Guys, I still don’t have horse reins. I think I’ll just make it a thing. Yup, it’s canon now. They’re all natural born horse masters that don’t need reins in the first place. Fight me. xD
Shortly before the arrival of dawn, Arthur and Morgana Pendragon weaved through the sleeping hallways and exited castle Camelot. They silently made their way to the royal stables. Both of them had left their normal clothing behind, instead choosing to dress in a simple commoner’s shirt and tunic.
Or at least, that had been the plan.
“I still don’t understand why you didn’t just take that servant’s tunic that Sarah took from the laundry room,” Arthur grumbled, looking at his sister’s clothes with a disapproving scowl on his face. “This draws far too much attention. At least that dress blended into the background.”
“Pfft! That one had holes in it!” Morgana protested, sticking up her nose at the idea. “I’m not going to wear something that is moments away from falling apart.”
“We’re supposed to be inconspicuous, Morgana,” the Crown Prince frowned.
“And we are! Just because I’m pretending to be a commoner doesn’t mean that I can’t look good while doing it.”
“That’s not how… oh, for crying out loud.”
The Crown Prince let out a sigh. He knew that he should be scolding her more. Morgana was ignoring the possible danger that they’d be in in favour of silly fashion choices. It was ridiculous. He should be giving her an earful.
But Arthur couldn’t do it. Not now. Not with some of that familiar spark having finally returned to her eyes. Arthur had missed that spark more than he cared to admit. Something had changed since their last conversation. Arthur didn’t know what it was, but despite everything, Morgana looked excited at the idea of leaving. Eager, almost.
Oh, so be it, the Crown Prince thought. We’ll be traveling through the wilderness, anyway.
As they turned the corner to the stables, the Crown Prince placed his arm around his sister.
“You’re going to be the death of me, you know that?”
“Oh, I know.”
The duo made eye contact with Morgana’s maidservant just as they reached the stables. Arthur gave the girl a polite nod.
“Good morning, miss Guinevere.”
“Ah… milord! Milady! G-good morning.”
“Are you ready to leave?” Morgana asked her. “Arthur wants to make sure that we clear the castle grounds before sunrise.”
“Yes. Expediency is key here. If we want to set out without half the castle knowing, we need to do it now. Please gather your things while I prepare the horses.”
He turned to the left, moving to enter Llamrei’s stable-
And he immediately noticed the unfamiliar object lying in the horse’s box. Arthur blinked. With a confused frown, he turned back to the maidservant.
“… miss Guinevere, why is there a honey pie in Llamrei’s stable?”
“…I don’t know.”
It only took a few minutes to get the horses ready for departure. Arthur wasn’t the type to have servants saddle his horses for him, and years of experience had made the Crown Prince very quick in terms of preparations. Morgana and Guinevere watched from the side as the Crown Prince expertly led the beasts out of their stables and into a saddle.
And a second idea popped into Morgana’s head. The sorceress began to smirk.
“Guinevere should ride with you, Arthur. She doesn’t know how to ride a horse, after all. Someone should make sure she doesn’t fall off.”
“That’s a good idea,” Arthur nodded, oblivious to what was going on. “You’ll ride with me, miss Guinevere. Don’t worry – Llamrei is very gentle. I won’t let you fall.”
Guinevere couldn’t protest. With a face as red as a ripe tomato, the maidservant walked up next to Arthur and clumsily attempted to get into the saddle.
And she failed spectacularly. Guinevere was about three-quarters onto the horse when the stirrup slipped off of her boot, causing the girl to lose her balance and tumble backwards.
Arthur quickly jumped forward, catching her before she hit the ground.
“Are you all right?”
“Y-yes. My apologies for that d-disgraceful display, milord.”
“Don’t worry about it,” the Crown Prince smiled at her, his voice drowning out Morgana’s chuckles in the background. “It just takes some getting used to. Gawain couldn’t do it the first few times, either. He still ends up sitting backwards when he mounts his horse sometimes.”
Arthur lifted her up, effortlessly placing her on top of Llamrei. Then he grabbed the saddle and, in a single fluid motion, mounted the horse himself. His gaze travelled down to Morgana, who was still on the ground. Arthur raised a single eyebrow.
“Are you going to stand there grinning all day, or are you coming with us?”
“Yes, yes, I’m coming,” Morgana smirked back.
