Disclaimer: Awful. We’re in the mire. There is light ahead, but not in these flashbacks.
Through the whims of fate, Guinevere and her family ended up in Camelot. Their road through the woods made them cross paths with an old merchant. The man ended up taking pity on them, offering them the back of his wagon and providing them with safe passage out of Northumbria. When the merchant offered to accompany them to Camelot, Guinevere’s father immediately took him up on his generosity.
Fourteen days after losing her mother, Guinevere found herself in a new home.
But Camelot was nothing like Scarborough. The streets were darker, muddy and filled with fallen leaves. Colours were faded. The eye of the Watcher was everywhere, glaring down at them from countless Jacoban statues and pedestals. Guinevere didn’t like it. She missed the warm, vibrant colours of her home. She despised the slippery streets of the city’s lower district, unpaved and ill-maintained.
She wanted to go home.
But they couldn’t. Guinevere knew that, too. The young girl had to accept it.
They had a new home.
“Sweetheart. I need you to watch your brother for me for a while.”
“Why?” Guinevere asked, frowning. She didn’t want him to leave. They’d barely been there for more than a day. She wanted to stay together. But her father shook his head, giving her a strange smile as he looked down on her.
“We need money to stay here and put food on the table,” he explained. “That’s just the way things are. Do you understand?”
“…I think so.”
“Good. Then you understand why I need to go into town for a while. With a bit of luck, I’ll find some employment by the end of the day. They’re always shorthanded for help somewhere.”
“But I can’t take Michael with me,” her father continued, glancing at the toddler from the corner of his eye. “He’d get in the way. So I need you to look after him while I’m gone, all right?”
“Until you’re back?” Guinevere asked. He nodded at her in response.
“Exactly. Just for a few hours. I won’t be gone long. Can you do that for me?”
She didn’t want to. Not really. Guinevere had cared for her baby brother for the entire duration of their journey. She didn’t want to do it again. Guinevere wanted to sit on the sofa and eat honey nut treats and cuddle with her dad- but the gentle, trusting look on her father’s face made any thoughts of protest evaporate, vanishing from her mind like early morning dew.
Guinevere could tell.
He needed her.
The young girl nodded, looking up at him with a smile on her face.
“Yes. I can do that. I’ll look after him until you’re back.”
“Thank you, darling. I knew I could count on you.”
Guinevere did not get complimented by her father often. His words of praise came unexpected, making a giddy, joyous warmth spread through her chest. It felt like a small candle had been lit inside of her. The young girl beamed, proud to be needed.
“There’s some ingredients to make lunch in the pantry,” her father continued. “You can use whatever you like.”
“And remember not to open the door to strangers.”
“I know, dad.”
Guinevere watched her father walk past her, satchel in hand as he headed for the front door. He didn’t get very far, though. When he was about halfway through the living room, the man was intercepted by Michael. Her brother had been watching their exchange silently from the corner.
Not anymore. Michael looked up at his father with bright eyes, smiling eagerly. In a bubbly, high-pitched voice, the toddler asked:
Her father looked away.
With that, he left. Guinevere watched as her father opened the door and stepped out into the cold, frosty morning. The door closed behind him with a loud creak, falling back into the ill-fitting doorframe.
Guinevere was left on her own. As she turned towards the kitchen counter, the young girl could see Michael aiming his attention towards her next.
“Gwin! Gwin pway?”
“Later, okay?” she replied, shaking her head at him. “I have to make lunch now.”
“Yeah. Lunch. It’ll be really tasty. You’ll see.”
I can do it. I can.
After all… dad is counting on me.
Guinevere didn’t actually know how to cook. Over the years, her mother had made a point of teaching her all manner of things – sewing, knitting, the rule of three, falling properly, identifying poisonous plants – but Guinevere’s knowledge did not extend to cooking. It was not for lack of trying on Tyronoe’s part, either. The girl simply hadn’t been interested.
Now, she didn’t have a choice. As Guinevere looked at the random display of items in the pantry, she suddenly regretted her previous disinterest. She didn’t know what she was doing. Guinevere had no idea what to make. Hesitantly, the young girl reached for some eggs, feeling an uncomfortable sense of worry rise from the pit of her stomach-
No. She couldn’t be worried. Guinevere was not allowed to feel insecure today. Her dad was counting on her. She had to do it properly. And cooking wasn’t hard – her mother had done it all the time. Guinevere had to do it right, too.
