Okay I love Merlin, like, a lot. And while Leon is my favorite knight in the show, Gawaine and Percival are my favorite Knights in the cannon legends. But when they came to the show, despite the effort of Tom Hopper's outrageous biceps, Gwaine became my favorite knight and I had to write about him and Leon, since I see Gwaine as having the most issue with being a Knight since while he likes Arthur he's got a lot of emotional baggage that Uther hasn't helped alleviate.
So this takes place during the time skip and is essentially how Leon makes all the new Knights, especially Gwaine, into Knights of Camelot. Oh and he also kind of falls in love.
Sir Leon has done many things for the crown of Camelot.
He has sweat and bled and he's pretty certain he's died on several occasions in the name of the King and his son. He's defended the people of Camelot from oppression and siege and magic. And even if he doesn't agree with everything the King does he is still the King and Leon is nothing if not loyal to him. Leon has helped enforce his orders, seen to his knights and even trained with his only son. He's watched Arthur grow into a fine man and is proud to serve him with the same loyalty. He has laid down his life for Uther and will do the same for Arthur, accomplishing any order they give him.
Any order, except for this.
Morgana is gone, Uther is insane and Arthur has taken his first fledgling steps alone towards being King. They have defeated an immortal army and been knighted by a Prince with the authority to do such a thing. Leon is not about to dispute that the men before him are worthy of the title of being Knights of Camelot. They are amazingly worthy and have shown they are willing to fight for Arthur and Camelot with loyalty that rivals his own.
They are not, however, particularly good at standing still.
Well Elyan is. He stands straight and tall, knowing that the fitting is important or the chain mail will chafe. He understands that but it does not seem that anyone else does. Lancelot is fidgeting and glancing around like a guilty child who does not belong. Percival is standing still well enough but he's looking at his arms like it is an abomination that fabric covers them-like he'll actually go into a fight without sleeves. Gwaine on the other hand has the seamstress' assistant blushing to her hair roots and Leon half expects her to drop her dress right there for him. He irrationally thanks God that the man is injured and unable to return the advances properly.
All in all the fitting is turning into a disaster and Leon knows it will not be the only one.
For all their bravery these men are not noble. They know nothing of the rules of Chivalry or how to act in court. As far as he knows, the only two who have been in Court have been banished. It is Uther's madness that has allowed them to remain in Court, he knows if the King had his wits Lancelot would be banished, Elyan would be back in a blacksmith's shop, Percival wouldn't be a Knight and Gwaine would most likely be executed.
But Uther has given up and Arthur somehow expects him to make the group in front of him into Knights. For the first time Sir Leon can't decide if Arthur or Uther is more mad.
The next day is worse.
At the very least they look the part-from a distance. Only Lancelot seems to wear the mail with ease. Elyan is intently inspecting his and from the purse of his lips Leon knows it is not to his satisfaction. Percival is constantly picking at his sleeves and rubbing at the back of his neck, clearly disliking something. Gwaine on the other hand seems thrilled at the mail and Leon thinks that if he strutted a bit more he'd look like an exotic bird putting on a show to attract a mate. Which, Leon reasons, he kind of is.
They stagger their way through the training drills he tries to put them through but it quickly becomes clear that Gwaine is hungover, Percival is woefully uncoordinated when it comes to running and Elyan is virtually incapable of fighting with the additional weight. Lancelot falls easily back into the drills but with the others being, well, as they are the group looks more like a mockery of nobility than anything else. By the end of the day Lancelot is the only one Leon can see as being ready to join a group of Knights-any group of Knights.
The worst part is that they are very good fighters, they are just not well rounded and they do not fight well together. The team work drills are even worse-if that is possible. Half the time in the chaos the pair he puts together will attack each other and one will stand victorious to be congratulated by the others-as though the entire point of he exercise was to teach them not how to fight together. Leon knows that the knights who come to them young begin these exercise when they are new to the sword. When their skills are still malleable, not set in stone.
Leon goes to bed confused and frustrated.
Gwaine gets the rest of them drunk.
After a week Leon is at his wits end.
The men are not Knights. They are drunks and peasants and have more in common with the villagers who are put in the stocks to be pelted with rotted fruit than the red cloaked Knights who are a beacon of light and truth in Camelot. He's brought in tutors to teach them how to act in court. He is painfully aware of the fact that both Lancelot and Gwaine have been banished, twice, Elyan is, in fact, a blacksmith and while he doesn't think Percival would do anything to get himself thrown out of court, standing there like a big, silent lump isn't exactly much better.
Like with fighting they have their own talents, none of which seem to mesh together. Lancelot can make his way through reading, writing and basic sums. Elyan has a head for sums but can't seem to make heads or tails of poetry. For all intents and purposes Percival is illiterate and Leon has no idea about Gwaine because every time he is given something to read aloud he goes off on long winded stories about his adventures that involve enough adventure to keep the men entertained and enough sex to have the old tutor blushing to his hair roots.
Leon does not want to bother Arthur with this.
The younger man has enough on his plate and he does not need a subordinate telling him the men who fought for him aren't Knightly material when he's already appointed them such. But eventually he finds himself lingering outside the council chambers like a nervous boy, one step away from wringing his hands and pacing. It is utterly ridiculous and Leon is getting fed up even with himself. Then the fight between Lancelot and Gwaine breaks out, forcing Percival and Elyan to yank them apart. While it is the most successfully show of teamwork Elyan and Percival have shown so far, infighting between the knights is something he will not tolerate. Not from trainees and certainly not from those who wear the cloaks.
He finds Arthur in his chambers and is invited in immediately. Merlin is there tidying up but Merlin is always there so Leon nods to him in greeting before focusing on the golden haired Prince.
"Sir Leon," Arthur greets him, using his title though most of the time he does not, "how goes training?"
"Not well Sire," Leon says, dismissing the idea of lying to the man who will be his King.
"Really?" Arthur frowns and Leon feels like a naughty child whose failed his mother-even though he is older than Arthur, "what do you mean?"
"Lancelot and Gwaine are in the stocks."
"What?" Arthur cries, shocked and Leon hears Merlin snicker, "why?"
"Fighting," Leon says and adds quickly, "with each other. Elyan and Percival had to separate them."
"Why were they fighting?" Arthur questions.
"It's irrelevant, Sire. Fighting is forbidden-" he begins and trails off when Arthur fixes him with a stare that is eerily like Uther's, "if they fight in the palace, what will they do on the road?" he asks helplessly, hoping the Prince will see that this situation has become dire.
"It's not irrelevant, Sir Leon," Arthur says, "try to find out why they were fighting," he suggests, sounding shockingly wise, "after they have spent their time stocks of course."
"Yes, Sire," Leon replies.
Knights who display such behavior are sent by nightfall Lancelot and Gwaine are back in the palace. If either is sore from the stocks, neither is stupid enough to say anything about it. Leon's conversation with Lancelot is brief, with the young knight refusing to admit to anything and not complaining about his punishment in any way. He is respectful, polite and actually shows a hint of the manners Leon's been attempting to drill into him. When he bows and exits Leon is actually almost pleased.
