Disclaimer: implication of suicide
With the Knight’s Tournament in full swing, Guinevere’s workload had doubled. It was her first tournament as a royal servant, and she had severely underestimated just how tough it would be. It hadn’t even been a week yet, and she was already wishing that the event was over. She couldn’t help it. Guinevere had been in low spirits for the entire tournament.
Her bad mood had nothing to do with Arthur’s engagement, the young redhead kept telling herself.
Nothing at all.
He rejected me, after all. Of course he did. I knew he would. So it doesn’t matter.
I’m not bothered. Why would it bother me?
Lost in thought, Guinevere opened the door to the castle kitchens-
…and walked in on an unexpected scene.
“…have seen his face, Sarah! The man was pouting in public like a bad-mannered child!”
“Sounds about right,” Sarah grinned. “Maybe he’d look less like a temper-throwing preteen if he managed to grow a proper beard.”
“I hear he can’t,” Morgana snickered. “He’s been trying for years. Gawain grew a better beard over the course of a week than he did in three whole seasons.”
“I bet he has a microscopic foot size, too,” Sarah replied, casually sipping her tea. Guinevere raised her eyebrows in confusion as she closed the kitchen door behind her.
“Wait, what does foot size have to do with anything?”
Sarah and Morgana almost choked on their drinks. Tea and red wine splashed onto the floor as the two women burst into laughter.
“Good timing, Gwen,” Morgana eventually chuckled, raising her glass. “You’re off duty now, right? Come join us for a drink.”
“I… yes, milady.”
Guinevere timidly made her way around the kitchen table, joining the two women. The young redhead quickly shook her head at the glass of wine that was offered. The gesture made Morgana chuckle.
“Oh, all right. Suit yourself. I was going to send for the two of you soon, anyway. I have some news to share with you.”
Morgana raised her glass into the air. Her smile widened, at the same time that her eyes clouded over.
Both of them had seen that look before.
“I’ve decided to reassign you, Guinevere,” her mistress spoke. “When I leave for Nemeth, you will move to the royal quarters. I have arranged for you to become one of Princess Mithian’s ladies-in-waiting-”
“-As well as head of her retinue,” Morgana continued, ignoring her servant’s protests. “It took some effort, but I know you’ll do well.”
Guinevere was baffled, listening to Morgana in shock. The young redhead could feel a painful knot form in her stomach as her head filled with doubts.
You’re firing me? Is this my fault? What have I done wrong?
The young redhead had never been able to put on a mask. And her mental doubts were reflected in her expression. Morgana chuckled, the smile slowly fading as her voice grew gentle.
“I’m not firing you, Gwen. I’m giving you a promotion. The best one I can get you.”
“I want to make sure that you are both looked after when I leave. I know how hard you work. You deserve to be recognized for it.”
Guinevere knew that Morgana meant well. Being promoted to a Queen’s servant really was an honour. She should have been overjoyed.
But Guinevere did not feel overjoyed. She did not feel happy at all.
She felt abandoned.
“… yes, milady.”
Don’t throw me away.
Why are you throwing me away?
But her thoughts went unspoken. Guinevere watched in silence as Morgana turned towards her other servant.
“That leaves you, Sarah. When I leave, I want you to-”
The princess blinked.
“I said no,” Sarah replied, casually finishing her tea before placing the cup on the counter. Morgana raised a single eyebrow in confusion.
“What do you mean, ‘no’?” she asked. “I’m trying to help you. I had to jump through a lot of hoops to arrange all this. Do you know how difficult it is to change a foreign noble’s servant roster without it looking like you’re trying to murder them?”
“I don’t care. I’m not going.”
“I am ordering y-”
“And I said no,” Sarah said again, cutting her off. “I know you. And I know better than to listen to you when you’re like this. If I had done as you said when you were a toddler, both you and your brother would have died from sugar overload when you were five years old.”
Guinevere could see Morgana’s cheeks turn red in anger at her servant’s disobedience.
“I am the Crown Princess-”
“And you still don’t know the first thing about what is actually good for you,” the maidservant replied, finishing Morgana’s sentence for her. “So you can zip it, your highness. When you leave, I’m coming to Nemeth with you. Whether you like it or not.”
If it were any other servant, talking to the Princess like that would have gotten them hanged. But Sarah was not just any servant. And seeing Morgana at a loss for words was a rare event. Guinevere watched as, for a moment, her mistress was dumbstruck She opened and closed her mouth in frustration as she glared at Sarah. The maidservant quietly glared back.