The girl focused, quickly scanning over the display of ingredients. She could see eggs, herbs, bread, milk… What could she make with that?
Toast. She could make poor knight’s toast with that. They were one of her favourites; when her mum made them, they had always been incredibly tasty. Tyronoe had tried to teach Guinevere to make them, too. But the young girl had never really paid attention, being way more interested in the result. Guinevere could feel herself feeling getting angry at her past self.
Why had she never paid attention?
As she placed the ingredients in front of her, Guinevere racked her brain, trying hard to remember. Doing her best to recall whatever details she could. Guinevere imagined her mum there with her, standing next to her and doling out instructions.
If it were mum… she’d tell me to get a bowl, right?
…Yeah. Yeah, she would.
She’d want me to put in the milk and eggs. And then mix them together. And maybe add honey-
Guinevere never got to finish that thought. The girl froze, startled, as she could suddenly hear a voice echo out in all directions.
No. Not honey. Add garlic.
Her hands reflexively clasped around the fabric of her dress. With eyes as round as gold coins, the young girl looked around, searching for the source of the sound. But there was none. Nobody had entered the house. No-one stood hidden on the staircase. It was just her and her brother. Other than Michael, nobody else was there.
Guinevere was alone.
Guinevere didn’t know how to react. Had she imagined it? There was nobody there, other than her, that could have made that sound. She had to be imagining it- or so the girl tried to convince herself. But it didn’t work. As Guinevere turned back towards the counter, her senses were telling her what her mind refused to accept.
She wasn’t alone. She didn’t feel alone.
In that moment, the young girl felt watched.
But that was ridiculous. There was no-one there; she’d just looked behind her to make sure of that. Guinevere had to be hearing things. She’d just used too much of her imagination. Yes, that had to be it; she’d simply imagined too hard. It was because she’d focused so much on her mum giving instructions that she’d made herself think that her mother really was—
Well? Do as I say, child.
She heard it again. This time, there was no mistaking it. Guinevere could hear the voice echo all around her, drifting into her senses with no visible source. It almost felt like it was coming from inside of her. It sounded strangely familiar, too. Guinevere couldn’t put her finger on why. She had to be going mad. She’d never heard person-less voices before. Not once. Not until she started picturing…
“Did you know? In some shape or form, we are all tied together through spirit. Even if someone passes away, even if you can’t see them anymore, you’ll still be connected to them. Your thoughts and feelings can still reach them across the divide.”
“…I don’t get it.”
“I know you don’t, sweetheart. Don’t worry. I’ll explain when you’re older.”
It couldn’t be… could it?
…If that is what you wish.
At the time, Guinevere still didn’t understand what had happened.
Despite her father’s promise, his job search did not end quickly. Hours became days. Days then turned into weeks. As the last leaves fell from the trees in Camelot, her father finally ended up finding employment with a local weaver.
Guinevere had naively thought that him finding a job meant that they’d be together more. But to her disappointment, the opposite proved to be true. Her father’s schedule meant that he was always gone during the day. Sometimes, he didn’t come back until very late at night. Guinevere was entrusted with the care of her brother more often than she’d ever been in Scarborough.
In many ways, they were on their own.
And she didn’t always look after him properly. On the bad days, Guinevere didn’t want to deal with Michael at all. She didn’t want to entertain him and hide pebbles in the fireplace for the hundredth time in a row. She didn’t want to do any of it. Sometimes Guinevere caught herself spending hours in a daydream instead of looking after her brother. Most of the time, she ended up feeling guilty.
But sometimes she didn’t. Sometimes she ignored Michael until he cried, and then hated herself for it.
Those were the bad days.
But those days were not the only days they had in Camelot.
And on the good days, her brother’s high-pitched laughter was contagious. Michael was a good kid, never failing to cheer her up with his antics. On the good days, it always put a smile on her face.
And Guinevere wasn’t alone in caring for him. Not completely. As the days passed, Michael had made fast friends with a kindly neighbour. An old lady called Millicent often gave them honey nut treats, sneaking Michael a few extra whenever he wore something that had pockets. Michael loved her, and she adored him in return.
