On the timeline, this one happens while Arthur, Morgana and Guinevere are in Scarborough.
In theory, the Tall Tales tavern closed at midnight, and opened at ten in the morning. In practice, the tavern was never closed – and never empty. By the time that the previous night’s guests were lucid enough to get up from the tables, the early birds of the next day would already arrive.
“So anyway, she takes me back to her house and starts disrobing-”
“Ugh. I don’t want to hear more.”
“But I haven’t gotten to the good part yet!” Elyan smirked, placing his mug of ale on the table. “So anyway, this girl had the most beautiful set of-”
“Cut it out, Elyan,” Lancelot said. “Your bad manners are showing.”
“I don’t get it,” Gawain muttered. “Why do you keep getting all the girls? You’re not even polite. Are they actually attracted to you when you act like that? Is that a thing?”
“Of course!” Elyan answered. “It’s all about having confidence, Gawain. Women appreciate a man who knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to go for it. You should try it sometime. It’ll make a world of difference, I guarantee it.”
“I don’t know,” Gawain replied, looking unsure of himself. Elyan chuckled at his facial expression.
“What do you need, a demonstration? You’ve seen this work plenty of times.”
Almost as if on cue, the doors to the tavern opened. The few patrons inside watched as a very scantily-clad woman waltzed in. She surveyed the area for a split second – before immediately locking in on Elyan. Multiple pairs of eyes lingered on her swaying hips as she sashayed her way over.
“Belinda!” Elyan shouted. The black-haired swordman immediately got up from the table as a cheeky smirk spread across his face.
“How have you been, beautiful? I haven’t seen you in weeks – I was starting to think that you’d moved!”
“Of course not! Not without saying goodbye to you. I’ve missed you.”
The smirk on his face became even wider. He gestured over to the table.
“Would you care to join us, love? I’ll treat you to a drink. I know you can appreciate a good ale.”
“You’re such a sweetheart,” Belinda smiled, slowly inching closer to Elyan. The brunette took hold of his hand, leaning forward seductively as she began to whisper in his ear.
“But I don’t want to share. I’ve been lonely without you, Elyan. Why don’t you treat me in private?”
That was all the motivation that Elyan needed. He quickly tossed a couple of coins on the table next to him, paying for his drink. The would-be knight muttered a quick “see you later” to Lancelot and Gawain, before following Belinda right out the door.
A short while later, the two found themselves alone. Not inside of a tavern room, or hidden behind a building. Elyan and Belinda were comfortably seated on a stone bench, enjoying the warm rays of the summer sun as they sat in silence. Neither one of them tried to make a move on the other.
Neither of them expected the other to make a move – or wanted them to. Such had been their agreement for months.
After a few minutes of comfortable silence, Belinda finally spoke up.
“You know… there are easier ways to hide that you’re not into women.”
“Like what?” Elyan asked. The brunette let out a chuckle at his facial expression.
“Oh, I don’t know. Marriage. Starting a relationship. Siring a child. Actually sleeping with us every once in a while.”
“I don’t want to do any of those things,” Elyan huffed in response. “That’s the whole problem, remember?”
“I’m just saying, love. You’re trying a little too hard.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? I try exactly hard enough. I’m great at pretending.”
“Right, and I’m King Uther,” Belinda chuckled at him. “Listen. Just take it from me and tone the boasting down a notch, all right? We’re trying to keep you away from the guillotine, not draw its attention to you.”
Elyan sighed, deflating a little. Belinda and him had been stuck in this dance for a few months now. She and her colleagues pretended to “entertain” him in private, and in return, the dark-haired swordsman covered part of their living expenses. It had been a mutually beneficial deal. Nothing more, nothing less. Or at least, that was what Elyan had intended.
But what had started out as a business transaction had quickly grown into a friendship, and eventually, a much-needed confidante.
One of the few places where Elyan could take off his mask.
“Come on, then, out with it,” Belinda said, a mischievous glimmer playing in her eyes. “Who’s really your type? You haven’t told me yet. They have got to be walking around here somewhere.”
“I don’t think that’s a good-”
“It’s Arthur, isn’t it?”
“It must be Arthur. That strong chin is to die for, and who wouldn’t fall for a royal Prince?”
“What? No,” Elyan grumbled.
“Oh, I get ya’. It’s Gawain, then, right?”
“The boyish, sweet type. I can see that working. Sure, he’s a little naïve, but I have to admit that I really like that.”
“No. Listen, can we just-“
“Are you telling me you’re into Lancelot?” Belinda continued, her eyebrows raising a few inches.
“I mean, I get that. Who wouldn’t sleep with Lancelot? But he’s just so conventionally handsome. I suppose it’s fine, if a little boring.”
“Seriously, I don’t-“
“Oh no,” Belinda whispered, horror creeping into her voice. “Please don’t tell me it’s Lionel.”
“NO!” Elyan yelled, throwing up his hands in a panic. “No! Of course not! Watcher, no! It’s Bayard!”
The brunette raised a single eyebrow as her face twisted into a look of confusion.
“Who the heck is Bayard? A soldier?”
“No! I mean yes! I mean-“
Elyan let out an exasperated sigh, covering his face in shame.
“Oh, bugger. Just – forget I said anything, all right? Just forget it. Please.”
Elyan let out an exasperated sigh, covering his face in shame. He hadn’t meant to say that. He hadn’t meant to say anything – but Belinda had a knack for getting the truth out of him. Up until now, Elyan hadn’t told a living soul about his feelings for the Crown Prince of Mercia. He couldn’t. He could never act on them. No matter how much he wanted to. No matter how much his family pushed for marriage. No matter how trapped he felt.
If he did…
The dark-haired swordsman was pulled out of his thoughts by the soft touch of the woman next to him. Even now, he still expected disgust, or horror as a reaction. But her expression bore neither of those. It was gentle. Elyan could see genuine worry, paired with something that he had not known for all his life.
“Hey. It’s all right. Your secret’s safe with me.”
Belinda had already told him that many times. But it still had the same effect as it did the first time. Elyan could feel a huge weight roll off his shoulders at those simple words. He nodded to her, his shoulders finally relaxing.
“I talked to the girls about giving you a better cover. We made a plan. We’re going to do the boasting for you. Don’t worry. When we’re done, you’ll have a reputation to rival the legendary Don Lothario.”
Elyan let out a chuckle at that.
“Please don’t. Just enough to avoid the guillotine will do.”
“Oh, fine. Spoilsport,” Belinda teased. “What I mean to say is that we’ve got your back. Courtesan’s honour.”
“You’re not a courtesan, Belinda.”
“Psch. If Gawain can dream big, then so can I.”
Elyan couldn’t help but agree with her there. The brunette had a point.
He couldn’t help but feel grateful, too.
“Heh. Thanks, Bel.”
“Anytime, Elly. Anytime.”