Nobody got any sleep that night.
How does one come to grips with an event that changes reality?
The Crown Prince quickly realized that he didn’t know. Arthur had no idea to deal with what he had seen, or with the implications that their encounter had promised for the future. Figuring that out required thought. Research. Contemplation. And seeing how the three of them were still in the wilderness, surrounded by unknown dangers, Arthur did not have the luxury to do any of that. There was no time. He couldn’t afford to lose focus. The risk was too great. Right now, there were much more important things to worry about.
And so, Arthur did the only thing he could. For now…
He ignored it.
Eventually, after another long day on the road and keeping their eyes glued to the sky for longer than any of them were comfortable with, the three stopped to rest. Camp was swiftly set up. This time, there was no joking among the group. No teasing, or witty banter, or underhanded jests. None of them had the energy for it.
They were all exhausted.
But Arthur still couldn’t rest easy. Especially now, the Crown Prince had to be vigilant. He couldn’t afford to let his guard down. But even Arthur was only human – and so it took him a few moments to realize that their group was suddenly missing a member.
“Morgana. Where is Guinevere?”
“She left to go freshen up near the stream. She should be back soon.”
That wasn’t good. The maidservant had nothing to defend herself with. Nothing but a flimsy dagger, as far as Arthur knew. The Crown Prince made a mental note to scold both of his companions about properly staying together in the future.
But in order to do that, he had to find her first.
Before something else did.
It did not take Arthur long to track down the maidservant. Apparently, Guinevere did not know how to hide her tracks. She wasn’t hard to find. The Crown Prince easily followed her trail to the stream, where he found the girl overlooking the clear, running water.
She wasn’t moving. Guinevere’s gaze seemed to be locked on the small stream in front of her, her posture tense and coiled, like a deer that was about to bolt. Arthur raised a single eyebrow. His hand went to the sword on his belt… but the Crown Prince could not sense any danger nearby.
What was she doing?
The Crown Prince watched in confusion as Guinevere crouched down. He could see her gather up a handful of mud, her fingers quickly rolling it up into a ball-
Until she suddenly threw the thing. Guinevere quickly crouched down and covered her head in fright as the mud ball soared through the sky, headed towards the water.
It hit the river with a loud splash, quickly sinking beneath the water surface.
But nothing else happened.
Arthur could hear the maidservant let out a short sigh. She carefully rose back up, peering out at the edge with her hands placed protectively in front of her chest.
And Arthur’s curiosity got the better of him. He had no idea what the girl was doing. The Crown Prince approached Guinevere, making sure to make his footsteps as loud as possible. He didn’t want to end up accidentally scaring the maidservant into the river. With a confused frown, Arthur called out to her.
“Miss Guinevere? What are you doing?”
This time, Guinevere did not flinch at his approach. In fact, the girl didn’t turn around at all. Her eyes remained fixed on the water as she nervously looked down.
“I-I… I thought that…”
“…Nothing. I-it was stupid, I suppose.”
The maidservant let out a sigh, finally turning around to face the Crown Prince. Guinevere seemed lost in thought. For once, that familiar blush on her cheeks was nowhere to be seen.
“I came here to fetch water. It shouldn’t be hard. I just… well… twelve hours ago I was worried a-about stepping on snakes. Or finding a lizard in my clothes in the morning.”
“I guess I still a-am. I just didn’t think that the lizard would be that big.”
Arthur couldn’t help himself. He chuckled.
“Did you just call the ten-ton magical monster a ‘lizard’?”
“Ah- well… yes.”
“Is that what you’re doing? Checking for dragons in the river? I really don’t think that a monster of that size would fit down there.”
Guinevere broke eye contact with Arthur. The maidservant looked down at her feet, biting her lower lip as she folded her hands together.
“I know. But the water in that pond was only knee-high, too. It shouldn’t have fit in there, either.”
…Good point, the Crown Prince thought. Then, the implications of her words finally caught up with him.
Wait a minute.
Could it actually hide in there?
He had to know.
