I just finished taking pictures when I realized that nobody was wearing their flower crowns anymore. I’m turning it into “they all fell off during the dance”. Shush. They did. Also, I apologise in advance for the sappy cringe. xD We’ll get back to soul-crushing darkness eventually, I promise.
“Wait. You’re leaving?!”
The three of them could be seen at the gate that led out of the city, standing just on the other side of the entryway. The sorceress thought that they were merely going for a stroll. As a result, she was taken completely by surprise at the news. Morgana raised her hands in shock. She couldn’t stop herself. Before the Princess could control her reaction, she had already blurted out:
“But- but the fair hasn’t ended yet! There are still other squares to play in, and other places to see, and-”
Lincoln let out a tired grunt as he turned away from them. The man looked exhausted. He hadn’t said a single word since his performance, instead opting for a silence that was even more sullen and broody than before. The sight made Morgause chuckle.
“He’s flattered, but I don’t think that Lincoln has any more music in him today. Not unless you want him to play himself to death.”
“No, of course not! But I… I just…”
For the second time since meeting the duo, the sorceress found herself at a loss for words. She couldn’t help it. The day had taken its toll on her. Morgana was not used to letting loose. As a result, she was having trouble controlling herself. Her emotions were too raw. Her head too filled with euphoria and shock to come up with rational arguments for them to stay. When she spoke, it was with the voice of a child.
“But… the fair isn’t over yet.”
Morgause chuckled. She took Morgana’s hands in hers, giving them a little squeeze as she smiled at the sorceress.
“No, you’re right. It isn’t over yet. But Lammas soon will be, and we have other places to visit tonight.”
A hollow feeling overcame the sorceress. She didn’t want Morgause to leave. There was something about the woman that was so familiar. Something that felt right. That made her feel alive, more than she had felt in all her years in Camelot. Something about Morgause broke through the façade that Morgana had built up around her, bypassing her mask and speaking straight to her soul. It reminded her of a single candle that banished the darkness of the void.
If she left… they might never cross paths again. Morgana’s expression fell. The sorceress could feel a familiar weight returning and pressing down on her chest.
“…Will I ever meet you again?”
Morgana regretted uttering that sentence the instant she’d said it. She was behaving like a child. Her emotions were too intense. They had not been this raw since she’d been eleven years old. And she knew that becoming this agitated was dangerous. She mentally scolded herself. The sorceress had to get a grip, before she actually lost control of herself and started leaking magic.
“I… forgive me. That was very uncouth. I don’t know what is wrong with me today. I just…”
But the woman in front of her did not respond with scorn, or laughter. Once again, Morgause surprised her.
“…You feel it, don’t you?”
“Listen to me carefully. I need you to do something for me.”
“What is it?” Morgana asked. The woman drew her in closer, lowering her voice as she did so.
“After sundown, once darkness has fallen, I want you to leave town. Head for the wheat fields by the old windmill. I need you to walk into the field and take the strand that speaks to you the most.”
“Take… a strand of wheat?” Morgana replied, puzzled. Then she realized.
“Wait, do you mean…?”
The black-haired woman gave her a single nod.
“Yes. Do not be afraid. When the time comes, you will know where to go. But the first step has to be yours. Can you do that for me?”
The sorceress knew that she couldn’t. That she shouldn’t. The risk was too large. The danger too great. But her heart answered before her mind could.
“I… I’ll try.”
“Good,” the woman replied. “You will be safe. I know you will. Do not be afraid.”
She turned to leave – but Morgana called her back, her voice full of doubt as she spoke.
“Morgause, wait. Please. Why does it feel this way? Why does it feel like I know you? I don’t understand.”
Morgana made eye contact with the woman in front of her… and was met with the same sense of pained, regretful despair that was reflected in her own soul.
“I know that you don’t.”
“I am so sorry that you don’t. But you’ll be all right. I promise.”
On the other side of town, the Crown Prince had finally found himself a honey cake. Arthur took to devouring it with such gleeful joy that it made Guinevere giggle. They decided to sample the market together. After testing thirteen pastires from three different cake stands and eating much more sugar than was physically healthy, the two of them comfortably decided to called it a day.
Arthur was in the middle of escorting Guinevere back to the tavern, where they had agreed to meet Morgana, when a voice called out to them from their right.
“Here, sir! Fancy a pretty necklace or a ring fer yer lassie? Dolly up that pretty neck ‘o hers?”
Guinevere instantly turned beet red, quickly removing her arm from Arthur’s grasp as she looked away in embarrassment. He understood why. The Crown Prince decided to rectify the situation on her behalf.
“Oh, no- thank you, but she’s not my lass- I mean, lady.”
