The setting sun cast a warm, orange glow over the town market as Guinevere made her way home. Today was her day off. She had been looking forward to visiting the market all week, silently filing away recipes in her head that she could try out with the money from her latest salary. She’d been experimenting ever since Arthur had eaten the cupcake. Guinevere was a terrible cook, except for when it came to baking. She had seen Sarah do some incredible things with seasonal fruits and vegetables. The maidservant knew that she would never be as good as her mentor at anything, but maybe, with enough effort, she could make something half-decent.
Guinevere looked down at her basket excitedly, picking up one of the apples that she had just bought. She had always liked apple pie. And it wasn’t that hard to make. Even she could do it. Guinevere could share some with Morgana and Gawain, if she could find them.
If it wasn’t completely terrible… maybe she could even give some to Arthur?
The girl smiled to herself, allowing her mind to wander as she slowly made her way through the market streets. She would never tell Morgana, but part of her was incredibly relieved that she did not end up having to go to Nemeth. She had been dreading it. But she didn’t have to leave now. This way, she could still see h-
Everyone, the girl mentally corrected herself. This way I can still see everyone. Not just him. And Arthur is busy now. I shouldn’t bother him… right?
But a slice of pie wasn’t a bother, was it? It was just a friendly present. Guinevere shared pies with Gawain and the village children all the time, when her food wasn’t good enough to give to Morgana. That was a friendly gesture, too. This wasn’t any different from that.
Yes. It was exactly the same.
The maidservant slowly trailed around the market fountain, still lost in thought. As Guinevere passed by the statue of the Watcher, she was snapped back from her wandering thoughts by a familiar face. On the other side of the square, she could see Gawain. The young redhead was without his weapon and uniform for a change.
He also looked incredibly uncomfortable, backed up against a bush and in the process of getting cornered by two women. Guinevere could hear their giggled flirting all the way from the other side of the street, followed by Gawain’s awkward, stammered answers.
“Look, I, err- I really appreciate this, but-”
“Oh, but we insist! Anything for the new Champion of Camelot,” the redhead next to him purred. The other woman quickly jumped in with:
“And what a champion we have! Just look at those strong, toned arms. You must be a real hit with the ladies.”
“Err… no, not really. But-”
“Are you saying you’re single?” the brunette replied, her smile immediately widening at the word. “A good-looking stud like you? Now that’s just a waste.”
“And with such a strong title, too. A good number of us would do anything to spend a night with the Champion of Camelot.”
“I don’t think-”
“Don’t worry, we can teach you if you’re inexperienced,” the redhead smiled in a low, sultry tone. “We’re very good at what we do. A few nights, and you’ll have the bed prowess to match that new title of yours.”
Guinevere could see Gawain take another step back.
“I- err, I really have to go now- to train-”
But they wouldn’t let him leave. Gawain’s expression changed from awkward to downright uncomfortable as the nearest lady matched his movement, cornering him even further.
“You’re so hard-working, Gawain. So heroic. We’ll come watch. We’ll cheer you on during your workout.”
“And afterwards, we’ll give you a different kind of workout,” the brunette smirked, trailing a finger up and down his chest. “You’ll enjoy it, I’m sure. Would you like that?”
“Err- I, uh-
Guinevere saw Gawain’s head whip towards the market, looking for a way to escape. The young redhead almost immediately spotted her. He locked onto her like a drowning victim locked onto a piece of driftwood. The two of them made eye contact. Gawain didn’t say anything – but he didn’t have to. The expression on his face spoke volumes. Guinevere immediately, instinctively, understood what message he was sending her.
And she did.
Guinevere’s time in Camelot had proven fruitful in many ways. In her months of working as a servant, she had learned more than just housework. The maidservant had ended up picking up a few new things from watching Sarah and Morgana – one of which was deception. She wasn’t very good at it. Morgana still saw straight through her whenever she tried it. But the two of them were good teachers. Guinevere had learned to pretend – at least a little bit.
With a loud clattering, Guinevere’s fruit basket fell on the ground, spilling the contents all over the dirty cobblestone road and sending red apples scattering everywhere.
The maidservant brought her hands up to her mouth in response, gasping in the same exaggerated, fake-surprised way that her mistress had mastered to perfection. When she spoke, her voice carried all the way across the square.
The ruckus caught the attention of the group on the other side of the street – and Gawain immediately made use of it. He stepped away from the woman’s outstretched fingers, pushing his way through them with a hastily muttered:
“Oooh, look at that! Sorry, I need to go helpokaybye!”