Arthur crouched down, slowly approaching the edge of the river. His hand went to his belt. He swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. Now Arthur understood what Guinevere had been so anxious about. All of a sudden, the Crown Prince felt just as nervous. Arthur cautiously peeked over the edge, gazing down into the blue, sparkling river water as he began to draw his blade-
But all the Crown Prince could see in there were fish.
“…I think it’s safe,” Arthur concluded. He suddenly felt rather stupid. Of course there were no dragons down there. It was a tiny stream, after all. There was no way that it could fit in there.
But Guinevere did not seem to share his thoughts. The maidservant let out a long, relieved sigh.
“Oh, thank goodness. I… I don’t think I can look at water in the same way again.”
Me neither, Arthur silently agreed, although he chose to keep his thoughts to himself this time. Instead, the Crown Prince focused on the maidservant next to him. What she had said had contradicted what Morgana had told him. Why was she here?
As he pondered which of the two was lying, his eyes trailed over to the empty waterskin on the grass. He recognized it. It wasn’t Guinevere’s. It was the one from Morgana’s saddle.
Ah. So that’s what’s really going on here. This girl keeps surprising me.
A smile spread across his lips as the Crown Prince gave Guinevere an approving nod.
“That was brave, miss Guinevere.”
“W-what was?” the maidservant replied, not understanding his words. Arthur gestured to the stream behind them.
“Braving the river on your own. You thought that that dragon from last night was down there, correct? Watcher – with what happened last night, we have no reason to think it can’t hide in there. And you came down here to fetch water for my sister, anyway. Despite the risk. Not many people would have done the same. You are quite brave.”
“I can see why Morgana values you so highly.”
“T…thank you, milord.”
His smile widened into a grin as Arthur raised a single eyebrow.
“Although… next time you think that there is a ten-ton magical lizard hiding in a river, you may want to bring someone with you.”
“Ah. Yes, milord.”
Even on horseback, the journey to Northumbria was a long one. It would take them a fortnight to search Scarborough. Their path took them through forests, past mountains and across treacherous lowlands. Arthur insisted on avoiding the roads at all costs, which meant an extra strain on Morgana and Guinevere, who already were not used to the wilderness.
But as the days passed, they too began to learn, and adapt to the wilds.
Lush forests turned to rocky ground. They travelled past waterfalls, avoiding wild bears and feral wolves on their path as their journey took them further North.
And as they travelled, Arthur began to realize something.
With every mile, their encounter with the dragon began to seem more like a dream.
With every mile, the knot in his stomach began to lessen a bit, and the worries of their Kingdom seemed farther away.
With every mile, the world around them started to look more beautiful, leading them past cliffs and falls and into Northumbria. Despite himself, with every mile, Arthur began to feel lighter.
Until finally, after a fortnight and a day… the three of them finally reached their destination.
It would turn out to be very different from what they expected.
“This is Scarborough?” Morgana asked, the surprise clear in her voice. “It’s much… larger than I expected.”
“It’s a trading town, milady,” Guinevere replied, peeking out from behind their backs. “From what I’ve heard, a-at least. Apparently, there are all kinds of people that make a living there.”
“Wait, you know the place? Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?”
“You never told me where we were going, milady,” the maidservant said sheepishly. Morgana blinked.
Arthur stepped back from their hidden vantage point, gesturing at the other two to get their attention. The Crown Prince put on a serious tone.
“All right, let’s go over the plan one more time. Remember our story. We are three pilgrims traveling through the area and seeking lodging in Scarborough for a few weeks. My name is Trevor, and the two of you are my sisters, Cordelia and Sarah-”
“We are not using Sarah,” Morgana replied, with Guinevere powerfully shaking her head in the background. Arthur let out an impatient huff.
“Cordelia and Faith, then. Right, so we will-”
“Are you sure that you don’t want to be called Dandelion or Curtis, instead?” Morgana grinned at her brother, interrupting him mid-sentence. “They’re good names, you know. Oh! And we could be-”
“It doesn’t matter!” Arthur snapped back. “Where do you keep getting these names from, anyway?!”