Of course that feeling lasts only as long as it takes Gwaine to enter. It should come as no surprise that Gwaine's breath somehow already smells of whiskey when he swaggers in, but Leon feels the stir of disappointment all the same.
"Sir Gwaine," Leon says nodding to the bench, "have a seat."
"No thanks, been doubled over all day," he says and folds his arms over his chest as though daring Leon to do something about it.
"There's no need to be defensive-" Leon begins and immediately regrets the words when Gwaine's eyes narrow and his eyebrows draw together.
"Who says I'm being defensive?" the Knight shoots back like a petulant child.
"I do," Leon says, "you've been on the defensive since you got here and it is starting to negatively affect your training."
"Funny, after saving Prince Arthur's life three times now I didn't think I needed more training."
"Well you're wrong!" Leon snaps before he can stop himself, "Sir Gwaine there is more to being a knight than swinging a sword around!" Gwaine rolls his eyes and Leon feels anger surge through him-the kind of anger he has not felt for a very very long time, "is this a joke to you?" he finds himself bellowing, "you are making a mockery of every Knight that has died in service to the Crown with your actions-do those lives mean nothing to you?"
He doesn't realize he's standing until he feels the rough wood of the table under his palms. Gwaine continues to stand there but the smirk is, at the very least, removed from his face, though Leon cannot understand the expression that takes its place. If he didn't know better he'd say Gwaine looked almost guilty. But he does and that can't possibly be what is reflected in Gwaine's eyes as his fingers move upwards as though to grasp the charms he wears. But then that smirk is back and Leon feels his rage double.
"Go, Sir Gwaine," he says, knowing if he has to look at that smirk for one more second he's going to do something that will have him sending himself to the stocks.
Gwaine leaves without another word and Leon finds himself hard pressed not to slam his fist through the table as the memory of the man's smirk overlaps with the memories of the men he's had to leave on the battlefield without a proper burial. Instead he eases himself back into his chair and wonders what, exactly, Prince Arthur expects him to do with this mess. When there's a knock on the door he's half ready to tell the person to shove off but thinks better of it. And when the door opens to reveal Merlin he's glad of it. He doesn't think Merlin would tell Arthur that Sir Leon can't handle his knights, but still its a good idea to keep the rumors to a minimum.
"Hello Merlin," he greets instead, pushing himself up to his feet out of habit.
Leon's always made it a point to treat the servants with respect. In public he is heralded for it, but privately he thinks that spending his days rolling in the mud and separating rowdy nobles he's got more in common with them then the parade of finery that comes to also knows the servants know more than what the King tells him, and its been many a time he's pulled a maid aside to speak to her about a rumor. It helps that he knew this from the time he was a child, when Gwen would whisper what his mother or father was really upset about in his ear so he could apologize properly.
"Hello, Sir Leon," Merlin greets, "Prince Arthur wanted me to check in on the review."
Leon doubts this is true. He's supposed to meet with Prince Arthur in the morning to discuss just that. Merlin, however, is rarely at the morning meetings. He's off doing errands for the Prince. But the servant has fought with these men, helped rescue them and on several occasions he's gone on quests with them. Though the man's a servant, Leon can't help but think he's got as much a right to know what's going to happen to his friends as anyone.
"Not as well as I had hoped," he says finally, "these men are excellent fighters, but that's only part of what it means to be a Knight-" he trails off, wondering how much he should say.
"You're talking about Gwaine," Merlin says instantly, filling in the silence.
"Yes," Leon concurs, "I fear Sir Gwaine does not wish to be a Knight," he says finally, trying to find the most diplomatic way to explain what is happening.
"Maybe," Merlin says with a shrug, "but Gwaine's good at disappearing when he wants to. If he wanted to leave I don't think there's much that'd stop him."
"I suppose," Leon says, "you know him much better than I."
"Well you're his training master," Merlin says and pauses, as though considering something. Then he gives another one of the smiles that he's become notorious for giving when hiding something and glanced away, "I know he's from Caerleon," Merlin says, "maybe thats how things are done there."
"Merlin," Leon frowns, "what do you know?"
"Me? I know nothing," Merlin says stumbling backwards with an exaggerated movement, "I'm just a servant."
Leon doesn't believe that for an instant but Merlin backs off with a hasty excuse and Leon lets him go. Merlin is too valuable a source of information to alienate and Leon has a feeling even if he found this one thing out, there would be a million more secrets to be discovered behind the young servant's pale eyes. Instead he takes what Merlin has given him and puts it to use. Gwaine's from Caerleon and Leon knows very well, as does Merlin, that there are many records from Caerleon, from when they were allied and when they thought they were going to war.
So Leon heads to the library.
The records are over twenty years old but from a rough guess he'd say that'd put them right at the time that Gwaine's parents were alive. He isn't certain what he's going to find, or even if he'll know that its about Gwaine's parents. He has no names, he's not even certain Gwaine's name is actually Gwaine. Truthfully he's expecting to find records of a peasant who got executed for not knowing when to close his big damn mouth.
Instead, it takes him five minutes to find mention of the dragon scale given to a knight in reward for bravery.
He follows that to another record of a group of several particularly brave knights who were given similar trophies for service to the crown and one name comes out of that. Sir Lot, who was particularly loud, brave and wore his wedding ring around his neck. He follows that to another record and another until suddenly it becomes very clear that if Sir Gwaine is this man's son, not only is he worthy of being a knight he's actually entitled to owning what seems like a quarter of Caerelon.
He double checks the map and finds that yes, in fact, Gwaine's entitled to precisely a quarter of Caerelon. And a good quarter at that, including what he knows to be a particularly prosperous port.
The records end with the shame of Sir Lot and the striping of titles and lands, but Leon can find no particularly good reason for such an act. It reeks of the corruption and spinelessness that Leon has known the King of Caerelon to possess. The records end with a brief mention of Sir Lot's wife coming to beg for help from the King for her infant, a boy named Gwaine.
Sir Leon is stunned, to say the least. He has to force himself to clam down on the thoughts of conspiracies before they can fully overwhelm him. He tells himself firmly that for all Gwaine is loud, brash, drunk and from Caerelon, he is not a traitor. He has proven that at the very least he is loyal. But it is clear he also does not wish to understand what it is to be a knight-and that is something that Leon is not certain he can work with. He needs to speak to Gwaine and needs to know if he will be able to make the younger man into a knight.
Leon leaves the library but he does not fall asleep until he knows what he will say in the morning and he hears the sounds of Percival, Merlin and Gwaine returning from the tavern.
The next day he takes charge of the group after another disastrous tutoring session, which was once more due to Gwaine telling an outlandish story that made the tutor faint enough to have to sit down. Thankfully the old man does not quit, but Leon has a feeling it will take more than kind words and the promise of more coin to get him to continue with this endeavor. However it is a problem he will consider later. First he has to speak with Gwaine.