Then, Sarah’s face pulled into a familiar, mischievous grin.
“Sorry, love. I’m staying with you.”
“You can’t just-“
But the maidservant interrupted her again, raising a single, well-manicured hand in the air.
“Morgana, you have been a royal pain in my behind for the last sixteen years. I have had your back for just as long. That doesn’t stop just because you decide to trade up for a better castle.”
The impish grin slowly faded away as her eyes grew gentle. Sarah looked at the young woman in front of her with a faint smile. When she spoke, the maidservant’s proud, loving expression revealed more than words ever could.
“You’re stuck with me until the end.”
“M… me, too,” Guinevere chimed in, finally gathering enough courage to speak. “I’m honoured at the offer, milady, I really am, but – but I’m not qualified for a position like that, and – and I’d much rather stay with you.”
“…I-I mean… if that’s all right.”
In a split second, Sarah’s impish grin was back.
“Oh? Look who grew a spine. Are you sure? That means you might not see a certain someone again.”
Guinevere knew exactly what she meant. The young redhead averted her eyes, looking at the ground as the knot in her stomach tightened.
“Oooh, I see. Now that Prince Blonde is engaged, you’re switching your focus to the handsome bachelors of Nemeth! Gwen, you sly fox!”
“Wh- it’s not like that!” the young redhead squeaked, her cheeks turning bright pink at Sarah’s teasing words. The older maidservant let out a chuckle.
“I know, honey pie. I’m just messing with you. Though I did hear that the duke of Foxbury is quite handsome…”
Morgana watched their back-and-forth with a resigned smile. The princess let out a sigh.
“Dear Watcher. What am I going to do with you two?”
“I’ll tell what you can do. You can give us a raise. And a bloody day off.”
That Autumn, something remarkable happened in the nation of Camelot.
For the first time in history, a commoner was allowed to compete in the Knight’s Tournament. And contrary to the expectations of the entire nobility…
Gawain of Camelot won.
And people noticed. Word of the commoner competing with nobles spread around town like wildfire. Soon, everyone knew Gawain’s name.
The Tall Tales tavern had never had so many patrons.
While every noble was meant to return to the castle in the evenings, in practice, many of the knights stayed behind. They were well looked-after. Every evening, a feast was carried up to the arena from the castle kitchens.
And every night, that sand pit turned into a small party.
Arthur Pendragon was standing on the sidelines, watching the festivities when a familiar figure approached.
“Arth… Milord! Whatcha doin’?”
The Crown Prince did not have to smell the alcohol on Gawain’s breath to recognize those slurred words. He turned to Gawain, one eyebrow raised.
“You are drunk.”
“Right, of course not,” Arthur replied, rolling his eyes at his friend. “You don’t look drunk at all. How much did you have to drink, Gawain?”
“Only ah pint o’ ale. Two. Mayybe three. Honesht!”
I suppose it can’t hurt.
“What did you want?” Arthur asked. He couldn’t help but smile as he saw Gawain swaying back and forth on the grass.
“Right,” Gawain replied. “Ah wanted to shay thank you. For letting me compete.”
“That was Morgana’s doing, not mine.”
“Well, yah, but you’re tha’ one organishing it. Ya could’a said no. But ya let me compete anyway. Tha’ really meansh a lot. I dinna’ think I’d ever get tha compete againsht real knights.”
Arthur’s expression fell. The Crown Prince felt a slight pang of guilt as he remembered his words from before. Seeing his friend this happy… it made Arthur’s previous arguments against letting him compete suddenly ring hollow.
“I… was worried you wouldn’t be able to handle it,” he said softly.
“But ‘ah did! ‘Ah handled it! Real good too!”
“Yes. You did.”
“And ‘ah won, too! A bunch of times! Didya shee?”
“Yes, Gawain. I saw. I was there,” Arthur replied, letting out a slight chuckle at his drunken face. Gawain didn’t seem to notice.
“It wash amazing! An’ ah talked to ah king, too! Tah King Bayard!”
“Future king,” Arthur corrected him. “He’s a Crown Prince. And you’ve talked to Crown Princes before. Like me.”
“Yah, but tha’ doeshn’t count!”
Arthur raised a single eyebrow in amusement.
“Oh? I don’t count, now?”
“Thattsh not what ‘ah meant,” Gawain slurred, quickly backtracking in his drunken rambles. “Ah meant tha’ shay… tha’ shay thank you.”