But even when Millicent and her husband were too busy working at the clinic, Guinevere still wasn’t alone. She couldn’t be. Ever since that day in the kitchen, that voice in her head had been there, lingering in the background. It never left. Its presence was almost tangible. Guinevere could feel it in the back of her mind, watching and accompanying her wherever she went.
She didn’t know why.
And strangely… it didn’t matter.
The young girl could tell that it was not her mother. Not really. But after a while, Guinevere started to pretend that it was. In a way, she was grateful. Guinevere had no idea what that voice was or where it had come from. But the constant presence was comforting. It felt like a close, invisible friend that was always by her side.
That window leads below the bakery, child. If you squeeze, you could fit through.
Commenting on her surroundings. Proposing new places that she could explore.
Guinevere, have you been told about the Yule Spirits?
Telling stories when she asked for them.
Mocking the people around her, if Guinevere thought that they looked silly.
Making her laugh.
That Winter, Guinevere had a lot of things to laugh about. It made her feel happy.
But it couldn’t give her everything.
And even the voice inside her head could not distract her from some things.
“I don’t have time, Michael. Maybe next time.”
Guinevere watched with worry as the smile vanished from Michael’s face. The little boy lowered his head, looking down at the floor with a dejected expression in his eyes. That wasn’t good. The young girl knew that a face like that meant that Michael would lose his appetite for the day. Her brother already hadn’t finished his breakfast. She quickly stepped forward, trying to cheer him up with:
“Ah- it’s fine- I’m sure you can play with dad at the park today, and—”
But her father interrupted her, averting eye contact as he looked at the wall.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. We can’t go to the park today. The weavers are asking me to work late again. I think I’ll have to stay overnight.”
“But… you promised we’d go to the park today,” the young girl muttered, suddenly feeling just as dejected as Michael had looked. Her father gave her a resigned, helpless shrug in response.
“I know I did. But this is an emergency,” he explained. “Two of our weavers fell ill last night. If we don’t finish the order from the Duke in time, they’ll withdraw their commission, and we’ll end up losing a very large client.”
Most of her father’s sentence was complete gibberish to her. Guinevere had no idea what he was talking about. But she could feel a strange sense of anxiety well up in response to his words, anyway. The young girl frowned, trying to understand.
“Yes. I need that money to pay off our house. Without it, we’ll be kicked out onto the streets.”
That, she understood perfectly. Guinevere gulped as the sense of anxiety in her stomach immediately worsened.
“Don’t worry about it. I won’t let that happen,” he said, reassuring her. “But I need your help. They’re counting on me, just like I’m counting on you. And I really need you to watch Michael tonight. I can rely on you, can’t I?”
Guinevere’s expression fell. As her father talked, the young girl could feel a heavy sense of guilt wash over her. She shouldn’t have complained. Her father had enough to worry about already. He was trying his hardest for them; he was going to work all through the night. For them. Guinevere’s wishes suddenly seemed incredibly selfish by comparison.
She couldn’t do that. She couldn’t be selfish today. He needed her.
It didn’t matter what she wanted. Guinevere could wait.
“We’ll go to the park tomorrow, when things aren’t as hectic,” her father offered. “How does that sound?”
“Okay,” Guinevere lied. She looked up at him, pushing her disappointment down into a corner as she forced a smile to her face. The young girl didn’t know how convincing it was. Guinevere had never been able to lie well.
But it worked. Her father gave her a nod of approval. He placed a hand on the side of her head, pulling her in for a hug and gently kissing her on the forehead.
“Thank you. There are leftovers in the pantry for you to warm up. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Guinevere could feel the hairs of his rough, prickly beard tickling her skin. She didn’t mind it. Her father smelled nice. He usually smelled of old earth and musk, and of sweat if he’d worked a full day. But not this time. This time, he smelled of soap and lavender.
It was nice.
Guinevere watched him leave, silently gazing at his back until the door had fallen shut behind him. She could still feel that strange, hollow feeling in her chest. Guinevere didn’t know what to do with it. The young girl slowly exhaled, waiting for the voice in her head to distract her. Like it always did.
