A fooled King, a spurned Maid and a likely Knight
Disclaimer: Shine owns Merlin, I own nothing but my imagination
Beta: Many thanks to StevieG for all of his helpful suggestions and corrections to this story.
Time slowed down as Gwen concentrated on Maban, who was slicing thin air with his sword, as if play-fighting. The coward was teasing her, taking his time, because she was unable to escape. His accomplice, Aled, held her tightly in his grasp, having to gasp with effort as she struggled. Aled was loosing patience with the big oaf's antics and he cursed at him, pleading that he should get on with the business. In response, the callous fool laughed and then complained that he would not to be denied his fun, before starting to approach her with deadly purpose.
Just as Gwen thought her life could only be measured in a blink of an eye, she was aware of something slicing through the air just to her right and Maban was lurching backwards, dropping his sword. Then she was faced with the sight of Maban on his knees as he clutched at the weapon that had speared him through the chest. He made a guttural sound as blood started to dribble from his sagging mouth and he slowly toppled back to the earth so that the wooden shaft of the spear pointed straight up to the sky.
There was no time for Aled to react, as he convulsed in pain, pushing Gwen away so suddenly she was tipped forward and fell to the ground on her hands and knees. The adrenalin was coursing through her as she reclaimed her father's sword and quickly turned around to face the person who had just felled her attackers.
In the darkness it was difficult to make out the tall stranger with shoulder length hair standing over Aled. Gwen could tell he was clad in the chainmail of a knight, but she had learnt from hard experience that was not a sign to give her trust too easily. Anyone with sufficient coin could purchase chainmail and he wore no badge of allegiance that she could see. The man was currently poking Aled with his sword, presumably to make sure he was truly dead. Then he glanced up at Gwen and beckoned that she should come to him, putting a finger to his lips to indicate the need for silence. Gwen glanced behind her and saw that the battle between the troupe and the bandits was over. Now a strange calm had descended on the scene, as the men left standing used torches to check the dead. Gwen realised they were targeting the women, so she guessed they were looking for her.
That scared her and she felt there was no other option but to accept help from the stranger. Still Gwen approached him cautiously, only to be grabbed as soon as she was in reach and abruptly forced down onto her haunches. She would have cried out, but he had already taken the precaution of covering her mouth with his gloved hand. Furious Gwen bit through the soft leather and managed to nip the soft flesh of a finger. He gave a muted yelp as he swiftly withdrew his hand, quickly whispering that he meant her no harm and that if she would follow his lead he would guide her to safety. Without waiting for confirmation she agreed with his plan, the man sheathed his sword in a scabbard strapped to his back and then started to crawl along the forest floor, using the low bushes growing between the trees as cover. After going a little way, he stopped and looked round, expecting Gwen to be behind him. She still held her sword, but not having the scabbard to hand, realised it would be an encumbrance, so must be left behind. Now she would have no means of protection and no choice but to put her trust in this man.
The forest floor was a mass of roots, bushes and rocks which made it difficult terrain on which to crawl. The world was plunged back into darkness as the moon again hid behind clouds, as Gwen's heart raced and she was sure her ragged breathing was noisy enough to wake the dead. They finally stopped when they reached an ancient tree with roots that lay gnarled and twisted over the uneven ground. The man whispered that Gwen should lie in a gap between the roots of the tree where she would be hidden from sight. Then without a further word he drew his sword and left her.
Gwen took advantage of the re-appearance of the moon to look back in the direction of the campsite. She could still see men moving about in the distance, and she pushed her body down into the hollow as far as possible, lying with her eyes closed, as she wished with all her heart she had never left Camelot. Gwen was worried that it would not be long before the bandits started to widen their search to the forest that surrounded the camp.
Then someone tapped Gwen's left shoulder and she almost jumped out of her skin as the now familiar gloved hand reached round to cover her mouth before she could scream. She was hauled to her feet and quickly led around the tree, where she was shoved through a long narrow gash that opened up into the hollowed out heart of the tree. After he squeezed in beside her it was so cramped they were forced to kneel side by side on the rough ground. Gwen then saw that the stranger must have taken the risk of returning to the camp, because he held a woollen blanket. This, he secured so that the material covered the narrow opening. Then they could do nothing but stay silent in the dark, with Gwen holding her breath, as she heard the sounds of men passing close by their hiding place. Eventually when the noises drifted off into the distance she succumbed to sleep, the chainmail covered arm of the unknown man her only cushion.