“Nah, but really,” the young redhead continued, stumbling as he took a step towards Arthur. “Ah mean it. ‘Ah wouldna haf been able tha do it if it weren’t for you. You trained me. And you let me compete. You did’na haf to. But you let me anyway.”
Arthur watched as a look of pure adoration crossed his friend’s face.
That adoration was more than the Crown Prince could bear. Almost instantly, the memory of Gawain in the castle dungeon flashed by. Arthur’s stomach twisted into a painful knot at the thought of his unfulfilled promise.
He hadn’t earned that kind of expression at all.
“… we need to talk,” Arthur finally said. Gawain blinked, still swaying back and forth in his drunken haze.
“It’s about that promise. The one I made in the dungeon.”
This was hard. The Crown Prince broke eye contact with him, looking down at the ground as he spoke. In the back of his head, he could hear the voice of his uncle.
But you can’t ever lie about what you can and cannot do. If you lie, you’re lying about who you really are.
“I don’t think I can… solve it,” Arthur muttered. “Not immediately. I’m not king yet, and a problem this big needs… needs time. Maybe a lot of time.”
“But I will solve it,” he continued, looking back up at his friend. “I gave you my word and I intend to keep it. It just… might take a little while. I’m sorry.”
It was not the first time that Arthur had been dreading the reply of the young man in front of him. Back when they were children, the Crown Prince had been terrified of Gawain exploiting his weaknesses. He hadn’t known Gawain back then. Many years had passed since that day, and over time, Arthur’s fear had morphed into something else.
Now, he was simply afraid of disappointing his friend.
But Gawain once again surprised him.
“Okay? Just like that?”
“Yah,” Gawain nodded, trying to stay upright. “Ah’m not stupid, milord. ‘Ah know it’s not like shnapping your fingers and solving everything. You’re na’ the king. Na’ yet.”
“An’ don’t get me wrong, tha’ priest deservesh to have his behind roashted over tha’ bonfire by all tha’ people he hurt!”
“But you can’t do that right away, either. An’ he’s your uncle. ‘Ah know things are complicated.”
“But ‘ah know you,” he continued, his face mellowing out again. “You’re a good guy. An’ you’ll be a good king. You’ll do tha’ right thing even if it’s hard.”
Gawain’s simple honesty continued to surprise the Crown Prince. And, in a way… so did his trust. His friend believed in him more than Arthur believed in himself. He always had. And even after five years, the Crown Prince still wasn’t entirely sure what he had done to deserve his trust. Doubt flashed across Arthur’s face as, for a moment, his mask slipped.
“You really think so?”
“Yah,” Gawain nodded. “Ah trust you, milord.”
The Crown Prince had no idea where Gawain’s unwavering trust in him came from.
But by the Watcher, he was going to everything he could to live up to it. Arthur smiled, uttering a single word.
“Drop the title, muck-spout. Just Arthur is fine.”
With how drunk Gawain was, Arthur had expected an exaggerated reaction.
What he had not expected was a bear hug. The Crown prince was taken completely by surprise as the young redhead threw his arms around him, almost knocking Arthur to the ground in his enthusiasm. Arthur awkwardly patted him on the back, unsure what to do with himself.
Gawain had never done that before.
After a few seconds, the Crown Prince gently pushed his friend off of him.
“O-kay, Gawain. Back. Back you go. Too close.”
“Right, of course not. Why don’t you go talk to Bayard some more? He’s right there.”
“Yah! Good idea!”
Arthur watched with an amused smirk as Gawain stumbled away from him. The young redhead barely kept his balance as he made his way back into the sand pit.
Arthur had never seen him this happy before.
She was right. He’d earned it.
On her way back through the castle gardens, Morgana ran into someone unexpected.
“He seems quite happy, doesn’t he?”
The budding witch had thought herself to be alone. She quickly put her mask back on, giving the nobleman a polite smile.
“Lancelot. I didn’t see you there.”
“He’s making quite a name for himself,” Lancelot continued. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen the folks in the tavern this enthusiastic. Did you know they’ve started calling him the ‘Commoner’s Knight’?”
“He’s earned it,” Morgana smiled back.
“I agree. And he owes much of it to you. I know that you’ve helped him much more than he knows.”
“And why shouldn’t I?” Morgana replied, pride crossing her face as she looked at the figure in the distance. “I’ve known him since we were children. He deserves a chance to prove himself. I just made sure that he had that chance.”
Lancelot bowed his head to her.
