It was almost past sunset when Guinevere finally awoke from her slumber. The girl groaned, slowly turning around on her mattress. Her mind was still heavy with the cobwebs of sleep. It had been a while since she had slept on something soft. The last fourteen days had been nothing but lying on dirt, lying on dirt with pebbles and lying on dirt with roots. Her mattress felt like heaven in comparison. Paired with having to tend to not only Morgana but Arthur as well on the way here… it had pushed Guinevere off the edge of fatigue and into exhaustion.
Judging from the dim light outside, the maidservant had ended up sleeping for much longer than she had intended. That wasn’t good. Commoner pretense or not, she still had to look after Arthur and Morgana. Disoriented and blinking against the candlelight, Guinevere addressed her mistress.
“Ugh… milady? Faith? What time is-”
But the bed next to her was empty.
Panic took over. Guinevere flung herself from the bed, running out of her tavern room and straight towards the door next to theirs. She grabbed the handle and pulled it open against the wall with a loud bang.
Arthur jolted awake, almost banging his head against the wall in the process.
“Milady is gone!”
The Crown Prince almost flung himself onto the ground in response. His head was still half-asleep and disoriented, but he grabbed for his sword anyway. Arthur pulled it towards him, quickly righting himself in the process. His eyes darted back to Guinevere.
“I don’t know! I was a-asleep, and-“
But the Crown Prince did not wait for her to finish her sentence. He dashed out of the room, barely catching himself before he tumbled down the tavern staircase.
Damn it, Morgana!
His boots slammed down on the creaky wooden stairs, causing dust to fall off the underside. Arthur dashed down the staircase, storming right into the bar area. He turned the corner and quickly scanned the crowd as he began to move towards the door-
– and spotted her immediately.
“The troll raises its club, snarling in anger as it charges at your group! What do you do?!”
“No- shield! Use your shield!”
Arthur breathed a sigh of relief.
She’s safe. Oh, thank the Watcher. She’s safe. She’s just… what…
What in Watcher’s name is she doing?
Maybe it was the shock of thinking that she was gone. But the Crown Prince could feel his relief rapidly turning into anger. He felt his feet begin to move towards the group in the corner. His hands balled into fists as the start of a very angry lecture burned on his tongue.
And his forceful approach did not go unnoticed. A cloaked, red-haired man stood in the corner, silently watching over the group like some kind of bodyguard. As the two of them made eye contact, he opened his mouth.
Arthur ignored him. In a tone that was angry and worried at the same time, he called out to Morgana.
Her relaxed, genuine smile caught Arthur by surprise, stunning him into silence.
He hadn’t seen that smile on her in a very long time. Not since they were children. The Crown Prince could feel his angry lecture melt away like fresh snow on a summer day. It made way for a startled confusion.
What was going on?
“Friend of yours?”
“Yes,” Morgana replied, nodding to the man next to her. “That’s my brother, Trevor.”
“Jumpy type, that one.”
The Princess let out a chuckle, causing Arthur to look back and forth between the two of them with a frown on his face. His confusion just kept growing. Morgana never looked that relaxed around strangers. Ever. It didn’t make sense in his head.
Why are they so chummy? How long have I been asleep for?
The Crown Prince found himself at a disadvantage. He nodded to the two newcomers, while silently signalling Morgana for help.
“…To whom do I owe the pleasure?”
Morgana instantly understood. She stood up, still smiling, and gestured to the people on opposite sides of her.
“Trevor, these are Lincoln and Morgause. They’re part of a traveling group of performers. This is my brother, Trevor.”
Arthur could feel both of their gazes land on him, staring at him with much more intensity than the Crown Prince had expected. It was almost as if they were judging him, peering right through his outer shell and looking at something that the normal eye couldn’t see. It made Arthur feel strangely uncomfortable. The Crown Prince stood up a little straighter in response.
Then, Morgause broke into a smile, locking her fingers together.
