The perceptive ones among you will have noticed that certain aspects of my characters get special attention from time to time. For the ones who didn’t know that, well, now you do. 😗 Enjoy! Things are starting to get interesting.
With the arrival of Spring, the Kingdom of Camelot came back to life. Nobles that had spent the Winter away from court began to visit the castle again, bringing news as well as political problems with them. Events were planned as a new social season began.
When Morgana became old enough, the Princess had been put in charge of many of the castle’s public affairs. She was good at it, from organising balls to hosting holiday celebrations. As the Kingdom moved from Winter into Spring, Morgana’s schedule quickly filled up because of it.
But lately, the sorceress wasn’t really interested. She didn’t want to play hostess. Her mind was preoccupied. Distracted. Morgana’s thoughts kept wandering off into the woods, away from the castle’s court games and towards the little clearing to the West. It took all of her willpower not to return to it every single morning. Morgana longed to make sure that it was still there. That it hadn’t been a dream or hallucination. The sorceress wanted to track how much her circle had grown, and how much growing it still had to do.
But vanishing into the wilderness every day was way too risky. It also wasn’t needed. The seeds would grow on their own, even without Morgana’s interference. Merlin had assured her of that. The magick that was inside of them would make sure that they survived. There was no need for Morgana to take risks until the circle had formed, and she could step through to the other side.
The budding witch was knew exactly how much longer she had to wait.
Forty days left until Ostara.
As Morgana lazily leaned back in her chair, her eye fell on Guinevere. The maidservant was arranging flowers on the other side of the room. Her thoughts immediately went back to Yule. The strange chill that had originated from Guinevere felt eerily similar to the bone-chilling cold that had radiated out from Rupert.
Morgana didn’t know how she’d pulled it out of her. She didn’t know how to control it. The sorceress had acted on instinct, just like she’d done in the catacombs.
But the effect was noticeable. Morgana knew her maidservant well- Guinevere had always been a timid girl, minimizing herself and blending into the background wherever she could. Much of that behaviour was still there. Guinevere still avoided eye contact when she spoke. She still backed away from confrontations. The maidservant still made herself small whenever Uther was nearby, let others do the talking for her and blamed herself for things that she couldn’t control.
But the cold was gone. That darkness that strangled her thoughts on Yule had vanished, pulled away like harmful weeds from a flowerbed. Not all of it was gone. There was still much left under the surface.
But there was finally room to grow.
As Morgana looked at the girl in front of her, the sorceress also noticed something else.
“Those are some pretty gemstones in your ears, Guinevere,” Morgana said, raising an eyebrow as her mouth pulled into a smirk. “How did you get your hands on those? Did you bribe one of the nobles?”
Her maidservant flinched. Morgana watched in gleeful amusement as Guinevere’s face immediately took on the same shade as the pink flowers next to her. This part of her hadn’t changed, either. Teasing Guinevere never got old. With an awkward expression, she turned towards Morgana and stammered:
“A-ah- no, they… they, um… They were a-a gift.”
“A gift?” Morgana replied. “From who?”
“Um… I shouldn’t s-say…”
“Shouldn’t say?” Sarah asked, placing a hand at her side as she inserted herself into the conversation. “Why not? Wait – are they from a secret admirer?”
“Guinevere, you little minx! Did you go for the Duke of Foxbury, after all?”
“No! I didn’t!”
“The man is nearly sixty years old, Sarah,” Morgana chuckled. Sarah shrugged, undeterred by this fact.
“Never stopped me. But I suppose that silver foxes would be a little much for you. So? Who is it, then? One of his sons? A handsome knight from Essetir that stole your heart? Wait a minute… Is it Bayard?”
“N-no, that’s not-”
“Wait, it is?!” Morgana asked, gleefully leaning forward. Behind her, Sarah placed her hand on the chair’s back, keeping her mistress from falling over as she relentlessly continued her teasing.
“Did you seduce Mercia’s Prince before he left? Oh, you vixen! You really do have a thing for blondes, don’t you?”