Podargos was not as gentle as Llamrei. In fact, the black, temperamental stallion had a very bad reputation among the castle’s inhabitants. Podargos had a habit of acting out against his riders, chewing through his reigns and breaking out from his stable at the worst possible times. During thunderstorms, for example. Once, Percival had attempted to scold him for breaking a wine barrel. The encounter had ended with Podargos chasing him all over the courtyard, before climbing the castle steps and almost making it all the way to the throne room. It had taken four guards to drag him back out.
Morgana loved him for it.
As the young sorceress turned her horse around, moving to join Arthur and Guinevere on the road…
She suddenly felt a chill run down her spine. A cold, familiar, uncomfortable sensation.
The sensation of being watched.
The young sorceress inhaled sharply, whipping her head around to look behind her-
But there was nothing there. Not that she could see, at least. The fields next to the stables were as quiet and empty as they had been before.
There was nothing.
It must have been my imagination, Morgana concluded. I really need to catch up on some sleep.
A few meters ahead of her, Arthur called out to his sister.
“Come on. We have a long journey ahead. Let’s get going, before the whole castle wakes up.”
The three of them ended up riding for the entire day, much longer than either Morgana or Guinevere were used to. As the sun began to set in the sky, and long, long after they had left the outskirts of Camelot behind them, Arthur finally brought their horses to a halt.
“We’ll make camp here for the night. Get comfortable. We leave at dawn tomorrow.”
Morgana and Guinevere were all too happy to finally get some rest. Neither of them was used to being on the road all day, and it showed.
“Ow. I think that my legs changed shape.”
“Ugh, my hands feel like cracked pieces of parchment!” Morgana complained. She scowled at the thin mats that Arthur had placed on the ground for them.
“And how are we supposed to sleep on that? It’s barely more than a sheet!”
The Crown Prince let out an amused chuckle at their protests.
“Sorry, you two. There’s no royal treatment in the wilderness. Until we get to Scarborough, you’ll have to make do with a sheet and trail rations.”
“Wait, that’s all?! Are you saying that you make Gawain sleep on a sheet every time you send him out here?!”
“Of course not. Gawain sleeps on the ground. The sheet is a luxury.”
The Princess angrily turned up her nose at their “luxury”. Her expression made Guinevere giggle in response.
“I don’t mind sleeping on the ground,” Guinevere said, looking out over the woods. “We used to take turns sleeping on the floor, anyway. And the ground here is soft. It’s a good place for a camp.”
“Exactly,” Arthur replied, surprised but pleased at her words. “All we need now is a fire, some more firewood to burn and a canopy in case it starts to rain.”
Guinevere, being so used to the role of a servant, interpreted his words as an order. She quickly jumped to her feet.
“Y-yes, milord. My apologies. I-I’ll go gather more firewood.”
“Ah, wait – that’s not what I meant,” Arthur responded. “I was just thinking out loud. You don’t have to. And it wouldn’t be proper for me to leave a lady to do all the heavy lifting.”
“T-thank you, milord. But I can d-do it.”
“Well, all right. Then at least let me give you a hand with-”
But the young redhead quickly took a step back, a familiar red blush appearing on her cheeks as she shook her head at Arthur.
“N-no, milord, you don’t have to! I mean- I don’t- you shouldn’t… p-please excuse me.”
And she ran off again. For the second time in a row, Arthur watched in stunned confusion as Morgana’s maidservant darted away from him. It reminded him of a startled deer, vanishing into the surrounding thicket. Within seconds, she was out of sight.
The crown Prince blinked, awkwardly scratching the back of his head. That was twice, now. Twice that she ran off at the mere sight of him. What on earth was up with that? Was he that frightening?
For some reason, Guinevere’s extreme reactions were really starting to bother Arthur. The Crown Prince looked at the spot where she vanished with a frown on his face, his thoughts getting the better of him. And, as thoughts tended to do… they gradually turned into doubts.
Is she that repulsed by me? Do I frighten her? Why does she keep flinching like that?
Arthur didn’t understand. Nobody had ever reacted to him like that before. Normally, women threw themselves at him. Literally. He had lost track of the number of times that he had been forced to call the guards just to get some noble lady to leave him alone. Arthur knew that they did that only because of his status, but…
But is that really all it is? Greed? Are they all secretly repulsed by me, and only interested in me for my title? Is this how people really see me?
No… that couldn’t be it… right?