“Trevor. What a wonderful name! We were just keeping your sister company for the evening, don’t worry. You’re more than welcome to join us, if you’d like! It’s quite fun. Alice is great at accommodating large groups.”
“I… think I’ll refrain,” Arthur replied. That did not seem to deter Morgause, though. To the contrary – his rejection only seemed to make her more determined to talk to him. She leaned forward, gesturing towards the bar.
“All right. A drink, then? Faith here tells me that you are travellers from the South. I’ve always wanted to learn the bar songs of the Southern kingdoms. Surely, you’ve picked some up during your travels! Come, join us and teach them to me.”
She… doesn’t actually expect me to start singing, does she?
The corner of his mouth pulled into a slight smirk at the thought. He shook his head at her.
“I’m not a bard. Sorry.”
“Oh, I see. Just a drink, then! Bella knows how to make some wonderful spirits. She brews them all by herself, you know. You seem like the type that can appreciate a good, strong wine.”
What is up with this woman? The Crown Prince thought, annoyed. She’s so pushy.
“No, thank you.”
“Are you sure? They really are delicious.”
Arthur was beginning to lose his patience. He didn’t want a drink. And, more importantly, he did not want Morgana or Guinevere to have a drink. The lack of sleep and fatigue from the past two weeks had finally caught up with him, and the Crown Prince was having trouble staying in his commoner role. He knew that his companions could not be in a much better state. The last thing that they needed tonight was to get so drunk that they’d slip up in a tavern full of strangers.
No, they needed to leave.
“I’m sorry, but I really must refuse. We’ve had a long journey. Faith-”
But his sister wasn’t looking at Arthur. From the looks of it, she hadn’t heard a single word that he had said. Morgana’s gaze was still locked on the woman next to her, her lips pulled into a smile and Her eyes gleaming pools of curiosity. It reminded him of a lovesick puppy. Or Gawain.
Arthur had not seen her look that happy in a very, very long time.
Once again, the Crown Prince found himself torn. He knew what the correct choice here was. He knew that he could not afford to compromise their safety. In any way.
But… he suddenly couldn’t say no anymore.
Oh, for Watcher’s sake. Fine. She knows how to keep secrets.
“Just make sure not to leave the tavern, all right?”
And it’s not like we’ll ever meet them again.
Of course they met them again.
As soon as Morgause laid eyes on Arthur’s group, her face broke into a mischievous smirk. The dark-haired woman turned towards Lincoln. She leaned in, waggling her eyebrows at the man.
Lincoln let out a sigh.
“You’re going to make me go bankrupt.”
“If you don’t want to lose silver, then you shouldn’t bet against me in drinking games, Lincoln.”
“Nine pints,” the man protested. “Nine pints still wasn’t enough.”
“Of course not. Do you want to bet on ten pints next?”
Lincoln let out a sigh, dropping his gaze to the ground as his companion began to giggle. By now, Arthur, Guinevere and Morgana had gotten close enough to be within earshot. Morgause waved them over, with Lincoln still shaking his head disapprovingly in the background.
“Ah! Just the people that we were looking for.”
“…What can we do for you?” Arthur replied reluctantly. The two just happening to be in the square at the same time as them was highly suspicious to the Crown Prince. He was unable to keep that suspicion out of his voice. The two of them did not seem deterred by his cold answer, however.
“Simple! Lincoln here,” Morgause grinned, “made a deal to perform in this square in one hour.”
“Stop telling everyone you meet, Morgause.”
“Of course I’m going to tell everyone I meet! Anyway,” Morgause continued, “until then, I have nothing to do. And since you three are new to town, I figured I’d show you around!”
“That is… very kind of you,” Arthur replied. “But we really don’t want to impose.”
“Oh, but I insist,” Morgause pushed. “This is partly for selfish reasons. You’d be doing me a service, really. Otherwise I’ll be stuck standing here with Mr. Tall-dark-and-broody for the next hour, while he “prepares himself” by staring at plants and sighing dramatically.”
“I need to take in the ambience,” the red-haired man grumbled. Morgause frowned briefly at his words.
