Oh my gosh! Guys, I'm so sorry! I was supposed to post this this morning before I went to work, but it wasn't quite finished-even though I worked on it right up until I had to leave the house. Yesterday, after work, my mother kidnapped me and made me go shopping with her for a few hours. I didn't make it home until seven last night and the muse wasn't being very nice to me.
Thank you so much for your patience, favourites, reviews and alerts! :)
Jayley: Actually, Merlin and Morgana are not related by blood at all. Gorlois, Ygraine and Agravaine were cousins (which makes it creepy that Agravaine is now after Morgana *shudders*), making Arthur Morgana's second or third cousin-haven't figured that bit out yet. Even so, cousins can marry in this story, just like in Mansfield Park-I love the new version of that movie with Billie Piper, by the way! ;)
Dewaysha: Welcome! I really adored the last chapter as well, it was such fun to write! :D
Felicity Dream: Have at her! Yes, that old hussy needs to be taught a lesson! Thanks! I'm glad you liked it! :)
Shadowdragon1317: Wow! I think we have a line forming for those who want to punch out that old lady! O.O I didn't foresee this happening when I wrote her part. Aww, thanks! I love writing in first person; I used to do third, but I found that using First takes care of one of the characters and I don't have to constantly say who is speaking. ;)
Moonlight: There will be some Arthur/Uther moments soon. I feel bad, Uther has kind of dropped out of this story, but he will be back again in the future...say, maybe the next chapter? Glad you like it!
Luka Knight: LOL! xD
Demonbookworm101: I'm glad! Here's the next chapter! :D
Narutoske: Haha! Yeah, I love it when Morgana went all princess on him and demanded he escort her back to the castle. xD
bubzchoc: Thank you! Here's more! :)
Guest: Why? He's not acting stupid-well, not yet at any rate. ;)
Nebriniel Peredhil: Hehehehehe! Glad you found it to be funny-which was my intent.
Disclaimer: Stop asking, the answer is never going to change-unless someone bequeaths me a million bucks which is highly unlikely. ;P
Alright, I'm shutting up now. Enjoy! :D
Chapter Thirty Five: The Best Laid Plans
"The best laid schemes o' mice an' men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!"
"The best laid schemes of mice and men,
Oft go awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!"
~Robert Burns' To a Mouse
I sank back into my seat with a sigh and ran a hand through my hair. It had taken a lot of grovelling and more than a little bit of magic on Morgause's part to get me back into Uther's good graces. He had finally invited me back to Camelot, but I could tell that he was still angry with me and probably more than a bit wary of what I might do. I still couldn't believe that that idiotic servant of Arthur's turned out to be Uther's illegitimate spawn. That was definitely unexpected. Even Morgause hadn't seen that coming.
I fingered the pouch she had given me and thought back to our last conversation.
"All you need to do is slip this into her wine and the rest will simply fall into place. She won't be able to resist you and in no time at all, you will have your kingdom. It''ll be as easy as murder." I shivered at the thought. She placed the small bag in my hand, but held onto my wrist. I stared into her dark brown eyes that glittered in the flickering candlelight.
"Don't fail; I doubt I'll be able to get you back in Uther's favour a second time." I swallowed the sudden lump in my throat and nodded.
A knock on the door pulled me from my thoughts and I turned to see a young serving girl step into the room.
"Y-you wanted to see me, My Lord?" I smiled at her and nodded.
"Yes...Sebille, isn't it?" She curtsied to me.
"Yes, Sire." She replied, humbly.
A few well worded compliments later and the girl was butter in my hands. She didn't even ask me what the powder was for when I handed her the pouch and gave her instructions on what to do with it, she just pocketed it and left the room with a daze expression on her face. I smiled to myself.
This is going to be easy.
"Arthur, I think we've already established the fact that I can't use a sword."
"Can we stop now?"
Clang! Clang! Clang!
"Ouch!" The weapon dropped from my numb fingers and I clutched at the cut across my right forearm.
"Merlin, stop being such a girl!" I glared up at him as the blood oozed out from under my fingers and dripped onto the grass.
"I'm not; it hurts!" He rolled his eyes at me.
"Honestly! You took a dagger in the shoulder, you were whipped, drank poison and attacked by a vicious monster and now you're crying over a tiny cut on your arm?"
