For the people who are wondering about the memory pictures – The happy ones retain some colour, while the normal ones turn grey. The more grainy and dark around the edges they get, the older they are, or the deeper they are buried.
The exception are the “big” memories. Those are sharp. They’re either colourful, happy memories that the characters draw strength from even now, or grey memories that plague them still.
“It’s not right! If you want him, you can go through me first!”
“You can’t be like that. You have to be a king that does right by his people.”
“I will. You have my word, Gawain.”
“Isn’t it obvious? I’m going to be a knight.”
“Make no mistake, Gawain. A guard dog is all you will ever be. Even as the royal pet. You can pretend to be a knight all you want. But you will never be more than a lowly commoner, performing tricks on command like a dog for its master.”
With Gawain rapidly climbing up the ranks of the castle military and earning himself a place among Arthur’s men, the young redhead had started to receive a very generous living wage. Generous enough to move his family out of their small city hovel and into a much more luxurious cottage, not ten minutes from the castle.
It was an improvement in many ways. Their family had never been poor, and Gawain would never say this to his father’s face, but Lot was not exactly the most skilled of merchants. Like Gawain, he was a generous man who preferred to see the best in people. Even to his own detriment. It was an admirable trait, and one that had been inherited by all three of his sons.
It just was not the greatest trait to have for a merchant.
But none of that mattered anymore. As a member of Arthur’s personal guard, Gawain earned enough to move his entire family into a better home. It no longer mattered if Lot failed at his business endeavours. Unless he did something truly stupid, Gawain could simply cover for him.
The young redhead sighed, relieved to feel the familiar cobblestone road under his feet again. Even though his home was only ten minutes away from the castle, Gawain did not get to come home nearly as often as he wanted to. Mostly, his family had to come to him.
Gawain looked to the left. The garden had changed since he’d last been home. The trees that his mother had tended to had finally started to bear fruit; Gawain could see dozens of round, juicy-looking apples hanging between the leaves. The faint scent of lavender passed by his nose, drifting on the cool autumn wind and originating from the direction of the cottage. The young redhead could feel a wave of nostalgia overcome him. They’d always grown lavender back in the city, too. His mother always said that their scent would “help you find your way home”.
After what had happened in the square, Gawain had been convinced that he’d never get to go home again.
He still remembered the look on his little brother’s face. The expression of panicked horror when the town guard tackled him to the ground, restraining him. It had been a terrible sight, and poor Gaheris was already easily scared. A seven-year-old shouldn’t have had to see something like that.
But he did, and there had been nothing that Gawain could do about it.
He just hoped that it hadn’t ended up giving the poor kid nightmares.
Gawain was taken out of his worried thoughts by the sound of running footsteps. He raised his head just in time to see two flashes of blue – and then his brothers jumped at him, launching themselves straight into his chest and nearly knocking him over. The young redhead could hear two loud, squeaky, excited little voices blasting into his eardrums.
“You’re back! You’re BACK! MUM!”
“MUUUUUM! GAWAIN IS BACK!”
Gawain barely managed to stay upright. His brothers were getting big. A few more years, and they’d be able to knock him over for real. The thought made him strangely proud. A smile spread across Gawain’s face as the young redhead grabbed onto his brother, lifted him in the air and hoisted him on top of his shoulders, making Gareth burst out in laughter.
“Missed me, did you?” Gawain grinned.
That instantly caught the attention of Gaheris. The boy’s eyes grew as round as gold coins, almost falling out of their sockets as he stared at the scar on his big brother’s mouth.
“Whoa – Gawain! Your face! It’s all cut up!”
“Yeah, I know.”
“It… It looks-”
“It looks so cool!” Gareth yelled, finishing his little brother’s sentence for him. The look of shock on Gaheris’s face instantly turned into frustration.
“Does too! Is it going to turn into a scar? It is, isn’t it? That’s so cool! It’s a battle scar! Every knight has battle scars from fighting bad guys!”
As Gaheris pouted in huffy silence next to them, Gawain carefully placed Gareth back on the ground. The boy grabbed on to his uniform, still smirking up at him.
“Don’t listen to Gaheris. I think it’s really cool!”
Gawain let out a chuckle as he looked down on his brother.
“Yeah… I guess it is.”
