Title: The Patter of Tiny Feet on Cold Stone Floors
Summary: Like Uther and Ygraine before them, King Arthur and Queen Guinevere found that when the time came, they were unable to produce an heir. Like Uther and Ygraine, the pair sought out the help of their trusted Court Sorcerer to aid them. And like Uther and Ygraine, they would soon find that the situation did not turn out exactly as they had expected.
Pairing: Merlin/Arthur (but starting as Arthur/Gwen)
Characters: Merlin, Arthur, Guinevere
Spoilers: Pretty much up to and including the series 5 opener: Gwen and Arthur have been married for three peaceful years, and that is where our story starts.
Notes: This idea came to me while I was trying to think of a way to give Arthur and Merlin a baby without mpreg (which I'm not a fan of) being involved – and suddenly, it seemed so obvious, I couldn't believe I hadn't thought about it before! And once I had the idea, I couldn't not write it.
Trailer: The amazing Sally Sparrow made a trailer for this fic, which can be watched on Vimeo. Remove the spaces: vimeo com / 56635303
Disclaimer: If I owned Merlin, do you really think I'd be sitting around writing fanfiction? This bitch would be CANON, baby! And probably on HBO.
Guinevere's life was perfect.
She had the most beautiful gowns in the kingdom, more precious jewellery than she knew that to do with, and a castle full of servants that were hers to command if she chose.
She had a place at the Round Table, and her opinions mattered - in a way that few women's opinions did.
And most importantly, she was lucky enough to find herself married to Arthur Pendragon; her best friend, the King of Camelot.
Guinevere the Queen had everything which Gwen the Servant Girl would never even have permitted herself to dream of, back when her nights were spent in her father's smithy and her nightclothes were made of scratchy wool, not the finest silk in all of Albion.
Back then, she had looked up at her golden prince with the same awed reverence as all her peers, and had been content to serve in demure silence; loyal to a fault and instantly deferential to anyone whose rank commanded her respect.
These traits, incidentally, were what a lot of people attributed to her ability to serve Camelot and its King not as a fine handmaiden, but as a great Queen.
Holding this title, when at birth she had held nothing, and proving every day how capable she was as a co-ruler of the kingdom, Gwen was slowly making a difference. She knew this, saw the subtle changes in the ways in which servants were now being treated by their masters. And humble as she was, this was one of the few parts about her life which she allowed herself to revel in. She was making a difference, just by being Queen and being good at it, and she was content that this would be her legacy.
However, it was no secret that Guinevere was also hoping to leave Camelot a different kind of legacy; a far more substantial proof of her existence, and of her and Arthur's star-crossed romance.
Ever since she and her King had wed three years ago, Guinevere had dreamed of a child. A beautiful child with Arthur's smile and her eyes, and Arthur's nose and her hair; the picture in her mind was so clear that she could almost imagine it to be real.
But Gwen was not Morgana, and her dreams were not destined to come to pass.
During the three years that had passed since they had become man and wife, she had waited and she had hoped. And Arthur, too, had begun smiling more fondly at the children playing in the market square, and regarding her hopefully whenever he saw her hand stray towards her stomach.
Although he had been understandably preoccupied with his new and overwhelming responsibilities since taking the throne - often having to depart the castle to negotiate peace treaties with other kingdoms for weeks at a time, and spending most of his time when at home working to diplomatically move away from his father's ways - Arthur had kept up his visits to her chambers, too, even after the initial thrill of being newlyweds had passed.
When they had just been married, of course, Arthur and Gwen's individual chambers had been left unused, the pair spending every night together in their shared rooms. They had reveled in the freedom of finally being able to be together, and she still shivered at the memories of the ways in which Arthur had worshiped her body, unlocking new and unfathomable realms of pleasure within her.
But it quickly became apparent that Arthur's duties and routines required him to wake early and sleep late, and he had insisted that it would be easier on her, really, if he did not disturb her sleep by crawling in and out of bed with her at all hours. Plus, he had joked, poor Merlin never knew where to look when he arrived with breakfast in the mornings.
So, after it became apparent that Arthur was insistent on this act of chivalry, Gwen had acquiesced with a fond roll of her eyes. And while they had eventually moved most of their belongings into their individual private rooms, Arthur had promised to visit her in their joint chambers as often as he could.