“No!” Guinevere yelled. “I don’t- I mean, I do- wait, no! It’s not like that! They’re from Mithian!”
The teasing stopped. Sarah looked at the girl in front of her, dumbfounded, as the room abruptly fell into silence. That silence very quickly grew heavy. Morgana’s gaze was locked onto the jewels in Guinevere’s ears, her eyes narrowed as a thousand thoughts rushed through her mind at once.
Then, that moment ended. With a suspicious glare, the sorceress opened her mouth.
Guinevere quickly covered her mouth.
“Oh, no… I was supposed to keep that a-a secret,” she muttered. Morgana’s brow furrowed in response.
“Keep what a secret? What happened?”
“I… I really shouldn’t say-”
At the sudden, intense stare from Morgana, Guinevere’s face flushed from pink to pale red. The maidservant quickly broke eye contact, awkwardly shuffling her feet as she looked down at the ground.
“I… I’m sorry if I offended-”
“That’s not it,” she said, shaking her head as she cut her off. “You’re not in trouble. But you need to tell me. Now.”
Guinevere nodded, unable to defy a direct order. In a soft and hesitant voice, the girl began to explain.
“She, um… she collapsed. I found her face-down in the snow last Winter. Mithian called it seasonal vertigo. I helped her feel better. She a-asked me not to tell anyone about her condition. I kept it to myself, a-and, well… she gave the earrings to me. As a-a Yule present. She said… that it was a-a token of her friendship.”
Morgana’s eyes narrowed even further in response.
“That’s very generous of her.”
“Yes,” the young redhead nodded. “I probably don’t deserve them, but… they really are beautiful, and… and I wanted to wear them today.”
Morgana could feel her jaw tense. But before she could give a sharp retort, her words were silenced by the subtle, invisible touch of Sarah’s hand on her back. The maidservant briefly squeezed her shoulder. Just for a second. But the sorceress knew what her warning meant.
Honey, not venom.
“They are. They suit you, honey-pie. You look lovely with them.”
Sarah’s flattery worked. The maidservant blushed at the compliment, her shoulders relaxing a little as she fidgeted with her hands.
“Thank you,” Guinevere smiled shyly. “She, um… she seems like a kind person. For a noble from Nemeth, a-at least. I know milady doesn’t like her very much, but… well, she seems a bit lonely,” the maidservant continued, speaking to Morgana in a soft, timid tone. “I don’t think she has many friends in the castle. It makes me feel a bit… sorry for her. Um. If it’s a-all right with you…”
“…maybe we could… invite her for tea sometime?”
Guinevere visibly deflated. Morgana watched as the girl shrunk, folding her hands together as she fell into a formal bow.
“Forgive me, milady. That wasn’t my place.”
Morgana immediately felt a pang of guilt. She hadn’t meant to do that. With a soft rustling of her robes, the sorceress rose up from her chair. Morgana quickly bridged the distance between herself and her maidservant, gesturing for Guinevere to get back up. When she spoke, it was in a much gentler tone than before.
“That’s all right. I appreciate the insight. Really.”
Honey, not venom.
With a soft smile, Morgana took hold of her friend’s hands.
“Sarah is right,” she said. “You should wear them more often. You look beautiful, Guin.”
Morgana could see the smile slowly return to her friend’s face.
“I’ll think about it, all right?” she added. “I promise. In the meantime, could you do something for me?”
“What do you need, milady?”
“I’m feeling a bit peckish. Could you make me a jelly tart, please? Arthur keeps hogging them for himself and I really like the ones you make.”
“Really? You like them?” Guinevere asked, her shy smile immediately turning into elation as her cheeks flushed pink. Morgana gave her an encouraging nod in response.
“Of course! They’re just the right combination of sweet and sour. Could you go make us some? We’ll share them over tea later.”
“I- yes! Yes, of course!”
Guinevere didn’t need any more motivation. The maidservant nodded, eager to recreate the thing that she’d been complimented on. Morgana watched her leave with her hands tucked behind her back. The sorceress stayed that way, smiling, until Guinevere had disappeared around the corner.
Until the doors fell shut behind her.