A loud groan woke Gwen and she wearily opened her eyes to see daylight was breaking into their hiding place through pinprick holes in the thick weave of the blanket. Gwen was embarrassed to find that she was leaning against the stranger's chest so she quickly pushed herself away only to discover how badly her body ached after a night in that restricted space. It was obvious that the stranger, being much taller than her was in a worse state. First he moved very gingerly to stick his head out of the opening so that he could check the lie of the land. Then having ascertained that there was no danger, he eased the rest of his body very carefully out of the curved opening and disappeared from view. Gwen could then hear him groaning and sighing as he stretched away his aches and pains.
So occupied was Gwen with easing the pain in her shins, it gave her a start to hear the disembodied voice of the stranger, which had a surprisingly high boyish tone, "Good morning, my lady. It is safe if you wish to venture outside."
Then after waiting a few moments without any sign that the lady in question was going to appear, he crutched down and stuck his head back inside the hollowed out tree trunk.
"Please forgive my lack of manners; I am Galahad of the House of Benoic, at your service, my lady."
Amused by the manner in which she had been addressed, Gwen replied, "I'm Gwen and there's no need for such formality, I am no lady."
"All those of the fairer sex are ladies to a man pursuing that most noble of professions - a knight." He announced in all seriousness while offering his hand to help Gwen from their hiding place.
She gratefully accepted, hiding her amusement at his earnest statement, which had been ruined by an uncontrollable variation in his voice between a high squeak and manly rumble.
As soon as Gwen was standing beside Galahad, a quick glance was enough to show that her suspicions were correct; her saviour was not a full grown man, but was in fact near enough a boy. He might have the height of a man, but not the muscle to fill the chainmail he wore, which hung loosely from his narrow shoulders. His face made his youth far more obvious, with a pimply face and only fine fluff for beard growth.
"Are you not a little young to be a knight?" Gwen asked gently. Then when she saw his crestfallen face, she added quickly, "You were very brave last night, I have you to thank for my life."
Galahad ignored Gwen's compliments, focusing on the first comment she had made, which he took to be patronising at best. He decided it was important to show this lady, how seriously he took his ambition to be a great knight.
"I am travelling to the court of King Arthur to offer my service as a knight of Camelot. I'm sure he will not hold my age against me. Especially if you could accompany me to that great citadel and vouch for my brave deeds?"
Gwen found she could no longer look the eager young man in the face and maintain her composure. She was grateful for his help, but she thought Galahad had no idea what he was letting himself in for, if he imaged Arthur and his knights would welcome him to their ranks that easily. Anyway, a return to Camelot was now out of the question; if someone was searching for her that was exactly what they would expect her to do after last night. Maban had mentioned a patron and Gwen suspected either Lord Agravaine or Lady Morgana had funded the bandits.
"I know I owe you my life Galahad, but unfortunately my journey takes me in the opposite direction, to the kingdom of Dewnens."
Then Gwen had what she thought was a brilliant idea and added, "However, I come from Camelot and know some of the knights. Sir Leon is a good man and if you petition to be his squire I know you will be treated fairly. Then when the time is right I'm sure you will gain the knighthood you seek."
Galahad sighed somewhat dramatically before saying wearily, "My lady, I do not dismiss your suggestion lightly, but I have already spent too many years serving first as a page and then as a squire to the son of Lord Cador. When my family lost favour at King Odin's court it was made clear by Lord Cador that he would never help me become a knight. Then I heard that King Arthur knights men based only on merit, regardless of their status, and I resolved to pledge my sword to his service."
"It is true that King Arthur has knighted men who have proven their worth, whether or not they are noble born, but…"
"And I am certain that such a wise king will recognise my worth, but that is a matter you need not concern yourself with, dear lady."
