That afternoon, while the servants were away, Arthur snuck his way into the castle’s kitchen. It was a large chamber, with a massive fireplace by the wall and a wooden table filled with delicious ingredients. The castle’s larders were stocked. They’d had a good harvest this year – Camelot had enough food to fill the bellies of even the lowest peasants, and then some.
That meant that there was plenty to choose from. Arthur had grabbed a handful of random things off the table. This couldn’t be too hard, he thought. He just had to decide on what dish to create.
Having a natural sweet tooth, the Crown Prince very quickly settled on chocolate cake.
But how did you make it?
“Hmm… I’m pretty sure you need eggs,” Arthur pondered, looking down on his random pile of ingredients. “And… flour, maybe? And chocolate. Yeah, that has to be it. Flour, eggs and chocolate. This shouldn’t be too hard.”
He grabbed a handful of eggs, broke them between his fingers and threw them into the pot. The Crown Prince immediately realized that something was amiss.
“Wait, that can’t be right. How to you take out the shell bits?”
Arthur reached in, trying to grab the pieces of egg shell that had fallen into the bowl. But they were too slippery. Every time he grabbed one, it slipped right out of his grasp and deeper into the egg mix.
“Blast. All right, we’ll do that later.”
The Crown prince reached over to the flour. It was a heavy sack. Too heavy for a child. As Arthur pulled, he wasn’t able to keep hold of the thing. It toppled over. Flour and carob powder went flying everywhere, sprinkling all over the ground and staining his boots.
But he didn’t give up yet. At least some of the flour and carob had made its way into the bowl. He could still do this! It would be fine! They’d see!
Arthur grabbed a wooden spoon and stuck it into the mix, thinking about Gawain’s amazed expression as he vigorously stirred the batter inside. He’d show him! It would be a masterpiece. The cake would be so delicious that poor Gawain would never be able to eat normal cake again. Not after tasting Arthur’s super-skillful-
The Crown Prince was snapped out of his daydream when he realized that his spoon had reached the bottom of the bowl. He’d steered too hard. There was not a single drop left in there. All of the batter was smeared out over the walls. And the counter. And the floor.
It was a total mess.
As the sun touched the horizon, Sarah the servant made her final rounds through the castle grounds. She was in a great mood. It had been a difficult day, but she’d finished all of her chores in record time, leaving her some much-needed time for herself that night. Evenings off were rare. Especially if half of your duties consisted of looking after a princess that used you as a manipulation dummy, constantly snuck off when she thought you weren’t looking and fought your attempts to tame her mess of a hairdo with tooth and nail.
But today had been none of that. Today had been a good day. Sarah had even caught a few flirting eyes from some of the guards. They had invited her to join them after their shift was over, for company… and company. The maidservant was absolutely down for both of those things.
She only needed to check the fireplace in the kitchen, and after that, Sarah was home free.
The servant hummed a little tune as she pushed open the door to the royal kitchens.
And her voice froze in her throat.
The place looked like a battlefield. There was flour everywhere. Bits of egg were scattered all over the countertops. Sarah could see brown carob powder on the ceiling, and the walls were smeared with what looked like cake batter. It was an absolute, horrifying mess.
And in the middle of all that mess…
Stood Crown Prince Arthur.
“Ah… hello, Sarah.”
“M-milord?!” the maidservant stammered. Arthur flashed her a very, very guilty smile.
“I… don’t suppose you could take care of this for me?”
For a moment, Sarah was completely stunned, her mind still taking in the scene of complete destruction before her.
Then, the maidservant let out a deep, frustrated sigh. As she rubbed her fingers over her forehead, Sarah could feel a headache coming up.
So much for her night off.
The next day…
In the royal music room, the Crown Prince glared at the Vielle that stood before him.
Mocking him with its silent existence.
“I can play you,” Arthur grumbled. “Of course I can.”
This had become personal. The Crown Prince had cornered a servant in the morning to give him a needle and thread, but sewing clothes had gone no better than baking cake. Arthur’s morning had ended in a catastrophic failure where he’d somehow managed to rip a foot-long tear in his winter trousers, as well as somehow irreversibly attaching one leg to the other.
He’d ordered the servant to throw it out, and speak of it to no-one.
