she was twelve, in fact." Freya commented.
"Twelve?" asked Merlin, "That's the age of a child."
"Not in age, Merlin," Freya paused in embarrassment, lowering her voice, "In body."
"How do you mean?" Merlin asked innocently. Loholt paused, listening in curiosity for the answer.
"Well…" Freya started, clearly struggling to find the appropriate phraseology, "When she was twelve she… she…"
"She was able to have children." Gwen finished Freya's sentence for her. Loholt raised his head suddenly in shock and was promptly knocked back down again as his head hit the bottom of the chair with an almighty thump.
"What?" Merlin exclaimed in shock. The women laughed. Cursing under his breath, Loholt stretched out his arm and grabbed the crown just as he heard the doors to the hall open.
"Ah! The Lady Lunafaye." Loholt heard his father's loud voice echo around the room as Luna walked over to the table to greet her king. Arthur stood up as she reached him and, seeing her legs stand beside his father's, Loholt scrambled eagerly to climb out from under his chair.
As his eyes adjusted to the light levels above the table top, Loholt stood up and was immediately drawn to Luna. Her beautiful deep blue dress set off her sapphire eyes and her long, curly raven hair framed her pale face perfectly. Loholt was in such awe of her beauty that he didn't realise his grasp on his crown had slackened until he heard it clang to the floor.
The silent hall turned to face him as he blushed. Loholt ducked quickly behind his chair and, yet again, began the search for his crown. He heard Luna take her place on the left of the King, next to her father, and soon the gentle hum of conversation started up again. Plates clattered as people began to eat and finally Loholt found his crown behind his mother's chair.
Peering over the top of his chair, Loholt could see Luna watching him in bemusement, a little perplexed smile playing across her face. His face going redder, Loholt placed the crown firmly on his head and stood up, shrugging off his embarrassment melodramatically and sitting nonchalantly back at the table. His actions had clearly caught the attention of Luna, who giggled quietly. Loholt grinned back, pleased that she had found him entertaining.
"Happy birthday Luna." Arthur said, ruffling her hair playfully. Luna smiled back.
"Thank you, my Lord." She replied gently, "And thank you for arranging this. It was very kind of you." Arthur smiled triumphantly.
"It's a pleasure. Becoming eighteen is a big land mark; you are officially a woman." He said, faltering slightly towards the end. Loholt smirked as both Arthur and Merlin blushed and shifted uncomfortably. Luna was oblivious to this, as she continued to smile courteously, her eyes not leaving Arthur's. After a while Arthur began to shift awkwardly. He stood up and took his goblet in his hand.
"A toast to the Lady Lunafaye," He began, "Who's birthday it is we are celebrating here tonight. Luna has reached one of the biggest milestones there is: eighteen. And we all know what that means. Marriage!" Arthur paused as the hall was filled with the sound of gentle laughed. Smiling, he raised his glass, everyone else following suit, "So here's to Luna and her inevitable future wedding! Let's hope it it's a royal one!"
"I'd drink to that!" Gawain cheered.
"You'd drink to anything." Merlin mumbled from behind his goblet.
As the hall was filled with good-humoured laughter and many choruses of 'hear hear!' Loholt's smiled disappeared instantly. His mouth dropped open in sheer horror and his face burned with painful embarrassment as he stared disbelievingly at his grinning father. Arthur sat down victoriously. Looking to Loholt, and sensing his disapproval, Arthur winked conspicuously.
Did Arthur know, he thought, about his feelings for Luna? No. He couldn't. Loholt hadn't told him. Or anyone for that matter; he preferred to keep things like that to himself. So, if he didn't know then what on earth possessed him to say that? In front of the whole court! Was he insane?
Loholt was vaguely aware that his mother was talking to him, but he didn't have the will power to respond, or even listen. Loholt glared at his father in loathing, his disbelief turning quickly into disgust as his father shifted uneasily under his stare.
"Loholt?" Luna's voice broke gently through the fire raging in Loholt's head. His mind went suddenly blank and so did his expression. Looking Luna in the eyes, Loholt could see that she was worried about his reaction. He stood up suddenly, capturing the unwanted attention of the people surrounding him.
"Please excuse me." He said. Without waiting for a pardon, Loholt turned sharply, almost running out of the room. As soon as he was in the corridor and the guards had shut the doors behind him, Loholt collapsed against the wall, falling in crumpled mound of shame.
Taking a swig of ale, Gawain watched in amusement as Loholt left the hall in a hurry.
"I wonder who put a lance up his backside." Arthur joked. The court laughed and the general murmur rose back up to a loud hum.
"Arthur?" Merlin mumbled to Gawain, across Freya.
"Definitely." Gawain replied from behind his beaker. Arthur grinned to them, clearly not hearing their comments. They returned the gesture. Arthur turned to Gwen as she started up a conversation with him. Merlin looked to Gawain unsurely.
"Do you think he's alright?" Merlin asked anxiously.
"He's barely past being a teenager. He's a little sensitive, that's all." Gawain replied, sitting back in his chair as to include Freya in their conversation.
"But he looked horrified." Merlin said, twisting his beaker around in his hands nervously.
"Merlin, you're too used to having a daughter. He'll get over it, give him time." Gawain retorted, silencing a clearly unhappy Merlin, who glared at him.
Suddenly a little voice piped up, abruptly ending Merlin and Gawain's staring competition.
"Daddy, why are there big forks and little forks?" came the, slightly stilted, question from the young child sitting on the other side of Gawain.
