King Arthur really wasn't one to attend many social events that held no particular importance to politics or warfare, but then again, a visit to his nephew's house wasn't exactly a social event - more along the lines of a family reunion.
Gawain had been growing rather bored at the castle as of late, and after a recommendation from Sir Tor, he'd invited some of his friends and relatives, including the King, over for an evening of food and drink and lively debate over Lord knew what. Arthur, having grown nearly as bored as his nephew, readily agreed to attend.
When he arrived at Gawain's residence, he immediately recognized the baritone of his brother Kai and the lighter voice of Sir Tor, and when he entered into the room fully, he spotted Gaheris seated in one corner of the room. Tor stood up to greet the king, but the other two, who were family, didn't bother.
"Good to see you, Your Majesty," Tor said, pulling up a chair for him.
"Likewise, Sir Tor, and please, it's just Arthur for now." The king smiled as he sat down. Tor nodded.
Arthur glanced about him. "I am invited to my nephew's house, and yet he is not here to greet me. Where has Gawain gotten to?"
Gaheris spoke up. "Off to see to that demon horse of his. Apparently, a stable boy nearly lost a finger to the fiend. I tell you, Gawain's been bothered to the bone with errands ever since Terence ran off."
The King frowned. "Ran off? That hardly seems like the Terence I know."
"He didn't run off," Tor corrected Gaheris. He turned to Arthur and explained, "Gawain sent his squire to relay a message to an old friend in Orkney."
Arthur still frowned. "Well, that's why we have messengers, isn't it? Why send Terence?"
The knight frowned, then shrugged. "Perhaps the letter contained sensitive information. I don't rightly know – all I know is that Terence has been gone for two weeks and Gawain's nearly been driven mad because of it."
"Two weeks!" Kai exclaimed suddenly. He wiped the brine from his beard and lowered his tankard. "Surely a swift lad like Terence can make it to Orkney and back before two weeks are up – why's he not back?"
Again, Tor shrugged. "I don't know. Gawain didn't seem too worried about it when I talked to him yesterday."
Gaheris shook his head. "In any case, I'm sure Terence can handle himself, though for the sake of my brother's sanity, I hope he returns soon. In the meantime, would you like some ale, Arthur?" he gestured to the table, where several tankards stood.
Within a few minutes, the small party had forgotten Gawain and his squire and was engrossed in conversation. Halfway through a discussion on French fighting techniques, a timid kitchen maid came in to offer the knights some cherry tarts and sugar cake. In Terence's absence, Gawain was forced to hire a kitchen help so that he didn't starve. He could hardly cook anything edible on his own.
"Sir Gawain must be getting fatter and fatter these days," Kai commented through cherry red crumbs as he bit into a tart, "if he's been treated to this every day. You're a fine cook, lass."
The maid blushed. "Thank you, Sir Knight." She curtsied low and hurried away.
"Aye, he must be fat. Not even Terence cooks this well, and that's saying something," Gaheris said, munching on a slice of cake.
After they finished their treats, they refilled their tankards and settled down for more discussion. It was nearly an hour later before the front door finally opened.
"Ah, Gawain! Glad you could finally join your own party." Arthur called. When his nephew didn't respond, he tried to peer around into the front antechamber. "Gawain?"
Footsteps sounded on the doorstep, but it wasn't Gawain who shuffled into the room a few moments later.
"Terence! You're back!" Tor said, happily surprised to see the young man standing there, but frowned after a second. "You alright, lad?" Terence's skin was clammy, his complexion unnaturally pale. The squire stared at Tor with pained, tired eyes.
"You're not Gawain," He said quietly. Tor was about to respond when he realized that Terence was slowly leaning forward.
The squire's eyes rolled back and he promptly collapsed onto the floor.
"Good Gog!" Kai said, "What's happened to him?"
Tor struggled to answer while Arthur, who was seated closest to the door, had abandoned any royal pretenses and knelt beside Terence to check his pulse.
"He must be sick," Gaheris said, rising, "Is he breathing?"
"Yes, he's breathing," Arthur said. "his pulse is slowing, though, I'm not sure-"
Terence took in a sudden breath and his eyes opened. He began to panic when he realized it was the King who was leaning over him.
"Your Majesty," He said, instinctively trying to rise to properly respect his monarch, but Arthur held him down with a gentle hand.
"Don't, Squire Terence," He said, "What happened to you? Are you hurt?"
"I… No. No injuries…" Terence said confusedly.
"Are you sure? Then what's wrong? Are you sick?"
"I… I'm sorry, your Majesty. I thought I'd find Gawain here, I have to tell him… Tell him…"
"Tell him what?" Arthur asked, then turned to his brother, "Kai, help me get him to a couch."
"No, please," Terence said. In desperation and perhaps a touch of delirium, he forgot all difference in status between a lowly squire and a king, and grabbed onto Arthur's wrist. "Sir, please, it's important, you have to give Gawain a message, I can't… I can't last long, please…"
Struck by the Squire's urgency, Arthur nodded. "What is it?"