Fine. If sewing didn’t work, and cooking was a failure, then he’d try something else. At some point, Arthur stopped seeing it as proving something to Gawain, and started seeing it as something he had to prove to himself. He was the Crown Prince, for Watcher’s sake. The most important person in all of Camelot, besides his father. He was to become the next King. He was supposed to be good at everything. Even commoner things. Especially commoner things – even playing instruments. And this was just a stupid vielle. Of course, he could play it.
“I’ll show you,” he grumbled.
Brimming with forced confidence, Arthur walked over to the instrument and picked it up. He held up the bow.
“You’ll see. I’ll be great at this.”
In one of the castle’s many, many rooms, Uther and Morgana were in the middle of a game of cards. Both of them enjoyed playing. Not so much for the game itself, but for the deception and outright bluffing that surrounded it.
Morgana looked up at Uther, battling her eyelashes at him sweetly.
“Go easy on me, please, father?” she said. Uther chuckled.
“Absolutely not. You’ll need more than sweet looks to defeat the King of Camelot.”
Uther took a look at his cards again. Four-of-a-kind. A very good chance of victory. There wasn’t much that could beat that hand. Then again, Morgana was only a child. Perhaps he should hold back, just this once?
…No, Uther decided. He would go all-out. The taste of defeat was a valuable experience. It would light a competitive fire, and hopefully make her a better player in the future. Her demise would prove educational.
Plus, the King of Camelot hated to lose.
He flipped over his cards, placing them on the table.
“Four-of-a-kind. There will be no going easy on you today.”
For a moment, Morgana looked shocked. But then Uther could see her lips curl up into a small, but wicked smile. She grinned at him, laying her cards down as well.
The King of Camelot leaned back into his chair, laughing. Go easy on me, my behind, he thought. You knew your hand was unbeatable.
A proud gleam lay in his eyes as he looked down at his daughter.
“Well played. I can see when I am beaten. Well, then… What do you want?”
It was one of the rules in their games. Whoever lost had to give the winner a reward. They could demand anything from the loser, from their next dessert to their most prized possessions. If they wanted it back, they’d have to win the next round.
The princess pondered her reward for a while. Uther watched her silently. Usually, Arthur was the one to look out for. He kept asking for jewel-inlayed swords, and high-grade pastries, and other outrageous rewards. Once, the Crown Prince had even demanded Uther’s throne for a day. That one had been a real pain.
In comparison, Morgana’s requests were usually rather tame. Uther expected her to ask for another stuffed animal, or a dress, or a new horse to ride.
Instead, his daughter surprised him.
“I want a spy.”
At that moment, the two of them were startled by a ridiculously loud series of screeches coming from the next room over. An ungodly shrieking, paired with what sounded like a thousand nails scratching across a suit of armor. The sound was immediately unbearable.
“What in Watcher’s name is that godawful noise?!” Uther yelled, getting up from the table. Morgana quickly followed suit.
The two marched through the hall, their steps hastened by painful, ear-piercing screeching that got louder with every passing second. Uther threw open the doors to the music room-
To see Arthur, in the middle of the chamber, clumsily holding a vielle and brutally torturing the poor instrument – along with everyone else in a thirty-foot radius – with every stroke of the bow. It sounded like some bizarre exorcism was taking place. Both Uther and Morgana quickly put their hands over their ears. The sound was horrific.
“Arthur! ARTHUR! Stop! You’re going to make us all deaf!”
The young Prince was so focused that it took him a few seconds to realize she was even in the room.
“Oh, hey, Morrie. What’s the matter?”
“What’s the- what’s the matter with you?!” she responded. “What in Watcher’s name are you doing?!”
Her ears were still ringing. Judging from the look on Uther’s face, her father wasn’t doing much better. Arthur followed her gaze, only just now noticing his presence. With a sheepish expression, he lowered the instrument. Silence once again filled the room.
“It was that bad?”
“It was terrible. I thought you were trying to summon a demon.”
The Crown Prince gave a nervous smile.
“I… suppose we can’t pretend like this never happened?”
Uther shook his head, looking down on his son with cold, stern eyes. He crossed his arms angrily. When he spoke, his voice was just as chilly as his expression.
“What on earth do you think you’re doing?”
“If I wanted you to become a bard, I would have sent you to the college when you were a newborn. Do not make me change my mind. You’re to be my heir – stop wasting your time with pointless activities.”