“It is more than many people get. And I know that it wasn’t without cost to you.”
“It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t need to know.”
“I agree,” Lancelot smiled. “But that does not mean that it has to go unacknowledged. You’ve made a good friend of mine very happy, my lady. You have my sincere gratitude. To go that far for Gawain-”
“It’s a wonderful farewell gift, isn’t it?”
Morgana fell silent at his sudden directness. Lancelot had taken her by surprise. She could barely hide her worry as she looked into the nobleman’s piercing blue eyes.
How much does he know?
“…I’m not sure what you mean, my lord,” Morgana replied, trying to deflect his words. But Lancelot had always been unusually perceptive. And this time, her bluff did not work.
“I’m not blind, my lady. There are rumours floating around the castle that you intend to give both of your maidservants away.”
“I know what kind of predicament you’re in,” he continued. “I know you don’t wear that engagement ring unless you have to. And seeing you work this hard to make Gawain happy… forgive me if I’m wrong, but I cannot ignore what I see.”
Lancelot allowed a short silence to fall. When he finally spoke, his voice was strained.
“You have no intention of becoming Richard’s queen, do you?”
This was bad. This was very bad. Morgana knew that she had lost. Lancelot was even more perceptive than she thought he was. She couldn’t bluff her way out of this. He had seen her hand, and knew exactly what kind of cards she had.
He knew what she was planning for.
Then there’s no use in lying about it anymore.
Morgana’s expression hardened. The budding witch straightened her back, looking up at Lancelot with a cold, hostile glimmer in her eyes.
“…I see. Do you have… a way out?”
“No,” she said again, shaking her head at him. “But I will find one. I always do.”
If worse comes to worst, I’ll put everyone around me to sleep and run. Starting with you.
“I’ll leave one way or another. No matter what.”
Her words had a strange effect on the man in front of her. A shadow had fallen over his face, darkening Lancelot’s eyes. Morgana could see him ball his hands into fists as he looked at her with a haunted, almost hollow expression.
“Does anyone else know?”
“…No. They don’t need to know.”
Morgana watched as Lancelot glanced behind him, looking left and right for any nearby guards. When he was sure that they were alone, the young knight took a step towards her.
“It takes six days to reach the border,” he said, his voice lowered to a barely audible whisper. “On the third day, you will find a cliff. It does not look like it, but a drop down that cliff leads to a soft landing in water… until you pass a dead tree. After that, the fall is fatal.”
The nobleman let out a sigh.
“If you time it right, it is easy to disappear there. In both senses of the word.”
Morgana was dumbstruck. Out of all the possible responses that Lancelot could have given her, this was the one that she had not expected.
Are you… actually helping me? Why would you do that?
She didn’t understand. Baffled, the budding witch looked up at him.
“Why… How… how do you know this?”
The young noble gave her a small, sad smile. For a moment, his guard dropped, and Morgana could see an expression of absolute heartbreak in the depths of his blue eyes.
“I have seen this happen before.”
And Morgana finally understood.
“My lady… I have no right to tell you what to-”
Morgana stepped forward, bridging the distance between the two of them and placing a hand on his arm. In a soft, gentle voice, she spoke to the young knight.
“We will meet again. You have my word.”
It took a few seconds for those words to reach him. But when they did, the spark returned to his eyes. Lancelot gave her a smile, nodding at Morgana in silent approval.
“Good. I will keep you to that.”
“Lancelot… Nobody else knows. They cannot know. I need you to keep this a secret.”
“I will. You have my word.”
He stepped away from her, moving himself back to a respectable distance.
“I must take my leave now, Morgana. I will pretend that we never had this conversation.”
“Where are you going?”
The nobleman’s smile turned into a fraction of a smirk as he looked down on her.
“On patrol. Someone has to guard the city, seeing how a certain commoner has entered the tournament instead of acting as guard-commander.”
“You took Gawain’s place?” Morgana asked, surprised. Lancelot gave her a single nod.
“Yes. I volunteered.”
“You did? But… what about the tournament?”
“What about it?” he replied. “I’m sure the Duke can manage without his son for a week.”
“You would do that for Gawain? Does he know you’re not participating?”
“No,” Lancelot said. Morgana watched his smile widen as the nobleman reflected her own words back to her.
”They don’t need to know.”
It was a strange sensation. She didn’t even realize it at first, because she had never felt that way before within the walls of Camelot.
But for a moment…
Just for a moment…
Morgana Pendragon felt completely understood.