Two Sides of the Coin
Flipping the Coin
Knave of Hearts
AN: Undergoing massive edits and revisions beginning 9/3/14
Strong T (almost M rating on some chapters) There are mild descriptions of spousal abuse, implied sexual situations, and violence.
Disclaimer: Applies to all chapters- Merlin and the myths I use are not mine. Sadly, this includes Gwaine *sigh* It's fan fiction for entertainment only, not profit.
"I gave to an old chief
very great swords of protection.
Is it not I that performed the rights of purification,
When Hayarndor went to the top of the mountain?
To my deprivation, to my sorrow, sinew was brave.
The world would not be if not for my offspring.
I am a bard to be praised. The unskilful
May he be possessed by the ravens and eagle and bird of wrath.
Avagddu came to him with his equal,
When the bands of four men feed between two plains."
Clarissant brushed the greasy, soiled hair from her eyes. The cold, iron cuff on her wrist slid and chafed. It had weighed her arm down, and cut deeply into her skin, until it became a dull, ever-present ache. The chain connecting it to the wall created a grinding noise across the floor. Every movement was strained. Her brown eyes, once filled with a passion for life, were now dull with self-doubt and a resigned sense of fear.
She was beyond tears.
After living in the streets, following the death of her father, all Clarissant had wished for was comfort. She assumed she had found it with a merchant's son, who was aspiring to become a noble. At first, his temper was bearable, and she naively believed he would change once they were married. After that, she felt that once he actually received his title, he wouldn't be so easily angered...it was just the stress, she was certain.
She looked back on it all now in harsh reflection. She had forsaken her only true family for the roof over her head, lavish dresses to wear, jewels at her throat and on her fingers, and food on the table each night. In the beginning, she felt it was worth the occasional slap.
Years of painful abuse at his hands, had nearly broken her. The only thing that kept her going was when she would look at the sash. Her father's crest was embroidered in gold thread by her mother's hands on the green silk. It had been made in a much happier time of her life, when she was swaddled in childish innocence.
In that one piece left from her family, she held some hope that someday she would be free.
Her brother had hated the man from the first moment he met Guirom. He tried to encourage Clarissant to leave him. Still fresh from the loss of their mother, and having lived for years on kindness of strangers, had stained her. Clarissant was desperate for something more stable.
The last time she had seen her twin was just after her marriage. They had argued like never before, and he had even threatened to kill Guirom. She disowned her brother that day, swearing to any god that would hear, that she wished she had been born an only child. In all the bickering over the years, nothing cut both of them as deep as when she said that. Immediately, she had wanted to take it back, but Gwaine just shut his mouth, turned on his heel, and walked out of her life.
A few months ago, Clarissant had thought she finally had her chance to break free from her hellish life. Guirom had been in a foul mood. Something had obviously not gone his way, although Clarissant hadn't been able to figure out what it had been.
Whatever had happened was blamed once again on her. His breakfast had been cold...or, too hot. His clothing had not been laundered properly, or he had seen her talking to the maid, and distracted the girl from her duties. Sometimes, she thought that he believed she controlled the weather.
After years, it hadn't mattered what the reason was. Although, until that night, he had never touched her face. Others would have asked questions, or realized she was not the perfect wife on his arm. Guirom's pride wouldn't allow them to believe otherwise.
He had come home and found her curled up asleep with the sash. The beating was unlike anything she had taken from him before, and he had ripped the last remnant of her family out of her barely-conscious hand before he headed out to his favorite brothel.
Later that night, curled up on the floor next to her bed, she had jumped in fright hearing the sound of someone approaching. Through blackened and swollen eyes, she had blearily made out the slipper covered feet of a woman in front of her. The woman's voice had been kind and matronly, as she took Clarissant's arm and led her out of the house. She had claimed that Clarissant would never again have to endure such abuse.
Guirom was dead.
Clarissant's heart had soared with relief, and she had passed out in the woman's arms. When she awoke, she had screamed upon realizing she had traded one prison for another. She had been bound in chains to a wall, and another man's head was resting atop her husband's body.
It had been days, or even weeks, and she had become accustomed to this new life of hell.
Bran looked up from his sword practice. "I thought I told you to keep reading?"
Clarissant sighed silently, and turned to the next page of the book. Bran had told her, that he would be meeting her brother soon. It seemed that Gwaine was actually looking for her. She sent out a prayer to anyone that would hear that Bran's words were true.
"Abiding in heaven was he, my desire,
Against the eagle, against the fear of the unskillful.
I am a bard, and I am a harper,
I am a piper, and I am a crowder.
Of seven score musicians the very great enchanter.
There was of the enameled honor the privilege.
Hu of the expanded wings.
Thy son, thy barded proclamation,
Thy steward, of a gifted father.
My tongue to recite my death-song.
If of stone-work the opposing wall of the world.
