Disclaimer: Awful. I don’t use this term lightly.
The market of Camelot had always been a bustling place. Craftsmen, bakers and artisans from all over the city gathered in the market square to promote their wares. Even on quiet days, the place drew quite a crowd. Yelling voices mingled with the scent of freshly baked goods, the bright colours of newly dyed fabrics and the sound of laughter.
Guinevere had never been good with crowded places. Too many people gathered in the same space made her feel nervous. Especially if they were strangers. The weight of their piercing stares, even just in passing, always ended up making her skin crawl. The maidservant usually avoided the market during the day because of it.
But today, the people around her might as well not have existed. Their curious gazes didn’t reach her. Nothing did. Guinevere couldn’t hear the sounds of conversation that drifted through the market streets. She didn’t notice the sideways glances that the townsfolk threw her way. The maidservant only barely registered that they were passing her by at all.
She couldn’t process her surroundings. The girl slowly staggered her way through the street, focused solely on placing one foot in front of the other, trying her hardest not to think of anything else. Trying her hardest to ground herself.
She had to. It had been too much. Guinevere knew where her rapidly spiralling mental state would lead her. The maidservant couldn’t reach that point again. Not here. Not now. Guinevere had to calm down. She had to regain herself.
But it was no use. As Guinevere slowly made her way through the market, the memories kept coming. They wouldn’t stop. The visions plagued her against her will, slowly wearing down her willpower as they battered her mind one by one. Over. And over.
“I have no use for you.”
“I have to be dependable. Even if I really just want to sit down and cry. I can’t do that.“
You’re firing me?
“Your sake? Your sake?! I AM doing this for your sake!”
“I do care.”
“I don’t NEED you!”
Guinevere groaned, clutching her head in pain as a familiar voice seeped through the sea of chaos.
Child. Do you not want this pain to end?
You could stop it!
You could tear it out!
Why isn’t she tearing it out? Stupid, stupid, stupid-
“I can’t,” the maidservant whispered. The chaos in her head grew even stronger in response, pushing on the fringes of her consciousness. She could feel something in the depths of her mind, slowly twisting the world around her into an incomprehensible blur.
She can’t! Useless! Hahaha!
Of course she can’t. But we could do it.
We could do it for her.
I can take it away, Guinevere. If you want to, I can make it disappear.
But she wouldn’t relent. Guinevere groaned in pain as the voice pushed against her defences.
Let me take it away. Let me put you at ease, Guinevere. All I need is permission. Let me make it disappear.
I love you. Don’t you want this to end?
“.. Lass? Lassie? Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Guinevere mumbled, averting her gaze. As she looked down at her feet, Guinevere repeated the words in her head, clinging to them like a lifeline.
Lancelot had barely started his evening patrol when he ran into a commotion at the back gate. The young noble was surprised to find Morgana in the middle of a heated argument with two of the castle guards.
“Ma’am, we’re not allowed to-”
“I don’t CARE what you’re allowed!” the Princess snarled, with so much rage seeping through her voice that it made the armoured guard take a hasty step backwards. “I told you to step aside, you bloody tin can! Do you WANT to be fired?!”
“Ma’am, please, we’re just doing our-”
Verbally abusing the castle staff was so unlike Morgana that, for a moment, it stunned Lancelot into silence. The future Duke didn’t know what had happened to make her get this worked up. But he could feel the raw, almost desperate feelings of rage radiate out from the sorceress in front of him.
He had to do something. Quickly. If left unchecked, this encounter would not end well. For the sake of everyone involved, Lancelot needed to diffuse the situation. The young noble quickly stepped forward and cleared his throat.
“What seems to be the problem?”
The guard that was standing in the doorway gave him a salute.
“Sir. We’ve been given orders to keep Lady Morgana confined to the castle, sir.”
Lancelot raised a single eyebrow, glancing to the side as Morgana fumed next to him.
“Oh? On what grounds?”
“Safety, sir. It is not safe for her to leave the castle unsupervised—”
“I don’t have time for this!” Morgana snapped, interrupting them both. “I need to go to the town, for Watcher’s sake! Now step aside!”
“Do as she says,” Lancelot nodded, adding his own title to the weight of Morgana’s words. “If an escort is needed, then I will accompany her myself—”
But the guard cut him off before he could finish his sentence.
“We can’t allow that, sir. The King specifically forbade us from letting her leave with you.”
