Part 6: link Rodor, Godwin, and Olaf,
Gwen thinks, mulling over the addition of three আরো kingdoms to the proposed alliance. The names Mithian, Elena, and Vivian
drift unbidden into her brain as she spins the royal সীল around her finger, the ring much too large for her slender digit. Certainly they should be included. And I have no issue with Mithian. It is she who should have an issue with me, but she bears me no ill will at all, even before we helped her. And Elena was an odd girl, but she knew nothing of Arthur and me.
She sighs, leaning back in her chair. “Gwen, I was talking with Odin and Creoda before they left,” Annis had ব্যক্ত to her the morning after she woke. The elder কুইন was preparing to return to her প্রথমপাতা now, and the two queens were having a quiet lunch together in Gwen’s rooms.
“What of?” Gwen asked.
“Well, should we not invite Rodor, Godwin, and Olaf to যোগদান with us? If five are strong, eight will be even stronger, to borrow your words,” she smiled at Gwen.
“Nemeth is small, and they would benefit from the alliance,” Gwen mused. “Gawant is steadfast and prosperous. Olaf’s kingdom, far to the north…” she paused. “Strategic,” she allowed. “Olaf does not tolerate threats,” she chuckled then.
“Indeed not,” Annis agreed.
Gwen puts the সীল back into her pocket and picks up her quill, twirling it between her fingers. Vivian, though. I wonder what became of her. Did someone break her side of that enchantment, অথবা has she been pining away for my husband all these years? Did the enchantment disappear when Arthur died? Would Olaf dare bring her here?
There is a soft knock at the door and Gwen bids them enter, setting the quill back down. “Someone is up from his nap, my lady,” Edwina, Llacheu’s nursemaid, calls softly, bringing the gurgling six-month-old prince in to his mother. “He’s been fed and changed and now he requests audience with the queen.”
“And so he shall have it,” Gwen says, standing to take her son, who is already reaching for her with his chubby little hands. “Yes, my love, I want to see you, too,” she coos. “Shall we sit দ্বারা the window so আপনি can watch the knights?”
“Ba,” he says, and she rubs noses with him, carrying him to the window that overlooks the training fields, swinging it open.
She perches on the edge and points. “There’s Sir Leon and Sir Percival, your favorites,” she says. Llacheu grasps Gwen’s crystal in his hand, holding it.
“Llacheu, mustn’t grab Mummy’s pretty necklace,” Edwina reprimands gently as she putters around the room, tidying things.
“It’s all right, Edwina, he will not break it,” Gwen says.
“Ba,” Llacheu agrees, just holding the crystal in his small hand, not pulling at all, his eyes still pointed outside.
“And there is Sir Bors, with the gray hair. He’s been around since your grandfather was young. And Sir… Tilton,” she says, squinting, then she chuckles. “Working with Yates, one of the lads he didn’t want to allow into training.”
“Pbblt,” Llacheu blows a raspberry, drool dripping down his chin. Gwen wipes it away absently.
“And look how well young Yates is doing under his tutelage,” Gwen says, smirking. “Do আপনি know whose idea it was to make Tilton work with one of our commoner recruits?” she asks, attempting to smooth Llacheu’s unruly বাদামী curls.
Llacheu presses his free hand to her cheek. Gwen turns her face and kisses his little hand. “No, Lamb, not me. That was Sir Leon. You’ll do well to listen to him. He is smart.”
Another knock comes. “My lady, the party from Mercia is approaching,” a guard informs her.
“Already?” Gwen asks, but then realizes that it is indeed time. “Thank you, Leland,” she answers.
“Guests are coming, baby boy. Should we go greet them?” she asks. “Edwina, where is the prince’s coat?”
“Here, my lady,” Edwina scurries over with the small red woolen garment. It is not cold out, but Gwen pulls his arms into the sleeves and fastens the কোট as well as grabbing a blanket nearby. She wraps it around him and he immediately grabs a corner and pulls it into his mouth.
“Come along, my little prince. We have visitors.”
Odin is right behind Creoda, and both men are overjoyed to see the young prince, greeting him as if he is an old friend when in actuality Llacheu was just a দিন old when he last saw them.
