Every week, the shopping district in Camelot was home to a different type of market. Its wares varied wildly – one week, they had fruits and vegetables on display. The next time, it would be pottery and earthenware, replaced by leathers, handcrafted trinkets and even cheap jewellery at times.
This time, it was a crafts market. Fabrics and threads in all kinds of colours lined the many stalls and shops, drawing tailors and seamstresses from all over town.
Including Guinevere. The young maidservant had enjoyed making clothes, quilts and blankets ever since she was small. It was one of her few passions, together with baking. Guinevere had been looking forwards to the crafts market all week, making a list of things to buy and even reserving one of her rare days off for it. She had been bubbling with excitement.
Until yesterday. Then the dinner disaster with Uther happened, and her creative enthusiasm had died along with her self-esteem. All of her motivation had drained away. She couldn’t focus on her knitting project anymore – now, Guinevere just felt useless.
She had let her mistress down. Guinevere had had the entire day to come up with a proper excuse for Morgana’s absence. She had been given hours of time to prove herself useful – and what did she do instead? She clammed up like a complete cumberground. Again. Sarah had said that it was all right, but the young redhead knew better. If she hadn’t stepped in when she did, it would have been a disaster.
You’ll do better next time.
Would she? She never did better next time. It was quite the opposite – if anything, Guinevere seemed to be getting progressively worse at it over time. It was not for lack of trying, either. The maidservant had tried over and over again. But the result always seemed to be the same.
Remember that time that she almost stepped into the horse’s watering trough?
Told you she should have tried hiding in the cabinet.
Oh! And the pie thing! Remember the pie thing?
Guinevere shook her head, her cheeks growing hot with shame as she cringed at the memories. She had to do better. Be better. She had to try and change herself, act with more confidence and composure. Even Sarah had said it. Guinevere looked down into the depths of the well, her eyes not really seeing the water below. The conversation with the maidservant played over and over again in her head, her mind erasing the good and only focusing on the bad.
“You need to teach yourself not to panic so quickly. We all have to start somewhere.”
Guinevere gulped. She knew that Sarah was right. But where was she supposed to start? How did you teach yourself to be more composed? Was she supposed to ask someone to pick on her, so she could practice? Sarah was her direct superior, and asking her just wouldn’t be appropriate. There was Gawain, but he was too soft-natured to be intimidating. He probably couldn’t pressure her even if she asked him to.
That only left a handful of people. One by one, the members of the royal family flashed by in her mind’s eye, summoning varying degrees of discomfort as Guinevere thought about them.
The maidservant nearly had a panic attack at the mere thought of practicing on Uther. Just the idea of being in the same room as the Iron King again made Guinevere’s heart start hammering in her throat. She couldn’t handle him. Uther Pendragon was too intimidating. Too aggressive. The young maidservant couldn’t keep her composure within a thirty-foot radius of him, let alone stay calm when the King made eye contact.
It couldn’t be Morgana, either. Guinevere had no doubt that her mistress would help, if she told her what she was trying to do- but she hadn’t been able to stand up to Morgana’s relentless teasing even once. The young redhead couldn’t think straight when she got flustered, and Morgana knew that. She enjoyed it. Plus, Guinevere had seen the Princess interact with the other nobles. Ruthless didn’t even begin to describe it. The maidservant did not want to be on the receiving end of that, even if it was just for practice.
It couldn’t be her.
That left only one person.
The Crown Prince had never poked fun at her. Not once. He had never put her down, or lost his temper, or barked orders at her, or tried to do anything untoward. Arthur had always been kind, and gentle, and respectful. After Scarborough, Guinevere had grown to be a little more relaxed around him – but even now, she still couldn’t look him in the eyes. And Arthur’s rejection had done nothing to chase the swaths of butterflies from her stomach whenever they were in the same room.
Maybe… she could start there.