“… Uther mentioned me specifically?”
The guard gave him a single, awkward nod.
“Yes, sir. Our apologies, sir.”
Lancelot frowned, quickly masking his worry and scratching his chin in contemplation as he looked back at the guards.
“No, that’s quite all right—”
“It’s not all right! None of this matters, Lancelot! I need to go down there NOW!”
Lancelot had never seen Morgana this angry. As long as he’d known her, the sorceress had always maintained her composed shell in public. She had always been calm, controlled and calculative. Even in the middle of her games. Morgana had never lost control of herself. The future Duke had always been able to feel the intense emotions that simmered underneath – but this time, her tell-tale mask was nowhere to be found. The anger overflowed, spilling into her every movement. Morgana wasn’t even trying to compose herself.
He’d never seen her like this. Not once.
What on earth had happened?
Lancelot could see her take another step towards the guard, her hands balling into fists. Against his better judgment, the would-be knight quickly grabbed onto her arm.
“Morgana. Calm down.”
“I don’t have time to calm down!” the sorceress snarled, trying to break free from his grasp. But Lancelot held on.
“Yes, you do. Think, Morgana. You are smarter than this.”
For a moment, he could sense her rage shift from the guards to him. She turned, glaring daggers at him over her shoulder. They made eye contact. The next second, the meaning of his words finally sunk in. Morgana slowly exhaled. Lancelot could see her shoulders sink, her hands unclenching themselves as the rage temporarily subsided.
When the young noble was sure that he would not get socked in the jaw, he pulled her towards him. Gently, Lancelot turned her around in his grasp. Morgana didn’t resist. He could still feel the anger that was simmering inside of her, bubbling just under the surface – an anger, he finally noticed, that was mixed in with something else. Something that he hadn’t noticed before. Lancelot could feel fear. A deep, cold sense of dread, along with the telltale signs of-
And the young noble finally understood.
It wasn’t rage.
It was panic.
“Morgana. What happened?”
“I- It’s my fault,” the sorceress stammered, taking a step back. “I said something I really shouldn’t have and Guinevere- I think I really hurt her. She ran off. Lancelot, I have to find her. I have to apologise.”
“I’m sure you didn’t mean to,” Lancelot replied, frowning. “Maybe she just needs some time? Elyan always needs a moment to cool down, too-”
But Morgana cut him off, frantically shaking her head.
“No, you don’t understand. You didn’t see the look in her eyes, Lancelot. I think I broke something. Something bad.”
As Lancelot looked at the girl in front of him, the young noble could feel her emotions seep into him. A strange feeling of dread began to creep up from the base of his stomach.
“What did you do?”
“I know Guinevere,” Morgana explained. “The girl is terrified of being useless. She was already under pressure. She’s fragile. I took my anger out on her and- and I told her I didn’t need her. She was just trying to help, and I cornered her and yelled that to her face. Lancelot, it was bad. It was really bad. I know you won’t understand, but I could see something break-”
“No. I understand.”
The sorceress looked up at him with a clear look of desperation in her eyes.
“Lancelot, you know me,” she pleaded. “I wouldn’t act like this if there wasn’t… you need to go find her. Please. I can’t leave the castle by myself. They won’t let me. I have a really bad feeling about this,” she continued. “I need you to find Guinevere and bring her back here. Please.”
The future Duke of Henford had a talent for reading between the lines. And this time, what he read made the feeling of dread in his stomach increase tenfold. Lancelot gave Morgana a single nod. The young noble turned towards the guards, glaring at them as they continued to block the doorway.
“Guards. I’m heading out. Step aside.”
“Sir, we’re not allowed to move. Not with the Princess standing right-”
His voice lowered to a deep, threatening growl.
“Move. Or I’ll move through you.”
They stepped aside and allowed him to pass. The young noble shot through the gate like a bow loosed from an arrow, sprinting down the hill towards the town as fast as he could. He almost ran over a group of women in the process. But Lancelot didn’t stop to apologise. He barreled straight past. His thoughts stretched in a thousand directions at once. As Lancelot turned the corner and begun to sprint for the bridge, the future Duke frantically tried to think of where someone like Guinevere would go.
Morgana was no longer the only one who was rattled. Over the years, Lancelot had learned to trust the strange insights that Nimueh’s misaligned gift had brought him. But this time, he didn’t need her insight to understand.