Gwen found Galahad's blind self belief annoying; she had to keep reminding herself that he was still very young and naive.
"Your horse and belongings are at the campsite?" Galahad asked.
"Yes, or at least I hope they're still there."
"Let's go and find out, I'll take the lead in case we run into bandits."
Gwen could tell she had not deflected him in the slightest from his plan to go to Camelot, so she decided to take his advice and think no more on it. He would face reality soon enough, she thought, or more precisely have it knocked into him. They cautiously retraced their footsteps, Gwen feeling anxious about returning to the place where there had been such terrible brutality.
As they neared the campsite, Galahad cautioned her in a low voice, "Take care to avert your eyes, my lady, the aftermath of battle is frightening for those of a gentle disposition."
Honestly, Gwen found it almost impossible to contain her temper at his presumption that just because she was a mere woman, she needed protection from the horrors of war. She whispered back with some venom, "I have not led a sheltered life, Galahad. I know what battle is like; I have even witnessed the full horror of a dragon attack on Camelot. Might I suggest that you show more concern that the men who are looking for me could still be here?"
Galahad said nothing in return and had the grace to look chastened as he went ahead up a slight slope that led to the campsite.
After he was satisfied that all was safe he turned to Gwen and indicated that she should join him. When she stood at the edge of the campsite, Gwen was terribly conscious of the eerie silence in the place, which had been filled with so many warm and friendly human voices only the evening before. She could see bodies strewn over the camp and felt saddened that so many innocents had lost their lives. It was also disorientating to see the campsite in daylight and that made it difficult to work out where she had bedded down the previous night. Then Gwen spotted horses grazing at the edge of the forest. As they approached the animals, her heart quickened when she saw that Serenity was among the few horses that had not been chased off or taken. She took hold of Serenity's reins and stroked her mane, talking quietly to the gentle animal she had thought she would never see again. Then she led Serenity towards the tree where she had left her belongings. The bodies of the two men Galahad had struck down still lay where they had died. Maban's hands were clasped in a death grip around the shift of the spear that was embedded in his chest. His unseeing eyes gazing up at the sky and his ugly face stuck in an expression of surprised horror.
Galahad strode over and took hold of the spear shaft in his hands, putting his foot on the Maban's torso to give him leverage, and pulled it free from the body.
"I don't want to waste a good throwing spear," he explained on seeing Gwen's discomfort at his actions.
Galahad, who dismissed Gwen's reaction as another example of the squeamishness of women, leant over the body to take a closer look at the bandit's face.
"What did this wretch want with you? I did not hear all, but I'm sure he said someone would pay him well to kill you?"
"Yes, you heard correctly Galahad." Gwen replied, wondering sadly to herself how it was possible for someone to hate her so much they were willing to pay a small army to have her killed.
Galahad had turned his full attention to Gwen, examining her closely with his eyes, as if she was a puzzle.
"And you are set on travelling to Dewnens?"
"Yes, I fear returning to Camelot would not be a good idea. I know of two people who might wish me harm, and I need to put some distance between me and them. One of them has magic, but she will have to wait until her men report back, before they can be sent out again after me. I have to use this time to get as far away from Camelot as I can. "
"Then I consider it my sworn duty to ensure that you reach your destination safely, my lady. I know King Arthur's view of the dark arts." Galahad stated with great solemnity.
"I can't ask you to do that Galahad; you would be travelling in the opposite direction from where you want to be."
"Nonsense, it will be time well spent, because you can repay me with all you know about King Arthur and his knights. You must have many stories and knowledge is always of use to a knight on a great quest."
Gwen groaned inwardly, she had undertaken this journey in an attempt to heal her heart and get away from Camelot and Arthur. While Gwen no longer wanted to travel alone, the last thing she needed was to have to provide Galahad with stories of the daring deeds of her former love and his knights.
Galahad sensed her reluctance, "I understand such things are not of interest to the fairer sex, so I will do my best not to overburden you with too many questions."
He looked so young and eager to please that Gwen, despite her misgivings, found it impossible to resist, "Then I will be honoured to have your company and protection, Galahad. I promise to answer your questions to the best of my ability."