But this time, that didn’t happen.
Child. Why does your kind tolerate this?
“Tolerate what?” the girl asked, uncertain. The answer came instantly. Aggressively.
Lying. Why do you allow your kind to blatantly break their word?
“It’s not dad’s fault,” Guinevere mumbled in response. “Dad has to go if work tells him. He needs to work so we can live here. It can’t be helped.”
Lying to his offspring cannot be helped?
Guinevere shook her head, not sure what the presence in her mind was saying. The young girl tried her hardest to ignore the weird, empty feeling in her chest.
“He’s not lying,” she mumbled. “It’s just the way things are. Dad said that it will get better soon.”
It will. He’ll have more time for us soon. We’ll go to the park soon.
He said we would.
A small silence fell, only broken by the sound of Michael playing in the background. For a moment, Guinevere could feel a strange pressure in the back of her mind. A sudden weight, as if someone had placed a hand on top of her head. The next moment, that weight disappeared, and she heard a familiar voice call out.
Child. Are you lonely?
The young girl reflexively balled her hands into fists.
“I’m not lonely.”
Do not lie to me-
But Guinevere interrupted the voice, angrily talking into the void.
“No. I’m not lonely. I can’t be lonely.” Dad is counting on me. He needs me. He needs me to be patient and look after Michael. He promised we’d go to the park if I’m patient. And Michael is right here. I’m not lonely. I’m fine.
Why do you deny your feelings, child? They are a part of you.
But Guinevere powerfully shook her head. The voice was wrong. Those feelings were in the way. They weren’t what her father needed from her. Guinevere had to push them away.
The girl gritted her teeth, feeling the nails of her fingers press into her skin. Her father was counting on her. He didn’t have anyone else to lean on. Guinevere needed to be there for him. She had to be dependable. She had to be useful- and she couldn’t be useful if she couldn’t control her feelings.
She didn’t need it. She was not allowed to feel lonely at all.
No. Child, do not deny your emotions—
“Stop it!” Guinevere snapped. “I’m fine! I don’t need it – I need it to be gone!” she yelled. Her hands balled themselves into fists. On instinct, Guinevere grabbed onto the top of her head. She could sense the anger bubbling inside – but it wasn’t aimed at her friend. It was aimed at herself. Guinevere was angry at herself for not being better; for not being fine, like she’d assured her dad that she was.
For not being good enough.
She didn’t have an outlet for it. She didn’t know how to deal with the tangled mess that was inside of her. Guinevere could feel herself slowly working up to a tantrum. But she couldn’t stop.
“I don’t want it! I don’t need it!” she spat. “I hate it, mum – I don’t want to feel it!”
Guinevere could hear a strange snapping sound in the back of her mind. She felt a chill. The next moment, that strange, hollow feeling in her chest vanished. It disappeared entirely, fading away like a forgotten dream. Guinevere couldn’t feel it at all anymore.
For a moment, she felt relieved.
Until something else took its place.
Stop. Don’t go. Make him come back, make him turn around, we don’t want to be alone, we don’t want to, we don’t want to, we don’t want to—
Guinevere gasped, frozen in place as the voice battered the edges of her mind. This one wasn’t like her friend. It didn’t feel comforting at all.
It felt wrong.
We want to be hugged, we want our mum, we hate it here, we hate it-
“What are you doing?!”
This is not my doing, child. I am merely giving it a voice.
“Stop it!” Guinevere yelled in response, clasping her hands over her ears. “I don’t want that voice! Take it back!”
I cannot. It is not mine to take.
Guinevere groaned, shrinking into herself as she pressed her hands against her ears even harder, trying to close herself off. But it didn’t work. It wouldn’t go away. The voice came from inside of her, echoing in all directions and impossible to drown out. It wouldn’t stop.
It wouldn’t go away.
Back then, Guinevere still didn’t understand.
She would soon come to learn.