"Sir Gwaine," Leon says, stopping him and Percival in their drill, "a word."
Gwaine nods and sheaths his practice sword, placing it carefully out of the way of the mud. It's a practice blade, worth little more than the wood its made of but like all the men he understands the importance of a sword, so he treats it with respect. It only serves to remind Leon of the mess of contradictions that is the younger Knight. He leads Gwaine away from the others, out of the way of prying ears and observant eyes.
"So, Sir Leon, what's this about?" Gwaine asks with an easy grin, "I can't have gotten myself into so much trouble before noon that you're about to send me to the stocks again."
"While I have no doubt of your skill in getting yourself into trouble, that is not what this is about," he says.
"If you're not here to reprimand me then what can this possibly be about?" he asks and the unspoken accusation makes Leon's insides twist.
"I wish to apologize," Leon says, "I accused you of not caring about the lives lost in service to the Crown," he continues and tries to shove the falter in his voice away, "I know that not to be true."
"Really?" Gwaine asks, "and what changed your mind?"
"A trip to the library."
"And what would the Camelot library tell you about my mind?" Gwaine asks.
"Not about your mind," Leon says, wishing there was a way to put what he is about to say more delicately, "about your history."
It is incredible how quickly Gwaine's features shut down. He rivals Arthur for sheer speed at how quickly the smile vanishes and its like someone has pulled the shades down over his eyes. Inwardly Leon curses, wondering how he lost control of the situation so quickly. Two things become very clear in that instant. One, he has overstepped his bounds in a way that he may not be able to repair. Two, there is a very good chance that Gwaine is about to get on a horse and ride away from Camelot never to be seen again. Without thinking, Leon moves closer and grips the younger knight's forearm in what he hopes is a gesture of friendship.
It is not interpreted that way.
Gwaine shakes him off with a jerk of his arm that borders on violence and for an instant Leon seems something very close to hurt in the knight's eyes. But then Gwaine collects himself and the true emotion is lost first to the shielded look and then to the smirk he covers it with. But it is eerily dissimilar from the bold smile that usually is fixed on Gwaine's face. This expression is a mask and for the first time Leon wonders how often Gwaine has worn it. His fingers move upwards to the dragon scale and ring around his neck and he shakes his head.
"Should've known this thing would get me into trouble one day," he says.
Gwaine is a vagabond, but the fact that he has managed to keep a real dragon scale and gold ring in his travels is a testament to the respect he gives his heritage. How many times could he have traded one or both of the items for the balance on a tavern bill? Watching Gwaine's hand move away from the items Leon wonders if it is possible to feel like more of an ass. The knight takes a step back, then another and suddenly Gwaine is all but storming down the hallway.
"Gwaine!" Leon call after him but all he gets in response is a wave of a hand as the young man vanishes around the corner.
He, in turn, sinks his fist into the rough stone of the wall.
Closing his eyes and leaning his forehead against his throbbing fist, Leon feels like the world's biggest ass. He strains to hear the sound of a horse galloping from Camelot, or failing that the sound of boots pounding the flagstones. But all he hears is the sound of the training swords meeting each other and he'll be damned if the men aren't picking up a certain rhythm. But there is no victory in the sound. Shoving himself from the wall he all but storms back into the training yard and practices with Percival until they are both almost too tired to lift the sword properly.
He storms into his room and all but throws his gauntlets at the wall.
He feels raw and furious. Leon is a leader and he is used to his men trusting him but there is nothing that can erase the look of raw betrayal in Gwaine's eyes. Leon never considered himself capable of betraying someone. Now he finds he is and both the action and his ability to commit it make him feel sick. He considers sleep for as long as it takes him to shrug out of the mail. He ignores his night shirt and goes instead for the set of clothing he wears on the rare occasion he is able to leave the palace incognito.
The breeches are rough and the tunic's neckline is regretfully low but Leon cannot find the laces for the it. He slides his sword into the planer scabbard and buckles the darkened clasp around his waist. The boots he wears are wrapped in rags to hide their niceness and the cloak he shrugs around his shoulders as been unnecessarily mended by Gwen to make it look older than it is. He plans to take the less used routes to head to the courtyard but with his rotten streak of luck he's been having he runs into Gwen almost as soon as he leaves the room.
"Leon," she breaths looking at him, "I heard what happened at training today. I've just been to Gwaine's room-" she falters, "he's not there."
"I thought as much," Leon concedes, "I know he and Merlin prefer a certain tavern in the city. I was going to try and find it."
"Merlin's out to look for him as well," Gwen says anxiously.
"Did you know?" he asks.
"Know what?" Gwen asks and her innocence makes Leon consider slamming his head back against the wall as he swears, "Leon, what is it?"
"Nothing-" he begins, "something," he corrects before letting out a frustrated breath, "I found something I don't think Gwaine wanted me to know and I confronted him about it."
"Oh Leon," Gwen looks dismayed and Leon finds that he can, in fact, feel worse, "has he told anyone else?"
"Merlin, most likely," Leon says and Gwen nods because, well, its Merlin and if there's something to be found it its probable that Merlin knows it, "I did not think he would take it so badly," he confesses.
"For all that he hides, Gwaine can be very-" Gwen searches for the word.
"Sensitive," Leon suggests and Arthur's intended wife fixes him with a look worthy of any Queen, "do you know where this tavern is?" he asks.
"Yes, I think so."
Though he walks swiftly there, time seems to go achingly slowly as he makes he way to the tavern. He almost runs but a small, prideful part of him does not wish to seem overly eager to make amends. He tells himself that he does not want Gwaine to think him desperate but Leon knows he is. When he makes it to the tavern Gwen told him about he's actually surprised there isn't a fight going on. Almost as soon as the feeling he's in the wrong place and Gwaine's gone hits him, he spots the knight in the corner with Merlin beside him.
Prince Arthur's manservant looks up and catches his eyes. He murmurs something to Gwaine and head for the bar. Leon musters his courage and walks over to where Gwaine is hunched over a tankard.
Gwaine looks up at him as Leon sits down and shakes his head.
"Couldn't take a hint, could you?" Gwaine accuses.
"Not when you run out on training," Leon says, trying to ease them back into their old roles of mentor and trainee. Gwaine almost smiles but not quite and Leon presses on, "I only wished to understand what it was that kept you from being the Knight you have the potential to be."
"You think I have potential, do you?" Gwaine asks and his lips do curve up at that.
"Yes," Leon says finally, "which you all have," he stresses, "but you, you have a claim to nobility-"
"Didn't you finish the story?" Gwaine interrupts, "I've got as much a claim to nobility as the rest of them. The King took back my father's titles, lands-" he snorted, "the King would've taken his wife as well if he could've stomached the thought of his son being raised among courtiers."
Gwaine leans back and looks at Leon carefully.
"I've been fighting my whole life not to make my father's mistakes. Now don't get me wrong, I trust Arthur or I'd have left a long time ago. But knowing what you do, tell me, how am I supposed to become a knight like my father?"