"Tell Gawain…" Terence was beginning to have trouble seeing clearly. He blinked rapidly. "Tell him… The gates have turned hostile," he said, "traps… poison for my kind…"
Arthur was frowning at the man's odd choice of words. When Terence paused to heave a few heavy breaths, the king turned to Geheris. "Gaheris, find your brother, quickly. Tell him that Terence is back, and he's gravely ill,"
The knight didn't need to be told twice. Gaheris sprinted out the door toward the stables.
"What do you mean, your kind?" Arthur asked.
"I'm sorry, so, so sorry," Terence said, eyes closed "I never explained before…. Now, no time… Tell Gawain he has to find my father. He'll… He'll know to do…"
"Your father?" Arthur was astonished. He'd thought that Terence was an orphan since birth. The boy was speaking in riddles.
"I'm sorry," Terence said again, "just tell him, please. A plot to purge England… He has to heal the gates, or… Or…" Terence's head sank slightly lower. "Or."
"Or what?" Arthur asked urgently, realizing that Terence was fading. "What is it, Terence?" He shook the squire's shoulder.
The squire didn't answer for several long seconds. "Tell Gawain I'm sorry," He said. Then, his head tipped back and a heavy breath escaped his lips, and then he was still.
"He's… He's not…" Tor couldn't finish.
"No, I don't think he's dead," Arthur said, "but nearly so." The king shook his head. "And I don't even know why."
Guingalet was a fine steed, but he could be as feisty as the devil himself, Gawain thought, picking at the half-dozen new holes that his horse had bit into his tunic. Just as annoying, too. He supposed that with his squire away, he'd have to sew the holes closed himself. He sighed. He hoped Terence would hurry up with whatever Seelie Court business he was wrapped up in and hurry back. Gawain couldn't function properly without his cheeky squire around to take care of him.
"Gawain! Gawain, quickly!" he heard his brother's voice and rolled his eyes.
"I'm sorry, brother, I know I'm late. Blame the horse, if anyone's to blame. My apologies to Arthur,"
"No, it's not that," Gaheris said breathlessly as he rounded the corner into the stables. Gawain frowned suddenly at his brother's panicked expression. "It's your Squire, Terence. He's back in Camelot, and he's dying."
It was perhaps odd for so many knights to be so concerned over one squire, but then, Terence had never been an ordinary squire.
When Gawain arrived, Terence was still lying motionless on the floor, Arthur kneeling beside him.
"Good Gog, Terence, what have you done this time?" Gawain rushed to his squire's side and checked his heartbeat even though he was sure Arthur had already done so. He gently turned Terence's head toward him. The boy's eyes were only half-lidded, like those of a corpse. Gawain closed them.
"What happened?" He asked.
"I haven't the slightest idea," Tor told him, "He just came in, realized that you weren't here, and collapsed."
"Did he say anything?"
Tor shrugged helplessly. "He did, but I couldn't hear it very well – Arthur?"
All eyes turned to the King. Arthur's brow was a mix of confusion and determination as he said, "He did tell me to give you a message. I don't know what it means, but perhaps you'll understand," He told his nephew.
"Yes?" Gawain prompted, almost afraid of whatever Arthur had to tell him.
"He said 'the gates have turned hostile, traps to "his kind".' He said something about a 'plot to purge England' and said that you must find his father and mend the gates, or…"
Gawain's face was wrought with concentration and fear. "Yes?"
Arthur shrugged. "He couldn't finish."
After a moment of silence, Gawain nodded.
"You understand the message, then?" Arthur asked, rising. Gawain rose with him, his eyes lingering on his unconscious squire.
"Yes," He said.
"Well I don't." Arthur's voice was one of command as he folded his arms across his chest. His nephew looked up to him with a guarded expression.
"I take it you would like to?" He asked thinly. Arthur only stared.
Gawain gave his king a pained expression, glancing about for an excuse or a reason why he couldn't explain.
"I don't want to have to order you, nephew." The King said calmly.
Gawain took one look at Arthur's expression, and sighed. "Please, Arthur… Just, not here. It's… Complicated."
Now that he had Gawain's guarantee, Arthur's stern expression melted into one of sympathy. Intrigued sympathy, but sympathy all the same.
The other knights in the room looked initially disappointed that they would not be privy to whatever riddle Terence had delivered to his master, but their disappointment was overruled by the need to care for the indisposed squire.
After a few minutes, they had managed to get Terence onto his bed and under the covers. He was still breathing, and his heart was still beating, but his skin had turned a deathly shade of white and he remained deep in unconsciousness. Arthur sent Kai and Gaheris to fetch the castle physician and, on Gawain's suggestion, the head magician. Tor busied himself about helping for a few minutes, but there was only so much to be done, and when he realized that Arthur and Gawain were waiting for him to leave so they could speak privately, he quietly took his leave of Gawain's apartments.