“Are ye sure?” the merchant replied, winking cheekily at Arthur. “Dinnae look tha’ way when ye gave the lass tha’ flower crown earlier!”
She grabbed a few pieces of jewelry from the table, holding them up for Guinevere and Arthur to see.
“C’mon, lassie! Them’s real beauties! I’ll give ye a discount if ye convince yer jimmy ta’ git ye something nice!”
And she grinned, beckoning Guinevere to come closer. Arthur could see the unmistakable sense of greed lingering in the woman’s dark eyes. Her aggression began to annoy him. He quickly guided the maidservant past the stall and out of the merchant’s reach.
“Thank you, but we’re not interested.”
The merchant didn’t give up so easily, though. She was still shouting discounts and deals at the pair by the time they reached the town well, together with a good number of other traders and salesmen. As the day drew to an end and the sun began to approach the horizon, their sales pitch seemed to be getting more and more aggressive. The market was about to lose its charm.
It was probably time to retire.
The Crown Prince turned to look at his companion-
And blinked in confusion.
Wait. Is that… disappointment?
Guinevere wouldn’t catch his eye, her gaze downcast and fixed on the stone floor in front of them. The Crown Prince frowned. He looked back and forth between Guinevere and the jewelry stall in the distance as his mind tried to solve the puzzle in front of him.
Are you embarrassed because of that merchant? Because of what they said? Or… is it because I corrected them? Is that why? Wait, but why would that be disappointing? Unless… Unless-
The puzzle called Guinevere vanished as a different and much darker thought forced itself to the front of his mind. It was a familiar thought. One that he had had many times, as it had been carefully cultivated over the years. Both by his sister as well as the droves of noblewomen surrounding court. Arthur’s frown deepened as his face clouded over. The Crown Prince couldn’t help himself. He couldn’t stop it.
Wait – did you actually want that silly trinket? Did you expect me to give it to you? Is that why you asked me to dance? Is that why you agreed to show me around, and why you’re being so kind to me? Are you doing it on purpose? To manipulate me into falling for you? To get me to give you things? To get me to… to…
Dear Watcher. Not again.
“Isn’t it obvious yet? Guinevere is not afraid of you. She likes you.”
“Trust me, my lord. We’d make sure that a visit from the Prince is enjoyable.”
They never just liked him. Not a single one of them. They always wanted something else. Something more. Something that had nothing to do with Arthur, and everything to do with his royal status. They wanted the title of queen. Or the position of the King’s mistress. Or even the prestige of being courted by royalty.
Or Arthur’s child.
It had all been a lie. It were always lies.
Why were they always lies?
“Don’t be fooled. You know what they want. They are interested in you for your status first, your looks second, and yourself a very distant third. They don’t care who we are.”
“They only see what we are. Or what we will become. They don’t care, Arthur.”
You never learn, do you?
This one probably only sees a Prince, too. This one doesn’t care, either. None of them do. And they never will. You don’t matter compared to what they stand to gain from romantically entangling themselves with you. You don’t matter compared to greed. How many more of them will it take for you to realize that? How many more manipulative romances? How many more deceptions?
How many more does it take for you to learn?
Arthur could feel every bit of happiness that had built up over the course of that sun-lit day drain out of him, evaporating into nothing as he realized what was happening. What kind of pitfall he was once again being led towards.
He never learned.
The Crown Prince let out a deep, resigned sigh.
“Let’s go for a walk. We have something to discuss.”
That evening, Arthur and Guinevere left the busy, laughter-filled streets of Scarborough behind. They slowly descended to the beach as the surrounding sands and sea basked in the glow of a warm, gentle sunset. The contrast with the bustling streets was staggering. The beaches were right next to Scarborough, but other than a handful of merrymakers and a few children skipping rocks across the watery surface, the place was deserted. Even the town’s buzzing could barely be heard here. It was serene. Calm. Peaceful.
If Arthur’s mood had been clearer, he might even have enjoyed watching the setting sun on the horizon. Instead, his thoughts remained clouded, the maidservant’s behaviour reminding him of much darker days. The magnificent evening colours might as well have been shades of grey. He could not see any of them.
The Crown Prince sighed.
Even in a situation like this one, Arthur was not keen on crushing a person’s hopes.
He took a step towards Guinevere. The maidservant was facing away from him, standing by the edge of the water and looking out over the vast sea stretching out before her. The warm evening sun made her hair light up in a beautiful shade of orange. Carefully, the maidservant pointed at the water.
“Do… do you think it could hide in there, too?”
It took Arthur a few seconds to realize what Guinevere was talking about. By now, their nightly dragon encounter was starting to feel more like a distant dream. A mirage. Arthur glanced towards the sea. His mind was occupied by something very different than dragons. He shook his head.
