Disclaimer: Arthurian legends have been around for centuries, told and retold in dozens of different ways. Heather Dale's song, The Trial of Lancelot, one the other hand, is more recent and under copyright. It is that copyrighted version that I am specifically responding to with this fic.
A/N: I really enjoy Heather Dale's music, but I dislike the lyrics to her song The Trial of Lancelot, which highlights one of my dislikes of Arthurian legend in general. This fic is kind of getting a rant out of my system.
"The trial's charge was treason,
And betrayal of an oath.
And should his guilt be proven,
Death would fall on traitors both."
Trial of Lancelot
"We will go for a walk." It was the first time Guinevere had spoken all day.
Her head felt fuzzy and confused. Her bower was hot and stuffy and she needed to get out. She needed to understand what was going on. How had events come to this?
"My lady…" Bronwyn trailed off. She had been Guinevere's senior handmaiden. She still was, officially, but now Guinevere was confined to the bower room by order of the king. Her ladies now kept her confined when they had previously kept her company.
Guinevere refused to look at any of them. "Speak with the guards. We will go to the King's Walk."
The King's Walk was not a particularly pleasant area. It was a dirt path that the king often took from one end of the castle to the other. Its one appeal was that it lay on the other side of a single wall from her husband's famous Round Table.
If her husband saw her through one of the windows, he would banish her back to the bower room. Her ladies and her guards would be punished for allowing her out. But today was the day of Sir Lancelot's trial. King Arthur would not be looking out of the windows. And anyone on the King's Walk should be able to hear the testimony being delivered within.
Continuing to look at the sky outside the bower window, she could hear her ladies shifting and eying each other.
"Yes, my lady."
Guinevere couldn't hear what the Bronwyn said to the guards outside the bower door, but within a few minutes more guards arrived to escort them all to the King's Walk.
At any other time, it might have been a pleasant walk, for the air was warm, the breeze was cool, and the sky was bright.
They walked quietly and made no conversation as they approached the barren great meeting room. Through the window, Sir Kay could be heard speaking. "…His crime has no excuses, and no favours may he seek. The laws of Kings don't bend and can't be broken."
Guinevere bit her lip hard enough to taste blood but kept her face smooth. She had known Sir Kay for as long as she had known her husband. She had been first introduced to them together.
Then Sir Lancelot himself responded. She could imagine him in the room, standing tall and proud as was his want. "I stand for love of Guinevere. For pride in love."
There was no shame in his voice, nor any fear. He knew what his fate would be, and he courted it, more than he had ever courted her. That was what confused her so much.
Arthur's refusal to see her face or hear her words was painful but expected. After all, who was she as his queen to contradict one of his beloved knights, even a dishonored one. It was a shock to realize her weakness, but it was not Arthur's actions which gnawed at her reason like rats, but Sir Lancelot's words. For love of Guinevere, and yet there was no love there and never had been.
Delyth, one of the younger handmaidens, sighed at the romance of it. "For love," she murmured. "Ah, to have such a great knight fight for love of one."
Guinevere was just as glad that she wasn't looking. She knew that if she saw Delyth looking at her with envy for this situation, she would scream. Once she started screaming, she wasn't sure she would ever be able to stop. So she couldn't start.
Bronwyn snorted. "Better to have shown his love by being honorable and not subjecting her to this threat."
The threat of death by fire.
That silenced the more young and romantic of the ladies, for a time at least.
But, oh, it struck a spark in Guinevere's own mind. Is that not what this whole situation was? A threat of death to Camelot's Queen? How many assassins had tried to kill her since her wedding day? A dozen or more surely. Her husband's enemies sought to kill her as an attack on his strength. Her husband's allies sought her death as an opening to place their own daughters and sisters in her place. And now, here she stood, guarded as tightly on the King's own Walk, as she ever had been traveling across the war torn lands, but these guards would not protect her from the funeral pyre. They would deliver her to it.
Gawain was speaking for mercy. "… His actions were not proper, but should not cost him his life. His service past should earn of you some mercy."
And yet, for all that he was "the maiden's knight," he didn't mention her at all in his defense. He was also Sir Lancelot's closest friend among the knights of Arthur's Round Table. As recently as last week, Guinevere would have trusted him first among all the knights save her husband himself, to guard her and her maidens from harm, both physical and to their honor. Now, she searched his voice, looking for treason, uncertain if she heard it or not.
Lancelot answered again. "I fought for love of Guinevere. I'll fight for love."
And while her ladies and her guards shifted uneasily, a mixture of stern disapproval and romantic sighs, Guinevere forced herself to continue to listen.