Arthur deflated. He looked at the ground, his shoulders slumped over.
Agravaine du Bois was a busy man.
Not only did he act as the head of the Jacoban church in Camelot, but he also doubled as the King’s royal advisor. His position in the castle was a difficult one, envied as it was by its other inhabitants. To ensure that he would stay in power, the priest had employed a number of spies and informants throughout the city. Agravaine had eyes and ears everywhere. He knew about everyone who entered and everyone who left. If things went wrong, he knew who had caused it.
And now, the King had ordered him to hand one of those valuable spies over. Not to Uther, or even the captain of the guard. No, he was to be employed by Morgana, of all people. The priest huffed. Princess or not, she was still a mere child. Did Uther not realize what a waste of talent it was? Now he had to look for another spy, as well as cover for the man’s absence in the city, destroy his documents, arrange for passage…
And he hasn’t even prepared that day’s sermon yet. The Jacoban priest sighed in annoyance.
All-in-all, Agravaine had a lot on his mind.
And his mental capacity was about to be tested even further. As the priest did his rounds through the church, lighting candles that had gone out and sprucing up the floral pieces before the next sermon, he spotted someone standing near the altar. Seeing someone in the church between sermons without his permission was rare enough. But it surprised Agravaine even more when he realized that that person was none other than his nephew, Prince Arthur.
The Crown Prince appeared to be in a foul mood. His posture was slumped over, and Agravaine could see him kicking against something in the corner of the room. Carefully, the Jacoban priest called out.
“Arthur? What are you doing here?”
“None of your business,” the boy growled back. Agravaine raised a single eyebrow. Normally, Arthur took every excuse he could in order to get out from attending sermons. The priest had assumed that he hated coming here. Yet, here he was. And in such a terrible mood.
What was going on?
Agravaine peeked past his nephew’s body, taking a look at what he’d been kicking against. He could see the broken remains of a wooden carving of… what in Watchers name was that supposed to be?
“It’s a rabbit,” the boy grumbled angrily.
“I’ll… take your word for it,” Agravaine replied.
Arthur sighed, plopping himself down on the nearest bench.
“I know it’s garbage, okay?! You don’t have to tell me. I just didn’t want people to see me mess up, so I went in here. I know you chase everyone out between sermons.”
A small silence fell between them. With the way the church hall was built, even their silence reverberated against the stone walls. Agravaine could tell something was bothering his nephew. The priest had no children of his own. With good reason – he couldn’t stand crying toddlers and temper tantrums. Children’s voices worked on his nerves.
The Jacoban priest sighed. He could hear him out, at least.
“My lord, why are you carving rabbits?”
The Crown Prince shook his head, stubbornly refusing to make eye contact with his uncle.
“I just… I thought I could do it, okay?! The rabbit, and the cooking, and the sewing clothes, and that stupid vielle. I was supposed to be great at all of them.”
“I see. And why is that?” Agravaine asked. Arthur snarled back:
“Because I told Gawain that I was! And I’m the Crown Prince! What kind of nobility can’t even carve a rabbit?! How am I supposed to face Richard and Mithian if even commoners like Gawain can do things that I can’t?!”
He looked away at the wall, his shoulders sagging. The frustrated look on his face was slowly replaced by doubt, mixed with a childlike disappointment.
“I’m the Prince. I really thought I could do it.”
The Jacoban priest was beginning to see what was bothering his nephew. It was childish, as he had expected. But the underlying reason for his behaviour was not.
“Arthur… you don’t have to be good at everything.”
“Yeah, I do. Father is good at everything, and I’m going to be King after him. Eventually. How am I supposed to do that if I can’t even carve some stupid animals?”
Agravaine sighed. It was a difficult question, even coming from a child. But his nephew was looking at it from the wrong angle. He crossed his arms.
“Have you ever seen Uther cook a meal, Arthur?”
The boy thought about that.
“What about mending clothes? Have you seen him do that?”
“Indeed. And I bet you haven’t seen your King play the vielle or carve animals from wood, either. Do you know why that is?”
The young Prince shook his head.
“It’s because he can’t do it, Arthur. The King of Camelot doesn’t know how to cook, or sew, or craft furniture, or make swords, along with a myriad of other things that the average peasant can do naturally. Do you think that makes him a lesser King?”