With that agreed, Galahad helped Gwen gather up her belongings and prepare Serenity for the journey ahead. He then led her to where he had set up camp a little distance from the main campsite. There was no evidence that the bandits had taken much interest in his belongings, or more surprisingly in the magnificent black charger loosely tethered to the branch of a nearby tree. From Gwen's knowledge of horses, learnt while she watched her father at his work as a Blacksmith, she knew instantly that such a beast would be an expensive purchase.
She could not help exclaiming, "What a beautiful animal, he would be worth his weight in gold as a king's mount, let alone a knight."
Galahad turned as red as a beetroot and Gwen could not help but wonder if he had stolen this beast from Lord Cador's stable.
"Cadfael is my horse, my lady. I bought him with the last of the Benoic family silver before I left Lord Cador's service. He would agree with you, his last words to me were that he did not consider him a suitable mount for a lowly squire. But how could I arrive at King Arthur's court without a proper war horse."
Gwen said nothing, realising that she had managed to hurt his feelings, and that it had been easily done. For all that she would value his protection; her journey was going to seem to take a lot longer, due to his prickly adolescent sensitivity and obsession with all things to do with knights. The evidence was all there in the name he had given his horse, Cadfael, which Gwen well knew meant Battle Prince.
Arthur had arrived at Camelot's citadel after dusk. When he entered the town that circled the citadel he had looked out for Guinevere among those who came out to welcome him home as their conquering hero, but had not been rewarded with a single glimpse of her. Then he had been involved in a protracted meeting with his counsellors. That was followed by time alone with his uncle, who had felt obliged to give Arthur some detailed advice on disciplining servants, of all things. By the time his royal duties had been discharged Arthur had developed a splitting headache and a desperate need for sleep. It had been too late to send word to Guinevere and he decided he would make a better job of delivering his apology after a night's rest.
The first thing he did the following morning was to order Merlin to find Guinevere and ask her to attend him in his chambers. Arthur was revelling in the comfort of his four poster bed; and knew Guinevere was good at finding reasonable excuses to enter his chambers that would avoid any chance she might be compromised. The flowers he had picked from the roadside were hidden under the pillow he rested on and although they were in a sorry state the blooms retained their vivid colour. Arthur could have had flowers sent up from the royal gardens but it seemed to him that Guinevere would appreciate the ones he had picked much more.
As Arthur lay there cocooned in his bed, he started to become anxious that it was taking too long for Guinevere to appear. He did not think that she would purposely delay a summons from her king, so the blame must rest on the shoulders of his manservant, Merlin. Probably the sot had been unable to resist the temptations of the tavern. His predilection for that type of establishment was so legendary, Arthur even doubted the threat of the stocks would be a sufficient deterrent.
Arthur padded to the door of his chambers in his bare feet, and opening it startled the two guards standing outside so that they visibly jumped. Having been put in a bad mood by the lack of attentiveness of the palace guard, he issued a terse order that Merlin was to attend his king without further delay, before slamming the door and stomping back to bed.
A short while later his somewhat tense and out of breath manservant, barged into the royal chambers.
Arthur sat upright on the bed and fixed Merlin with a long and he hoped appropriately hard stare.
"What have you been doing, I gave you a simple order, one that even you could not have a problem understanding!"
"Ah, that's where you're wrong sire, not if the lady in question is nowhere to be found."
Arthur leapt from his bed and stalked up to Merlin, trying to ignore the niggling worry that something was terribly wrong. No, he thought, this was down to Merlin's ineptitude. She must just be visiting a neighbour and his lack of brains meant he had not bothered to ask for her around the town.
"I'd better not find out you've been in the tavern all this time, Merlin!"
Merlin put his hands on his hips and attempted to return the king's angry stare with one of his own. He had had just about enough of this false notion he frequented the tavern. He knew Gaius had tried to be helpful in providing a convenient reason for the occasions when he went missing for long periods, but it did not do his standing with Arthur any good at all.
"I have been all over the palace, and spoken to the servants Gwen works with. Not one of them has seen Gwen since the day before your army left Camelot."