Leon looks at him and is surprised to see that Gwaine is actually curious of what his reply will be. He is doubtful and looking to Leon for an answer. Leon looks around the bar, knowing that no attention is on them. They are in the back of the tavern, masked in shadows and chaos of the merrymaking. He is hesitant to explain to Gwaine how well he knows his struggle. But he knows Gwaine needs answers and as much as he hates what he is about to say, he knows equally well that the story must be told.
"The Great Purge did not happen overnight," Leon begins hesitantly, "I was five when it began and twelve when it ended. My father was a Knight of Camelot-a good Knight," he stresses, his voice gaining strength as he speaks, "which means he followed the orders the King gave. Every order he gave. When he was told to fight with those who used magic he did, and when he was told to fight against them he did that too," he looked down at the table, "truly I don't know if he struggled with the decision, if he did he kept it hidden well and it did not stop him from carrying out his orders."
He trails off as Merlin comes near the table. Arthur's manservant looks as though he is about to leave but Gwaine waves him over. Leon can feel the heat of his face and knows he is as red as the drunkest man in there. Merlin comes over and offers him a tankard before seating himself next to Gwaine, though he looks as though he is considering running.
"Merlin's lost his father as well," Gwaine says, "Leon's sharing his story."
Merlin gives him a look that is mostly apology but mixed with intrigue. Leon wishes he was not there but consoles himself with the knowledge that Merlin can either hear the story from his lips or someone else's. And for all Leon does not agree with his father, the man is still his father.
"My father turned on those who had once been his friends, during the Great Purge," Leon says, "I was always going to be a Knight," he continues, struggling to find the rhythm of his story once more, "but the idea that I could fight with people one day and be ordered to burn them the next was one I could not reconcile myself with. So I vowed i would be a better Knight than my father. The kind of knight worthy of wearing the cloak of Camelot, who would stand by his comrades no matter what."
"But you're loyal to Uther," Merlin says and there is an odd note in his voice that Leon cannot place.
"Yes," Leon says and his eyes lock on Gwaine's, "but if Uther asked me to turn on my fellow Knights I would refuse him."
His stomach twists at the feeling of admitting he would betray his King but the truth in the words is something he cannot deny. And it is something that needs to be said, especially considering the spectacular track record Gwaine seems to have with Kings. Gwaine's face is unreadable as he lifts his tankard and takes a long gulp.
"Well I'd say its a good thing the King's gone mad and Arthur's in charge then," Gwaine says.
Leon takes a drink as well and tries not to feel too much like a traitor for the agreement that flows through him. He glances over at Merlin and while the young man seems intent on his ale, there is also relief on his sharp features, though relief as to what, Leon cannot say. They drink and while Gwaine does not say he'll come back to the palace, he doesn't say he's leaving either. Merlin and Gwaine outlast him at the tavern but he knows that he has done as much as he can.
In the morning he is a wreck.
His head is fuzzy from the ale and despite the drink sleep still was not easy to come by. It is just his luck that the Knights do not have their tutor this morning but rather are expected in the yard for drills. The clanging of the practice swords is painful on his ears but Leon ignores it. The walk from where the sound of the swords reaches his ears to where he can see the men fighting is impossibly long. But it is impossibly worth it as well when he rounds the corner and sees Gwaine moving through the drills with Elyan.
The men all instantly turn towards him and Leon feels himself straighten up.
"As you were," he says and they focus back on their drills.
Leon is so thrilled at Gwaine's return that the day passes in what can only be described as a euphoric haze. Leon's hard pressed not to grin like an idiot throughout the day. Which is really saying something when his day includes a meeting with the insane King, the only slightly less insane Prince and a session of good old fashioned bribery with the old tutor and the new one who has been scared witless by the stores of the old. There's also the seamstress and the armorer to contend with and the tavern keeper who arrives bearing a bill for a sum that makes Leon's head spin. By the end of the day his limbs are sore and his head is even fuzzier.
But all in all he considers the day a monumental success.
The changes do not happen over night, but they do happen eventually. Elyan's mail lasts precisely a week longer before it disappears and is replaced by one that he has made himself. This one is lighter, stronger and Leon thinks that if Arthur had not claimed Elyan as a knight the young man would be putting the King's armorer out of business. Precisely three days after that Leon's sleeves from his training tunic vanish and the mail shirt becomes a vest. Leon is fully prepared to protest and cite several safety rules before he remembers that Percival has yet to actually take a blow to his arm during training. It might be unorthodox but Leon is quickly finding that unorthodox is the name of the game.
Soon Percival is actually reading quite well, Elyan recites his poetry with grace and Gwaine's stories are not as frequent or long winded. As a result the tutor no longer threatens to quit and before the next month is out Lancelot and Gwaine manage to display a consistent ability to fight together and not turn on each other. Leon can hardly believe his eyes as the men slowly but surely begin to resemble knights of Camelot. When Prince Arthur manages to train with them, he has a confident little smile on his face as if he knew that everything would work out in the end.
One night he is going through the numbers and wondering how he is going to finish basic training without bankrupting the crown when there is a knock on the door. Leon looks up but before he can give the word for the person to come in the door opens and Gwaine saunters in as though he owns the place. Leon feels a mix of emotions churn through him, painfully aware of the fact that he has not been alone with Gwaine since he confessed his true feelings about his father.
"Ah, Sir Gwaine," he ignores those emotions and goes for friendship instead, "what brings you here?"
"Did anyone ever tell you you work too much?" Gwaine asks.
"No," Sir Leon says, because he's been told many things about himself but that is not one of them.
"Well you do," Gwaine says, "and seeing how you have us building all this team work, it only seems fair that you take part in some of that."
"When you four have demonstrated the ability to consistently perform team work drills without turning on each other I will happily join you in them," Leon says.
"Fair enough," Gwaine says with a shrug, "but I wasn't taking about those drills. Come on," he motions.
Leon frowns but his curiosity gets the better of him and he follows Gwane out of the room. The younger Knight leads him out of the palace and through the courtyard without telling him where they are going. Soon, however, Leon recognizes the road they are on and minutes later Gwaine's leading him towards the door of the tavern. Leon stops dead across the street as he realizes that the other Knights are most likely on the other side of the door.
"What's the problem?" Gwaine asks, turning towards him.
"You don't honestly expect me to get drunk," he begins.
"Why not?" Gwaine asks, "you showed you could drink before," he points out, "and what about all this 'comrade' stuff you've been spouting?"
"Prince Arthur expects-" he begins, "what do you mean 'stuff I've been spouting'?" he questions, feeling his defenses rise.
"The way I see it you've been talking about teamwork and training to make us this big group of merry men, but since we took the palace back none of us have actually fought with you," he said, "or done anything, really, except curse you when we're sitting there learning sums."
"Well thank you," Leon says sarcastically, "and I suppose you think a drink is the solution."
"Of course not," Gwaine says slinging an arm around his shoulder, "I think a good many drinks are the solution."
