Title: The Escort
Theme and/or Prompts: AU
Summary: Princess Guinevere is betrothed to King Arthur of Camelot, yet she finds herself drawn to the handsome knight assigned to be her escort.
Author’s notes: Just trust me.
“My lady, he’s here.”
Four small words I’ve been dreading since the day my father told me that he had promised me to King Arthur of Camelot.
“Thank you, I’ll be down presently,” I say, not turning around. It was rude of me, and I usually treat my servants better than this. Hopefully they will forgive my curtness, understanding my reticence to be whisked away by some… escort… to go and be married to a complete stranger.
Couldn’t even be bothered to come get me himself.
May as well get this over with. Heaving a sigh, I turn and sweep from my chambers, not looking back.
I enter the hall to find my father, King Leodegrance, chatting with a man. His back is to me. All I can see is a red cape and longish hair.
“Ah, Guinevere, my dear, may I present Sir Leon of Camelot, knight of King Arthur’s round table and captain of the guards.”
Huzzah. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance, sir knight,” I say, curtseying despite the fact that I am his better.
“My lady, it is my honor to escort you back to Camelot,” the knight says, bowing.
I look at him for the first time. He’s handsome. Blue eyes, a kind face. At least I won’t be in the company of an ugly brute.
“Shall we depart while we have the light to our favor?” I ask.
“As my lady wishes,” Sir Leon nods, and I see the hint of a smirk playing about his lips.
Not that I’m looking at his lips.
“My lord, King Arthur will send word when we’ve arrived safely,” Leon tells my father.
“Yes, tell, ah, King Arthur, that I will await his messenger,” my father answers.
“Guinevere, my treasure,” my father beckons me over, his arms outstretched. I walk to him, no longer able to hold my emotions as tears slip from my eyes. “You will be happy in Camelot. The king is a good man,” he whispers as he hugs me. “I wouldn’t promise you to someone with whom you would be unhappy.”
How can he know what kind of man will make me happy? He has never bothered to ask me. Instead he kept me cloistered away, a jewel set in a gilded cage.
“I will miss you, Father,” I say.
He takes my face gently between his hands and kisses my forehead.
“I love you, my Guinevere. Your mother would be proud of you,” he smiles fondly at me.
“I love you, Father,” I say, and he releases me to the care of this Sir Leon.
I turn and stride from the hall, the knight following on his long legs.
“So eager to be off, my lady?” he asks, catching up. He’s certainly forward.
“We must take advantage of the daylight,” I answer. Really I just want to get this over with and uncover my fate.
I know little of King Arthur, only what I’ve heard. Kind and fair. Fierce warrior. Young, which is reassuring.
Perhaps I can worm some more details out of this knight.
“Will you be riding in the wagon, my lady, or…”
“I am perfectly capable of riding my horse, thank you,” I snap, walking to my beloved horse, Lavender.
Leon smiles. “Of course, my lady. You have a fine horse,” he nods, climbing astride his brown stallion.
“I am quite fond of my horse,” I say. “I will have to remember to thank the king for allowing me to bring her.”
“Indeed, my lady,” he says, smiling that curious smile again.
We head out, Leon leading the way. I follow, and the wagon with my dowry and personal items follows behind, driven by another guard.
I quickly pull alongside Sir Leon. I will not be looking at a horse’s backside all the way to Camelot.
“How long is the journey to Camelot?” I ask when I catch up.
He turns, surprised. “Less than a day’s journey. We should arrive by nightfall.”
“Oh,” I say, frowning.
“In no hurry to meet your future husband?”
“Actually I was hoping to get to stay in an inn or something. I’ve never been to an inn.”
“No. I’ve never been anywhere, really. My father barely allowed me out of the castle.”
“So never an inn or… a tavern?” he asks. He’s laughing at me now. Not outwardly, but on the inside, he’s having a little joke.
“Princesses do not go to taverns.”
“Of course not. What do princesses do, if I may ask?”
I look sideways at him. I wonder if his king allows him to speak so to him. “Well, I don’t know what other princesses do. But I can sew and weave. I can sing, a bit. I read. A lot.”
“What do you read?”
“History. Stories. Whatever I can get my hands on,” I admit. He probably thinks I’m bookish and odd. “I like to walk in the gardens. I know flowers. Not a very useful skill…”
“Do you also know how flowers and other plants can be used?”