As soon as the maidservant was out of earshot, the temperature in the room dropped to an icy chill. Slowly, Morgana turned her head towards her remaining servant.
Morgana didn’t have to say anything else.
The sorceress could hear the sound of footsteps behind her, followed by the creaking of her side door. Morgana didn’t turn to watch her leave. Her gaze was fixed on the doors in front of her as Guinevere’s words echoed in her mind.
A token of her friendship.
Morgana’s hands reflexively balled themselves into fists. She could feel a wave of rage well up from the bottom of her stomach, spreading through her limbs as it settled deep in her chest.
Guinevere was in a great mood, walking towards the kitchens with her head held high. She hadn’t received this many compliments in a while. She liked it. Maybe she really did deserve them. The maidservant couldn’t help but smile as she crossed the entrance hall, listening idly to the cacophony of voices in her head.
See? Even your mistress liked them.
So it’s okay to wear them? It’s okay?
She should wear more! Draw even more attention!
Guinevere chuckled to herself, trying to answer the voices in her mind without the guards hearing her.
“That’s silly. I don’t want to draw anyone’s-”
She never got to finish that sentence. From behind her, a male voice suddenly called out.
“Miss Guinevere. May I have a moment of your time?”
Guinevere turned around, expecting to see one of the male servants with tasks to complete. Instead, she came face-to-face with Lancelot.
“O-of course, milord. What do you need?”
The future Duke quickly bridged the distance between them, headed straight for her. Lancelot had never called on her before. There were plenty of other servants around, too. Perhaps he needed to deliver a message to Morgana? Guinevere couldn’t think of any other reason why he would-
“Nothing. I’m not here to give you orders. I came here to see you.”
“Wha… m-me?” the maidservant stuttered. Lancelot gave her a nod in response.
“Yes. I have something for you, Guinevere.”
He has something! What’s going on?
It’s behind his back! Is it a knife? It’s a knife, isn’t it?!
Shut up! We’re trying to listen!
Guinevere blinked in confusion as Lancelot reached behind him. The future Duke had stopped in the middle of the entrance hall, drawing the attention of every single person in the room. With a soft smile, he looked down on her. He had never looked at her like that before. Lancelot had never looked at her at all. The sudden change came so far out of left field that Guinevere couldn’t comprehend it. The maidservant looked on, dumbfounded, frozen and completely unable to process what was happening until she heard the shocked gasps from the servants behind her.
“I know it’s quite sudden…”
“But would you accept this?”
“I know this is rather out of the blue,” Lancelot said softly. “I apologise for any confusion. But you’ve caught my eye for a while now.”
“I-what?” Guinevere stammered. At the look of utter confusion on her face, Lancelot’s eyes grew gentle. She could see the edges of his mouth curl upwards. When the future Duke spoke, he had dropped his formal tone.
“It’s a compliment, Guinevere. You’re a lovely woman and I’d like to get to know you better. If that’s all right.”
Guinevere blinked, staring at the man in front of her in utter confusion as her hand clasped around the rose. This had to be some kind of joke. There was no other explanation. Sarah had to be pulling some kind of elaborate prank on her, and she had somehow managed to rope Lancelot into it. That had to be it. There was no way that he could be genuine-
He is! He’s not lying!
Look at that rose! It’s so pretty!
Everyone is looking. It hurts. We hate it we hate it we hate it we hate it-
Make them stop! Stop staring at us!
Guinevere could feel the eyes of every single person in the hallway lingering on her. It was immediately unbearable. She felt the skin on her cheeks burn with embarrassment as the stares of the servants pierced through her. They pressing down on her, breaking through her skin and burning her like a hot iron. For a moment, the maidservant wanted nothing more than to sink into the floor and never come back up.
She had to say something. Make this situation go away. But no words would come out of her mouth. Guinevere had no idea what to do. With every passing second, the cacophony in her head became louder and more unbearable. She couldn’t silence it. Guinevere watched as Lancelot took another step towards her, pulling a sealed envelope out of his pocket. His voice pierced right through the sudden chaos.