Gwaine all but steers him into the tavern but Leon doesn't protest as much as he should-as much as he wants to. The truth is that there is a pub a few streets over that was the haunt of the Knights he fought with until they all died. He has not been drinking with a group of his comrades in a very long time. It is one thing to go after a friend in need, it is quite another to relive a memory that is still impossibly bittersweet. When the door opens and the sound of merrymaking hits him, it feels like it is a year ago and Owain, Pellinor, Bedivere and the others are still alive. But the memory slips away as the faces of his new Knights replace them.
Elyan and Merlin are in what appears to be a heated, but friendly, discussion, judging from how the latter is waving his hands about. He's shocked to see Lancelot and Percival are bent over a book and he's betting that the former is helping the latter to read. Percival is using his finger to follow the words, a habit he knows Lancelot possess. He half expects to turn and see King Arthur and Gwen there. Thankfully they are not, because he has a feeling the night is going to be strange enough without his King and future Queen being there.
"There you are Gwaine, we thought you were lost-Sir Leon!" Elyan spies him first and the shocked look on his face does not bode well for the evening.
"I finally convinced our esteemed commander to come drink with us," Gwaine says casually, as though he has spent weeks on the task.
They all look as surprised as Elyan and Leon becomes painfully aware of the fact that they are new knights and he is not. But then Percival calls for more ale and they all sort of act like normal. Gwaine and Merlin talk the most but from the way the others act, Leon gets the feeling that this is how things are. With more than a few drinks in him, Leon begins to feel like a member of this new group. Much to his surprise the betrayal of the old is not in the forefront of his mind, rather it is a passing thought settled in he back with his grief at their deaths.
They drop off slowly but at the end of the night it is him, Gwaine and Merlin. The three make it back to the castle somehow and drop Merlin off at Gaius' rooms. The two of them stagger towards the Knight's quarters, looking about the least knightly Leon knows he has looked in a very long time. Thankfully he's staggered back to his quarters in worse states than this and he recognizes the door. Unfortunately he can't quite figure out how to untangle his arm from Gwaine's shoulders and he half drags the younger knight into his room.
"That was good fun," he says to Gwaine as he all but collapses on his bed, "I haven't done that in ages."
"What?" Gwaine asks, somehow making it to the chair by his desk, "drinking?"
"Drinking with a group of Knights," he says, "all the other ones died."
Gwaine, to his credit, manages to look somewhat somber though Leon knows he prefers to laugh when he drinks. Leon half considers not dampening the mood, but the ale has loosened his tongue past the point where he has much choice in what it says.
"They kept dying but i didn't," he elaborates, "I don't know why I don't."
"Well you've come to the right group then," Gwaine says, "whatever our shortcomings, we're good at surviving."
"That you are," Leon agrees, "which is good because you all are finally starting to look like Knights of Camelot."
The look on Gwaine's face is truly priceless and because Leon is so sloshed he decides he should get someone to paint a portrait so he can remember it. It is almost painful in its innocent hope and suddenly Leon remembers why he had been so willing to teach younger men how to be Knights. On a whole these men are incredibly different from the young sons of nobility who arrive at the castle with their senses of entitlement and grasp only of what being a Knight will get them, not what it actually means to be one. Leon used to be one of them, despite the fact that his father was not the most noble Knight in Camelot. In another time, with another turn of events Gwaine could have been one of the richest and most noble Knights in Caerelon.
"I never thought I'd be glad the King of Caerelon was such a bastard," Leon confides.
"And why's that?" Gwaine asks.
"Because if he wasn't, you might be some prissy Caerelon noble and we'd be fighting against each other instead of with one another."
"I don't think we're in any danger of me becoming a 'prissy' noble," Gwaine says.
"Thank the Gods for that," Leon agrees, "I can't stand them half the time. Except for you, I think you'd have made a fantastic noble, Caerelon or no."
"As I said," Gwaine replies, his face oddly unreadable, "you've come to the right group."
Leon oversleeps and wakes with a spectacular headache. It's just his luck the men have training today instead of tutoring. He foregoes his mail and cloak and makes it down to the training yard in just his tunic and breeches. The outfit is oddly light and Leon briefly wonders how Arthur manages to wear it and convey any kind of authority. Perhaps it's a Pendragon thing. When he gets to the grounds he sees the men are all in their usual mail. All except for Gwaine who seems to be wearing exactly what he was wearing last night and Merlin and Arthur who are working training drills off to the side.
The men all stop and turn to face him. Leon cannot quite miss the looks they trade at seeing him in such a hungover state but a measure of respect still comes across. However it is the most equal he's been with them since the night they all fought together to free Camelot. For the first time Leon looks at them and his first thought is not 'oh God how am I going to pull this off'. Rather he looks at them and thinks 'these are Knights-or they will be very soon' and the bubble of worry that seems to have been his constant companion these few months vanishes.
"Sir Elyan pair with Sir Percival, Sir Lancelot go to His Highness. Sir Gwaine, you're with me."
In the span of the surprised pause he heads towards the rack of practice swords. Behind him the men quickly rework themselves to follow his orders and by the time he returns they have sorted themselves out. He stands opposite Gwaine and raises the practice sword as the other Knight does the same.
"So today's the day you join us is it?" Gwaine asks raising an eyebrow.
"For training," Leon says, "your on your own for tutoring."
Gwaine shrugs and then suddenly their sparring. Leon has always thought the best way to fight with another is to learn how they approach a fight. For all that he is against nobility and Caerelon in general, Gwaine's style incorporates the fineness that marks the classic style. The brazenness of his attacks, however, are purely Gwaine. In the beginning Leon is fine to defend, learning how the other man attacks but by the end he realizes that the only thing that works with Gwaine is to be smarter. The man is damn quick and oddly good at anticipating his movements but Leon has a knack for timing and spotting his opponents weakness. In the end he defeats Gwaine but it is one of the closest matches he's had in a very long time.
Lancelot's skill, Elyan's knowledge of the sword and Percival's brute strength make each victory hard won but in the end Leon wins all the same. By the time the sun is high in its arc they've developed quite an audience, including Prince Arthur and Merlin both of whom who cheer but do not participate in the matches. It could be the exhaustion but Leon is having a hard time remembering why he did not fight with them for so long. They are sweaty and tired as they head up to the palace for the midday meal.
"That was brilliant!" Merlin says.
"Glad we could distract the Prince for you," Gwaine replies, slinging an arm about Merlin's shoulders.
The feeling that curls through Leon at the sight of them is entirely unfamiliar and equally unwelcome. It makes his feet pause until Elyan comes up to him and begins to talk about his idea for a better practice sword. Leon pushes the strange feeling to the back of his still throbbing head as he goes through his day, telling himself it is just another inconvenient ache that will be gone by the morning. It does not matter that the feeling keeps him up half the night as he struggles to rest. He has never struggled to rest, especially after four matches and a hangover. When he hears Gwaine's heavy footfalls and realizes he knows how the other man sounds, Leon rolls over with a groan and all but wills himself into a fitful slumber.