Arthur would never look at her. Not in that way. She had to accept that. In a way, it was the perfect opportunity. She knew that he wouldn’t push her – she wouldn’t have to worry about intimidating stares, or relentless teasing, or angry outbursts. Guinevere could train herself to keep her composure when Arthur was around. To control her emotions and be more professional. She could learn. She could change herself bit by bit, until she was just as calm and composed as Sarah.
She could do that.
Maybe if she changed herself enough, it would stop her chest from hurting every time she saw the ring around his-
Something roughly pulled her out of her thoughts and back into reality. Guinevere could see a large, male, dirt-covered hand clamp over her shoulder. It pulled her back and spun her around so forcefully that it knocked her off-balance. The maidservant barely managed to keep herself from falling over-
At the same moment that something small and squishy was forcibly shoved into her arms. She could see a mop of brown hair, a flash of tanned skin and then rough, burlap fabric as the thing in front of her almost collided with her head. Guinevere blinked, taking a confused step back.
It was so out of left field that Guinevere couldn’t process what was happening. It took her few seconds to realize what was going on – and what it was that was staring up at her. By the time that her mind had caught up to her body, her arms had already closed around him, keeping the toddler from falling to the ground.
She was holding a child.
Why was she holding a child?
Shocked, Guinevere looked past the kid. and made eye contact with the person who had put him there. The man was panting and sweaty. His face was covered in dirt and scrapes, and Guinevere could see a nasty gash on his nose. Then the man opened his mouth, and Guinevere forgot about his appearance entirely.
“Please – take him. Hide him. Quickly.”
But the man didn’t stop to look back. He didn’t stop at all. Guinevere watched in stunned confusion as he bolted away from her as fast as he could, leaping over the stones and flowerbeds and dashing out of the crafts market.
Baffled, Guinevere looked back at the child in her arms. She immediately wished that she hadn’t. The second they made eye contact, the boy flinched. His lower lip began to quiver as his eyes turned watery.
She knew that look. Guinevere could feel herself rapidly beginning to panic as she realised what was about to happen-
Soothe him! Quickly!
“Um… T-there, there- good baby-”
Too late. The toddler panicked. He let out a loud wail as he began to squirm and wriggle in her arms. Guinevere watched in shock as the little toddler started hitting her, flailing his tiny fists against her chest as hard as he could.
“Hey! Stop! B-baby- no, wait-”
Not a good baby! Not a good baby!
Oh Goddess, it’s so loud! Make it stop! Make it stop!
Throw it into the-
Guinevere almost dropped the toddler. She caught him at the last second as he kicked off against her, his legs flailing angrily. Her head whipped around to the east. But the man that put him in her arms still hadn’t looked back. He had almost reached the other side of the square. There was no indication of him coming back. He had run off, abandoning his kid and leaving Guinevere to deal with an upset, flailing toddler all on her own.
She hadn’t studied for this. And this wasn’t Michael. This kid was angry. Guinevere grimaced in pain as the toddler kicked her full in the ribs. His verbal protests grew even louder. She knew those wails – the maidservant instinctively realised that the kid in her arms was working his way up to a full-blown temper tantrum.
What was she supposed to do?!
Guinevere was almost bowled over. She jumped aside at the last second, flinching in shock as a group of heavily armed guards dashed past her. She wasn’t the only one that was surprised. Their armoured footsteps and heavy screaming voices instantly scattered everyone in the market. Villagers let out surprised gasps and yelps as they stormed by, one of them guards even pushing a farmer into a pile of crates to get him out of the way. They were dashing in the direction of-
“He went that way! Don’t let him escape!”
The man had made it all the way to the other side of the square before he found himself boxed in. Stacks of crates and barrels from the market had been shoved into most of the alleyways, blocking the roads and cutting off an easy escape. It turned the east side of the square from a bustling intersection into a dead end. And the man hadn’t noticed until it was too late. Guinevere could see his head whipping around back and forth, frantically looking for an exit – but the few moments of hesitation ended up costing him. The group of guards caught up. They cut off his path, boxing him in and trapping him.
Their hands went to their weapons.