“I knew you’d come back, you know,” Gareth continued. “Gaheris cried last night because he’s a wuss and thought the bad guys got you. But I knew you’d be fine.”
“I’m not a wuss!” Gaheris yelled, stomping his foot on the ground in anger.
“You so are!”
“Okay, that’s enough,” Gawain chuckled, ruffling his youngest brother’s hair. “Neither one of you is a wuss. And it’s all right. The bad guys didn’t get me. The Prince helped and got me out in time.”
“Prince Arthur did?!” Gaheris gasped. His eyes began to sparkle with excitement at the mentioning of his hero. He opened his mouth, no doubt to unleash a flood of questions – and immediately got cut off by the much louder voice of his brother.
“Did he help you escape from the castle?! Are you a runaway now?!”
“No, he let me out,” Gawain gently corrected him. “I’m still one of his men.”
“Man, that’s so cool! I want to be friends with a Prince, too.”
“Me too!” Gaheris echoed. Gareth shook his head at his brother.
“You’re too much of a wuss to be friends with the Prince. You can be friends with the Princess.”
“Nuh-uh! Princesses are stupid! I want to be friends with Prince Arthur!”
“I’m sure that you can both be his friends,” Gawain chuckled, looking down on his younger brothers as they squabbled. His comment fell on deaf ears. They had been that way since they were toddlers. Always at odds with each other, competing over everything from the moment that they were born. But despite all that, Gareth and Gaheris still couldn’t fall asleep without the other one in the same room.
Not that they’d admit that to anyone, of course.
The young redhead had been ten years old when his brothers were born. He could still remember it vividly. With an age gap that large, Gawain had long since lost sight of where he had stopped feeling like an older brother and started feeling like a parent. He remembered teaching the both of them how to walk. He had showed them how to properly hold a sword, without getting splinters in their hands from the wood. They were almost eight years old now. Very soon, Gawain would start teaching them how to fight for real.
The young redhead was looking forward to it. In a way, he felt responsible for them.
And in a way, he was.
Someone had to keep them safe, after all.
And sometimes there was no one else.
Gawain was abruptly pulled out of his dark musings by the feeling of two small hands grabbing hold of him. Gareth and Gaheris began to drag him off, pulling their big brother in the direction of the front door.
“Come on! Mum is making apple pancakes. We need to tell her to make more.”
“I’m not that hun-”
“Liar! You were looking at the apples. I saw you look. Don’t worry, she promised to leave out the seeds this time!”
“She said she wants to make them into coil,” Gaheris nodded. That earned him another scoff from his brother.
“Not coil, you fopdoodle! She said oil!”
The two of them bickered the whole way to the front door. As they dragged him off, Gawain could smell the delicious scent of freshly baked goods wafting towards him. It smelled of home, in a way that only his mother’s cooking could. Gawain could feel a warm feeling spread through his chest.
On second thought… the young redhead was suddenly starving for some pancakes.
With an obnoxious flurry of his quill, Lionel Gaunness scribbled his house’s signature onto the parchment. It was a gaudy, over-the-top, ridiculously curly signature that took up way more space on the page than it was supposed to.
The nobleman took a step back, nodding in approval at his own penmanship.
“Mark my words, gentlemen,” Lionel said with a smirk. “You are watching history in the making. History, I tell you! My noble house and I will be remembered for eons to come, for our valour as well as our grace with both the quill and the sword!”
“Saddle-goose,” Elyan grumbled, annoyed at the man’s bragging. “You’ll be remembered for having the fighting skills of a soggy piece of parchment.”
That earned him an indignant scowl from Lionel. The nobleman turned around, turning up his nose at Elyan before sneering:
“Just because you have the fighting grace and elegance of a donkey, does not mean that civil, honourable combat is conducted in the same way. You may come and apologise to me once you’ve been disqualified for breaking the simplest rules of chivalry.”
“And what is that? Not having a proper glove to smack in your face the next time you decide to insult my friends?”
“You wouldn’t even know from what end to hold your glove,” Lionel scoffed at Elyan. “And you’re supposed to drop the thing. Not assault someone’s facial features with it like it’s a cudgel. Leave it to a barbarian like you to fail at even the simplest-”
“Enough,” Lancelot interjected. “Restrain yourselves. You’re being a disgrace to our Prince.”