He wakes to the first of Uther's suicide attempts.
The next two months are a haze of training as the palace begins to ready itself in earnest for the shift in power. He's been Arthur's second in command for years now and the Prince has already begun to take on more of the stately duties since Morgana's departure but Uther taking a blade to his wrists seems to have made the reality of the situation set in and no-one feels prepared. Gwen spends more and more time with the King and he assists her in removing all the objects with which he could do harm. Even so he spends those first few weeks bracing himself for the news the King has hung himself in his bedchamber.
The odd feeling is pushed aside as it becomes clear that the men who are finally beginning to look like Knights need to have been at this point months ago. Leon pushes them harder than before, demanding more of them than he would have dared to ask another group of new Knights. They rise to the occasion beautifully, because if there is one thing Leon never doubted about them it is their love for Arthur and the Kingdom he will build. Lancelot continues to excel as the others work doubly hard to make up for their shortcomings. Percival seems to spend every hour practicing reading, sums and the finer points of courtly behavior, Elyan is often seen practicing court dances with Gwen and begins to get more graceful, and much to his shock Gwaine actually stops going to the pub almost entirely, trading playing with Merlin for playing solider.
Leon keeps his eyes on Gwaine more than any of the other Knights. Privately he can admit that there is a moment before he walks onto the training yard when he is certain the young Knight is not going to be there. Wanderlust or a lady or some other thing will have grabbed a hold of him and he will be gone. Then he rounds the corner and sees the young man there and feels entirely like an ass for thinking so poorly of his fellow Knight.
The suspicion joins its brother and both watched emotions sneak up on him at the most inconvenient times. Everything with Gwaine becomes somehow infinitely more complicated when Leon realizes that he can hardly stand to see another man touch the Knight and yet cannot look away for fear Gwaine will disappear. For days he spars with the others under the pretense of training and does his best to avoid Gwaine entirely. Unfortunately for all that Gwaine is hot headed and impulsive and brash, he is not a fool and before the week is out he enters Leon's office without so much as a knock.
Leon is able to take only marginal comfort in the sharper stride of the younger Knight, his usual swagger replaced another emotion. His features are drawn and his brow is tight and Leon thinks that this is the moment that he has been dreading. When Gwaine attempts to put on a smile and fails miserably at it, Leon thinks his stomach must be somewhere on the ground for all that it has dropped. Still he fights to put up the same pretense that the younger Knight attempts and offers a smile.
"Sir Gwaine," he says, "may I help you?"
"I was coming to ask if you wanted to go to the tavern with me and Merlin," the Knight begins, "but I'd rather you tell me why you've been avoiding me."
Leon gapes at him and ends that his stomach can actually drop further and must be somewhere down near the kitchens by now. For surely his lack of a vital organ is the reason his heart is galloping and his throat is impossibly tight. He is dying and that is why he cannot reply to the other Knight. Not because there is hardly a person in the palace who would confront him on such a matter.
"W-what do you mean?" he begins, loathing the stutter that edges his voice.
"Don't play the fool with me," Gwaine snaps and Leon wonders if he realizes he sounds amazingly noble in that moment, "you can at least be honest."
He fights not to wince because he knows that Gwaine values honesty above almost everything else. He realizes that Gwaine feels betrayed and Leon feels very much like an ass. The last thing he wants to do is betray his friend. The realization that Gwaine is his friend crashes over him with surprising force. He's thought of Gwaine as many things, some not entirely flattering, but the notion that this man is a friend is not entirely one he the moment he thinks it, friendship is as right a way to describe his relationship with the other man as he can think.
And Leon does not betray his friends, despite the fact that they always seem to leave him.
"I am sorry," he says finally, "while I have had to asset the others in their training, my intention has never been to alienate you," Gwaine makes a sound of disgust and Leon sighs, loathing the other man's ability to catch him off guard, "are you planning to leave Camelot?"
"Excuse me?" Gwaine looks at him with shock.
"Are you planning to leave?" Leon asks, because if they are being honest he needs to know, "the King's gone truly mad, Arthur's taking over but it takes time and work to build a new land, things will only be harder from here on out."
"And you think I will run," Gwaine finishes, anger lacing his tone.
"I hope you will not," Leon replies, "but I would not blame you if you saw fit to leave-"
"Because of what the King did to my father," Gwaine finishes with an angry breath that echoes as loud as a slap, "you think I don't see the difference between Arthur and Caerleon? Or Arthur and Uther?"
"No-" Leon begins.
"What then? Do you think so little of me," Gwaine seethes, his anger palpable in the hushed silence, "that you think I would run off in the middle of the night like some coward?"
"I do not," Leon says urgently, desperate to make him understand.
"Then why would you accuse me of such a low deed?"
Leon, who is not known for his impulsive actions, cannot bear the hurt in the other man's voice for one moment longer and grabs the other Knight before e knows what he is doing and presses their mouths together.
Gwaine stiffens, his entire body going ramrod straight and Leon wonders if he has made a terrible, terrible mistake. This is why he does not act impulsively. Because when he does, he acts stupidly and people suffer for it. Gwaine is as good as gone, and if he doesn't find some way to get Leon expelled from Camelot as well the older Knight would be very surprised. He is never doing anything impulsive, never again, because impulsive for Leon is the equivalent of sticking his hand in hot coals or lying under a horse or-
Because suddenly Gwaine's mouth is softens and moves against his and Leon thinks his heart may beat out of his chest as the younger Knight all but melts against him. There are a million perfect sounds in that moment, the sigh that escapes Gwaine's lips, the way their mail clinks together as he grips the smaller man to him. His back knocks the desk as Gwaine pushes him but Leon cares not if they knocked the ink or ruined the parchment. Because Gwaine is kissing him and suddenly friendship is not anywhere near the right word to describe what he feels for the other man.
"It is because I fear you leaving," Leon admits when they break apart, "I fear it the way you fear the betrayal of your King," Gwaine tenses at the highlight of he fact.
"Then we make a pair of fools," Gwaine says finally with a shake of his head.
"That we do," Leon agrees.
"Come on," Gwaine says. Leon raises an eyebrow wondering if he's going to brush all this off, "least you can do is buy me a drink," the man reasons.
"Alright," Leon agrees, not bothering to hide the huge smile that spreads across his face, "lets go."
They change out of their mail and head to the tavern and if Merlin has an abrupt errand to run for Arthur, well, Leon's not entirely complaining. He and Gwaine get good and sloshed, consuming entirely too much ale to do either of them good. But with the confrontation more or less resolved and the satisfying ending to it, Leon imagines it is time for celebrating. And God knows they have had precious little to celebrate these past few months. Hours pass before they stagger to the palace, entirely too warm despite the odd chill that has settle in the air. It hits Leon then that fall is coming and soon. Fall will bring new challenges, as will winter. Different challenges, like how snow can ruin mail and the way bandits will use the camouflaged landscape to their advantage.
