WIP Amnesty: Day Two
I wanted to look at the qualities that would make Gwen a great Queen, and look at what Arthur might see in her, but I basically got partway through my setup and then failed out when I saw how little I'd achieved over 2000 words.
Arthur viciously re-trimmed his pen for the third time, scowling at his list. Of course he'd had to move Alric, since pitting him against Kaye was unfair to both of them, but now he had the problem of who to pair Wencel against. Wencel needed a victory, or at least a match in which he could do well: his problem at the moment was lack of confidence--
"Prince Arthur, a moment of your time? If I am not interrupting--"
Arthur looked up to see Eldol, diffidently peering around the doorframe, and broke into a grin. Sir Eldol, the very man! Wencel's solid technique would stand him in good stead against Eldol's flashier style, and hopefully serve to remind the rest of the knights why panache will never substitute for rock-steady mastery of the basics. "No, not at all," he assured Eldol, and wrote Eldol's name down before he forgot. Eldol betrayed his interest in the line-up he no doubt knew Arthur was working out with a flicker of his eye, but managed not follow the movement when Arthur shoved the list under the rag he'd been using to blot.
"It is about the lady," Eldol said, and Arthur hoped he caught himself in time to stop his grin from turning into a pained grimace.
There was no point asking which lady; there could only be one. For reasons Arthur quite honestly was at a loss to fathom, it was the fashion among his knights to be in love with Morgana, and to Arthur's annoyance, the fashion showed no sign of passing, as the fashion for falconry, the fashion for riddles, and the fashion for Flemish shoes all had. Arthur could admit, if pressed, that yes, there had been a time--long past, for God's sake!--when he himself had, perhaps, had his head turned by Morgana's big eyes, but anyone who claimed he had mooned after her was a filthy villain and a liar. And he was quite over that, in any case, cured by her sharp tongue and sheer intractability.
Most of his knights, however, did not take it so far as Eldol, who at every mention of Morgana assumed an expression that Arthur supposed was meant to be of rapture but looked like a goose breaking wind. Arthur had even arranged to have him seated near to Morgana at a banquet several months past in the hopes that actual exposure would cure him, but afterward he would talk of nothing but Morgana's pearly teeth and dainty hands, not having noticed when, half-way through, she had tired of his conversational sallies and begun to mercilessly mock him while smiling guilelessly. (Several times, Arthur had been forced to feign a coughing fit, and Merlin, the wretch, had escaped to kitchen and not returned, still hiccoughing, until the next course.)
"Er," said Arthur, he hoped, dampeningly, "um?"
Eldol hesitated and picked at his surcoat nervously. "I would not mention it, but my concern for the Lady's good name and, indeed, her very honour, compel me."
Arthur found himself unexpectedly hoping that Eldol had somehow got wind of Morgana's sword practice. It would be awkward, but he'd simply let Eldol explain to Morgana why swordsmanship (see! It was right there! In the name!) was unfeminine--
"Lady Morgana has been betrayed; served false, by a snake, a harlot whom she trusted, clasped to her bosom." [make this sound less pompous!]
Arthur could feel his eyebrows climb, but although Eldol's language was no doubt (good God!) somewhat exaggerated, anything that could get him this worked up boded ill for peace and quiet of the rest of Arthur's afternoon. "What on earth are you talking about?"
"My lady's companion. When I think on the wench's ingratitude!" Eldol's face screwed up. "After all Lady Morgana has done for her, keeping her on after her father's betrayal, raising her above her--" Eldol stopped in response to Arthur's raised hand.
"Are you talking about her little maid? Guinevere?" Arthur honestly expected Eldol to say, no, of course not Gwen, but he nodded, mouth pursed.
"I know it will grieve my lady, but the girl tarnishes my lady's good name with every day she remains at court."
Arthur pushed his tongue against his teeth to check that his jaw wasn't gaping open. "She-- Who else have you spoken to about this?" he asked. Never mind what had gotten Eldol started on this, the thing to do was to contain it, and then worry out how he came by this brain-maggot.
"Sire," said Eldol, unhappily, "it is the talk of the court."