"It's not that small." I mumbled; Arthur snorted and shoved his sword into his scabbard.
"Well, clearly you're no good with a blade."
"Didn't I just say that?"
"You did? Oh, sorry, I must have missed it when I was trying to ignore your whining."
"Oi! I wasn't whining!" He raised an eyebrow at me.
"Oh really? It sure sounded like it to me." He replied, dryly. Grabbing up his cloak which he had discarded when we started practicing, he tore a strip of fabric from it and tossed it to me.
"Here, use this to stop the bleeding." I nodded my head in thanks and wrapped it around the leaking cut—tying the ends together and then tucking them under the makeshift bandage. Arthur startled me by clapped his hands together.
"Well, let's see how good you are with an axe." I looked at him as if he had suddenly sprouted wings.
"Are you insane? Arthur, even I know better than to try and pick up one of those things—I'd probably end up chopping my own hand off with it!" He looked at me critically.
"Hmmm...you may be right about that. No, I can't see you wielding an axe." He turned and looked at the collection of weapons laid out before him on a table a few of the servants had dragged out to the training field for just such a purpose.
"Spear? No. War hammer? Definitely not. Morning star?" He glanced over at me and smirked.
"How's your flail work coming along?" He asked, his tone mocking.
"I haven't managed to hit myself in the head with one yet, if that's what you mean." I retorted and he chuckled at that.
"No, I don't think you're suited to one of those. You might possibly be good with knives or a javelin...A-ha!" He seized something from the table and thrust it into my hands. It was a longbow.
"Try this." He said, tossing me a quiver full of arrows. I gave him a doubtful look.
"I don't think this is a good idea." I said, but he just grabbed me by the elbow and steered me towards the archery range. When we were twenty paces from the nearest target, he stopped me and took the bow from my hands.
"Now, you stand like this." He said, turning his body to the right and moving his legs until they were shoulder length apart. Grabbing an arrow from the quiver in my hands, he knocked the bolt, put two of his fingers below the arrow and one above it on the string. Then he drew the string back until the fletching just touched the corner of his mouth. He took a deep breath and released the string when he exhaled. The arrow hit the target in one of the inner rings. Arthur smiled and turned to me.
"Now, you try." He said, handing the longbow back to me. Slowly, I copied Arthur's stance. It took me a couple of tries to get the arrow to clip onto the bowstring—my fingers were shaking a bit. Once I did, I pulled the string, feeling my back muscles go taut with the strain of my movements. Then I turned my attention to the target. It seemed miles away and I felt a sinking feeling in my heart.
This isn't going to work.
I clenched my eyes shut and released it. It made a small twanging noise; pain radiated up my arm where the string had slapped it and I clenched my teeth together to keep from yelling. I waited for some poor soul to start screaming that I had shot him, but none came; in fact, I couldn't even hear Arthur breathing next to me. Cracking open one eye, I glanced over at my brother. He stood there gaping open mouthed at the target, his face devoid of color.
"What?" I whispered, fearing that something dreadful had happened; Arthur said nothing, he only pointed in the direction of the target—something I had no desire to look at. My curiosity got the better of me, however and I found myself reluctantly turning to look at it. When I saw it, I blinked.
That can't be right!
I rubbed my eyes, but the image remained. There, in the very center of the bull's eye, was my arrow.
"Uh...t-that has to be beginner's luck." I stammered and Arthur nodded his head slightly in agreement. Reaching over my shoulder to where the quiver hung, I grasped another bolt and repeated the process over again. This time the arrow was a few centimeters to the left of the first one. I shot again and again and by the time I ran out of projectiles it was obvious that I had finally found the weapon I was proficient with. Arthur slapped me on the back, still wearing a slightly dazed look on his face.
"Next time we're in a fight, remind me to stand behind you when you're shooting that thing."
"Alright." I replied, still just as shocked as he was. We stood there for a while longer and then Arthur cleared his throat.
"Now that we know what you can do, let's go get you your own set of armor." He said. I groaned.
"Haven't I put up with enough today, already?" I asked and he cuffed me lightly on the back of the head.
"Stop whining, cabbage brain." He replied, heading off in the direction of the blacksmith's stall.
"Dollop head." I retorted and then quickly followed after him.
"Arthur!" He stopped on his way down the corridor and turned to face me.
