A more light-hearted chapter this time, guys. Slightly shorter too, since we’re swamped at work right now. At any rate, enjoy!
Under the warm rays of the midday spring sun, Prince Arthur and Gawain were sparring together.
Or rather – Arthur was wailing on Gawain without mercy, while his opponent tried to block his blows as much as he could. The Crown Prince had kept his word. As soon as the red-haired boy was discharged and declared healthy by Gaius, a castle servant had come to fetch him. Arrangements had been made. Time had been set apart.
Now, every Friday, Gawain was expected in the castle courtyard.
And every Friday, he got his hind quarters expertly handed to him.
“Ow!” the boy yelped, almost dropping his sword as Arthur slapped his weapon down on his wrist. He immediately followed it up with a thrust to Gawain’s neck. It was a nasty blow, and one that required a great deal of skill. Gawain wasn’t impressed, though. With an angry voice, he yelled:
“That’s not fair! You’re fighting dirty!”
“Of course I’m fighting dirty,” the Crown Prince replied. “Fighting fair is a sure way to get you killed. I’m training you to survive, not to perform in tournaments. You’re not supposed to fight fair.”
To emphasize his words, Arthur lifted his weapon in the air, jumping at Gawain and bringing it down in an overhead strike. The boy saw it coming, raising his own sword as well- and Arthur kicked him straight in the stomach, changing attacks at the last second. Gawain doubled over in pain. The sword clattered on the ground next to him. He heaved, glaring at Arthur in anger.
“Gah! *cough* you flap-dragon! Wagtail! Stupid, pig-nutted-“
The next second, Gawain remembered who his opponent was. He quickly and awkwardly backtracked with:
“Err… I mean… milord.”
“You can swear as much as you want, muck-sprout,” Arthur quipped back. “I don’t care what you call me, as long as you’re learning from it.”
And learning, he was. Gawain had only been training with Arthur for a short few weeks, but the boy picked up the basics incredibly quickly, to the point where even some of the guards took notice. Before too long, watching the two of them spar would become a spectator sport among the guards of Camelot.
The red-haired boy wasn’t quite there yet, though.
With an exasperated sigh, Gawain sat down on the stone floor.
“Fighting dirty is hard.”
“I never said it would be easy,” Arthur grinned, looking down at him. “Come on, get up. We’re not done yet.”
“I just need a moment.”
Arthur raised a single eyebrow, the grin turning into a mocking smirk.
“Fine. If you want to be a sissy about it, we’ll stop here.”
“I’m not a sissy! I just need to catch my breath, is all!”
The Crown Prince couldn’t help himself. Teasing Gawain was just so easy. He jumped at the slightest provocation, and the more Arthur did it, the more Gawain’s cheeks began to resemble his hair colour. The Prince shook his head, laughing.
“All right. You have two minutes, muck-sprout.”
He could see Gawain’s mouth mumbling unspoken obscenities in response. It made him chuckle.
Even though he was just a commoner… spending time with Gawain wasn’t so bad.
Five minutes into their break, the Crown Prince sat down next to Gawain. Something had been on his mind for a couple of days now, and Arthur couldn’t come to a decision. He normally wouldn’t think twice about asking a lowly commoner about anything… but Gawain was here now, anyway. Why not? Arthur scraped his throat, getting the boy’s attention.
“So… you spend a lot of time with Morgana, right?”
“I… suppose so, milord,” Gawain replied. “Why? Do you need me to deliver a message?”
“No, no. Nothing like that. We have servants for that. No, I was wondering… has she talked about anything she wants, lately? Like a pretty doll, or a golden hair brush or something?”
“Eh… I don’t think so, milord.”
“Oh. All right.”
An awkward silence fell between the two of them. Gawain eyed the Crown prince with a confused expression on his face. He raised a single eyebrow.
“Are… are you looking for a gift?”
“What?” Arthur snapped. “No. Of course not. Her birthday isn’t for months, anyway.”
Another silence fell.
“But if I were, hypothetically speaking,” Arthur continued, “What would she want? Jewelry? A pretty mirror? Ballroom dresses, or something?”
“…You are looking for a gift, aren’t you?”
The Crown Prince turned red in the face. Gawain couldn’t help it. He snickered, amused at Arthur’s embarrassment. How the tables had turned.
But Gawain wasn’t the type to make fun of Arthur for it, and so he answered honestly.
“Milord… those things don’t sound like Morgana at all.”
That surprised Arthur. His sister absolutely sounded like that to him. In his mind, his sister was a proper princess, even when she was calling him fat or blackmailing him about letting him hide in her closet. Morgana was always…delicate. Girly. Frilly, with pink cushions in her chambers and dolls sitting by her bedside. Arthur had never seen another side of her.
But Gawain had. The Crown Prince suddenly grew very curious at the thought. What side of his sister did Gawain know about, that Arthur, her lifelong older brother, did not?