Maybe it’s something else, Arthur pondered. Maybe she is afraid of me? But why? I’d never hurt a servant. I never have. Do they think I would? Wait – is that what is going on here? Is someone mistreating her? But who would do something like that? Agravaine? Not father, of course. And Morrie wouldn’t do something like that, either…
Arthur frowned, turning towards his sister.
“Are you a good mistress?”
Morgana almost choked. The young sorceress fell into a coughing fit as she desperately tried to get a hold of herself, the sudden question having taken her completely by surprise. With a look of complete bafflement, she turned towards Arthur.
“Your servants. You treat them well, right?”
“OH!” Morgana yelled. “You mean- Yes! Yes, of course I do!”
She groaned, massaging her temples in annoyance at him.
“Dear Watcher, Arthur, phrasing!”
“Huh? What do you-“
“Oh! NO! I did not mean that kind of-”
“I figured,” Morgana snapped. “And you are lucky that we are not in the middle of a ballroom right now.”
“Right. Sorry. I didn’t mean… er… it doesn’t matter. Forget I said anything.”
He awkwardly broke eye contact with Morgana, looking everywhere but in her direction.
But Morgana’s response hadn’t actually answered his question. In fact, her words only made Arthur wonder and doubt himself more.
“Wait, but… then why does she still do it?” Arthur thought out loud. Morgana raised a single eyebrow at him, no longer following the conversation.
“Your servant. Guinevere. If she’s not recoiling from me because she’s being mistreated-“
“Mistreated?! What do you take me for?”
“-then why does she still flinch like that?” Arthur continued, ignoring his sister’s angry retort. “Morrie, be honest. Am I that frightening? I don’t hurt servants. But yours has run away from me twice already. She did the same thing when I met her at the stables the other day. And she keeps looking at me like some frightened deer. Am I that scary? Is that what the servants really think of me? Is she that scared?”
“…Why are you laughing?”
“I can’t help it. You’re so clueless!”
“Wha- I am not clueless!” the Crown Prince yelled. That made Morgana’s laughter even worse. She gestured at him, one hand placed on her hip, as a mocking smirk spread across her lips.
“Yes, you are. Dear Watcher, Arthur. Isn’t it obvious yet? Guinevere is not afraid of you. She likes you.”
“Wait, what? What do you mean, she likes me?” Arthur replied, alarmed. His response made his sister chuckle even more.
“Please don’t make me explain the concept of attraction to you.”
“I know what it means! I meant since when?! How long have you known about this?”
“Oh, I’ve known for ages,” Morgana responded. “Why do you think I brought her with us?”
“Wait, is that why you insisted on bringing her along?! You can’t toy with people like that, Morgana!”
“I’m not doing anything,” the young woman smirked back. “Watcher, I don’t even need to. You’re doing this all by yourselves. Where do you think that honey pie in Llamrei’s stable came from? It didn’t fall from the trees, if that’s what you’re thinking. And weren’t you the one that admitted to liking redheads? Guinevere is quite the knockout, you know. Personality-wise, too. She’s a total sweetheart. Are you really saying that she doesn’t interest you even a little?”
“No! Of course not!” the Crown Prince yelled back. “She’s your maidservant! That would be completely inappropriate on so many levels! Dear lord, Morgana! Does she know about this?”
“Probably. I haven’t been subtle about teasing her, and she’s a smart girl. She knows why I brought her along.”
“I can’t believe you – you can’t just do things like that, Morrie!”
“Of course I can. What, are you saying that you prefer those ill-dressed puterelles from the barony?”
“-Because I honesty thought that you had better tastes than that,” Morgana continued, smirking at Arthur.
“Yes! I mean, no! I mean, stop talking!”
Morgana let out another chuckle at her brother’s rapidly increasing discomfort. This was just too easy. She couldn’t resist teasing him just a bit more.
“So, does that mean you aren’t interested in getting to know-”
“No!” Arthur finally snapped. “I’m not interested in her, or the nobles, or anyone else that you throw my way to mess with me! Dear lord!”
The Crown Prince let out an annoyed sigh.
“I’m not listening to you anymore. Go… help Guinevere with gathering firewood, or something. And your maidservant will be riding with you from now on.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to be the one to-”
“Not listening, Morgana!”
“Dear lord. Watcher have mercy.”
This was going to be a long holiday.
Knowing his sister… the Crown Prince was already dreading the rest of it.