The young redhead bolted, darting as far away as possible before either of them could protest. Guinevere could see the two of them look on with stunned confusion as he hightailed it through the square, even looking back to see if they were following him. The sight made the maidservant chuckle. She quickly sunk down and started gathering her spilled apples.
It did not take Gawain long to reach her. The young redhead knelt down right in front of her, grabbing one of the apples from the ground and holding it up.
“Here. Let me help.”
Guinevere watched as Gawain placed a handful of apples into her basket. Any thought of future apple-bruised, imperfect pie went out the window at the silent wink and the large, warm smile playing on his face.
“Thanks, Guin. You’re a lifesaver. Really.”
Gawain ended up escorting Guinevere back to the castle under the rays of the setting sun. It was his day off, too. The young redhead had planned to go visit his family after a quick stop at the market – but that had turned into almost an entire afternoon of being stalked – first by tournament fans, and then by the two women.
“They just wouldn’t go away!” Gawain said, exasperated. “They followed me through the whole market! I tried standing near the fish trader to let the smell make them leave, but that didn’t work, either. I said that I had to go train twice, and they still wouldn’t leave me alone! They even said that they’d come watch!”
“You don’t want people to watch?” Guinevere replied.
“Not them, no!” Gawain huffed, annoyed. “All they do is giggle and invite me to their bedchambers and say how big my muscles are. I know how big they are. I don’t need them to tell me that. They’re distracting. I don’t want people to watch while I train.”
“Wait… doesn’t milady watch you train, too?” Guinevere asked, cocking her head quizzically. Gawain huffed.
“That’s different. Mor helps.”
“Yeah. I don’t know how to explain it,” Gawain replied. “I just fight better when she’s there.”
“But that doesn’t mean that I want anyone else to watch,” Gawain continued, his face falling back into an expression of discomfort. “And it’s not like they’ve ever wanted to watch me train before. They were always hovering around Elyan, or walking after Lancelot until he told them off. They never even looked at me. And now they suddenly won’t go away. It’s weird.”
Guinevere opened her mouth to answer before changing her mind and abruptly closing it again. The maidservant had a pretty good idea of why Gawain was suddenly so attractive to them. She didn’t want to say it out loud, though. Saying it out loud would just hurt his feelings.
“Well… you did just win the tournament,” Guinevere said instead, choosing her words very carefully. “They’re probably impressed with you. Everyone is. You’re very popular now, Gawain.”
He did not seem to like her answer. The young redhead let out another huff as they crossed into the castle gardens.
“I don’t want to be popular. I mean, I do- but not when it means being followed by girls. At least not those girls.”
Guinevere couldn’t help it. Gawain’s expression was so huffy and indignant that it was comical. The maidservant let out a soft chuckle.
“What if being popular comes with other kinds of girls? Do you have a-a girl that you like?”
“No. Of course not.”
The young redhead looked away in discomfort for a moment, before his gaze trailed back to Guinevere. A curious expression crossed his face as he looked at her.
“What about you? Do you have someone you like?”
“N-no! Of c-course not!” Guinevere replied, immediately feeling her cheeks start to burn. Gawain raised a single eyebrow in response.
As he kept looking at her, her expression visibly fell. Guinevere broke eye contact with Gawain, looking down at the ground underneath her as she fiddled with the cord on her tunic.
“I’m not interesting a-anyway. Not like you.”
“That’s not true,” Gawain responded, his face pulling into a frown. For a moment, the young redhead looked like he was about to say something else – but then Gawain closing his mouth and looked away, very similarly to what Guinevere had done just a few moments ago. With the front of his boot, Gawain kicked at a loose pebble.
“It doesn’t really matter, you know? Being popular with people, I mean. Not really. I don’t want to be a knight to get with girls – I want to be a knight so I can help people.”
The pebble had wedged itself into Gawain’s boot. He tried kicking it out, but to no avail. Guinevere watched as Gawain sat down on the nearest bench, fiddling with his boot to get the pebble out. As she looked down on him, a curious thought suddenly popped into her head.
“Gawain, can I ask you something?”
“Yeah, of course, he smiled. Carefully, Guinevere sat down next to him.
“You said that you want to help people,” she said in a small voice, looking up at him curiously. “I don’t think I’ve ever asked you this, but… why do you want to be a-a knight so badly?”
Guinevere knew that Gawain was a romantic. The entire town knew how much he idolized the castle knights. She expected him to reply with the name of a famous ballad that he’d heard, or a story about one of the knights that was entombed in the Pendragon crypt. But the young redhead ended up surprising him. Guinevere watched as a thoughtful, strangely distant look appeared in his eyes.
“I want to be a knight and help people in need, because the knights helped me when I needed it.”
The young redhead let out a sigh, leaning forward as he placed his elbows on his legs.
