WORD COUNT: 2194 words
SPOILERS/WARNINGS: Nothing to note. This is canon-era, set a year or two past S3, but nothing spoilery about S4 is mentioned.
DISCLAIMER: Not mine. No matter how much I wish it so.
NOTES: Written for the final LAS challenge, where the prompt was Arthur and Gwen get married. Then Gwen gets crowned as Queen of Camelot. I opted to go for something very much on the nostalgic/romantic side.
SUMMARY: On the eve of her marriage/coronation, Gwen makes a visit to Tom's grave to tell him about the changes in her life.
Slipping away from Camelot should not have been as easy as it was, but nobody stopped Gwen when she borrowed a horse from the stable, and nobody noticed the future queen leading the animal behind the citadel. When she reached the path beyond the walls, she mounted the steed, grateful her cloak masked her identity as well as the night did. The slight wind rustling through the trees helped, too. If she couldn’t hear the soft clip-clop of her horse’s gait, neither could the guards. And though the urge to kick her heels in and spur him as fast as possible to her destination surged through her, she didn’t indulge, no matter how tightly she held onto the reins. She couldn’t risk being stopped. With her marriage on the morrow, she had no time left to spare.
Her destination rested at the edge of the nearby forest, just inside the natural border it created for the neighboring fields. The darkness attempted to deceive her, casting shadows of trees to tempt her in other, incorrect directions, but Gwen knew the windings of the trail as well as she knew the corridors of the castle. It ended at Silver Brook, a popular spot for the residents in the lower town. As a child, she’d spent many hot days of summer splashing in its shallow depths. As she grew older, it became a respite of escape. Her memories of it were full of laughter and smiles, of joy and freedom.
That was why she’d chosen it for burying Tom’s ashes. After such a long, hard life, he deserved to spend eternity in beauty.
Tethering the horse to a nearby tree, she picked her way to the edge of the water, careful of the loose rock. A wrong step in the dark, and she’d be limping as she walked down the aisle. Tom was buried at the foot of an ancient alder. One of its roots jutted free from the earth, creating a natural back rest for anyone to lean again.
She settled into its nook and rested her hand on the broken soil at her side. “I’m sorry I’ve been so long,” she murmured, then stopped. She’d been about to promise not to take that long again, but was that a vow she could actually make? Once she was queen, she wouldn’t be able to travel as freely, and certainly not alone. This was not a place she was willing to share with anyone but Tom.
“I have a reason, though. I’ve been planning my wedding.” She smiled, imagining the look of surprise on Tom’s face. “You’re about to have a son-in-law.”
Though she had seen a few young men while Tom had been alive, most had escaped his notice. He was too busy, and she was too private, and with the exception of an occasional tease about a certain glow in her skin, Tom remained oblivious to his only daughter growing up. In this, however, he would’ve been thrilled, because in spite of the distance that sometimes fell between them, she knew all the way to her soul how much she meant to him.
He and Arthur had that in common.
“It’s not exactly a simple affair,” she said. “The wedding, I mean. You wouldn’t believe how much work has gone into it. And I know I don’t have to do it all on my own, but…it’s so important. Everyone is watching, and if even one thing goes wrong…”
Arthur’s status as king was young and as of yet untested. He might have earned the respect on the battlefield from his fellow nobles, but Morgana’s constant threats were noticed by all, and he still needed to constantly prove himself in other ways. Like his respect for the law. Changing the marriage decrees so he and Gwen could be legally wed remained a bone of contention amongst the more old-fashioned nobles. The last thing Gwen was willing to do was worsen an already tenuous situation.
“I know what you’re going to say, but no, I’m not overreacting. This isn’t just a simple wedding.” She took a deep breath, steadying nerves that were suddenly jumping at the prospect of telling Tom. “I’m marrying Arthur. He’s king now, though he hasn’t been for long. And he’s not the boy you remember, either. He’s kind, and generous, and the bravest man I’ve ever known. He’s funny, too, though not in the way he thinks he is, and…I love him. More than I probably should. More than is probably good for Camelot.” She chuckled and shook her head. “So much so that I’m even doing the completely mad thing and letting him crown me queen when we both know he deserves so much more than me.”
Behind her, something snapped in the darkness. Gwen whipped around, rising to her knees, her hand reaching for the small dagger she wore for protection. Hadn’t she been careful enough? Who could’ve found her? If it was a brigand, nobody even knew where she was. Her blood thundered beneath her skin, and her gaze swept over the murk, finally settling on a bulky shadow that separated from one of the trees. Tightening her fingers around the hilt, she remained perfectly still, waiting for the figure to get close enough for her to determine whether or not she had to use it. She would, too. She had too much to live for now.
“Well, I can’t argue that it’s mad to marry me.” Arthur’s amused tone cut through the night, automatically relaxing the tension in her muscles. “You can certainly do much better.”
Sheathing the knife, she pushed to her feet, watching his outline sharpen as he neared. “What are you doing here?”
“Making sure my bride isn’t trying to run away before I finally get to have everything I’ve always wanted.” He stepped around the tree root and pushed the hood of her cloak away from her face. “Are you all right? I saw you leaving, so I followed to make sure.”
“I’m fine. I just…” She glanced back at the tree, a slight turn of her head strengthening the touch against her cheek.