Llacheu is fascinated দ্বারা Creoda’s goatee, reaching for it immediately, and the grandfatherly king allows the boy to tug on it a bit, laughing all the while.
“All right, Lamb, that’s enough,” Gwen gently pulls his little hand back, স্নেহ চুম্বন his fingers.
“My grandchildren do the same thing, Guinevere,” Creoda reassures her, squeezing her shoulder lightly. “Where is that Marcus?” he asks, looking around for the servant he had last time. “Marcus, my boy!” he bellows, seeing the lad jogging towards him, followed দ্বারা George, who is crossing the stones at a very brisk and very proper walk to attend Odin.
“Guinevere,” Odin says softly, pulling her aside gently, “I have… a gift for the prince. If আপনি do not mind.”
“Not at all, Odin,” she says, surprised, catching Llacheu’s curious fingers again as they reach for the স্বর্ণ clasp on the king’s cloak.
He reaches in a bag, glances up to see Creoda striding to the castle, and withdraws a carved wooden dragon.
“Ba!” Llacheu exclaims, holding his hands out, opening and closing them expectantly.
Odin hands it to him, his face delighted and amused.
“He… usually says that when he’s pleased,” Gwen chuckles. Llacheu inserts the dragon’s nose into his mouth. “It’s lovely, thank you, Odin,” she says, and leans up to চুম্বন his cheek.
“You are welcome, my lady. I, um, made it for him,” he stammers. If Arthur wasn’t already dead the shock of this would have killed him,
Gwen thinks. “You have talent, my lord,” she observes. She also has noted that there is not a sharp point on the dragon so that Llacheu would not hurt himself on it. He’s moved his attention to the tail now.
“It is something to do with what little idle time I have,” he shrugs. “I’ve made something for each of my children and grandchildren.”
“So আপনি have had plenty of practice, then,” Gwen smiles.
“My lady, Olaf’s party is approaching,” Leon tells her.
She cannot hide her trepidation, and Odin smiles. “You’ll be fine, Guinevere. You’ve চার্মড্ all of us. George,” he says, turning to the patiently-waiting servant. He ruffles Llacheu’s hair as he passes.
Gwen watches as Olaf approaches. I don’t see Vivian. Good,
she finds herself thinking, but still she cannot deny her curiosity about the state of the princess.
“King Olaf, allow me to welcome আপনি to Camelot,” Gwen calls to him once he is down from his horse, striding over.
“Queen Guinevere,” he nods, then, “young prince.”
Llacheu babbles something unintelligible, his mouth full of dragon wing.
“Thank আপনি for inviting me,” he says gruffly, glancing at the baby again.
“Thank আপনি for coming,” Gwen answers. “His name is Llacheu,” she adds.
“Looks like Arthur,” Olaf says, nods, and follows the servant that has approached, heading for the castle.
“He’s a man of few words,” Gwen observes, looking down at her son. She kisses his head and he gurgles happily.
“Wonder what ever became of Vivian?” Leon asks, watching Olaf stomping up the stairs.
“I would like to ask Olaf, but he doesn’t really seem predisposed to conversation, does he?” Gwen says, turning back to see Lot and Annis both approaching.
Annis leaps down like a woman half her age and makes immediately for Llacheu, scooping him up in her arms immediately and covering him with kisses. “There’s my boy!” she exclaims, like a doting grandmother. “I’ve missed you. You’re so big!”
“He certainly knows how to make an entrance, we will give him that,” Lot says, looking down at the babbling boy, dragon still clutched in his hand as he bobs happily in Annis’ arms. “Looks strong and healthy,” he observes.
“He looks like his father,” Annis states, pressing Llacheu’s nose lightly.
Lot peers at him. “I don’t see it,” he says. “But I only met Arthur but a few times, and that was as an adult.” He shrugs and turns as Kirby appears to take his bags.
“How have আপনি been, dear?” Annis asks Gwen.
“Well. Merlin’s been and gone a handful of times, but still refuses to stay longer than overnight. The prince is a very good baby still, thankfully, and has half the kingdom wrapped around his tiny finger,” she says, smiling indulgently at him. Llacheu reaches for his mother.
“Ba,” he says as Gwen takes him back.