Gwen did not subscribe to court gossip, especially not about such private matters as what happened between a husband and his wife in the bedchambers, so she did not know how often married couples would usually come together after three years of marriage. But even if she spent more nights than not missing the feel of holding her husband in her arms, Guinevere thought that she and Arthur had a wonderful, comfortable bond which she would not trade for anything. And even during the months when Arthur only frequented her bed a couple of times, Gwen never felt her love for him waver.
But still she was beginning to worry, because even if their couplings were not as frequent as a small part of her may secretly have wanted them to be, she knew how this was supposed to work. By all accounts, she should have found a quickening in her belly already within their first year of marriage. And every day that passed, she grew more concerned when the quickening did not come.
Then, on one otherwise very unremarkable day, Guinevere woke up in her bed (alone, of course) after yet another dream of holding a child in her arms. And as her hand fell automatically on her flat stomach like it had done every morning for the past several months, a strange feeling came over her.
Because, without being able to explain to herself how of why, in that moment she just knew that she was not able to bear Arthur a child.
Guinevere got out of bed, quite calmly, and went to Gaius's chambers - trying not to feel as if she were walking to the gallows.
And it was with a grave expression that Gaius a few hours later confirmed the heartbreaking news: that Guinevere could indeed not have children. But even as he patted her shoulder (a little awkwardly, but she appreciated the sentiment), Gwen did not cry - because really, she had suspected for a long time that she could not bear children, even if she had not let herself believe it until now.
If she had looked towards Merlin's room at that moment she would have seen her old friend watching them silently, mournfully; standing frozen in the doorway after having unwittingly intruded on a very private moment and being unable to think of a way to make his escape without being noticed.
And had she watched him very closely, Guinevere would have noticed the myriad of conflicted emotions dancing across Merlin's face, as an old memory of a story he had once been told about another King and his barren Queen resurfaced in his mind, and the shadow of an idea began to form there.
In an uncharacteristic act of selfishness, Guinevere did not tell Arthur about any of this, and she made Gaius promise that he wouldn't, either. She had never doubted her husband's love for her, but she worried that his duties – which were already keeping him from her for so many nights – would begin to take precedence over her completely, now that there was no longer the same shared goal between them of ensuring that the Pendragon line would live on after they were gone.
She also felt deeply, helplessly ashamed, as though she had let Arthur down on purpose. It was irrational, Gwen was level-headed enough to understand this, but it didn't make her self-loathing any less substantial. Arthur had married her, a lowly servant girl; he had defied his father and denied himself all the tactical advantages that would have come with marrying a noble woman, and for what?
Nothing, she thought bitterly. Less than nothing; the destruction of the Pendragon line, all because of her and her lowly, unworthy body.
This, she thought with growing despair, as the weeks grew into months and she found herself slipping further and further into apathy, more often than not denying Arthur's advances even when they did come, this is what they will remember me for. History would not record her as Guinevere, the baseborn Queen who flowered from withered earth and helped unite all the peoples of Albion, no, but rather as Gwen the peasant girl who selfishly ensnared the noble King and knowingly led his line into ruin.
Slowly but surely, Gwen began to truly hate herself. And noble and brave and dutiful to her King as she was, Gwen couldn't help but hate Arthur a little bit, too, for putting this burden on her; this pressure which her body was unable to live up to.
Guinevere lived in this bubble of numbing despair for a long time. Everything began to feel hopeless, pointless; talks of peace and the daily tasks of the knights lost their meaning for her, and she found herself drifting away from everything and everyone she had once taken pleasure from.
But then came the fateful day (which to her had been as ordinary and as despairing as any other), when Morgana sent a spy to Camelot to assassinate Arthur. Only, Merlin saved the King's life – with magic – and was promptly thrown in the dungeons.
And Gwen, who despite her own pain still instinctively put the suffering of those she loved above her own, had gone straight to Arthur's rooms to demand that Merlin at least be given a fair trial – only to find Merlin already there, sobbing into Arthur's shoulder that he should have told him sooner, would have, but he couldn't bear for Arthur to not trust him, couldn't bear for Arthur to think that he had ever meant him or Camelot any harm; that he couldn't help what he was, that he had only ever wanted to serve his King.
The two men had been too wrapped up in each other to even notice her arrival, and Gwen had watched unseen from the doorway as Arthur ran his hand hesitantly up and down Merlin's back and reassured him that he knew why Merlin had done it, that he understood, and that he only wished Merlin had trusted him with this sooner.
And Gwen had felt a deep kinship with Merlin at that moment, mixed with a by now familiar pang of bitterness that it was not her in Arthur's arms being promised forgiveness and loyalty and love, despite what she had come to consider as heinous of a crime against Camelot as sorcery.