"She's not been seen in all that time?"
Merlin wondered how else he could phrase his report to make it clearer. He was worried enough about Gwen and Arthur was not helping; in fact he seemed particularly obtuse that morning. He spoke slowly hoping that would help get the message across, "Gwen has not been seen at the palace since the day before you left to face the threat from Caerleon."
"Have you been to her house yet?"
"No my lord, I haven't had time to check there."
"Then go there right now, and I want a report as soon as possible."
"I ran into Lord Agravaine on the way here; he said that the council are waiting for you in the throne room. His lordship wanted to know how long it would be before you joined them."
Arthur groaned in frustration as he suddenly remembered that a further meeting had been organised for first thing that morning. Surely, he thought, the Caerleon issue had already been discussed to death last night. His mind was too focused on Guinevere and finding out where she was, to be bothered about anything else.
"Sire I'll get you dressed, and then I can bring you any news during the meeting." Merlin suggested
Arthur was torn for an instant between his duty and his concern for Guinevere, she won.
"It may come as a surprise to you, but I can dress myself. Go directly to Guinevere's house and report back to the throne room. I will deal with the councillors; there will be no more meetings until I am sure she is safe."
Merlin seemed to be glued to the spot in shock when he should be rushing to carry out his king's orders. Arthur surmised that the revelation he could throw on some clothes all by himself had left his servant dumbfounded.
"Go now, without delay!" Arthur shouted, starting to advance on Merlin with menace. His tactic had the desired affect, as his servant was startled into action and ran out of the room at speed.
Arthur threw on some clothes, found his socks and boots and grabbing a belt headed towards the throne room, at a run. He burst into the room at such a pace he managed to wake up some of the older courtiers. His uncle, however, kept his composure, as he stood in front of the throne with his arms crossed, looking suitably unimpressed by Arthur's tardiness.
"Good of you to join us sire," Agravaine said with more than a hint of sarcasm.
The councillors joined in, murmuring their disapproval.
Arthur decided to ignore his uncle's rudeness and addressed the gathering as a whole, "There will be no council meeting this morning, there is another more urgent matter that I must deal with. You are all dismissed."
The councillors shuffled out, all looking miffed at being dealt with so summarily. That was all apart from his uncle, who had made the assumption Arthur's order did not apply to him.
Once they were alone, Lord Agravaine regarded his nephew closely. He had an idea what this matter was about, having made discrete enquiries with one or two of the palace servants in his pay, which had established that Gwen had not been seen for several days. Agravaine was therefore itching to find out if the rest of his plan had worked, but had not yet had an opportunity to slip away from the palace.
Arthur began pacing the room seemingly oblivious to his uncle's presence, an action which highlighted his agitated state.
Agravaine decided that it was as good a time as any to try and find out what Arthur knew about Gwen's disappearance.
"Is there something troubling you, sire? Can I be of assistance?" He asked in his most solicitous tone.
Arthur paused in mid stride, unsure if he wished to share his concerns with his uncle. Agravaine was unlikely to understand Arthur's worry for a woman his uncle had been so keen be set aside. Moreover he would not be impressed to learn that Arthur had decided to reject his counsel and try to win Guinevere back. However, he was unwilling to keep his uncle completely in the dark, as to his intentions.
"Uncle, I accepted your advice to end my relationship with Guinevere, although you must understand it went against my personal wishes."
"It was a brave decision my boy, one which I know you understand was for the good of the kingdom."
"Well you need to know that my feelings for Guinevere have not changed."
Agravaine felt in his element, he could play the role of diplomat until the cows came home. Given his plot to get rid of Gwen looked to be a success, he was already patting himself on the back and that made playing the concerned uncle so much easier to bear.
"Of course, you cannot be expected to shut off your feelings. We must begin the search for a suitable princess to share your throne soon, one who will come with a dowry large enough to enrich the kingdom's coffers. You are a very lucky young man; every king with a daughter of marriageable age will be clamouring for your attention. And once you are married, you can put the unfortunate dalliance with the serving girl behind you."