“I’ve literally seen you grow roots, Lincoln. It’s boring.”
“Only because you don’t sit still.”
To Arthur’s annoyance, the two of them then began bickering with each other. He shook his head at the scene, preparing to reject Morgause’s offer.
“Look, I’m sorry, but we really must-“
But Morgana cut him off, stepping out of the shadows and into the light of the square.
“-I’d love to.”
Arthur’s look of polite annoyance turned into a full-on scowl. They didn’t need this. Until word arrived from Camelot, the three of them just needed to lay low and stay out of trouble. Attending the fair was one thing, but something told him that those two were the exact opposite of “laying low”. Especially that woman. He couldn’t allow it. The Crown Prince took a determined step forward.
Morgana turned back around, re-joining Arthur in the shadows. In a soft voice, she spoke to the Crown Prince.
“I’ll be careful. I promise. But we’re here now – let’s just enjoy ourselves, brother. We might not get another chance.”
“Trevor… please. Let’s just live. For once.”
…That’s not fair, Morrie.
Arthur let out a sigh.
Arthur Pendragon silently observed the crowd in the square, his mind occupied. His thoughts were at odds with themselves. He could still hear Morgana’s words echoing through his head.
He couldn’t just skip off like her. Disguised or not, he was still the Crown Prince.
He had responsibilities to worry about.
Arthur couldn’t just forget about everything that was happening at home. His father was risking his life for them right now. Working towards their future, acting on their behalf while they fled to safety. Arthur couldn’t betray that. Fair or no fair, he had to remain vigilant. That didn’t stop just because they were in a city.
Morgana running off was one thing. She deserved some respite from the castle. But Arthur couldn’t afford to do the same himself.
Even if it was just for a day.
But if I did… would it matter?
They were here now, anyway. And word from Camelot would not arrive for some time, no matter what happened between Uther and Gorlois. And he could not change that outcome no matter what he did. The future would come either way. Until then, Arthur had nothing to kill but time.
So… Couldn’t he just spend that time enjoying himself? Like she was? Even if it was just for a day?
It wouldn’t be the end of the world… would it?
His gaze travelled to a side street, close to the town entrance. The Crown Prince wasn’t the only one who had been suspiciously quiet this morning. As Morgana skipped off onto the market, Guinevere had instead retreated from the crowds. It was very unlike her not to follow her mistress. Arthur raised a single eyebrow at the realization.
What was she doing, anyway?
Curiosity got the better of him. Arthur turned his back to the busy market square, passing underneath the colourful flags and away from the crowd to get to the maidservant.
“Cordelia? What are you looking at?”
“Ah… just a statue, m-Trevor. It’s nothing special.”
Arthur cast a curious glance at the statue in front of him. There was no plaque. No engravement to tell who this was. No honorary stone next to it, either.
Odd, he thought. All of the knight statues in Camelot have plaques. Some of them are almost bigger than the statue itself. Why doesn’t this thing have one?
“Who is she?”
“Someone from the town,” Guinevere replied vaguely. “She died a while ago, I think. It’s nobody special. Just a-a statue.”
Arthur looked at the statue a second time, noticing the fresh flowers and coins left in the stone basket. The plants blooming at its feet. Other than a crack in the middle, the statue was still in very good shape, like it was regularly tended to. He could feel his curiosity turning to scepticism.
“I find that hard to believe. They wouldn’t go through all the trouble of erecting a statue if the person they want to depict is not important. She must have done something special to earn that.”
“…yes. I suppose so.”
The Crown Prince noticed that, too. Guinevere definitely knew more than she was letting on- both about that statue and about the town in general. Arthur decided to pry a little.
“I’ve noticed this before, but you seem awfully familiar with Scarborough, Cordelia.”
A reddish blush appeared on her cheeks. Arthur could see Guinevere begin to fiddle with her hands, awkwardly trying to figure out how to respond to him.
“Ah- well, I… I, um…”
“By any chance, have you lived here in the past?”