“Of course.” Certainly I do. Didn’t I just say that I read everything I could get my hands on?
“Then I would say it’s a very useful skill indeed,” he appraises.
Oh, good, I have the uppity knight’s approval. Huzzah, again.
“What do you sew?”
“Needlework, mostly. I have a tapestry in the wagon for the king that I made.”
“Yes. It’s a… work in progress, I guess. Family trees of Pendragon and Leodegrance. I’ll… likely have to add… to… it…” I say, blushing, thinking of exactly what would cause me to need to add to it.
“Hmm,” he replies. I cannot look at him. I know he is smirking at me again, and I would be tempted to throw one of the apples in my saddlebag at him if I saw it.
We stop to rest and water the horses after a few hours. I scoop some cool water from the stream in my hands and pat the back of my neck. I stand and see Sir Leon regarding me curiously. A little too interested. I pretend not to notice.
I reach into my saddlebag and pull out two apples. I feed one to Lavender, stroking her nose.
“May I?” I ask, holding up the other apple and looking at Leon’s horse.
“Um, okay, but be careful. He doesn’t always like strangers…” he says, walking over as I make my way to his stallion.
“He’s beautiful. What’s his name?”
“Captain,” he says, unreasonably nervous as I near Captain’s head.
“Hello, Captain, would you like an apple?” I reach up and stroke his nose. He ducks his head and pushes against my hand. I hold up my other hand and he gently takes the apple from it. I grin triumphantly at Sir Leon.
He’s looking at me strangely. As if he’s trying to figure me out.
“I have more apples, if you’d like one. Apples fit for people, that is,” I say, turning away, eager to be away from his burning gaze.
“Are you going to stroke my nose and feed it to me, too?” he asks.
“Excuse me?” I ask, scandalized.
“Oh. Um. Yes. Forgive me, my lady. I forget my place,” he stammers, the silly grin falling from his face.
“Here,” I say, thrusting the apple at him.
“Thank you,” he mutters.
“Does your king allow you to be so flippant?” I ask. I’m being haughty and I don’t care right now. Images of me feeding him apples… and grapes, and cheese, and sweet honeyed cakes are flashing through my brain and I want them to go away.
“I think you’ll find that the king is not the man you may think he is,” Sir Leon says.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“I only mean that he is a man of the people. Or at least he tries to be.”
“I have heard good things about King Arthur; you had me worried there for a moment,” I say. This knight makes me uncomfortable.
“King Arthur always tries to be fair and just, especially where his father wasn’t.”
“King Uther was a tyrant, I hear.”
“An argument could be made to support that rumor, yes,” he allows, tossing his apple core over his shoulder. “King Arthur is trying to learn from the mistakes his father made. He actually listens to his knights, the council, and the people.”
“The round table,” I say.
“Yes. And, truth be told, one of his closest advisors is his manservant, Merlin. Though he’d never admit it to anyone,” he says, smirking.
Oh, I do hope I’m not going to be one of those kinds of queens. A decoy to hide the fact that the king prefers the company of his manservant.
“I’m sorry, but your words just now… I mean, it’s wonderful if that’s how the king is. But can I ask a delicate question? About the king and his… manservant?”
Sir Leon nods, then his eyes grow as wide as two blue and white saucers. “Oh! No! It’s not like.. that… ugh, no.” He makes a face, as if he is truly disgusted.
“Thank you for your honesty, sir knight. I just… momentarily was afraid that I was being sent to Camelot to… quell rumors, or something…”
“No, not at all.”
“You seem fairly confident. Is the king a… a womanizer?”
“No. Just… I just know he definitely prefers the company of a beautiful lady such as yourself, my lady.”
That’s kind of inappropriate.
“Oh. Shall we continue on then? Sir Leon?”
He holds his hand up, indicating that I be silent. I notice that the forest has grown very quiet. I back up against my horse as Sir Leon draws his sword.
In a flash, we are ambushed by three men, masked and dirty. Bandits! I watch as Leon dispatches one immediately, simply, almost. He kicks the second into the third, but the third man pushes the second one back at Leon, toppling the sword from his hand.
Sir Leon and the second bandit struggle, and the third one circles around, coming towards me.
“Well, what have we here?”
“Just humble travelers, we have nothing of value,” I say. I’m not a very good liar.