A month later, with very little fanfare, Merlin was appointed Court Sorcerer (much to the outrage of the members of Arthur's council who had sat in his father's court too - following which Arthur had politely informed them that they could shut up or leave, with the promise of Merlin making the door hit them in their backsides on their way out). And the very next day, her old friend came to visit Guinevere in her private chambers.
These days, Gwen was hardly seen at official events. She took her meals in her room, she usually begged ill if requested at the Round Table meetings, and visiting nobles often found themselves leaving disappointed, having not caught as much as a glimpse of the fair Queen they had heard so much about.
Arthur had noticed her behaviour of course, but had wrongly attributed it to an illness of the body rather than the mind. He would now come to her chambers in the evenings much more frequently than he ever did before, but only to sit and talk with her. Sometimes he would lie with his head in her lap as she stroked his hair and he told her of the goings-on at court, and other times he would just come and sit with her in silence, busying himself with maps and scrolls.
Staying with her, she knew, was meant to be a reminder of his unwavering love for and devotion to her, and showed how deeply worried he must be. And it only made her hate herself a little bit more, because how had she ever thought herself worthy of Arthur Pendragon?
Even after Gwen had called for him to enter, Merlin stayed in the doorway, smiling hesitantly at her. She found herself smiling back; it was not as warm as it once would have been, but it seemed to be enough encouragement for Merlin to move into the room, looking relieved.
"Gwen," he said, seeming shy and not at all like the man who had proudly, defiantly stood up last night at the Round Table and taken his place at Arthur's right-hand side, accepting his rightful place after all these years.
"Merlin," she replied, keeping her voice calm and pleasant, "to what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?"
It was a sad truth, Gwen reflected, that the appearance of Merlin in her chambers really was a rare occurrence these days. The two of them used to be so close, once – but ever since she had married Arthur and become Queen, Merlin had treated her differently, even though she had done her best to discourage him from doing so.
At the time it had bothered and confused her, because he never seemed to have a problem being familiar with Arthur, despite him always having been royalty. But over time she had come to regard it as just another one of the inevitable changes which her alleviated status had brought with it. Guinevere had few enough friends amongst the servants these days, and there were even fewer noblewomen who were willing to accept her as one of their own.
And that Merlin only came to her now, after his own status had been raised, too – when their positions at the Round Table was at the right and left hand of the King, respectively – did not go unnoticed by her. But Gwen was too polite and unassuming to ever let that show.
Merlin was still regarding her hesitantly but he moved closer to her still, coming to sit in the adjacent chair by the large window overlooking the forest and the far-off mountainside.
"We missed you today, My Lady," he said. "At the meeting."
Ah yes, there had been another Round Table meeting today. She had gone yesterday for Merlin's sake, of course, after Arthur had practically begged for her support when he was about to break down the last, most important part of what his father had stood for (and how could she deny her beloved King anything, really?), but watching all of Camelot's court regard her with such respect and adoration which she now knew she did not deserve had exhausted her, and it was not something she was anticipating doing again anytime soon.
"Yes, I was sorry to miss it," she said gracefully, "sadly I was feeling rather too unwell to leave my chambers today."
There was an unreadable expression in Merlin's eyes as he said, "You seem to be feeling unwell a lot these days, Gwen."
Gwen gave him a tight smile, which she hoped communicated her unwillingness to discuss the subject without her having to speak the dismissive words on the tip of her tongue.
But Merlin, being Merlin, of course didn't take the hint. "Will you not tell me what is ailing you, Guinevere?" he asked, in an uncharacteristically careful tone.
He looked so kind, so open and trustworthy, and she thought briefly of what a relief it would be to finally tell someone, to have someone know, and maybe not even judge her that much because Merlin himself had been keeping a deep, painful secret for so long...
But she couldn't. She couldn't tell anyone, no one could know or they would see her for the fraud she was. Gwen broke Merlin's gaze and turned her head slightly to regard the mountains in the distance, knowing that she was being rude now but not finding the energy to care.
"Gwen," came the sad, yet insistent voice, "please. Look at me."
She did, because it was Merlin, and they had been friends for too long for her to be able to shut him out now.
"I think..." and there was that hesitant tone of voice again, which despite herself had Gwen vaguely intrigued. "I think I know what has been on your mind, what it is that causes you so much distress. And I think... I think I can help."