“Of course not!”
The Jacoban priest narrowed his eyes, looking down on his nephew.
“Then why would it make you a lesser Prince?”
For a moment, Arthur was speechless, his mouth hanging open.
Then, the Prince slapped himself on the forehead.
“Of course. I’m so stupid. Father even told me to stop wasting my time.”
“Exactly,” Agravaine nodded. “We all have our roles to play in the eyes of the Watcher, and we all have different paths to take. No one person can follow them all. Nobody can be good at everything. Not even the King. If they could, they’d be as powerful as the Watcher himself. And that’s impossible. We’re all flawed beings, and there’s no need to feel shame from that. Do you understand?”
“…I understand,” Arthur replied, after a short silence. Then, he frowned.
“I guess I’ll just ask Sarah to make something and say it’s mine. Gawain is too gullible to doubt it anyway-”
“No,” Agravaine said, cutting him off. “You cannot.”
The young prince did not like that answer at all.
“What? Why not?!”
“Because you must not lie about who you are, Arthur,” Agravaine continued. His voice had turned stern and strict, like he always sounded when he was giving one of his sermons. Arthur puffed up in protest.
“I’m not lying about me! I just- I just want-”
Agravaine waited patiently for Arthur to finish his sentence, but the Prince seemed to be unable to find the right words. He huffed angrily.
“Ugh, fine! I won’t do it, then! Why does it matter, anyway?!”
To Arthur, the conversation was starting to sound suspiciously much like an incoming lecture. And his gut feeling proved right. Agravaine turned towards him, trapping the Prince on the stone bench as he spoke his mind.
“Being unable to do something is not a bad thing, Arthur. In fact, being able to admit to your own shortcomings is seen by many as a source of strength. But you can’t ever lie about what you can and cannot do. Your skills, as well as your shortcomings, are a result of your upbringing. They make you who you are. They are a gift from the Watcher, and you should be proud of them. If you lie about them, you’re lying about who you really are.”
He looked back at the stone altar. When the priest spoke, his voice had was cold.
“We all walk a destined path in life by the grace of the Watcher. It is his gift to us. Lying about which path you tread… there is no greater disgrace.”
The Jacoban priest took a deep breath, allowing those words to sink in. Then, he continued.
“Do you understand, Arthur? You must never-“
“Okay, okay! I get it!” Arthur yelled, cutting him off. “I won’t lie to Gawain again, okay?! Stop it with the lecturing already!”
The boy felt profoundly uncomfortable under Agravaine’s judgmental stare. Arthur promptly remembered why he didn’t like coming to his sermons, or spend time with his uncle in general. He was way too preachy, all the time. Especially towards Arthur.
“Give me your word.”
But… he did have a point.
The Crown prince of Camelot let out a deep, resigned sigh.
“Fine. I promise.”
“Good. I knew you would do the right thing, Arthur.”
Arthur scowled, looking at the wall again. Great. What the hell was he going to tell Gawain? He had looked so excited about Arthur showing him all those skills. The young Prince would never admit it, but he liked those looks of adoration. But if Gawain found out that he’d lied to him, surely the boy would want nothing to do with him anymore. The thought made Arthur feel strangely unhappy. But he’d already promised his uncle that he wouldn’t lie, and breaking promises was way worse than lying.
The young Prince sighed.
Fine. Truth it was.
He already dreaded next Friday.
The following week went by incredibly quickly. Quicker that Arthur was comfortable with. Before he knew it, Friday had already rolled around. Judgment day. The boy had to swallow his pride, tell Gawain the truth and… ugh… apologize. Again. He had hoped one time had been enough, but no. Arthur had to go through that humiliation all over again.
Though, this time, he had no-one to blame but himself. And the young Prince knew that, too.
Arthur had gotten to the meeting point early. As he saw Gawain come around the corner, wearing the same smile as last week, the Prince straightened his back in anticipation. Watcher, he hated this. The Crown Prince put on a forced smile.
“…Good morning, Gawain.”
“Hi, Arth-milord! Wow, is that a real sword on your belt?!”
He pointed at the weapon hanging from Arthur’s hip. The Prince nodded.
“Yes. It’s dull, though. Father won’t let me wear a sharpened one until I’m older.”