"You're going for a ride with me." He raised an eyebrow at my demand.
"Really, somehow I don't remember agreeing to go with you." I huffed and put my hands on my hips.
"Merlin promised he would go."
"Well, then you certainly don't need me to tag along after you two. I'll be ill ten minutes after we leave the castle if you start making doe's eyes at each other." My face turned crimson, but my eyes flashed with anger.
"Fine then! I was going to mention that Gwen will be accompanying us as well, but if you don't have time for something as tedious as riding then—" His entire expression changed in the blink of an eye.
"O-oh! W-well in that case, maybe I will join you." I forced myself not to start giggling like some commoner at his attempt at hiding his eagerness.
He is so easy to read.
"Good." I said, grabbing a handful of my skirt and barely lifting it off of the floor so I could walk unhindered.
"Meet us at the gates in half an hour." I said and walked away. I caught sight of Merlin in a nearby doorway and I nodded to him. He grinned back at me and I felt a stirring of something in my heart.
Our plan was in motion and poor Arthur wouldn't know what hit him.
I was walking on air, or at least that's what it felt like. I was weightless and it surprised me greatly that I didn't end up running into a wall.
Get it together, Arthur, you're just going riding with her. It's not like you're going to be alone with her; Morgana and Merlin will be there too, I rationalized, but my heart wasn't listening. It pounded away in my chest. Thirty minutes suddenly seemed too long to wait, but I resisted the urge to race down to the stables and instead went to my chambers and had George help me dress. I couldn't seem to concentrate on anything the dull servant had to say and ended up grunting whenever he seemed to require some kind of response from me.
When it was finally time to go riding, I raced down to the stables and found everyone already there, waiting for me. I felt my jaw hit the floor when I caught sight of the dark-haired beauty already seated on a bay mare. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew I was being set up, but I couldn't bring myself to care.
"Are you ready?" Morgana asked, when I had stood there gawking at her maid for a full minute. I could hear the amusement in her tone.
"Yes." I murmured and clambered aboard my own mount. We rode out of the gates and in no time we were winding our way through the trees. Soon, Morgan and Merlin came up with some excuse and rode off together, leaving me alone with the woman I had dreamed about the night before. I stole a glance at her and her cheeks were slightly pink.
"You look lovely today." I blurted and I could have smacked myself. She lowered her eyes to the ground and blushed even more.
"Thank you, Sire." She whispered. We rode in silence for a while until we came to a clearing.
"W-would you like to walk?" I asked, feeling a bit awkward. She nodded; I slid down from my saddle and gave Gwen a hand as she dismounted as well. For a moment I let my hands linger around her waist, but then I drew away and felt my own face filling with color. Tossing the reins of the horses over a tree branch so they wouldn't wander away, I turned and offered her my arm. She hesitantly took it and then we made our way around the clearing. At the opposite end of it, there was a stream and the water glittered in the sunlight as it flowed over the stones that made up its bed.
"It's beautiful here." Gwen murmured and for the first time I really looked at my surroundings. I had never before thought of the forest in such a way, but now that I looked at it, I realized that it was quite pretty.
"Yes, it is." I said, glancing down at her. The woods may be breathtaking, but there was nothing I had seen so far that could compare to the beauty standing beside me. Suddenly, she glanced up at me and our eyes locked. I felt as if I was about to drowned in her warm brown eyes. It was as if time had stopped. I could hear every breath she took, her lips parted slightly and the next thing I knew I had lowered my head and was kissing her. It wasn't a demanding caress and it didn't last very long, but in that one gesture I knew that my heart was completely hers.
The moment we parted, Gwen ducked her head and stepped away from me. Her cheeks were flushed and she was rubbing her hands on her skirt nervously.
"W-well, m-maybe we should check on the o-others." She murmured and I nodded. Everything in me was screaming to just forget about them and kiss her again, but I knew if I did, I wouldn't want to ever let her go. I took her hand and led her back to where our horses were tethered. I helped her mount and then swung into my own saddle.
It took us about ten minutes to find Morgana and my little brother. I was surprised when I spotted them sitting by a small pool of water; they were holding hands and talking about something in low voices. I had half expected them to be kissing passionately, but they weren't. Every few minutes or so, Merlin would sneak a glance at my cousin and when their eyes met they would both flush crimson. After waiting for them to notice their audience, I decided to make our presence known.