Lancelot’s tone had lowered to an icy chill. Out of all of Arthur’s men, the Duke’s son was the best at controlling his emotions and keeping a calm exterior. As a result, whenever Lancelot did display anger, the effect was immediately noticeable. Both Elyan and Lionel visibly shrank at his words. The two of them sheepishly turned around to face Arthur, who had been watching the scene unfold with his eyebrow raised.
“Sorry, my lord.”
“You are excused. But if you repeat this behaviour during the tournament, I will disqualify you both. Understood?”
“Yes, my lord.”
The rest of the registration proceeded in silence. Lionel handed the quill over to Percival, after which the remaining noblemen swiftly began to register their participation in the tournament. Inwardly, Arthur let out a sigh of relief. So far everything was going well, despite his lengthy absence. Everything was still going according to schedule. Lancelot had had no small part to play in that. The Crown Prince would have to thank him properly later. As well as get the charges against Gawain dropped, introduce a new training regimen, shore up the city’s defences…
And speak to his uncle.
The Crown Prince was not looking forward to that.
But for now, everything was going well.
Until the doors to the throne room opened, and a familiar figure came walking in.
“How are preparations going?”
“Fine, my lady,” Lancelot answered, looking a little uncomfortable to be standing that close. “Every knight and willing noble in Camelot has signed up, with the exception of the late Sir Bertrand. The group that you see here is the last. After that, we will have everyone from Camelot.”
“I see. Thank you, Lancelot.”
Her smile widened.
“But you’re wrong on one account.”
“Would you excuse me for a moment?” Morgana replied, ignoring his question. “I have some business with that book and quill over there.”
Arthur watched with slowly raising eyebrows as his little sister made her way past his men, stepping up to the registration stand. That expression turned into into straight-up confusion when he saw her pick up the quill.
What in the Watcher’s name…?
The Crown Prince stopped by her side just as she dipped the quill into the ink jar. With a hesitant, confused smile, Arthur called out.
“Err… Morgana, what are you doing?”
“Registering for the tournament, of course.”
The Crown Prince blinked. He could hear several polite coughs behind him, coming from the direction of his men as they shuffled their feet in discomfort.
“Er… that’s not how that works, my lady,” Elyan finally spoke.
“Yes,” Lionel added. His cautious smile was both uncertain and slightly fearful – a very different expression from what the nobleman had worn a few seconds ago.
“With all due respect, your highness, there are certain… qualifications… that need to be met.”
“Lionel is right, Morgana,” Arthur spoke. “You’re not a knight, or a trainee. Or even a man, for that matter. Are you feeling all right? We’ve hosted tournaments before – have you forgotten how this works?”
Morgana merely smiled at them in response.
“Of course I am not a knight. It matters not. I am the royal princess. Agravaine,” she said, turning towards her uncle. “Is it not so that, being of royal status, I am entitled to every single privilege that those born below me enjoy?”
The Jacoban priest crossed his arms, nodding to her in response.
“Well, technically, yes. But that is not how that law is intended. You can’t-”
“Intention does not matter,” Morgana said, cutting him off before he could finish speaking. “What matters is what is written. ”
A devious smirk spread across her lips as Agravaine’s frown deepened. So did Arthur’s. He had seen that look on her face before. Many times. It was the same look that she had worn just before she tried to pair up Arthur and Guinevere. And when she had threatened to have Sarah cut his hair if he didn’t train Gawain. It was that devious, characteristic glimmer, paired with a smirk that warned Arthur she was playing some hidden angle.
He really disliked that expression.
Dear Watcher, what are you planning now?
“That still doesn’t change anything,” Arthur persisted. “You may be a woman of noble birth, but you’re still a woman. You cannot participate in this tournament. Or any tournament.”
“Of course not!” Morgana replied sweetly. “That would be preposterous. But, as I recall, any noble that is willing but unable to participate, can choose to be represented instead. And they can choose that representative freely, without restraints.”
… Oh, no.
The Crown Prince suddenly knew exactly what she was trying to do. And she was right. He couldn’t stop her. He narrowed his eyes at her as a sinking feeling spread through his stomach. Reluctantly, Arthur opened his mouth and growled:
“…Who do you choose to represent you?”