He clicks his tongue, tutting at me. “Shame. Princesses should not lie, should they, Princess Guinev—” His words become a thick gurgle as Sir Leon’s sword runs through his middle, just inches from me. The bandit drops to the ground. Leon withdraws his sword.
“Are you all right?” he asks me, his voice soft and low. It feels like a caress. He even reaches his hand up to my face, but drops it, realizing that it would be improper.
“Yes, I’m fine,” I whisper. “The wagon!” I exclaim. It’s up on the road, with the other guard. I hope he’s all right.
“Let’s go see. I didn’t hear anything, so Bors is probably okay.”
“They could have been quiet,” I say.
“These were unskilled thugs, my lady. I doubt they would be quiet while ransacking a wagon.”
Good point. We get back up to the road and Bors is waiting for us, whistling idly. Poor man is bored. I pass him an apple.
“Thank you, my lady,” he nods.
“You can eat and drive,” Sir Leon says. Commands? Well, Father did say that he is the captain of the guards.
Bors just nods and we head back out.
“That bandit didn’t harm you?” he asks again, clearly concerned about my safety.
“He didn’t even touch me. He knew who I was, though,” I said.
“I would imagine many people know who you are, my lady. Your beauty is widely known.”
“You should not compliment me so,” I mutter, looking away.
“I am merely repeating what is held to be common knowledge,” he says, a little defensively. “Though the rumors do not do you justice, my lady.”
“Sir Leon, please,” I say. I’m beginning to feel uncomfortable.
“Forgive me, my lady.”
“I do not want to have to report your behavior to your king,” I say, but there is no conviction behind my words.
“That would not do at all,” he says, frowning. “Forgive me.”
“I forgive you. Just mind your tongue, please.”
“Yes, my lady,” he answers. Then he falls silent.
We ride quietly for a while, but I feel his gaze on me. I do not have to turn my head, yet I can feel his eyes tracking my movements. It is like he is a hunter and I, his quarry.
It is improper and it makes my pulse quicken in a way that makes me feel unsteady. I am to be married to his king.
Yes, this knight is handsome. No, I may not think that thought ever again.
Night has fallen by the time we pass through the gates into the courtyard of the castle. It is a beautiful place, white stone; tall, proud spires touching the stars.
Sir Leon dismounts and steps over to help me down from my horse, his broad hands nearly circling my waist as he lifts me down.
I expect to be greeted by the king. Instead I am greeted by a tall, skinny, pale man with shiny black hair and large ears.
“Welcome, my lady. The king begs your forgiveness for not meeting you. He is indisposed with matters of state this evening, but he has arranged for a meal to be sent to your chambers and has maids waiting at your disposal,” the young man says.
“Merlin,” the young man says, glancing at Sir Leon as the knight passes the reins of both horses to the servant.
“The king’s manservant?” I ask.
“Oh, you’ve heard of me?” he grins. His grin is like the sun coming from behind the clouds and I cannot help but grin back at him.
“Merlin…” Sir Leon interrupts.
“Sir Leon mentioned you while we journeyed, yes,” I say, ignoring Leon.
“Good things, I hope,” he says, still smiling broadly.
“Merlin!” Leon says crossly. “Lady Guinevere has been traveling all day and surely would like to retire to her chambers.”
“Yes, of course… Sir Leon. If you will follow me,” he says. “We have the largest guest chambers all set for you, my lady,” he continues.
Merlin is very chatty. I look over my shoulder at Sir Leon. He hasn’t moved. He is standing in the courtyard, watching me walk away, his face inscrutable.
My quarters are lovely. My temporary quarters. Tomorrow I am to be married to a man I’ve never seen.
Any little girl who wishes she could be a princess clearly knows nothing of actually being a princess.
There is a soft knock at my door. “Yes?” I call. It is a young maid.
“Is there anything you require, my lady?” she asks.
“I would love a bath, actually. What’s your name?” I ask. It seems to surprise her.
“Sefa, my lady. I will have a bath brought presently.”
“Thank you, Sefa.”
“Um, you’re welcome,” she stammers, scurrying away.
A few minutes later another, louder knock at my door. Good thing Sefa hasn’t returned with my bath.
This time I stand and go to the door. I open it to find Sir Leon standing there.
“My lady,” he nods.
“Sir Leon,” I answer. “Um, thank you for seeing me safely here.”