“Do you know who my family is?”
“Of course,” the maidservant nodded. “They’re merchants, right?”
“Yes. Specifically, my dad is a noble that gave up his title to marry a commoner. He’s a merchant by trade, but… well, he’s not very skilled at what he does. He’s not good with money. At all. When I was little, he would often end up falling into debt because his business deals failed. Most of the time, he’d find a way to make things right, but… sometimes he didn’t.”
“At some point, dad ended up owing too much gold to the wrong people. They came to collect, and he couldn’t pay his debts. The things gathered in our house weren’t valuable enough, either. So, in order to motivate him… they decided to take something else.”
“We owned a small home, back then. Dad barely made enough to put food on the table. Mum ended up working too in order to make ends meet, and the two of them would be out more often than not. They were away that night, too. I don’t remember why.”
“Gareth and Gaheris were asleep. We shared a bedroom, and when they were little, we shared a bed, too. I remember being woken up in the middle of the night by a strange sound downstairs.”
“I was the older brother, and I had to look after them while mum and dad were gone. In my sleep-drunken state, I remember thinking that it was some kind of animal that had snuck its way inside. Like a cat, or a mink, or one of the town geese. They tried to break into people’s homes all the time. They attack people too – did you know that they have teeth? I remember grabbing my toy sword and sneaking downstairs so I could surprise it, and scare it off.”
“But… it wasn’t an animal.”
“Three. We take two.”
“And the third?”
“Make it an example.”
“I got very lucky, and they searched the lower rooms first. I remember sneaking back upstairs as silently as I could. I knew I had to get Gareth and Gaheris out of there, before the bad men found them. They could be quiet if they had to be – we’d been playing hide and seek games for years at that point. I wanted to take them and escape with them through a window.”
“I didn’t realize until I was already back in the room with them.”
“Our bedroom had no windows.”
“But my dad’s office did.”
“Gareth ended up accidentally knocking over the toy sword on his way out,” Gawain continued, his eyes clouding over as the memory came to him. “The men downstairs heard the clattering. We snuck into the office and hid under dad’s desk, behind some empty trading crates.”
“Through some miracle, he didn’t find us.”
“I hadn’t learned to land properly after a fall yet – and especially not a fall from a two-story window while carrying two toddlers. I remember the bones in my foot breaking as I hit the ground. It hurt so bad that I lost consciousness for a moment. I used to wonder if I’d gotten further with them if I had jumped properly.”
“But it doesn’t matter. We made so much noise that they found us almost right away.”
“I thought that we were going to die.”
“But we didn’t. A knight ended up saving us at the last moment.”
“A knight?” Guinevere replied. Gawain gave her a thoughtful nod.
“Sir Bertrand. He used to be guard captain of the city. Back then, he was just a soldier. He had been on patrol that night, and heard the noise of breaking glass and crying during his rounds.”
“I remember him knocking the man flat with a single blow, sending him sprawling. He put himself directly between us and him. Didn’t hesitate for a second. He just stepped in, confidently, looking back at the three of us as he reached for his sword.”
“Well done, kid. I’ll take it from here.”
“I remember looking up at his armoured back as he shielded all three of us.”
“It was the most heroic thing I had ever seen,” Gawain said, his eyes gleaming in the sunlight. A wide smile spread across his face. He spent a few moments reminiscing, before continuing his story.
“Sir Bertrand defeated the both of them so easily. He barely had to lift a finger. He stayed with us all night until mum and dad came home, too. I’ve wanted to be a knight ever since. I wanted to protect people in the same way that he protected me. As a kid, I read every knight story and listened to every ballad that I could get my hands on. I carved dozens of wooden toy swords to practice with. I got into fights all the time, too.”
“You were always covered in bruises,” Guinevere nodded.
“Yeah. I used to sneak into the castle barracks to watch the knights practice, too. They threw me out sixteen times, until Arthur started teaching me.”
“The old knight captain said something to his troops that stuck with me,” the young redhead continuing, his expression once again turning thoughtful. “He said that sometimes, when it matters most, there is nobody else. That, one day, there will be a moment where it’s only you that stands in between danger and the thing you care about. He said that that is what they were really training for. To make sure that, when it mattered, their strength is enough. Even if there is nobody else to help.”
Gawain raised his arm, looking down at his open palm. His hands were rough and coarse from years of sword-fighting.
“I’m going to be just like him. Until I’m just as strong when it really matters.”
As he squeezed his hand into a fist, Guinevere could see a his expression change. He sat up straight, lifting his chin. The smile faded from his lips. Instead, Guinevere could see a look of powerful determination.
“One day I’ll be enough.”