Sir Tristan was troubled by the situation which he thought mimicked his own plight too closely. Guinevere wished she could reassure him that it was not so, even as Sir Lancelot sought to confirm it.
Sir Galahad damned his own father. Sir Lancelot earned every bit of that damnation.
Finally Arthur spoke. It was the first time she had heard his voice since he had found Sir Lancelot alone with Guinevere in her bower room and summoned the guards. She could hear the tears in his voice, but her own face remained dry as dust as she stared up at the clear sky and heard him call down the wrath of heaven on his queen and the knight who continued to proclaim his love for her.
She had always thought that her husband was the greatest knight of the realm, strong and true. With this trial, though, she knew that Sir Lancelot was the greater knight, for he had made it past all of her husband's guards and assassinated Camelot's Queen.
All it had taken was a moment of his to ask for her advice, confidential even from her ladies, and then a week of proclaiming his love.
It had taken Guinevere more than a day to realize that she was being charged with adultery. It wasn't until the trial had started that she realized she would not even be asked if she had dishonored her husband.
Sir Lancelot was tried for treason, and her fate was placed with his.
Guinevere had been found guilty before the trial ever started, all based on Sir Lancelot's oath-breaking word, proclaiming his love.
The Trial of Guinevere
Guinevere turned away from where her husband and his knights of the round table stood in their great meeting hall, and started walking back to her bower. There was no need to summon the guards to protect her, they knew their duty and it was not to obey her, anymore.
From the sounds, most of her ladies were weeping. Guinevere refused to do so.
She paused at the foot of the stairs to her bower.
"My, my lady?" Delyth stuttered through her tears.
"There's a decorative cord in the feast hall. It hangs from ceiling to floor beside the tapestry across from my seat."
"Bring it to me."
There was a long silence and Guinevere waited to see what would happen. No one spoke for a long time, but everyone waited for someone else to speak. Everyone there knew that there was only one purpose a lady might have for such a length of decorative cord after being found guilty of adultery and sentenced to die by fire.
Her guards had once sworn to protect her life with their own. Her ladies had kept her company for years, and she had elevated their families to great positions.
None of them spoke.
Finally it was Delyth who broke the silence. "My lady..." It was a plea.
The time for pleas was long past. "Bring it to me," Guinevere repeated.
And finally a broken whisper, "Yes, my lady." Guinevere listened to the receding patter of her slippers for a moment before beginning her climb to the bower room. She settled herself in front of the window and waited for Delyth to return.
The sun had set and trays of food had been delivered to the bower room by the time Delyth returned with the cord. The evening meal would have been in progress by the time Delyth left the feasting hall.
Everyone would have seen, and the highest ranking member would likely have commented. Maybe King Arthur himself, maybe his seneschal Sir Kay. Whoever Delyth spoke to had granted their permission, either tacit or direct, for Delyth returned with the cord.
"Thank you." The acknowledgement was such a habit that Guinevere spoke the words to Delwyth without intention. She wondered vaguely if the verbal gratitude made Delwyth as uncomfortable as it did Guinevere, given the nature of the delivery.
She held the cord in her lap for a while, continuing to look out the window as the sky grew darker and the stars began to appear. Her ladies were waiting for her to lead them back to her rooms. She didn't want to return to her rooms, though.
There was another long silence. The bower room was normally so full of conversation, but now it seemed all the fuller with silence and things unspoken.
"My lady," Bronwyn spoke gently, "are you sure?"
Guinevere smiled faintly at that. "I am sure of nothing. But leave me. I wish to have time with my thoughts."
"Yes, my lady. It has been my honor to serve you, my lady." Bronwyn guided the other ladies out. Each and every one of them individually took their leave of her, from Elain who had children older than Guinevere to young Meinir who had joined the court only last summer. It was their final leave-taking.
The guards stayed outside of the door.
Guinevere was finally alone. She had never been alone in the bower room before. She was always surrounded by so many people. The only time that came even close was when Sir Lancelot had asked for private counsel from her and she had granted it. They had been alone, because he was one of Arthur's trusted knights and she had considered herself safe. Then Arthur was there, there was shouting and there were guards, and it turned out she had not been safe at all.
Now she was alone with a decorative cord, three days before she would be burned at the stake.
There was only one reason an adulterer might need a decorative cord strong enough to hold a grown woman's body without snapping from the weight. The rafters in this room would hold her well. It would be the easiest way out from a painful death and a life destroyed by treason and lies.
But Guinevere was not an adulterer and the window here was large enough to let in light for sewing and high enough off the ground to not be guarded. It was a more difficult way to avoid a painful death. More difficult and less certain.
Guinevere sat in her bower room, the decorative cord coiled in her lap, and watched the sky grow ever darker.