“Here. Please take this. It should clarify a few things.”
When the maidservant did not respond, Lancelot gently took hold of her hand and placed the envelope in it. The future Duke looked down on Guinevere with a strange smile playing on his lips.
“Please read it when you’re alone. It has nothing but honest feelings.”
The chaos in Guinevere’s head turned into absolute pandemonium when Lancelot bowed down, took hold of her other hand and lightly placed a kiss on the back. The gesture didn’t last more than two seconds. But it was enough to send another round of shocked gasps echoing through the small crowd of bystanders.
The future Duke didn’t seem to care. He stepped back, glancing at the crowd from the corner of his eyes as he let go of her hand. Lancelot uttered a greeting that Guinevere could no longer hear.
Then, the nobleman turned around and walked away.
The maidservant was left gobsmacked, utterly speechless and staring at Lancelot’s back as he vanished around the corner. She couldn’t speak. She couldn’t think. The encounter had left Guinevere’s mind in complete shambles. The maidservant stood there for almost a full minute, clutching the rose in one hand and the letter in the other as only a single thought managed to rise to the surface.
Any thought of making jelly tarts had vanished after that. Guinevere was so thrown off by what had happened in the entrance hall that she completely forgot about Morgana’s request. She couldn’t think. The sensation was starting to feel annoyingly familiar. Guinevere’s feet ended up leading her through the castle on their own, landing her back in her chambers. For the second time in ten days, Guinevere needed a moment to regain herself.
It wasn’t a short moment, either. It took the maidservant over an hour to finally touch the envelope that Lancelot had given her. After that came another thirty minutes of hesitation before she finally decided to unseal it. Part of her still expected an elaborate prank – while another part of her was increasingly receptive to the idea of setting the entire castle on fire. But what came out of the envelope was not a prank. Guinevere could see a two-page letter, neatly written in a familiar handwriting.
The maidservant immediately noticed. She knew that handwriting. And it did not belong to Lancelot.
It belonged to Arthur.
It’s from him! It’s from prince blondie!
We can’t call a prince ‘blondie’! It’s not respectful!
Shut up! We can call them whatever we-
Be quiet. Let the girl read.
The voices instantly went silent, making Guinevere gulp nervously. Slowly, hesitant about what she might find, the maidservant began to trace the words on the parchment.
Forgive me for the roundabout way of reaching you. Before I write anything else, I have to clarify one thing. Please know that when Lancelot handed you this letter, he was acting. His words and actions were not real. I asked him to fake romantic interest in public and pretend to be attracted to you.
So it WAS a prank!
Does he hate her now? Did he do this to humiliate us in public?
Why would he do that? We haven’t done anything-
Move. I want to see.
It has a purpose, I swear. But I do not want to explain it through a letter. I’m not good at writing down my feelings, either. I need to share them with you in person. Please meet me in the abandoned tower today at midnight, after your shift has ended. Don’t tell anyone. The door will be unlocked for you, and I’ve made sure that the guards are nowhere nearby.
That brings me to the second thing to tell you. I debated with myself for a long time on whether I should let you know in advance. And I feel like I shouldn’t blindside you with this. Not completely. The reason why I want to meet you is this:
Come midnight, I intend to confess my feelings for you.
I know that makes no sense after rejecting you back in Scarborough, and that committing to this would start all kinds of trouble. But I can’t ignore it any longer. I don’t want to.
I also need to tell you something else. My final point to this letter. Please know that you do not have to come if you do not want to. I would never force you into anything. If you come to the tower, I want it to be because you want to come, and not because I gave you an order.
Tonight, I don’t want you to meet me as a maidservant. I want you to meet me as Guinevere.
If you do not come, then I will have my answer.
Guinevere sighed, wrapping her arms around her knees as she looked up at the ceiling.
“You’re doing this on purpose, aren’t you?”
But there was no answer. There never was. Ironically, the Watcher was the only one that remained silent, no matter how many times she prayed.
It was probably for the best. She could barely handle herself as it was.
What are you going to do?
The maidservant let out a long, weary, tired sigh.
She didn’t know.