10 thoughts on “Bonus – What you Value Most, Part II”
Ugh yeah, moving into Jacoban territory isn’t the place anyone wants to be… especially not with all that’s happened. And on top of that, the amount of pressure on such young children on top of that. That voice in her head I wonder…with the fae thing that happened last chapter, I’m wondering if it’s something to do with that? The red eyes in the last chapter, and Gwen’s red eyes in the past chapters…
I get why Gwen feels guilty but she shouldn’t. People don’t want to be the one doing all the looking-after absolutely all the time, and that much is especially true if you’re still a child. And when you are the one doing all the looking-after, who’s there to look after you? In Gwen’s case, no-one because Dad is always at work… well except Millicent I suppose, it was good of her to help out. Her name sounds familiar but my brain is too fried to work out who she was. Gwen has trained herself to be a servant ever since she was a little girl and it’s heartbreaking. It’s all she’s known.
AHH YES THERE WE GO. That voice is mostly definitely the Ifri…The big differences between man and Fae are apparent here. Humans lie and hide their feelings and emotions and true selves, and the Fae value honesty and being true to oneself. So the Fae has given voice to Gwen’s feelings, seemingly in an attempt to get her to come to terms with them? I’m not too sure what the Ifri is doing, but maybe that’s not be deing dumb as fuck for once and it’s just the unpredictable, beyond-human-understanding nature of the Fae.
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Does anyone want to be in active Jacoban territory, really? I know I sure wouldn’t. Way too grim and fatalistic and judgey for me- the Peteran side seems so much nicer. Too bad Camelot rolled for its religion and got Jacoban instead. Agravaine could have been a gentle peace-loving hippie-priest, but nooooo.
Millicent Fitzpatrick is the woman who was burned at the stake in the prologue. She’s Merlin’s grandmother, Gaius’s late wife and the woman who refused to teach Morgana. She’s only mentioned in passing in most of the story. Minimising herself to suit someone else has been very ingrained into Guinevere, yes.
There’s definitely something strange going on – it’s not you, that’s very much kept vague on purpose. But is it the Fae doing that? Or is Guinevere doing it to herself? The mind is a weird place, and it becomes even stranger when magic is involved.
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that’s not me being dumb as…*
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This is a very gloomy and grim description of a very lonely child with too much responsibility 😥
The voice in her head is very ominous and commanding and does not give her much comfort. Yet Guinevere seems to prefer the violent presence of the voice over the total silence that seriously reflects her condition. She’s just a little abandoned girl.
The tone of the chapter made me think of stories I have heard about the children of female factory workers in the beginning of industrialization in the early 1800s. About how they tied their young children to table legs while they went to work so that the children would not get hurt while they were away. It was a cruel choice in a hopeless situation.
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You always know how to pinpoint the core of the chapter in a single sentence. Spot-on, as always. When the alternative is silence, sometimes any presence is better than nothing.
I did hear of many mothers simply bringing their babies and young toddlers with them to work, but that one is new to me. That is horrific. Both that enough people did it for that to enter into the history books, and that it was considered as a viable solution to begin with. Those poor children.
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I think maybe I read it as a background for the beginning of the first kindergartens.
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Poor Guinevere. She’s too young to be looking after her brother 24/7. No matter how much she loves him it’s natural for her to be overwhelmed at times, but she’s too young to understand that she shouldn’t drive herself mad with guilt over that.
I hope her father is telling the truth. I find the lavender soap suspicious, because why does he need to smell that nice at work. Also, what about his wife? Aren’t they desperate to hear some news about what’s happened/happening to her?
I can only imagine bad things happening in Guinevere’s immediate future. 😦 She’s going to lose another friend/grandparent-figure in Millicent and her brother…
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It’s easy to blame yourself if you feel responsible, even if you shouldn’t have been the one bearing the weight. It’s a shame Guinevere doesn’t have someone to tell her what you wrote.
Tyronoe was arrested for witchcraft and her family believes that she was burnt at the stake. They also fled in the dead of night to avoid the same fate… so they would not be reaching out for news. 😔
Your imagination might be right… though there is light ahead, too.
That makes sense about Tyronoe. I was desperately looking for some ray of hope, and even though grief affects everyone differently, not seeking out news that would confirm the worst makes more sense than trying to seek out news to confirm a miracle. When the odds are so greatly not in your favor, it does make sense to mentally block that topic until you can handle it.
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True – and that’s without the added risk of reaching out for news painting a target on their backs. They fled in the first place because they would have been seen as guilty by association… aren’t ye oldy times fun? 😅