Arthur sent Eldol off with orders to quash the rumour where he encountered it, which Eldol, much taken aback, seemed willing although poorly equiped to do. Then he began trying to trace the rumour back to its source, stopping only to retrieve Merlin (for some reason, Arthur really preferred not to speculate, serving as a dressmaker's dummy) and send him to see how far the rumour had spread among the servants, "Discreetly, Merlin, you do know what-- I don't know why I am giving you this job."
But when he met with Merlin again, Merlin had made more progress than he. Arthur hadn't counted on the fact that, first, no one in the court would admit to having noticed Gwen ("Who? Has Lady Morgana had her for a while, then?") or second, just how damned suspicious it seemed for him to be asking; gossip, it seemed, was founded on an unbreachable trust, and no one wanted to give their source up to face Arthur's displeasure.
Merlin, though he couldn't track a wounded boar across a white sand beach, proved to have an eerie faculty for unravelling the thread of gossip to its source: "--And the third undercook said that breeding will tell, but she wouldn't say any more. But Olfrid in the stable said-- Uh. Well, it doesn't matter, and then he kind of fell into the midden. Uh, a lot. Anyway, afterward, he said he heard it from Gavis the armsman, who said he didn't credit it, but passed it on when he heard Sir Urien saying something about it. And he's one of yours."
Arthur was pretty sure Olfrid was the large one who was often to be seen leaning on a pitchfork, but Merlin didn't appear to be bleeding, so it had probably been another of his fits of contagious clumsiness that Merlin occasionally produced at need and then seemed idiotically baffled by.
Merlin looked unhappy, and quite honestly, rather like a servant whose master beat him, which Arthur found personally offensive, and also, rather annoying. "Gwen's not-- Can she-- I don't want her to hear this," said Merlin, looking at Arthur sideways, pleading, as if Arthur could, by some miracle, silence the gossip of Camelot.
Arthur dragged his hand across his face. "Right. You go-- keep Gwen out of the way while I talk to Morgana."
Morgana was in her room, sitting with Guinevere, doing something with yarn. Gwen appeared to be unpicking a giant snarl, but he couldn't see what Morgana's part was. Arthur had a moment of feeling like an idiot: was he really preparing to throw himself head-first into protecting the reputation of Morgana's serving-girl? Guinevere glanced up when she heard someone coming and grinned when she saw it was him, then recalled herself and tried to hide it in a respectful nod.
"Guinevere, if I could have a word with your mistress?"
Gwen didn't move, except to look to Morgana for her cue, ready to stay or go at Morgana's signal, and never mind the prince's commands. Arthur really hoped that he found someone to hit before the day was over.
"Of course, Arthur, we don't mind putting our work aside to wait on your pleasure in the least," said Morgana, eyes flashing, and he could see that she was only beginning so he cut her off.
"Morgana, please. I need your help."
Morgana froze, her mouth half-parted. Then she gave Gwen the ball of yarn on her lap. Gwen had it stowed in a basket and was half out of her chair even as Morgana said, "Gwen, if you'll excuse us."
Arthur held the door for Gwen. "I think Merlin wanted to have a word with you," he told her as she slipped past, and then held the door open a crack until he heard her footfalls fade.
Morgana raised an eyebrow, a perfect sphinx.
"I lied," he said, to get it over with first. "It's Gwen. She needs your help."
"Your highness," said Sir Urien, looking sick, "what you ask me to do, it is not chivalrous to betray the confidence of another knight." His eyes slid, with an uncertain fascination, to Morgana, standing by the doorway, and then back to Arthur. Arthur thought the look on Morgana's face, like the depthless hatred of a leashed hawk, should cure him, at least, of his infatuation.
"Was it chivalrous to slander the good name of a maiden, then?" asked Arthur, making it as clear as possible by his tone that it was not actually a question.
Sir Urien swallowed. "I did not know it was-- I didn't doubt his word. Lady Morgana, I see that I erred; I most humbly beg your forgiveness."
For the first time since they had cornered him, Morgana spoke. "Tell me who. His exact words."
Haltingly, mortified, Sir Urien whispers, "Sir Bors. He said he had a--a token, of Lady Morgana's that perhaps I might--I know he has a small holding, and the expenses of court--he said he had cozened it of her woman, that he was, er." Bors paused, and then added reluctantly, "that he had taken her as a lover, and she was smitten with him."