May the countenance of Prydain be bright for my guidance.
Sovereign of heaven, let my messages not be rejected."
That evening Bran left, and had locked her in one of the dungeon cells with enough food and water for a week.
Chapter One: Bedfordshire
Moans of pleasure came from nearly every corner of the building on the outskirts of town. Following a very boring day of treaty negotiations with King Bayard, Gwaine, knight of Camelot, grandson of King Lot, and sometimes, more than others would like, drunkard, found himself in one of the rooms.
The knight's companions were just down the street, enjoying some gaming at a local tavern. He'd gotten bored with the drinking. After a little encouragement, he and a couple of the others had decided to wander down the road to this establishment.
He laid back on the bed in anticipation. The woman wasn't the most pleasant to look at, but his focus wasn't on her face as she straddled him. Unfortunately, she seemed a bit too talkative for his normal liking. He began tuning out her incessant chatter, until something she mentioned caught his attention.
She rubbed herself against him. "Is that your sword?"
Gwaine grinned lustfully, not realizing that she was referring to his actual sword, hanging on the bed post.
"I used to have a belt like that."
"Like what?" His voice was husky and deep.
She moved her hips, causing him to groan. "The green, silk one - wrapped around your sword."
He caught her arms, stopping her motion. His dark brown eyes narrowed into slits. "What did you say?"
The wench looked at him innocently, surprised by the sudden change in his demeanor. "The cloth tied to your sword. There was a fat ugly man in here a while back. He gave me something like that as a gift, but what would I do with it?" She giggled flirtatiously, tracing the outline of his muscles with her fingertips. "It's not like I wear belts."
Gwaine shoved her off of him. "What did you do with it?"
She sat back on the bed and pouted. "I sold it."
"Tell me who gave it to you!" He ordered, while furiously pulling up his trousers.
"Some fat little lord, he used to come in here quite regularly. Guirom...or, something. 'said his wife was throwing it away."
"Where can I find him?" Gwaine growled through his teeth. If there was one thing he knew of his sister, she would die before throwing such a treasure away.
The wench actually looked a bit frightened by the murderous glare he was giving her. "Lives towards the east side of town, from the way he talked."
The knight quickly finished dressing and threw a couple of coins at the woman. He grabbed the rest of his things, before he bolted out the door.
The woman smirked as she dressed, knowing that the dominoes had begun to fall. No one paid her any attention, as she made her way into the darkened street outside.
Gwaine rushed out of the brothel and down the street. He pushed his way into the tavern where some of the other knights he'd journeyed with to Bedforshire were gambling and drinking. He took a quick glance around and spotted Merlin and Percival sitting together at a table.
Arthur couldn't refuse staying in the castle when King Bayard had offered, but he had encouraged his men to go have a relaxing evening on the town.
Merlin noticed Gwaine's distressed state immediately. He grabbed Percival and moved through the room toward their friend.
Gwaine motioned them both outside and snarled, "He's here."
"Who is?" Merlin asked, before it dawned on him who his friend was referring to.
Brown eyes darted around to make sure no one was listening. "Can you use your magic to help me find him…and Clare?"
The warlock pursed his lips nervously. If it had been anyone else asking, Merlin's answer would have been an immediate 'no.' However, it was Gwaine.
The number of times over the years that the rogue prince had accompanied Merlin on fool's errands at the drop of the hat, held a lot of weight. He knew he owed his friend and nodded reluctantly. "Go have one of the others run to inform Arthur, then catch us up." He told Percival.
Gwaine breathed a sigh of relief. "I know he lives on the east end of the city. So, that's where we'll be looking."
Percival grunted and rushed back into the tavern to pass on the message.
He managed to join them as they passed the wall separating the nobles' estates from the rougher part of town they had just come from.
Merlin asked Gwaine for the silk cloth. Hooded eyes glowing briefly, as the spell came to his mind. He held it reverently and started making his way between the stately mansions.
The spell he had cast allowed him to feel a change in the sash if they neared any person who touched...like a mystical divining rod. He didn't want to tell Gwaine that chances were they wouldn't find anything, and the murderous gleam in his friend's eye made Merlin almost hope for that.
Turning down one last street, Merlin stopped. The street was shrouded in shadows cast from a few braziers that glowed low at this late hour. He glanced around cautiously...something tingled in the back of his mind. Merlin could sense powerful magic nearby.
"You got something?" Gwaine inquired hopefully.
"I'm not sure." Merlin stated, blinking his eyes rapidly. "I think it's something else."
Out of the gloom, between two of the houses, stepped a man in a green cloak. His face was hidden by the cowl, pulled low over his eyes.
Gwaine's eyes shot open when he spotted the crest of his sister's husband stitched to the shoulder of the cloak. Before his friends realized it, Gwaine was rushing the man. His fist connected with the face under the cloak and knocked the man to the ground.