“There’s nowhere for you to run!” one of them yelled. “Surrender, now!”
The guards took a threatening step towards him. But the man didn’t look like he was giving up. Guinevere could see him look back, glancing past the guards and towards the market-
And making direct eye contact with her.
In an instant, the ground underneath the guard’s feet shifted. Guinevere watched in shock as dozens of thorny vines sprouted from between the cobblestones. They spread out in all directions, wrapping around their feet and yanking the guards down towards the ground.
The streets around them instantly turned into chaos.
The crowd panicked. Women screamed. Men cursed. Within seconds, the entire square had turned into a nightmare. People bolted away in all directions, storming through the market without looking. They ran straight into the stalls, knocking over crates and crafts as they went. Leather, fabric and pieces of thread were scattered everywhere. Clothes were trampled. The villagers didn’t care. They were locked in a mad dash to escape, desperate to put as much distance between themselves and the sorcerer as possible.
Guinevere should have fled along with them. Normally, she would have – but the angry toddler in her arms forced her to hide in between market stalls instead. She couldn’t risk the crowd pushing him out of her arms and trampling him. As people bolted past her, her gaze was drawn back to the sorcerer. The maidservant had expected him to flee. To make use of the crowd’s panic and vanish through a side door, or jump through an open window, or climb over the crates in the alleyway, or something.
But the man didn’t run. He wasn’t moving at all.
Why wasn’t he moving?
His lack of action cost him. Not every guard had gotten entangled in the vines – and the one that had managed to avoid his magic did not take kindly to the assault. The punch that followed was so forceful that it knocked the sorcerer off his feet, sending him sprawling backwards and landing flat on the cobblestones behind him.
Guinevere was frozen in place, watching in shock as the guards tore themselves loose from the vines and pounced on their target. He went down quickly and violently. As they pulled him to his feet, Guinevere’s heart started hammering in her throat. She could feel her legs shaking. The panicked screams around her faded into the background. Slowly, the market square itself became a faint blur, fading from her mind as the memories came to her-
The guards had bound the sorcerer’s hands behind his back, hoisting him up as they began to drag him off towards the dungeons. He didn’t resist. He didn’t struggle. The man allowed himself to be dragged off, looking back towards Guinevere. The two of them made eye contact. The intensity that she saw in his eyes could only have come from one emotion.
And Guinevere knew.
A strange, steely sense of determination came over her. Guinevere nodded to the man, keeping his gaze as he was dragged off. For a split second, she could see a sense of relief wash over his face. Then that moment passed, and the guards dragged him around the corner.
But the danger hadn’t passed. She could see the remaining guards start to glance around, their hands still on their weapons. Guinevere grabbed hold of the protesting toddler more tightly. The kid started kicking at her ribs again in response- but Guinevere ignored it. On instinct, the maidservant pressed the boy into her chest, muffling his angry shouts with her tunic as she turned around-
Gawain, Lancelot and Morgana continued their journey not long after dawn. The three of them left the hilly landscape of Camelot’s outskirts behind, traveling in silence as the woods around them steadily began to grow denser with vegetation.
They were close. Very close.
“We’ll reach Murkwood in a few hours,” Lancelot spoke, breaking the silence when he recognised his surroundings. “We should still be ahead of the troops that were sent from Camelot. But we have no idea what is waiting for us in the forest. Enemy soldiers might be the least of our worries. Be on your guard, both of you.”
“Don’t worry, Mor,” Gawain added confidently. “Lancelot and I can handle any wild animals that come our way. And we’ll hide from the soldiers. Just stay close to us – we’ll keep you safe, I promise.”
“Of course,” the budding witch smiled. She didn’t have to see his face to know what he was doing. Morgana knew that Gawain was putting on a confident act, faking composure for her sake. She could tell. His shoulders were just a little too tense, his voice just a little too forcibly cheery to sound natural. She knew that he was worried.