Lancelot instinctively knew that something was wrong.
Gawain was proud of himself; against all odds, he’d managed to finish every single one of his errands for the day. He’d chopped wood for his mum. He’d taken Gareth to the cobbler to get new shoes fitted. Gawain had fetched groceries, written a letter to Elyan, visited Gaius for medicine, picked up a new toy for Gaheris – the young redhead had even found time to squeeze in some sword training in between tasks.
He’d done everything. Every single thing on the list. And there was still time left in the day. Gawain smiled, idly looking over the crowd as he made his way through the market.
Today was a good day.
And with this much time left, he could actually finish the day with a mug of ale. Gawain loved going to the Tall Tales Tavern. He loved sitting at his favourite table, sharing drinks and swapping stories with his friends – and by now, half of Camelot had turned into his friend. His victory at the tournament had made Gawain incredibly popular with the townsfolk. People kept buying him ale, treating him to meals, giving him little presents – it was beyond amazing. Gawain felt like a celebrity every time he walked into the local tavern.
He hadn’t been there in a while. The young redhead couldn’t wait to visit them again.
Gawain nodded to himself. Tavern it was. The young redhead trailed the outside of the fountain, humming to himself as he noticed something white out of the corner of his eye—
It took Gawain a few seconds to realise what he was looking at. The scene didn’t make sense in his head. The would-be knight blinked, cocking his head curiously at the small form that was crouching behind the fountain.
And then he realised.
She didn’t respond at all. Gawain’s expression immediately shifted from confusion to intense worry as the young redhead took a step closer.
“Guin, what are you doing? Are you okay? Are you hurt?”
But there was no answer. He could see Guinevere shake her head, gripping the sides of her head as she folded into herself even more. He’d never seen her like that. Not once. Gawain instinctively reached out to touch her- and then thought better of it, not wanting to overstep. He had no idea what to do. The young redhead awkwardly hung over her, hesitating. Gawain had never been in a situation like this.
He didn’t know what to do.
Eventually, Guinevere seemed to notice him. Gawain watched as the maidservant slowly rose up from her crouched position, one hand still pressed firmly against her temple. He could see her lips move.
“…they won’t shut up.”
“Who won’t shut up? What’s wrong?” Gawain asked, deeply alarmed by the tears that flowed down her cheeks. But there was no answer. Guinevere just shook her head, unable to speak. The complete lack of response frightened him. As he looked down on her, Gawain could feel the hairs on the back of his neck rise up.
Something was very wrong.
Gawain bent down, sinking through his legs until he was right above her.
“Guinevere? What’s going on?”
Guinevere folded into herself. Gawain could see tears fall to the stone floor as the maidservant wrapped her arms around herself, pulling her body into a fetal position. Her hands were trembling. Gawain could see Guinevere’s shoulders shaking under the pressure of her distress – but not a single sound came out. There were no sobs. No whimpers. Not even her breathing changed. The girl was completely quiet.
Gawain heard nothing.
He didn’t know why that bothered him more than anything else. But it did.
And it was the lack of sound that ended up driving Gawain over the edge. The would-be knight could feel all of his inhibitions fading away as instinct took over. He sunk through his knees, grabbing hold of the girl in front of him and pulling her against his chest.
She didn’t react.
“It… it’ll be okay,” Gawain muttered. He didn’t know what else to do. He had never been good with words. The young redhead wasn’t naturally charismatic like Morgana, or a born leader like Arthur. He didn’t have the insight that Lancelot did. He wasn’t even funny, like Elyan. All Gawain could offer was physical comfort. His arms were all he had. The would-be knight sheepishly patted Guinevere on the back, giving her the only comfort he could think of.
There was no response.
At some point, her shoulders stopped shaking. Gawain could feel Guinevere’s body suddenly become very still. Somehow, that did not set his mind at ease. He knew that he couldn’t leave her like this. He needed someone to help. Someone that was gentler than him. That knew how to talk to people. Gawain was so far out of his depth that he was floundering, acting on instinct alone.
But his instincts were rarely wrong. And when Gawain was floundering, he always ended up at the same place.
With the person he trusted the most.
Gawain took hold of Guinevere’s hand. The would-be knight rose to his feet, softly pulling her up with him.
She didn’t resist.
“Come on. We’ll go visit mum.”