Somehow, the really infuriating part was the 'smitten.' As if it wasn't enough that he should tell everyone he'd had her virtue, he must also pretend he had her heart. Morgana took two strides, up until she was a sword's length away from Sir Urien, one hand raised as if to strike him, but managed to stop herself, showing rather more restraint than Arthur felt capable of.
Urien stood stiffly. "What did Bors give you, then?" Morgana finally asked.
Sir Urien looked pleadingly at Arthur. Arthur gave him not so much as a twitch of his eyebrow. If he wanted Urien to be useful as a knight ever again, he'd have to beat him senseless and then send him on some task to find his lost honour, but Urien was demonstrably not dependable now.
Urien pulled a length of ribbon out of his purse, and displayed it.
"What? He told you that's Morgana's? You believed him? When have you ever seen Morgana wear anything pink?" Arthur had known that being in love with Morgana was making his knights stupid--
"What? Yes, of course I have, Arthur, the one with the pointed sleeves and the-- I can't believe you." Morgana breathed out through her nose, making her nostrils flare, in his opinion very unattractively. "That's not anything I've ever worn, or owned, I'm certain of it. It's too short a length to even tie my hair with."
Sir Urien looked, somehow, even more kicked.
Arthur decided that there was no sense letting Urien wander the castle looking like that, doubtless starting even more rumours, so he stepped out of the room and flagged a passing servant. "Please let Sir Bors know that I await him in the upper still room."
Sir Bors, when he entered the room and saw Morgana, Arthur, and Urien standing in the corner like a hound which has let the game escape, crumpled immediately.
"Oh, curst-- I knew it was a bad idea. Sire, my lady, I'm sorry, it was very stupid!" Sir Bors essayed a sheepish look that seemed to slip somewhat once he glanced at Morgana and Arthur's faces.
"Did you," said Morgana, in her dangerously calm voice.
Bors looked a little uncertain. "I-- I thought it couldn't harm you, if you never knew. But I see now I've been a fool," he added hastily, as Morgana's brows drew together almost immeasurably. "Of course you cannot allow your name to be associated with anything so venal. Please, Lady Morgana, I do repent, I repent heartily, it was a terrible idea--"
"Do you even know her name?" Arthur found himself asking, up within main-gauche reach of Bors without having intended it, and made himself take a step back.
Bors looked really nervous, now, not charmingly repentant. "Mor--Morgana?" he hesitated.
Morgana deliberately turned to face Arthur, giving Bors her shoulder. "What will you do with him?" she asked, with the cool indifference she might use to ask the fate of a troublesome horse.
Arthur hesitated. Several years ago, Uther had given arthur the disciplining of his knights, for any infraction that wasn't political, innashmuch as any infraction ever wasn't. But this wasn't precisely something that had ever arisen before. "If it were up to you," he began, stressing the 'if,' ever so slightly, "What would you consider fair?"
Morgana barely hesitated. "I want him gone from Camelot. I want him not to wear the [Lion.]"
"Sire!" Bors exclaimed, "you can't--" and then realized who he was addressing.
"I can't?" said Arthur dangerously, although, practically, he wasn't at all sure he could.
"It was a mistake, I admit," said Bors, anger starting to cut through his nervousness, "But I have done nothing to be stripped of my knighthood!"
Arthur swung on him without thinking. "Did you not give your oath to never do any harm to a lady?"
Morgana straightened, threw back her shoulders, and threw up her chin. Arthur recognized, rather uncomfortably, the look she got when she was preparing an argument to use against Uther and had a sudden and unwanted sympathy for his father. That initial moment of silence was rather unnerving when you knew she was using it to marshall some perfectly outrageous and yet damnably persuasive argument.
"Whatever fondness Uther may have for me, it cannot be disputed that my value to Camelot is no more than my honour. I have endeavoured always to be discrete, to show myself chaste, to give no occasion for gossip, to show no favour or preference to any man or boy," said Morgana, and Bors looked sick as, Arthur saw, he began to understand what Morgana was saying.
So then it was going to let Gwen administer Bors' punishment, which would involve making him do women's work in a very Round Table type quest, and he would learn humility and be less of a dickbag, and everyone would get to see that Gwen was both just and wise and boy that would have been a lot of work, eh?
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