"In good time uncle, I have just learned that Guinevere has not been seen at the palace for a number of days."
"Ah, perhaps I can…"
Without warning the doors swung open and Merlin, accompanied by a pensive looking Elyan, entered the throne room.
Lord Agravaine scowled at Merlin, not bothering to hide his distaste for this meddlesome upstart of a servant.
Arthur, who was too worried about Guinevere to notice his uncle's reaction, advanced on the two men.
"Elyan, Merlin, what have you found out?"
"Elyan has been searching for Gwen as well; we met at her house. The fire grate is stone cold my lord; she can't have been there for some time."
"No one has any idea where she might be, sire. I know my sister and she would never go off without letting me know her plans." Elyan added his concern for his sister obvious from the worried tone of his voice.
Although he accepted that Guinevere had good cause to be angry with him and therefore might not want to see him, the idea that she had left Camelot caused Arthur so much pain he could barely breathe. He felt honour bound to admit his part in her disappearance to Elyan; wanting to let her brother know what had transpired between them. "Guinevere may have felt she had good reason to leave, Elyan. Before we left Camelot I had to tell her that our relationship was over…"
Elyan stared at Arthur in shocked disbelief as he retorted, "You did what! After all she has done for you, how could you treat Gwen like that?"
"Remember that you are addressing your King," Agravaine said, moving to stand between Arthur and Elyan. "His decision was made for the good of the kingdom and will not be questioned by the likes of you."
Elyan looked angry enough with Agravaine to start a fight, his hand instinctively gripping the pommel of his sword. His Lordship mirrored the action as they squared off against each other.
"Uncle, Elyan has every right to be angry; I've caused his sister hurt, so there's no need to defend me. Anyway weren't you about to tell me something when Merlin and Elyan first arrived?"
Agravaine turned to face his nephew, and Merlin got the distinct feeling he was not happy Arthur had remembered that fact. That impression was borne out by his reply, "I would prefer to discuss the matter with you alone, sire."
"If it concerns Guinevere then Merlin and Elyan should hear it too."
"Very well, but Elyan I expect you to keep control of your temper and remember that I have only ever acted in your sister's best interests."
Elyan gave his agreement to stay silent with a curt nod, keen to hear what Agravaine had to say. Particularly as he already knew Gwen distrusted Arthur's uncle.
"As I knew of your intentions with regard to Gwen, I thought it would be a kind gesture to offer her a sum of money for her service to Camelot. This she accepted gratefully, saying that she could use some of the gift to visit a relative. I got the distinct impression she wanted to leave the citadel for a time. I can give you no further information, except to say that she was grateful for the money and thought she would use it to start a new life elsewhere. I'm afraid I encouraged her, Arthur. It seemed to me that it was the best solution; for the two of you to have some time apart."
Arthur stared at his uncle with growing dismay, wondering why he had chosen to take that action, without consulting him first.
"Why didn't you mention this to me before?"
"I did not wish to trouble you sire, given your feelings for the lady. I hope that I have not done anything wrong. Please remember that I only wish to serve you, my dead sister's only child, to the best of my ability. I thought it fair and just to thank Gwen with a remittance befitting her loyal service to the Pendragon family."
Giving Guinevere money had not occurred to Arthur at the time, and he wondered if he had let her down by not considering what her future without him would be like. He glanced over at Merlin, but his servant was an unreadable book for once, his thoughts carefully hidden behind a neutral expression. Arthur was desolate at the idea that he had lost his love, and he reached out to his uncle, wanting to thank him for having the grace to think about Guinevere's welfare.
"Dear uncle I understand why you took that action; it was kind of you to think…"
"Except Gwen and I have no other living relatives, so how do you explain that!" Elyan shouted out, unable to contain his anger for an instant longer.
"I cannot be expected to remember every detail of that evening and I warn you not interrupt your king again, Sir Elyan."
"I don't believe a single word of your story; and I repeat that Gwen would not go anywhere without first leaving me word."
Agravaine was furious and he looked like he was going to do Elyan some harm, so Arthur stepped in to restrain him by grabbing hold of his sword arm.