Gawain’s family cottage was only a short walk from the main gates. If you moved quickly, you could reach it in ten minutes.
That evening, Gawain was not moving quickly. He couldn’t. He guided Guinevere by the hand, carefully navigating the path as he led the maidservant to his home. Her fingers were cold to the touch. Too cold. It made him worry even more, causing him to tighten his grip on her until he was half-leading, half-pulling her along.
His mum would know what to do. She would know what to say to fix it.
She always did.
It wasn’t until his front door came into view that Guinevere finally stirred. Gawain could feel the girl slow down, pulling on his hand as she hesitated.
“It’s fine, Guin,” he smiled, guessing at the source of her discomfort. “Don’t worry about it. Mum always makes too much food for dinner, anyway. Friends are always welcome.”
Gawain gave a gentle tug, continuing to pull her along. His stomach growled with hunger as the scent of freshly made stew drifted into his nose. He could see the silhouettes of Gareth and Gaheris horsing around behind the window. He could hear the sound of childish laughter.
He could hear his mum’s voice.
Gawain felt the weight on his shoulders lift, relief washing over him as he stepped towards the door.
Everything would be all right.
Guinevere mechanically placed one foot in front of the other, trailing after Gawain as he made his way to the cottage. The sounds of laughter that drifted out from the open window went ignored. The delicious scent of stew passed her by, trailing past Guinevere’s senses without finding purchase. She didn’t notice any of it.
When Gawain had placed his arms around her, the chaos in her head had finally stopped. The flood of voices that battered her mental reserves had faded away. Her mind had gone completely quiet.
It should have helped.
But it didn’t. It made it worse. As the voices fell silent, what remained in Guinevere’s head was a hollow, deafening stillness, like her mind had turned into an empty cavern. She couldn’t think. She couldn’t respond to Gawain’s questions. She couldn’t do anything.
She just felt numb.
Guinevere had not reached that point in years.
The door opened. Guinevere followed as Gawain made his way inside, cheerfully greeting the people on the other side of the doorway. A middle-aged woman immediately perked up at the sound of his voice. She placed her knife on the counter, turning back towards the two of them with a large smile on her face.
“Oh! you’re home! I didn’t think you’d be-”
“Back so soon-”
Guinevere could feel her body freeze, paralyzed, as a flood of memories washed over her. Memories that she’d locked away deep inside of her. That she’d buried years ago, coping with them in the only way she could.
It was like a dam had broken, the force of the water hitting her all at once. The young redhead couldn’t stop it. Her entire body began to shake as the memories kept coming.
Guinevere couldn’t see the cottage anymore. Her hands started to shake. Her legs trembled beneath her as Guinevere fought to stay upright. She could feel something pushing on the fringes of her consciousness, slowly twisting everything around her into an incomprehensible blur. Cutting her off from the rest of the world.
Forcing the memories to the surface.
Why do you continue to torment yourself, child?
Why do you continue to go through this? Have you not had enough?
We can stop the pain. I can make it so you never have to suffer again. So you will never be hurt again.
Wouldn’t you rather be at peace, Guinevere?
Like they are?
You can give in, child. It’s all right to give in. Come home. I’ll take good care of you. We’ll protect you. You’ll never have to hurt again.
You will never feel pain again.
You need to give in.
I love you.
Don’t you think it’s time to come home?
But after five years of struggle… the girl had no fight left.
She just felt empty.
Gisele’s smile faded. Her expression slowly turned from surprise into worry as she looked at the girl behind her.
“This is Guinevere,” Gawain clarified. “She, um… I think we need your help.”
“Why? Gawain, What is going on?”
“I… I’m not sure. I found her in the market today and-”
But his explanation was cut short. The maidservant fell into a formal bow, her gaze aimed at the floor as she addressed him in a strange, cold, distant tone.
“Thank you for your hospitality, Gawain. We’ll take our leave now.”
“What? No, Guinevere-”
But she cut him off again.
“We won’t be a bother. Thank you for your concern.”
Baffled, Gawain watched as his friend turned around and marched straight to the exit.
“Hey, wait- It’s no bother! Guin!”
“Wait, just hold on a-”
Slowly, her head turned. Guinevere’s eyes trailed to the left, moving away from the path to the castle and slowly being pulled to the darkness of the surrounding woods.
To the edge of Uther’s prized city… and the deep forest that lay beyond.