“I don’t know.”
The Crown Prince sighed. This was not going to be a pleasant conversation, and he knew it. He couldn’t help but feel guilty. If Arthur hadn’t played to her feelings by taking her around town today, then she might not have gotten her hopes up beyond what was appropriate. She would not have started to hold expectations. He shared part of the blame here. And there was no way to bring this gently. In a soft voice, the Crown Prince began to speak.
“Cordelia. Faith has told me about… your feelings for me. Your intentions. Considering the kind of day we just had, and the way that… some of the things I did can be misinterpreted… I think I owe you an apology.”
The maidservant did not respond. Her eyes were fixed on the rippling water in front of her. He could see her hands withdrawing into her lap, neatly folding over themselves. Arthur continued, weighing his words very carefully as he did so. Even if Guinevere had selfish expectations because of his title, she was still a good person. The Crown Prince had grown fond of her during their travels. He did not want to hurt her any more than he had to.
“I enjoyed the time we spent together,” Arthur spoke. “I really did. You showed me a glimpse of what it is like to be a normal commoner, and I am very thankful for that. If it weren’t for you, then I may never have had that chance. But… I also need you to understand something.”
Arthur’s eyes trailed away from her, looking at the distant cliffs as his mind searched for the right words. It was never this difficult with the women in court. He had rejected dozens of them, some quite rudely. Some without caring. This wasn’t supposed to be any more difficult.
So why did his chest suddenly feel this heavy?
The Crown Prince sighed.
“…Guinevere, you can’t-“
“It’s all right, milord. I understand.”
Her voice was soft and gentle, almost drowned out by the sound of waves hitting the shore. Arthur fell silent, surprised at her words. He had not expected her to interrupt him. He definitely had not expected the maidservant to agree. The Crown Prince suddenly found himself at a loss for words, not knowing what to say.
As it turned out, he did not need to say anything.
“I know that I’m just a servant. A nobody. I know that I would never deserve… someone like you. That’s a-all right.”
Arthur saw her hands tighten around the sleeves of her tunic, her posture suddenly becoming forced.
“I think I owe you a-an apology too, milord. I never told you that I came from here. I hid that from you. I want… to explain why.”
“…Gwen, you don’t have to-“
But the maidservant shook her head, strangely determined to speak.
“When I was small… my brother and I were forced out of Scarborough. My mother was accused of being a witch. They thought that she poisoned the harvest. They thought that we were like her. She wasn’t a-a witch. And neither were we… but they wouldn’t listen. Mother made us run a-away from the town in the dead of night. I never saw her again.”
Arthur’s eyes grew wide as he listened to the girl in front of him. The implications of her words were not lost on him. Back in Camelot, this alone was enough to get her thrown into a dungeon. The maidservant was trusting him with something incredibly personal – and incredibly dangerous. Despite himself, Arthur could feel a strange sense of respect well up for the girl in front of him.
Guinevere was either very naive… or incredibly brave.
“I was still very small when we left,” the maidservant sighed. “I thought that the sight of a-angry torches in the dark was going to be my final memory of this place. Of my home.”
“But it wasn’t… because of you. You and milady helped me make new memories. Happy ones. You even took me to the fair with you a-and gave me a flower crown.”
“I did not know what it symbolized, Guinevere.”
“I know. Milady likes to tease me. But you didn’t have to give it to me, a-anyway. You didn’t have to do any of it. You’ve treated me more kindly than… than people have done in a long time. I did not even remember the pastries until I came back here. Or the flower crowns. Or the dancing. You’ve turned a-an old regret into a happy final memory.”
Her head lowered.
“I know I can never hope for a-anything more. And that’s a-all right. I already received more than I deserve. I already received something wonderful.”
The sun’s rays reflected across the water, bathing the two of them in a golden light as the girl finally turned to face Arthur. A small, heartfelt smile spread across Guinevere’s lips.
“Thank you, milord. A gift like that… I don’t need anything else.”
For the second time in his life, Arthur Pendragon found himself baffled at the purity and innocence of another person. He had only ever seen that expression with Gawain. Arthur had assumed that he would never see it on another person in his life.
But the Crown Prince had been wrong. There were no lies and deceit reflected in Guinevere’s bright, silver-grey eyes. Not the slightest hint. Her simple honesty was so different from what Arthur was used to that it made the breath catch in his throat. The Crown Prince felt himself at a loss for words as the truth looked him in the eyes, gently framed by the golden light of the setting sun.
He finally understood. There was no hidden agenda. No ulterior motive. No deceptions, or scheming, or social games.
Guinevere’s feelings were genuine.