"We'll have to step up patrols," Leon muses aloud.
"Does your head ever hurt from thinking like a Knight all the time?" Gwaine asks as they come to his door.
"No," Leon answers before frowning, "maybe, I'm not really sure at the moment."
"Then perhaps its best you stop thinking," the younger Knight says with a devilish smile, his fingers ghosting Leon's side as he opens the door and pushes him inside.
Fall sees Arthur take his place as King in everything except name. The Knights begin to find their role as a unit and as individuals. Percy's strength augments Lancelot's agility. Elyan's knowledge of craftsmanship sees him take to the stranger of weapons in the armory. Gwaine strangely, but rightfully, seems to become his shadow and Leon looks up at the first snowfall to realize that the other Knight has all but taken up residence across from him at the desk.
Midwinter arrives and brings with it perhaps the most melancholy celebration Leon has ever seen.
He has always enjoyed midwinter but the past months have been impossibly difficult, both for him and the Knights. Percival goes all but mute and Leon discovers that this will be his first midwinter without his family. Lancelot watches as Gwen spends more and more time trying to draw Arthur into celebration to take his mind away from Uther's madness and Leon knows he longs for a sweetheart of his own. Elyan seems to struggle to find his place his first midwinter back in Camelot and Gwaine follows suit, seemingly torn between spending all his time drunk and being a responsible Knight.
Buying midwinter gifts seems to be a particularly excruciating process. None of the men have had much cause to buy gifts for others, let alone for an entire group of their size. It is one thing to know a man's true self on the field of battle, it is quite another to know what he likes off of it. Help comes in the form of the most unlikely of angels: Gwen. The woman seems to be the only one who knows them off the battlefield well enough to advise gifts and is willing to assist in the mission. He quietly arranges for someone to help her watch the mad King so that she is able to help the others.
She marches up to him one day with a list written on a scrap of paper and holds it out to him.
"What is this?" he asks.
"What the others wish for at midwinter," she says, "I know your time is scarce so if you need me to buy the gifts I shall but you really should go yourself."
"I already have," he says.
"You have?" she asks and the surprise on her face makes him almost laugh, "what have you gotten them then?"
He looks at her for a moment but knows that Gwen can keep her mouth shut. He walks over to the door and shuts it for good measure before moving to the chest by the wall. He opens it and moves the papers that are providing cover away. Gwen peers over her shoulder and gasps softly at the treasure which lays within.
Each of the men already has one, yes, but with the change in reign coming Leon knows there will be need for weapons that are beautiful as well as useful. He sees her eyes take in the beautiful leather scabbards and the gold wire that wraps the hilts. They are sized correctly as well, the biggest barely fitting in the trunk. When her eyes spot the other parcels inside, he lets the trunk shut. She glares over her shoulder at him and straightens up with a smile.
Midwinter comes and Leon finds himself strangely amused by the sight of the men trying to stutter out their gratitude while exchanging gifts. He doesn't think he's seen men blush so furiously and wonders if perhaps they should be called the red knights. After the feast he draws them aside and presents them with their gifts, delighting in the look on their faces. Even Elyan seems to approve of the blade and Leon mentally thanks whichever God saw fit to smile on his choice of armorer.
"Well, uh, thank you and, um, thank you for being such a good, ah, commander," Lancelot all but stutters out and extends a parcel Leon had not noticed he was carrying.
Leon's head is spinning and though he wishes to tell the men they should not have spent their coin on him, he cannot bring himself to be so ungrateful. Despite his best efforts he feels his face grow warm when he realizes that his men know him almost frighteningly well, since every gift is something he's needed or wanted and mentioned in passing. He's overwhelmed more than he thought possible and wonders how he will ever thank them enough. They make plans to meet later at the tavern and head off to put their gifts away.
Gwen comes in as he is putting them away.
"I had no idea-" he looks at the gifts helplessly.
"That the men would like you?" Gwen asks with a smile, "not many commanders would train them. Even if you got frustrated you didn't storm out like most would," she points out, "here," she holds out a package for him, "you'll need this if you keep going out with Gwaine and Merlin."
The shirt is made of sturdy cotton and fastens much higher on the throat than his old one. There's, thankfully, no embroidery and the dark color means that if a fight breaks out he won't necessarily ruin the gift. It is utterly perfect and once again Leon feels strange at how well she knows him. Before he thanks her he places the shirt on the desk and goes over to the trunk where he hid the swords, finding the gift he's been hiding for her.
"Leon," she sighs and he can see her thinking back to their childhood when they were told gifts were not exchanged by nobility and servants.
"It's only fair," he says and after a moment she takes the parcel from his hands.
When she gasps in delight he decides it was worth the agonizing conversation he was forced to sit through with Lady Calis. The hair ornament is shaped like a fan and held with a pin. It is made of silver and according to what he has been told will be both the latest fashion and classic enough to be given to children. He doesn't think Gwen cares about such things but he's seen her fingering her locks and knows she has not cut them in some time. He knows she does not like to think of her future with Arthur, since the idea is such a precarious one, but he also knows that she has watched the women with their long hair. He thinks if her hair is the one thing she is willing to let change for him, then he will do what he can to help.
"Leon," she looks up at him, "I cannot-" she begins.
"Yes you can," he said, "you'll need something to keep that hair back."
Gwen blushes furiously and reaches up to finger one of the curls that falls over her shoulder.
"It is long," she murmurs, "I should cut it-"
"Or," he suggests, "you could pull it back."
She flushes further and ducks her head but the smile on her lips is unmistakable.
"Thank you," she says softly.
He makes it to the tavern within the hour and proceeds to buy the men more drinks then he has in some time. The men are all thrilled that someone else is buying the drinks and though he imagines his coin will be less than plentiful for a while it is more than worth it. When Gwen and Merlin join them a few hours later, the group feels as though it has taken over the tavern and Leon cannot say he minds. When Gwaine starts singing rowdy drinking songs and the others join in, Leon cannot even bring himself to be appalled at their behavior.
He doesn't join them but it's a near thing.
They have to all but carry Merlin back to his room and Elyan sleeps at Gwen's, the trek to the palace seeming impossible. How they make it back Leon is not entirely sure. But they stagger back and when they fall into the same bed the only thing that is strange is that the bed is Gwaine's rather than his.
Spring comes and brings with it Arthur's first planting season.
Both Arthur and the people seem at a loss as to how to work with each other. Uther has not shown much interest in planting and the people have learned not to ask for help. But the winter has been hard and Arthur is not Uther and soon Leon receives orders that the men are to escort extra grain to some of the outlying villages. Once again they are brought to the seamstress for fittings. However this time they hold still and stand proud and the fitting takes about a third of the time that it did in the summer.
Soon the men ride out to see the safe delivery of the grain and Leon realizes that the palace is a frighteningly silence place without them. Of course Gwen, Merin and Arthur still mange to make enough noise and trouble for a dozen people, but overall it is a quieter place and Leon finds himself on edge for no real reason. And then almost as though the Gods have decided to reward his intuition there is an attack.