Percival was quick to react. He raced after Gwaine and pulled him backwards; straining against his raging friend.
Merlin stood in shock. This is wrong, he thought to himself.
They watched the cloak man rise from the street. He wiped his lip with the back of his hand; the hood never falling off his head.
"Gwaine, dear brother-in-law. It's been a long time," the man said, with a laugh.
Gwaine struggled against the large knight, trying to break away. "What have you done with her?!" His yell echoed through the dark street.
"Why should that matter to you, she's my wife." The other man baited.
Merlin noticed that Mercian Guards were looking down the lane toward them.
One of them turned and went running, presumably in search of reinforcements. Meanwhile, the other began heading straight to their location.
Gwaine had ceased struggling, unable to escape Percival's grasp. He had noticed the guard, as well. Giving a nod to Percival, he felt himself being released.
Once free, Gwaine took one of his gloves. He threw it on the ground in challenge to the man in front of him. Guirom wasn't a knight, but it was the only thing the rogue prince could think of to legally put his sword through the man's gut.
The green-cloaked figure picked it up in acceptance. "What are your terms, Sir Gwaine?"
"I win...I get my sister, Guirom," he growled.
The man thought it over.
More guards were making their way down the street. Residents of the neighborhood began peering through slats in windows, curious about the late-night commotion. "...And if I win, you forget you even have a sister. Plus, compensate me for the trouble you are causing."
Merlin's eyes widened, he finally realized something. Although concealed by the cloak, the man before them did not appear to be the glutton Gwaine had made him out to be. Instead, he moved with the grace of a skilled fighter, almost cat-like, and Gwaine was the mouse he was toying with.
Stepping closer to Gwaine, Merlin was shocked to feel himself pulled backward. Arthur barely glanced at Merlin as he passed and moved toward Gwaine.
The king was livid. His breath heaving with exertion, obviously having run straight from the castle. "I'm canceling this duel!"
Gwaine protested, "So, I'm just supposed to let him get away with whatever he has done to my sister?"
"Get ahold of yourself! We are visitors here...and the treaty is tenuous enough as it is." He muttered to his knight. "What has he done?" Arthur implored, hoping to have something solid to go on.
Gwaine looked away, unable to answer his king.
The man laughed, "Ah. Needing your king to protect you? How precious."
Arthur took a breath to steady himself. "I ask that Sir Gwaine at least be allowed to visit with his sister."
"After ambushing me like he did? No, she is my property." He responded maliciously, knowing full well his use of words would rile the knight even more.
Gwaine reached for his sword.
The gathered Mercian knight's had all reached for their own blades; the tension in the air was palpable.
Merlin was instantly beside his friend, with his hand on Gwaine's hilt. "What about a duel elsewhere? If Gwaine wins, you at least allow him to see Clarissant and let her choose if she goes with him." He suggested as a compromise.
Guirom chuckled, "Tell me when and where."
"The Perilous Lands. Three days hence." Gwaine huffed.
Merlin and Arthur's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. As of yet, that part of their journey was still kept secret. The king's face was flushed with anger, while his cousin's went pale at the thought.
"Very well. I shall meet you there, Sir Gwaine." The cloaked man stated with amusement. He turned and stalked away through the crowd, disappearing among the spectators.
Arthur grabbed Gwaine by the collar of his shirt. He spun his knight around and marched the other direction. The others from Camelot fell in behind them.
Merlin paused, casting a final glance around, he needed to tell Arthur that he was getting a very bad feeling from all of this.
"What in the hell were you thinking, Gwaine?" Arthur shouted, amidst his pacing.
They had finally made it back to the castle where Arthur hauled the hot-headed knight into his guest rooms. Percival stood blocking the door, while Merlin leaned against a bedpost with his arms crossed. Gwaine sat in a chair, his head hung between his knees.
"We are visitors here! I don't care what you think that man did! That is no reason to go off and start a fight!"
"This is about my sister, you wouldn't understand."
Arthur stopped, "Understand? I have a sister too Gwaine, and you know what she's been through." Arthur's face was flushed with anger. "I know you want to try and help her, but this was not the way. And now, on top of it all, everyone knows where WE. ARE. GOING!"
Merlin drew an audible breath, shaking his head. The king turned to him questioningly. "Would you actually listen to me this time if I said I had a bad feeling about all this?"
Arthur paused, his head tilted off to the side. "Yes, I would listen. But, that doesn't change the fact that you are the one who said we needed to go there."
Percival finally spoke up. "Maybe this isn't as bad as it seems. I was trying to figure out how to get the other knights to return to Camelot without them wondering why we weren't going with them. Now, we have an excuse."
The king flopped down in the seat next to Gwaine and sighed, "Well, at least that's something."
 The Death Song of Uther Pendragon, The Book of Taliesin XLVIII