"Just kiss her already, Merlin!" Both of them jumped and turned to face me, embarrassed at being caught.
"Arthur!" They exclaimed simultaneously and I snickered. Morgana gave me such a glare that I was surprised I wasn't incinerated on the spot. Then she sniffed and rose from her seat.
"Well, it's getting dark. We'd better head back to the castle." When she went to mount her horse, I made kissing faces at Merlin. He stuck his tongue out at me and clambered aboard his own mount. It was going to be so much fun teasing them about it, I could tell. With one last look at the two, I turned and headed back to the main road with Gwen and the others following in my wake.
The next morning, I slid into the private dining hall in a daze. I couldn't believe that yesterday had really happened. It all seemed like a dream and yet at the same time it had all the elements of reality clinging to its fringes. Our plan had worked—as I could tell—like magic. Arthur had dragged me out to the tavern afterward and the rest of the night had passed in a drunken haze, at least it had for Arthur. I just sat back and watched in amusement as he made a fool of himself. He was quite funny when he was soused.
I glanced around the table; Morgana and Agravaine were there, but judging by his absence I was pretty sure Arthur was still sleeping it off. I slid into my seat next to Morgana and murmured a good morning to both of them.
"Where's Father?" I asked turning towards Morgana, she shrugged her shoulders in an unladylike way that made me smile.
"Uncle?" The word was awkward on my tongue. He really wasn't any relation to me, but I had been instructed to call him by it anyway. Agravaine glanced up from the document he was reading and gave me a blank look.
"Do you know where Father is? He's usually the first one here in the mornings."
"He's in a meeting." He replied and returned to his papers without expounding on his answer. I was about to ask another question, but at that moment the servants came in, bringing our breakfast in on trays. I had slowly gotten used to having Hugh help me dress, but still having someone waiting on me hand and foot was something I found to be awkward. I quietly thanked the attendants, which earned me a strange look from Agravaine. A serving girl entered the room and set out the goblets. She poured some wine in them and then stood off to the side in case we needed any of our glasses refilled.
"Happy birthday, Merlin." Morgana said, turning to me and I felt my cheeks flush bright red.
"H-how did you...? I started to ask, but then something clicked and I remembered seeing her talking with Gaius the day before. He must have told her the truth.
"Oh." I mumbled and she smiled at me; she picked up her glass and raised it to me in a salute.
"May this next year be full of peace and happiness for you." She said and was about to take a sip of her wine when Arthur burst into the room. The goblet was half-way to her lips when Arthur swiped the chalice from Morgana's hand.
"Arthur!" She scolded as he swallowed every last bit of alcohol in the goblet. A movement caught my attention and I saw Agravaine giving Arthur a strange look; when he caught my eye, he gave me a small smile, but there was no warmth in the gesture. Deciding that there probably wasn't anything to it, I returned my attention to my brother and Morgana.
"What?" He asked, setting the chalice onto the table beside her. She glanced at me and rolled her eyes.
"Last night, someone forgot that they can't hold their liquor." I murmured and received a death glare from my older brother.
"Oh, very funny! You still owe me an explanation as to why you never seem to get drunk yourself no matter how much mead you consume. You weren't even tipsy last night!" I grinned at him.
"Ah! Have you considered that I just know what my limit is and that I don't go over it?" I asked, teasing him.
"Judging by how much you drank last night, I assume all went well with...you-know-who." I said, glancing at Agravaine who was now totally engrossed in eating his breakfast. Arthur drew himself up in a dignified manner and looked down his nose at me.
"And why should it have gone any other way?" He responded,and I could see his ears turning red.
He scoffed at me and was about to say something when the door opened and a maid I had never seen before entered bearing a tray of fruit. Arthur turned to see who it was and the moment he laid eyes on her, he froze. His pupils dilated and his entire expression changed into one of longing. Puzzled, I looked at the serving girl. She didn't seem to notice anything different. I shrugged, it was probably just a delayed reaction to the liquor I had consumed that was making me see things. Granted, I had used a spell to water it down, but that still didn't make me completely immune to the drink.
The rest of the meal passed in silence with no more strange occurrences—not even imaginary ones. I listened with half an ear as Morgana and Arthur bickered over something trivial. This was my family. Maybe Morgana's unfinished toast would come true for me after all.