"Well I do not appreciate being called a liar, certainly not by the son of a Blacksmith." Agravaine snarled back at Elyan.
"That is enough, uncle!" Arthur exclaimed, frustrated by Agravaine's need to constantly remind Elyan of his humble beginnings, as if his honourable service as a knight of Camelot meant nothing.
Arthur decided he had to get his uncle to leave, so that he could get a chance to talk to Elyan, "Uncle, I would appreciate it if you could start the inventory of Camelot's armoury we discussed last night. It is a matter of great concern to me and I want you to start immediately. Merlin, make further enquiries in the town to find out if anyone knows where Guinevere was planning to go."
Elyan walked up to Arthur, and Merlin could see that his eyes blazed with anger as he addressed his king, his voice trembling with raw emotion, "Sire, I'm afraid you've abdicated your right to be concerned for my sister; she is now solely my responsibility and I alone will deal with this matter and ensure her safety."
Outraged by the way in which Elyan had dared to speak to his king, Lord Agravaine moved faster than Merlin ever thought possible for someone of his age, brutally shoving Elyan away from Arthur and throwing him against one of the stone pillars. Then he firmly held the shocked young man at bay with an arm rammed across his throat, as he spat out his words with all the venom of a snake, "Remember, you are a sworn knight of Camelot, so you will do as the king commands or suffer the consequences!"
Elyan quickly came to his senses and shook himself free of Agravaine's grip pushing him back in a furious rage, and then he ripped his honourably won Pendragon cloak from his shoulders.
"But if I renounce my oath I am no longer a sworn knight!"
He threw the cloak at Agravaine's feet and without waiting for permission to leave, stormed out of the room.
Merlin looked at Arthur and could tell he was furious at his uncle's actions from the grim look etched on his face.
Agravaine had not noticed the king's mood; he was too angry at the insults he had suffered.
"Give the order sire and I will have that upstart arrested for his insolence."
Although emotionally caught up in worry for Guinevere and the scene he had just witnessed, Arthur still managed to speak with the quiet determination of a man who expected to be obeyed, "I want no action taken against Elyan, uncle. Is that understood? I have already entrusted you with a matter that is of great import to me, and I expect you to carry it out to the best of your ability."
Agravaine finally seemed to get the message that he had gone too far, and his face paled.
"Yes my lord, I will attend to the matter at once." Lord Agravaine grovelled, bowing deeply and than walking a few steps backwards in deference to the royal presence, before leaving.
When only the king and his servant were left in the chamber, Merlin could no longer hold back his indignation at Arthur's actions.
"Elyan is right, how could you do that to Gwen, after everything the two of you have been through!"
"I don't have to answer to you."
"No, and that's a pity because Gwen's gone and it's all your fault, whatever were you thinking…sire!"
"Merlin!" There was a warning tone in Arthur's voice, which Merlin had enough sense to pay attention to.
"Just because I let Elyan speak to me without constraint, it does not mean you have the same freedom. In fact, another word from you and I will have you thrown in a cell. Now do you understand, or do you have something you wish to add?"
Merlin bit his lip as he slowly shook his head.
"Good, I need you to make enquiries in town to find out what you can about Guinevere. And if you run into Elyan, try and get him to see sense."
"May I speak now, my lord?"
"Yes, but take care, Merlin."
"You want Gwen back?"
"Yes, if she'll have me."
"Well that's the first sensible thing you've said this morning, sire."
Arthur had a look of a man at the end of his tether, so having had the last word Merlin sprinted for the exit before the king had time to call for the guards to drag him away.
As soon as he was alone, Arthur walked to his throne and slumped down on the seat, the pain which had been gnawing at his heart now seemed ready to shatter it into tiny pieces. In frustration he slammed his fist into the side of a wooden armrest so hard the panel splintered. Then he leant forward, cupping his injured hand in his other one as he cried out in pain, "Guinevere, please come back to me!"
The heavy silence that greeted his desperate plea, made Arthur feel that all hope was lost. His world had darkened and become a smaller and meaner place, because he had lost the one woman he had ever truly loved.