"So," Arthur said, once they were alone. "Explain."
Gawain sighed. He was not used to Arthur being so blunt with him. Then again, Arthur probably wasn't used to situations shrouded in such secrecy and riddles.
"Where should I start?" Gawain wondered quietly to no one in particular.
"The beginning is always a good place," Arthur said, and Gawain looked up at him.
Gawain took a deep breath, eyebrows raised. "Well, I suppose I should begin with this: Terence is not fully human, your Majesty."
Arthur didn't seem surprised. He glanced over at the sleeping squire and his elfish face. "I've guessed it before by his looks – faery blood?"
"Aye," Gawain nodded.
"Half, on his father's side." Gawain told him.
Then Arthur did look surprised. He turned back to his nephew. "Half?" He did a double take on Terence and looked back to Gawain. "I've had I half-faery squire serving in my court for the past ten years and I didn't know it?" Arthur, although he had little personal power in magic, knew of magic and of faeries, and had limited experience with both. He generally regarded faeries as beings of power and general goodness, but he'd never met one before. He himself had a touch of faery blood in him, but only the slightest trace found generations and generations back. The revelation that he'd had a half-blood faery in his court for so long astonished him.
Gawain shrugged. "Yes, I suppose it has been ten years, hasn't it?"
Arthur looked at Terence some more, then turned back to Gawain. "And his father's side, you say? Is that why he told you to find his father? Because his father is a faery?"
Gawain rubbed the back of his neck, trying to find the right words. "Well, yes… Um, hold that thought, and let me explain the gates first." After Arthur nodded, he continued, "There is, as I'm sure you've heard, another world running in parallel to England. Avalon, it's called, or the Other World, the World of Faeries. Any way you name it, it's a rather difficult place to get to, for normal humans like you and I. For faeries, however – and half faeries – it's relatively easy. There are passageways, or gates, spread throughout England, unknown and unknowable to normal men, which the faeries use as bridges between worlds. They are the ties linking England and Avalon." Gawain sighed heavily and rubbed his temples. "Truth is, Terence wasn't delivering a message to anyone in Orkney all this time. He was in Avalon, visiting his father."
There was a moment of silence before Arthur spoke. "Gateways to the Other World?" He didn't know whether or not laughing would be appropriate. "You know, Gawain, that men have wasted away their entire lives searching for these gates of which you speak, and now you're telling me that you have a squire who uses them for casual family visits?"
"They're only usable by those who know how – faeries, that is." Gawain said.
"I see. And now they've turned hostile? How?" Arthur surmised. Gawain shrugged at his question.
"I'm not exactly sure. But Terence is obviously ill – or enchanted. The two are more or less alike in the faery realm – and if he spends some of his last breath telling you that the gates have been turned into traps for faery folk, that must have something to do with it. How, I'm not sure, but I'm going to find out."
Arthur nodded. "And… Finding Terence's father has something to do with this?
"Well, yes," Gawain said.
"Is his father some sort of scholar or magician in the faery realm?" Arthur asked.
"Yes, you could say that."
"Who is he?"
Gawain paused, regarded his King, and opened his mouth to speak.
He was then promptly interrupted by Sir Kai, who slammed the door as he escorted in the physician and the magician. Both rushed to Terence's side, and kindly asked Gawain and Arthur to move out of the way. Slightly ruffled, Arthur grabbed his nephew's sleeve unobtrusively and dragged him outside onto the quiet patio.
"You were saying, nephew?" Arthur fixed him with a stare that was growing more intense and frustrated by the second. Gawain avoided eye contact and rubbed the back of his neck.
"Well, Arthur… Have you ever heard of a faery by the name of Ganscotter?"
Arthur looked a bit confused, but nodded slowly. "I've read about him. In ancient texts and stories – Merlin mentioned him once or twice before he left, always in great reverence. A sort of king or leader among the faery realm, as I understand it."
Gawain nodded. "The leader, in fact," He said, "He's known as 'The Enchanter' there, in Avalon." Gawain looked at Arthur as though this should convey some deep meaning. It took a few seconds before Arthur got what his nephew was hinting at.
"And he is… You mean, Terence is…"
"Ganscotter's son." Gawain finished for him. Arthur looked utterly speechless, so Gawain finished, "What I mean to say, your Majesty… Terence isn't just a half faery. He is, in fact, one of the greatest faery princes alive – son of The Great Enchanter and reigning Duke of Avalon – and he has been for the past eight or nine years."
And as anyone might've guessed, even the King of England didn't know what to say about that.
A/N: I know pretty much where this is headed, but I can't say when I'll next update. I always disliked the fact that Arthur never learns about Terence, or that Terence's story never comes into full like except to a few people. I thought Arthur, of all people, should know. So that last half was a total indulgence on my part, to finally tell the King who, exactly, has been protecting him this whole time. More adventure to come!