“What would you give her, then?” he asked. Gawain frowned, looking at the sky.
“Oh, I don’t know, milord. Something personal, I suppose. My father says that it’s best to give something handmade, if it’s someone important. It’s more meaningful that way.”
“Yeah. Like a carving, or a poem, or a bracelet. Something that you can make yourself. Of course, that’s how us commoners do it. I don’t know what gifts are good to give to royalty. Maybe you should get her a whole castle.”
Gawain laughed, expecting Arthur to understand the joke. But the Crown Prince was mildly intrigued. Gift giving among nobility had always been about wealth, and increasing status – both for the receiver, and the gift giver. The more expensive or exotic the gift, the better. Compared to a gold-inlayed jewelry box from a far-off land, or a royal dagger taken from a defeated king, what worth could some handmade trinket possibly have?
Arthur pondered that thought for a moment. The answer had to be… nothing. Commoners had nothing of worth, after all. And that had to be the only thing they could give each other. He nodded to himself. Yes, that had to be it.
“I think I’ll stick with something that has real worth, Gawain.”
The red-haired boy shrugged at him.
“Yeah, that makes sense. You probably can’t make anything, anyway.”
Something about the way Gawain said that caught Arthur’s attention. He turned towards the boy, frowning.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well, can you? Make something, I mean.”
“I’m the Crown Prince. I can do anything.”
Gawain raised a single eyebrow.
“Really? Did you make that sword yourself?”
Gawain pointed at the wooden blade in Arthur’s hand. The Crown Prince scoffed.
“Of course not. I had a servant fetch it for me.”
“That’s what I mean,” Gawain answered. ”I carved my sword by myself. So did all of the other village boys. And most of them know how to make other things, too. Merec knows how to play the vielle, and Peter can carve dice out of animal bones. Guinevere can make quilts and blankets. And Krea is really good at cooking. Even little Angmar can make some things, and he only has one hand.”
The merchant’s son sat up straight, making eye contact with his Prince.
“What can you make, milord?”
For a moment, Arthur was at a loss for words. He honestly didn’t know how to answer the boy’s question. Arthur was the Crown Prince – he was very good at sword fighting. He knew about Camelot’s history and court manners. He was a good dancer, and he knew how to manipulate people around him. The prince was well-versed in political intrigue, his family legacy, war, the knight’s code of honour and the complex rules of engagement on the battlefield-
But making things? Cooking, making clothes, playing instruments, carving wood? Arthur had never done any of those things. He’d never even thought about it. The young Prince had always had servants to do everything for him. Everything, from fetching his food to dressing him in the morning.
He’d never had to make something by himself. Ever.
Did that mean… that Gawain was better than him?
No, that couldn’t be. Arthur was the Crown Prince! He was the best at everything. Or at least, he was supposed to be. Even commoner things. He couldn’t be outdone by a Gawain of all people – could he?
“I – all of those things, of course!” Arthur snapped as he got up from the ground, arms crossed angrily. “I can do all of them, and I’m really good at all of those things, too!”
Any noble child would have seen right through his bluff. But it didn’t take much to fool Gawain. An impressed smile spread on the boy’s face as Arthur’s lie went completely over his head. He sprang to his feet, excitedly yelling:
“Wow, really?! You can do all of them?”
“Of course I can,” Arthur scoffed.
“Even the cooking?”
“Especially the cooking!”
The red-haired boy nodded eagerly.
“That’s so cool, milord! Okay, prove it!”
“Of course I… wait, what?”
The red-haired boy placed a hand on his chin, thinking out loud.
“Prove that you can cook, play the vielle, sew clothes and carve animals out of wood. And I’ll choose what you’re the best at, and you can use that to make a gift for Morgana! How does that sound? Problem solved, right?”
Gawain still hadn’t caught on to Arthur’s bluff. The Crown Prince quickly responded:
“Y-yeah! That sounds perfect, and I’m going to be amazing at all of those things! Of course I am!”
Gawain nodded in approval. Then he took a look at the sun, which was slowly beginning its descent towards the horizon.
“I have to go now, milord. But I’ll be back next week! Will you show me then?”
“Yes, I will. And it’ll be amazing. Now, go. You are excused. Go do… whatever it is you do when you’re not here.”
“Okay! See you next week, Arth- milord!”
And with that, Gawain was off. Arthur watched as the red-haired boy jogged towards the exit of the courtyard and turned the corner. Within moments, he was out of sight.
Great. Now he had a promise to keep. To a commoner boy, of all people. Wonderful. Arthur’s mood plummeted, still annoyed about the conversation they’d just had.
“Stupid commoners,” he mumbled. ”Stupid gifts. Stupid handmade trinkets. I’ll show him. I can do all of those things.”
Of course he was going to be good at it. After all, Arthur was the Crown Prince. He was supposed to be the next King. That automatically meant that he was good at everything. Including commoner things.
The young Prince scoffed.
How hard could it be?