But despite the danger that they were about to walk into, Morgana felt at ease. She wasn’t worried her at all. Part of it was because of the men she was with – Lancelot and Gawain were both incredibly capable – but another, larger part of her believed that she would be fine even without them.
It had been different with Rupert. Her magick hadn’t worked. She hadn’t been able to do anything until the very last moment., relying on Cenred to protect her. But this time was different. Everything in this forest was alive. It didn’t matter what threw itself at them. Even if it bested her companions in combat, she could still put it to sleep.
It would be fine.
In the end, even the soldiers from Nemeth were only human.
Morgana could handle humans.
“Muiri! take the others and run!”
But the druidess didn’t move. Muiri stood frozen and speechless as she watched the scene unfold before her. Emrys let out a curse in response. He dashed towards the huntress, grabbing her shoulder as he yelled:
“Monoroe! Monoroe! Fight it! Get a grip on y-”
The rest of his sentence got cut off as a hand shot out and clasped around his throat. Emrys gasped as his access to air was abruptly and violently cut off. His feet were raised off the ground. The Druid struggled to break free, his feet kicking uselessly as he could feel himself being lifted in the air.
Emrys could feel his windpipe being crushed. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t breathe. Within moments, it felt like his head was going to explode. Emrys grabbed onto the thorns on Monoroe’s arm, trying to focus on her eyes as the rest of the world rapidly turned into a blur.
But there was not a hint of recognition.
His friend was gone.
He had to break free. There was no time to lose – Emrys could feel himself rapidly beginning to lose consciousness as the hand around his throat cut off his air supply. With a tremendous effort, the druid moved his hands from the thorns to Monoroe’s upper arm. He grabbed onto her bicep, digging his nails into the exposed skin-
And focused, releasing a burst of raw spirit from his body. The magick slammed into her full-force, knocking the wind out of her. The force of it was enough for Monoroe’s death grip on his throat to weaken momentarily. It was all that Emrys needed. He yanked himself out of her grasp, quickly regaining his composure as the huntress staggered backwards.
But she wouldn’t stay staggered for long. Emrys knew that he had to do something – and he had to do it fast. The druid took a deep breath, quickly grounding himself. He could feel the energy seeping into his body from below. It filled him with strength, like the earth itself was lending its power to him. He could feel the tips of his fingers tingling with the sensation. It felt right.
Manipulating spirit never did.
Emrys grit his teeth, reaching out to the huntress in front of him. He could feel the energy coursing through her body. He could take hold of it. Command it. With another burst of magic, Emrys lifted Monoroe off the ground and hurled her away. The huntress was catapulted past the bear corpse and into the stone remnants of the ruin- but Monoroe rolled with the impact, keeping momentum and landing on all fours.
It hadn’t knocked her out.
This was bad.
Emrys could feel his knees shaking as the spell’s backlash took its toll on his body. Spirit magick was not his forte. He would not be able to do that again. Not without severe consequences. The druid grimaced, keeping his focus on Monoroe as he glanced over to his people-
“Emrys! Are you all right?!”
“Why are you still here?!” the druid screamed. “I said RUN!”
They didn’t have to be told a third time. His druids scattered. They ran out of the campsite, ducking for cover and quickly vanishing between the surrounding trees. Within moments, all of them had fled.
All but one.
“Go. I’ll handle this.”
“I’ll stall for time,” the druid growled, cutting her off. “I need you to find Eurydice. Calm her down. I’ll join you at the grove, I promise – now go!”
He could see Muiri ball her fists as, for a moment, she struggled with herself. Then, the druidess abruptly turned around and dashed after the others.
Emrys waited until he was sure that they had cleared the campsite. Then, he turned around. With a grim sense of determination, the druid locked eyes with the huntress. His frown deepened when he noticed the wooden spear in her hands. He could see with the wild, unbridled rage in her eyes. The druid gulped.
This was going to hurt.
But Emrys didn’t have a choice.
He had to protect them.
At all costs.
Thank you so much Mercuryfoam for the toddler poses ❤