Gawain nodded, then immediately changed the subject to what Arthur had been dreading.
“So, are you going to show me? I think it’s really cool that you can do all of those things, milord! When did you learn? Who taught you? Can you make other things, too? Oh! Do you know how to-”
Arthur cut him off, putting a halt to the waterfall of words that were cascading out of the boy’s mouth.
“Gawain, stop. It- it’s not like that.”
He scratched the back of his head, awkwardly looking for the right words. This was proving to be even more difficult than he thought. Arthur grimaced, finally swallowing his pride.
“Look, I – I lied, okay? I can’t actually do any of those things. I’ve never cooked or sewed before, and my skills with the vielle are… well, Morgana compared it to a demonic summoning ritual.”
Gawain cocked his head to the side.
“…And carving? You said you could carve, right?”
“Well, I tried, but…”
The young Prince gestured to his “rabbit”, which was lying on the ground near the well. He’d been in doubt about whether to show it or not, and so it ended up half-hidden in the bushes. He could see Gawain give it a funny look, then glancing back at him. Arthur sighed.
“Look… I lied. I can’t do any of those things. And… I shouldn’t have said that I could.”
Here came the moment Arthur had been dreading. Admitting you were wrong as well as showing weakness was the same as social suicide among nobility. He’d seen it happen often enough. They would sneer, taking your exposed lie or failure and milking it for all they could, humiliating you as thoroughly as possible in the process. He knew what was about to happen. One look at Gawain said enough – the boy looked happy at his news. Arthur straightened his back, waiting for the inevitable verbal abuse to commence.
Instead, Gawain just shrugged.
They had been two simple words, but those words threw him off more than any verbal lashing from a noble could have.
That’s it? Nothing else? Just… okay?
“You’re… you’re not mad?” the Crown Prince asked, a confused expression playing on his face. Gawain shook his head, shrugging again.
“Nah. I’m kind of glad, actually.”
“Glad?” Arthur asked. “Why would you be glad?”
The boy’s responses baffled him more and more. Was this a commoner thing? Or was it just Gawain who was this utterly incomprehensible?
Gawain shrugged again, looking a little unsure of himself.
“You’re training me every week, and I don’t really have anything to give in return. I know you do it because you promised, but it still makes me feel bad, you know? Dad says that you should always give as much as you get. So, I thought I could teach you something in return. But if you can already do everything, that doesn’t really work.”
He smiled at Arthur.
“Don’t get me wrong, lying is really bad! But… I’m kind of glad that it was a lie. I’m pretty good at carving things, milord. If you want… I could help you make better animals, while you teach me sword fighting. Is that okay?”
It took Arthur a good five seconds for his brain to process what had just happened. That’s how baffling Gawain’s behaviour was to him. What in the name of… Equivalent exchange? That’s what he was thinking about? That’s what Gawain took away from this conversation? No scheming, no taking advantage of Arthur’s confession? No tearing him down for exposing himself as a liar?
Just… being fair?
Arthur leaned back, letting out a surprised chuckle. Gawain was serious. He really just just thinking about fairness. Arthur had never met someone so simple-minded before. In that moment, the Crown Prince realized that there probably wasn’t a single deceptive bone in Gawain’s body. Not even Morgana was that pure. Truly, the red-haired boy proved to be the most baffling thing that Arthur had encountered all year.
And, for some reason… he was strangely intrigued.
“Sure, Gawain. I’d like that.”
“Great! Thank you, milord!” Gawain answered, beaming. Arthur’s smile turned into a smirk.
“You’re the one teaching me. You’re not supposed to thank me for that, muck-sprout.”
“Oh. Right. But you’re teaching me, too, so we’re even!”
They sat down on the ground, with Gawain immediately beginning to explain the process of wood carving.
“Okay, so there’s lots of types of wood, milord, and you have to choose the right one for the thing you want to carve! And how you hold the knife and what kind of knife it is, is important, too. Oh, and you should wear gloves! I used to cut my fingers all the time. I know a good tailor near the market who could get you some…”
Arthur stayed silent, listening to the boy as he rambled on. Gawain’s enthusiasm was amusing. It made Arthur smile, and he quietly listened to Gawain as the boy explained all he could about his hobby. In a way, it was actually… interesting.
Arthur had been right before.
Hanging out with Gawain… wasn’t so bad.