“…yes. I have,” she said, in a small voice that was barely more than a whisper. The Crown Prince raised a single eyebrow.
“Why didn’t you tell us? Knowledge about this place would have come in handy.”
Guinevere’s expression fell. She broke eye contact, looking away from him and aiming her gaze at the ground.
“I… we didn’t leave under good circumstances,” the girl muttered. “A-and I didn’t… it is not a flattering story. I would really rather not… share it.”
As he looked at her downcast expression, Arthur suddenly felt a small pang of guilt. He hadn’t meant to make her feel bad. Or dredge up bad memories, for that matter. The Crown Prince had had his fair share of those. He knew that recalling those was painful. And judging from the badly-hidden hints of sorrow in Guinevere’s eyes, he had a pretty good idea of what her memories might be.
But there was one thing that he did have to make sure of.
“Does it compromise our safety here?”
“Ah… no,” Guinevere replied, shaking her head. “I don’t think so.”
“All right. Then I won’t pry.”
That took the maidservant by surprise. She lifted her head, looking Arthur in the eyes with an expression of disbelief.
“You… you won’t?”
The sorrow was still there.
“I won’t. We all have things we’d rather forget.”
A shadow of a smile crept back onto Guinevere’s expression, together with that trademark blush of hers. It was strangely endearing. Much better than that downcast look that she had a few seconds ago.
Arthur nodded to himself. As long as it did not turn into a problem, then he wouldn’t need to pry.
Even though he really did want to know more about the town, as well as the fair. Arthur had never been this close to a commoner’s life without an armed escort ruining his anonymity. Or causing a scene. Or attracting a flock of commoners that pestered him for money.
An opportunity like this… It was almost a waste to let it slip by.
…A casual stroll would still count as laying low, right?
“I have an idea. Why don’t you show me around?”
“I want you to show me around,” Arthur repeated. “You know, to give me a tour. Not of the entire town, of course. That would take all day. Just the market is fine. Unless you’d rather not, of course.”
“No, I… a-are you sure?” she replied, hesitating. “It’s really nothing special… it’s just a trader’s fair.”
Arthur gave her a reassuring nod.
“I’m sure. I’m genuinely curious, actually. Faith and I have had our share of larger events, of course, but we’ve never had a chance to attend trading fairs like this one. Or participate in festivals. Not like this, at least.”
His expression fell.
“To be completely honest… I have no idea what they’re like. Or what I’m supposed to do.”
“You’ve really never been to one?”
Arthur shook his head, lowering his tone to make sure that nobody could hear them.
“No. Not once. And I probably won’t have another chance like this. I’d like to see it, if I can. Not as… well, not as me. But as a normal person. I was wondering… just for today, would it be possible for you to forget who I am and show me around?”
“Like… we’d be going to the fair together?” the girl mumbled. Arthur gave her a nod, pleased that she was so quick of understanding.
“Yes, that would do. Let’s go with that.”
Guinevere’s cheeks turned from a soft pink into a glowing apple colour. How quickly her face could change from second to second was baffling to Arthur. The girl would be horrible at bluffing. But she did not seem unhappy with the idea.
“I… I guess I could show you a few things.”
“Great. Let’s start with a bakery. I haven’t had decent fruit pie in weeks.”
The maidservant visibly perked up at that, a genuine excitement beginning to shine through. She nodded at Arthur enthusiastically.
“Oh! I know a good place for that. It’s right a-around the corner, actually.”
“Perfect,” Arthur smiled. ”Lead the way.”
The two of them turned, moving to enter one of the town’s many side streets. The thought of sweets made Arthur’s stomach growl. He looked forward to ending his sugar withdrawal. The Crown Prince had never been to Northumbria before – perhaps they had types here that they didn’t have in Camelot. Arthur found himself getting strangely excited at the idea.
Once again, Morgana’s words echoed through the back of his mind.
But this time, Arthur found himself agreeing with them.
Let’s just live. For once.