The bandits are dispatched quickly and efficiently by the Knights and the rumors he hears from the lower city are all very impressed but he feels worried all the same.
He realizes then just how much he has come to care about these men.
They are uninjured and he knows that they are safe, but the discovery that he thinks of these men entirely as his comrades rather than the people he is in charge of sends him to Arthur's door. The future and acting King sees him immediately, despite the fact that it is early in the morning and Merlin is just cleaning the dishes from breakfast.
"Sir Leon," Arthur greets him, "good morning to you."
"And to you," Leon said, "Sire, I ask to join the men in carrying out their orders."
"Do you feel that their training is complete?"Arthur asks.
"Yes, Sire," Leon says, "though perhaps they could benefit from continued deportment training."
"I imagine most of the Court could benefit," Arthur says and sends a pointed glance Merlin's way, "well then you have my permission," he says and a wistful look crosses his eyes at the knowledge that while Leon can leave the palace, he cannot.
"Thank you Sire," Leon says before hesitating, "Sire?" Arthur looks at him, "how did you know that they would make great Knights?"
Arthur looks at him and considers the answer for a moment. As he watches him, with sunlight streaming through the window and Merlin moving in the background Leon cannot help but think back to the brash young man who was a decent Knight but a terrible Prince. Now Arthur is a very good Knight but he is becoming an excellent King.
"Because they were willing to fight alongside me even when they had no reason to," Arthur says finally, "and because I knew with the right commander these good men would be great Knights"
The praise makes Leon blush furiously and he cannot remember what he stammers out in response. He bows and ducks out of the room but he does not think the smile leaves his face until long after the sun has set. The next day Leon gathers the men and arranges it so that Gwen and Merlin can come to the training courts as well.
"I brought you here to inform you that your tutors will be departing within the fortnight."
A murmur goes up before Gwaine's voice rises above the rest.
"They finally run out of ways to torture us?" he asks, "or did we drain the treasury with bribes?"
"The former, Sir Gwaine," Leon says, "I spoke to Prince Arthur and as of today your training is complete."
The joy that erupts from the men in instantaneous. Though Leon knows what faces them is a thousand times harder than the training they have just gone through, he cannot bring himself to dampen their joy. Gwen and Merlin cheer with the rest of them and somewhat belatedly Leon realizes that they have been as much a part of this journey as he has. The men in front of him are Knights though and through, and Leon feels both humbled and honored to know that in some way they think of him as their commander.
He elects not to tell them that he's keeping their deportment tutor.
That night the men do not go out to the tavern to celebrate as they probably should. The bandit attack has sobered their cockiness somewhat and he knows they wish to be alert for the early patrol they are to ride on. They celebrate quietly and he spends the night making arrangements for the necessary papers to be sent to Arthur's rooms in case he is not there and the future King needs something. At the last moment he includes his keys as well and makes a mental note to make another copy if he is to be riding with them.
He catches a few hours of sleep and wakes before the sun. In the light of the few candles he polishes his boots and hems the few rips that mar the edge of his cloak. He feels oddly nervous as he pulls on his mail, as though he is a young knight and this is his first patrol. In some ways, he reasons, this is. It is his first patrol as commander of these men and the first that he will ride along them as true equals. It is only training that keeps his hands steady as he buckles and straightens and sheaths. He exits his room early and walks to the stables alone.
His horse has been sitting in the stables for far too long and he is sure to bring a treat as a bribe. Even so the warhorse glares at him like he's caused personal offense before grudgingly accepting the offering.
"Finally riding out with the rest of us?"
Leon turns to see Gwaine walking into the stable. Apparently when Gwaine is not drinking he wakes up early. Down the stables a bay horse sticks his head out eagerly and looks for Gwaine who seems to have the same idea. Like everything else their horses were relatively new and just like everything else they have become broken in after a lot of work and even more determination. Gwaine is more comfortable on the horse than most, but it seems like bribery that has endeared him to the creature more than natural horsemanship. Still it seems to have worked and when the horse lips his hand for more he strokes the steed's muzzle with a smile.
Leon's warhorse is not amused and snorts to remind him why he's there.
"Barely after sunrise and he's already upset," Leon says turning back to the horse to give him some attention,"you'd think he was some needy lady rather than a war horse."
"They all get frustrated when they're cooped up too long," Gwaine says quietly.
Leon looks over his shoulder and waits for the familiar stab of fear that comes when Gwaine speaks of being cooped up. He's no fool and he knows the other Knight is no longer speaking of their horses, but the fear does not come. He realizes pin that moment how much he has come to trust that Gwaine will be there. That he is a Knight of Camelot and he will not abandon the Crown or his fellow Knights. With a last pat on his horse's nose, Leon moves over to the tack and pulls down his saddle and bridle.
"Well then," he says walking back over to the stall, "it's a good thing summer's coming."
"Yeah? And why's that?" Gwaine asks as he begins to ready his own horse.
"You've never been in Camelot for a full summer," he says, "loads happens. You'll be praying for your bed by the time fall comes," he grins and looks over at Gwaine, "like you did this past summer, except much more."
Gwaine looks over his shoulder and smirks. Loads do tend to happen in the summer in Camelot. Last summer King Arthur gave him a group of vagabonds with extraordinary skill and told him to make them into Knights after they'd already been given the title. As they stand in the barn they have no way of knowing that by the first change in leaves Lancelot will be gone, Uther will be dead and Arthur will be King. And they certainly have no way of knowing in two years their bumbling friend Merlin will be revealed as the greatest sorcerer Camelot has ever known and the magic Arthur has fought so hard to keep from Camelot's walls will confront him head on in the from of his oldest and dearest friend. Two summers from now Leon will face the hardest choice he has ever had to make and the vow he's only told to Gwaine and Merlin will be put to the ultimate test.
Two summers from now he will be paralyzed for the first time since Arthur told him to train the men in front of him.
But two summers from now Gwaine will stand next to Merlin with his hand on his sword and Leon will realize that the only vow which really matters anymore is the one he's made to his fellow Knight.
But for the moment, standing in the dawn light getting ready to ride out with Gwaine, Leon does not think about vows or promises or choices that are not really choices at all. Instead he spares a moment to think that he is very lucky, not only to have found Gwaine but for all the men. For Merlin and Gwen and even Prince Arthur who may be the kind of King his father never could. Gwaine catches his eye and Leon thinks that maybe he feels the same and the thought makes him smile which he hides in the clasps of his tack.
Yes, Sir Leon has done many things for the crown of Camelot.
Some of them have been crazy, some of them have been wicked, some have been downright insane. He's been bruised, frustrated beyond belief He's been left for dead, staggered back to Camelot and had it happen again and again and again. He's saved the crown, its Prince and its King, and though he won't admit to anyone but himself, he's been saved by the servants on more than one occasion. There is a very long list of things that Sir Leon's done for the crown of Camelot.
But the order to train these men to be Knights might be the first time the Crown has done something for him.