“It was my honor, my lady. And my pleasure.”
Inappropriate. Again. He makes me feel warm, and I don’t like it. He sees me frown.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I just wished to bid you goodnight, my lady.”
It’s his eyes that are so disconcerting. He continually gazes at me like I am a treasure.
“Goodnight, Sir Leon,” I say, hoping I’m not giving away my attraction to him.
Yes, I am attracted to him. I will admit it, just this once. Tomorrow it will not matter.
Sefa returns just then, and she jumps in surprise, seeing Sir Leon standing there.
“Oh, excuse me S—”
“Quite all right, Sefa, I was just leaving,” he says, talking over her. He strides quickly away. I step aside to let Sefa and her companions in to set up my bath.
Before I close the door, Merlin appears. I like Merlin. He seems a person that one cannot help but like.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, my lady, but I bring a gift from the king,” he says. I allow him inside.
“The king could not deliver this himself?” I ask, growing cross with this mysterious – and apparently arrogant – king.
He hands me a box. “He sends his apologies again. There’s a bit of a mess at the northern borders, and with the wedding tomorrow, he’s trying to get things resolved so there are no disruptions, my lady.”
I open the box, chastised by an unwitting servant. Inside is a beautiful necklace of emeralds set in gold.
“King Arthur would like you to wear this tomorrow. It belonged to his mother, and he wishes for the next Queen of Camelot to wear it on her wedding day as well.”
“It is beautiful,” I whisper, lifting it from the box. “Tell your master thank you and I would be honored to wear it.”
Merlin simply bows and hurries away.
“My lady, your bath is ready,” Sefa says now.
“Help me undress, please,” I say as the others file out.
After a night of fitful sleep, haunted by dreams featuring different King Arthurs – the most disturbing the one where he looked like Sir Leon – I am standing outside the large doors of the great hall, ready to walk up the aisle to meet my husband for the first time.
This is not how weddings should be conducted. I feel like I’ve been sold to the highest bidder.
The doors open and I take a deep breath, stepping inside. I wish my father were here.
I walk, slowly, my eyes unfocused, seeing everything and nothing. Faces are blurs. I see two thrones behind a man with a white beard standing at the front.
Then I feel it. Those blue eyes. Burning into my soul. Of course Sir Leon would be attending the wedding.
I almost falter in my steps, and my gaze shifts to the right of the bearded man, finally looking on King Arthur.
I do pause now, stopping just momentarily. My feet have forgotten how to walk. The man standing up there is Sir Leon.
He smirks at me.
I see red, and will my feet to move.
Not Sir Leon, King Arthur. It was always the king, pretending. Making a fool of me.
By the time I reach the front, my jaw is clenched.
He takes my hands gently in his, gazes down at me with that damnable look that makes me warm, and whispers, “How angry are you right now?”
“Angrier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, Sir Leon,” I hiss. He smirks again. I almost pull my hands away, but he holds them tightly.
Then he strokes my knuckles with his thumbs. My breath catches and my eyes fly to his again.
“If we may begin?” the bearded man interrupts our silent argument.
Is it an argument? I’m not sure any more. I’m relieved, actually, that I was having feelings that did not turn out to be inappropriate after all. I’m humiliated that he would conduct such a ruse and put me in such a situation.
I speak my words. He speaks his words, and I find I am distracted by his mouth.
Now I’m angry with myself because my anger with him is being shifted into something… else. He needs to stop being so charming.
“And now, your union must be sealed with a kiss,” the man with the beard says, nodding at Arthur.
“I’m sorry, Guinevere, I did not wish to deceive you,” he whispers. Then he kisses me.
I am lost. His lips are so soft. His hands are warm on my back. My fingers curl into his tunic.
He finally releases me after kissing me for longer than is proper, and my eyes open to see him watching me, his face full of wonder.
I realize that mine must look very similar.
Later, he will introduce me to the real Sir Leon. Later, he will apologize again, stating that he wanted to get to know me as I truly am, not as a bride trying to be who she thinks her husband wants her to be. Later, he will beg my forgiveness on his knees, his head in my lap while I giggle at him like a little girl and accuse him of having drunk too much ale. Later, he will kiss me again, like I have never been kissed before. Later, he will touch me in ways of which I never could have dreamed. Later, he will take me to his bed and brand me his own, making me his wife in every way.
Later, we will sleep. Much later.
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