“From the castle library, of course. I do read, you know. These are some of my favourites. There’s also Micah, Seth, Elric, Ivan, Masa-”
“Enough with the names, already!”
“Anyway,” the Crown Prince continued, mildly irritated. “As I was saying, the three of us are going to be commoners. We will use common speech and keeps our heads down while we are here. Miss Guinevere-“
“-Cordelia,” Morgana playfully interjected. Arthur scowled at his sister.
“…Cordelia. Please do not address us with “my lord” or “my lady” while we are in Scarborough. We will be equals, for all intents and purposes. Do you understand?”
“-Trevor,” Morgana said, cutting them off again. She was enjoying this a little too much. They tried their best to ignore her as Guinevere gave the Crown Prince a short nod.
“Good. Let’s go.”
With that, the three travelers turned towards the main gate to the city-
“Ah, right, before I forget,” Arthur said, stopping them in their tracks. “There is one more thing that we need to do. Morgana?”
Guinevere let out a gasp as she saw the muddy dirt in his hand. She wasn’t quick enough to warn Morgana, however. The maidservant watched as the Crown Prince smacked the dirt right into his sister’s face, smearing it all over. Arthur stepped back to admire the result.
For a moment, the Princess seemed stunned with shock.
That moment was short-lived, though.
“Have you lost your mind?!”
“There. Now you look like a proper commoner.”
“A proper– what, by smudging mud and dirt in my face?!”
“I’ve told you from the beginning that your outfit was too conspicuous. See it as an extra precaution.”
“It stinks! And I don’t see you using that “extra precaution” on your own face, you mymmerkin!”
“Of course not. I actually came dressed as a proper peasant.”
“Poppycock! What about that damn ring?!”
“Collateral. I will use it to pay for lodging later. I don’t see you doing that with your belt.”
Then, his teasing tone vanished, and Arthur took a step forward. When he wiped a bit of dirt off her cheek, his touch was surprisingly gentle.
“I know you’re not used to this. Just trust me for now. While we’re here, you want them to think that you are below them in status, rather than above them. It’s just for a few weeks, Morrie.”
There was no arguing with that. The Princess let out a frustrated sigh.
Scarborough’s gates stood wide open that day, allowing the group free entry to the city without having to make their way past the guards. For two masquerading nobles, circumstances could not have been better.
But even their streak of good luck did not prepare them for the colourful spectacle that awaited them inside the port town of Scarborough.
“This is… much livelier than I expected.”
“What’s with all the people?” Morgana gasped. “They’re so colourful! Is there a festival going on, or something?”
“Ah… something like that. It’s a fair, mil- er, I mean, Faith.”
“Yes,” the maidservant nodded, awkwardly scratching the back of her head. “It’s called Scarborough fair.”
“And what in Watcher’s name is that?”
“Oh, well… it’s a trader’s festival,” Guinevere began to explain. “They hold it every year at the end of summer. But it draws in a-all kinds of other people, too. Merchants, craftsmen, entertainers… and travellers, too. We’ll fit right in.”
The Crown Prince raised a single eyebrow at her detailed explanation.
“You’re awfully knowledgeable about the place, Cordelia.”
The maidservant broke eye contact, quickly looking away in discomfort.
But Morgana did not seem to notice her maidservant’s behaviour. The Princess began to scowl, her expression quickly turning from surprise into annoyance.
“Wait. So you smudged dirt on my face for nothing?”
“You can always wash it off later. Until then, I’m sure that you can make dirt look good.”
His sister mumbled a very unladylike string of expletives, which made Arthur chuckle even more. His gaze was drawn into the city. To the colourful stalls. The gleaming knickknacks of merchandise, neatly displayed. He could hear the buzzing of hundreds of people, the shouting of market vendors and what sounded like the clashing of wooden swords. The scent of roast meats and spices drifted into his nose, making his stomach rumble in response.
Arthur nodded to himself. A stay in Scarborough suddenly didn’t sound like such a terrible thing.
Maybe this won’t be so bad, after all.