Arthur followed her line of sight. “What is this place?”
Nobody knew about her connection to Silver Brook, but perhaps it was time to change all that. Catching his hand, she guided him back to the ground, back to the patch of earth marking the grave. Their fingers remained intertwined, his larger palm blanketing hers completely, and the fresh sense of peace it gave dissolved any trepidation about sharing something so private.
“Father, may I introduce my betrothed.” She spoke almost formally, as if he was there in body as well as spirit. “Arthur, King of Camelot.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Arthur hesitate for a moment, then bow his head. “The honor is mine, sir.”
Her heart swelled, her love for this man choking in her throat. Leaning her cheek against Arthur’s shoulder, she confessed, “I come here to talk to him. Sometimes I miss him so much.”
Tom’s death was a blot on their past neither ever discussed. Arthur still wore the guilt from those events heavily. She’d seen it when arranging with Elyan to walk her down the aisle.
“He would’ve been proud of you.”
Gwen sighed. “I know. I only wish…”
“After everything he did for me, he deserved to see me happy. He would’ve been the first to toast to us tomorrow. I know it.”
They fell silent, then, each lost to their own thoughts. Talking to Tom was more awkward with Arthur present, but she was glad it was no longer a secret between them. Arthur understood what his death had done to her. It would be easier to get away to see him, too, now that Arthur was no longer in the dark.
Abruptly, Arthur let her go and took a seat opposite. “Just because he can’t be at the wedding tomorrow doesn’t mean he can’t be a part of it anyway.”
She frowned at him, confused. “What do you mean?”
With a crooked smile, he held his hand out to her, palm up. “Marry me now. With your father as our witness.”
The silliness of his suggestion made her laugh, which she was sure was his intention. “It would hardly count.”
“Perhaps not to the court, but I don’t need their recognition to swear my devotion. And then your father can see for himself just how much I love you.”
There, encapsulated perfectly, was why she held no more fears about spending the rest of her life bound to this man. Nodding, she rested her hand on his, waiting for him to start.
He cleared his throat. “Guinevere, tonight in the presence of this witness, I give myself to you in marriage. I know our path hasn’t been an easy one, and I can’t claim that marrying me will make it any easier. But I do know, no one has ever believed in me the way you do, even when I haven’t earned that trust. No one has ever forced me to question who I am or what I must do the way that you have. With you, I’m the man I always hoped I could be. Without you, the world is a dimmer place, devoid of the life you bring to it.” He engulfed their joined hands with his left, his eyes dark with emotion. “I promise to fight for you, to try for you, to love you always. Because you are the reason the path is worth it, no matter how difficult it might be.”
Her eyes burned from unshed tears. If this was a precursor to what would come tomorrow, she was the luckiest woman in the world.
She had to clear her throat, too, hoping her words were even half as eloquent. “Arthur, tonight in the presence of this witness, I give myself to you in marriage. I do so gladly, freely, the impossible made real all because of you. To be honest, I never believed this could happen. I was just a maid, and you would be noble even without your birthright. But I have never been so glad to be wrong. You are the truest man I have ever known. The bravest. I know nobody else who loves the way you do, with all of his heart, all of his soul, with everything you are. My love seems pale in comparison, but it’s no less real. I feel it every minute of the day, and I will shout it to the world from this moment on. No more hiding. No more pretending. I love you, Arthur, and I will do everything in my power to show that to you, come what may.”
He was moving before she’d finished speaking, closing the distance between them until his lips sealed to hers. Though her balance became precarious, it was as much from the giddiness spinning inside her head as it was the way she had to lean forward to meet him. They parted with laughter and smiles. She felt so light, she was sure she would float away.
“I think Tom would approve,” Arthur said.
“Now for the next part.”
Mild alarm shot through her. Surely he didn’t mean to consummate their pretend marriage here? “What next part?”
He let her go and rose. “Your coronation, of course. Who wouldn’t want to see their daughter crowned Queen of Camelot?”
After looking around for a moment, he stepped closer to the brook and began foraging in the undergrowth, rustling through the sleeping flowers and bushes. A twig snapped. When he straightened, he held a single wildflower, its broad head bent and half-closed.
“What on earth are you doing?” she said through her laughter.
“Every queen needs a crown.” Reaching into his pocket, he extracted a scrap of pale fabric. He held it between his teeth as he curved the flower’s stem into a circlet, then used the material to bind the two ends together.
It was only when he returned to stand in front of her that she realized it was the token she’d given him for the jousting tournament. He’d kept it all this time.
“Guinevere.” In the space of those seconds, he’d become the king again, his voice strong, his chin proud. “Camelot is fortunate today. For today, she gains a new queen, one as magnificent and beautiful as she is.” He placed the makeshift coronet atop her head. “From henceforth, you shall be known as Guinevere, Queen of Camelot.”
She came to her feet as they’d rehearsed and turned to face Tom together. This was the part of the next day’s proceedings she’d been dreading the most, but now, wearing the crown of Arthur’s making, with Arthur standing tall and powerful at her side, she knew she would face it with grace and dignity, befitting any queen. For in the eyes of the men who mattered most to her, they were already married, already ruling together.
Nobility was in the heart, not the title. Strength came from the self, not the sword.
And love would bind them both for eternity.