"Well, Florence," Gawain said, turning to face his seven year old daughter, "The little ones are for your first course, then the big ones are for your main course." Florence looked from the forks in either hand, up to her father in wonder. Her shoulder length blonde curls framed the ivory skin of her face perfectly, and her father's liquid brown eyes showed clearly out of contrast in her features. Smiling, Gawain turned to Freya as she began to speak.
"I forgot to ask, how is Ragnelle?" she asked, smiling gently at Florence, who was still looking slightly stunned.
"She's doing fine, sleeping mostly; I guess childbirth really takes it out of you." Gawain replied. Freya and Merlin laughed.
"We hear it was a boy this time." Freya stated questioningly. Gawain nodded happily.
"Yes, third time lucky, I guess." He said, absent mindedly stroking Florence's head as she acted out a make belief scene with her forks on the edge of the table, "Although, I have to say, Lovell isn't enjoying the fact that she's no longer the baby of the family. She's going through an I-want-it-and-I-want-it-now phase."
"Terrible twos, huh?" Merlin grinned, "Just you wait until they get to their terrible teens. That's when you're really in trouble." They laughed and Gawain picked up his beaker and took a large swig, swinging it teasingly just out of Florence's reach as she stretched to grab it.
"What have you called him?" Freya asked curiously. Gawain turned away from his game with Florence.
"Gingalain." He replied. Merlin's mouth dropped wide open and Freya very nearly spat out her drink, "Her uncle's name. Don't ask." Merlin grinned.
"Of course. We won't." he paused, "You're going to give him a nickname though?"
"Yes. Believe it or not, Gingalain wasn't my first choice of a name for my only son." Gawain replied.
"Are you not having more children?" Freya asked gently. Gawain shook his head.
"We only kept going to have a boy; it's not considered seemly for a knight not to have at least one son. A bit unfair, really. I only ever wanted a daughter…" he trailed off and an awkward silence followed as Gawain was lost in thought, tousling with Florence's hair. She gazed up at him admiringly, her small mouth wide open in an 'o' shape.
"So…" Merlin said uncomfortably, "What have you nicknamed him?" Gawain looked to him blankly for a second before the question registered.
"Oh…Gigi." He replied. Merlin snorted.
"Isn't that a girl's na-" Merlin faltered as Freya elbowed him hard in the ribs. He clutched his side and turned to his wife, who was now smiling melodramatically at Gawain, "Ow! What was that for?"
"Merlin?" Gawain said bluntly, recapturing Merlin's attention, "How long would you last in battle with me?"
"Not long." Merlin replied.
"Then don't ever say that again." Gawain threatened.
"Yep." Merlin said, leaning back into his chair, "Sorry."
The air soon became awkward again as Merlin squirmed under Gawain's intimidating stare.
"So, Florence," Freya said, turning to the little girl in an attempt to make conversation, "How do you like having a baby brother?" Florence paused for a short while as she thought about the question in hand.
"He cries too much." She stated, "He's got a different body from me and Lovell; he's got a-" But before she could say anything else, Gawain placed his hand over her mouth, muffling the end of her sentence. Florence scowled at her father and attempted to pull his hand from her face unsuccessfully. Gawain grinned sheepishly at Freya and Merlin, who were both clearly trying to suppress laughter.
"Children." He stated apologetically, taking a large swig of ale. If this was the start of the feast, Gawain was dreading the end.
Loholt stood on the balcony, his form a solitary figure against the night sky. Overhead the stars glimmered tauntingly, boasting their beauty and remoteness, lording over the boy stood below. Candles and fires glowed clearly in the lower town at the foot of the castle, but beyond that there lay nothing; nothing but the silent loneliness of the empty fields and the calm, distant forests.
Loholt sighed at the beauty of it all, leaning forward to rest his forearms on the cold, hard stone of the balcony edge. Despite how furious he was at his father, the prince found it hard to be angry when he was out in the open air and in the natural world, not as a participant, but as an observer.
Loholt thought of Luna. She had looked hurt by his abrupt exit, and he hated himself for that. He hadn't meant to upset her. Loholt slammed his fist down hard on the edge of the balcony in frustration. He hated the way that she made him feel; he felt like he could lay down his life a million times over for her, and still not tire. He never felt like this about anyone. He had seen what it had done to his father; it had made him softer and more caring. Loholt wanted to he tough and not let any of his emotions through. So far he wasn't doing very well.
"Loholt?" said a soft voice. Spinning around, his hand flying to his sword, Loholt turned to face the advancing figure. Immediately the prince's shoulders relaxed as he recognised the girl stood before him.
"Luna." He said, sighing with relief, "You scared the life out of me." She smiled gently.
"You need to open you mind more; you should have sensed me coming." She retorted as she moved elegantly towards him, stopping when they were level and looking out over the balcony. Mesmerised by her movements, Loholt too turned to face the open night's sky, his eyes never leaving his companion.
"How?" he said suddenly, shocking himself in the process. Luna, however, didn't look phased.
"Close your eyes." She said, still watching the horizon with the usual dreamy expression on her face. Loholt did as she asked and shut his eyes, "Now imagine a sheet of parchment with small pebbles on it, each pebble containing a thought or memory. Then imagine sweeping it clean."
As soon as Loholt obeyed Luna's command everything became clearer. The soft noises around him were louder and the scents from the flowers on the vines around the balcony filled the air around him with an even stronger aroma. Loholt exhaled slowly, relaxing into the world around him. All his thoughts became more comprehendible and he suddenly realised what he had to do. He had to tell Luna how he felt.
Loholt opened his eyes and looked to Luna. She was watching him with a confused look on her face. He shifted closer to her and took both her hands in his.
"Luna," he started, looking into her eyes, "I need to tell you something."