“Am I the last to arrive?” Annis asks, looking behind her to see Godwin approaching. “Ah, I see not. I will leave আপনি to greet Godwin. My prince,” Annis curtseys to Llacheu with a smile and then follows Evelyn to the castle. Elena does not appear to be with him,
Gwen notes. “King Godwin, thank আপনি for coming,” she greets him.
“Queen Guinevere,” Godwin nods, “I appreciate your including me in this summit.”
“I am glad আপনি could make the journey, my lord. To tell আপনি the truth, I had hoped to see Princess Elena again,” she says.
“I had to leave someone in charge in my absence,” he shrugs. “But she does send her warmest greetings. She remembers আপনি fondly from… that other time when we were here.”
Gwen chuckles, a little embarrassed. “Yes, well…” she distracts herself for a moment দ্বারা untangling her son’s hand from her hair.
“Some things were just not meant to be, while others, it seems, were,” Godwin says sagely, and Gwen wonders how he and Uther were even friends. “Now, may I have the honor of meeting the prince?”
“Certainly. King Godwin, this is Prince Llacheu,” Gwen says. Godwin reaches up and takes the boy’s hand gently and makes as if he is shaking his hand.
“I am honored to meet you, Prince Llacheu,” he says.
“Indeed,” he nods, releasing his hand to follow his servant in.
Llacheu starts to squirm and fuss a little, growing bored. “One more, Baby, one more,” Gwen says. Leon steps up and peeks over Gwen’s shoulder at the prince, popping up suddenly, and the boy laughs. He repeats this a few আরো times until the last party arrives, from Nemeth.
Gwen looks up to see Rodor and Mithian riding towards them with their creepy veiled knights, and from the looks on their faces, they obviously saw the First Knight of Camelot playing peek-a-boo with the prince over the Queen’s shoulder.
Leon, to his credit, returns to his default state of cool professionalism, not embarrassed in the slightest.
“King Rodor, Princess Mithian,” Gwen greets them, “I am pleased to see you. Welcome,” she says.
“Queen Guinevere,” the King says, স্নেহ চুম্বন her offered hand. He strokes the prince’s hair once, smiling at him.
“Hello, Gwen,” Mithian greets her, warmly, but trying to hide the awkwardness she clearly still feels after the incident with Morgana. Somehow Arthur and Gwen’s kindness and understanding just made her feel worse about it.
“Mithian, I’m so glad আপনি came,” Gwen says, clasping the other woman’s hand warmly.
“You are?” Mithian asks before she can stop herself and nearly claps her hand over her mouth. She glances at the young prince in Gwen’s arms and her হৃদয় melts at his sweet little face, even if there is a wooden dragon shoved into it.
“Of course I am,” Gwen says. “It’s always nice having a friendly face come for a visit.”
“Thank you,” Mithian says softly.
“Mithian, please stop beating yourself up. It is not your fault,” Gwen says. “It is forgotten.”
Mithian smiles a watery smile and reaches over to touch one of Llacheu’s irresistible curls.
“His name is Llacheu,” Gwen says, shifting him in her arms. “And he is getting heavy,” she says to her son, touching her forehead to his for a moment. He touches her cheek with his damp hand.
“He is beautiful,” Mithian says. “Is it my imagination, অথবা does he…?”
“Yes, he looks almost exactly like Arthur,” Gwen says. “He is my little reminder,” she smiles wistfully.
“I am so sorry, Gwen,” Mithian says, taking Gwen’s hand again. “I know I wrote, but I have to say it in person. I cannot even imagine.”
“Nor should আপনি try,” Gwen whispers, blinking back tears that are suddenly threatening. “Come,” she says, brightening up. “I will প্রদর্শনী আপনি to your rooms.”
The meeting goes surprisingly well, with just a little backtracking to catch up the three newcomers, complete with a fair amount of joking about how short their last meeting was and the reason why.
Gwen has had her scribes and Geoffrey working nearly দিন and night drawing up eight copies of everything, crossing every T and dotting every I.
They adjourn to the great hall for dinner, a small feast of celebration. Toasts are raised and a general air of good spirits reigns.
Gwen takes this opportunity to slip over and sit beside Olaf, hoping that his tongue has been loosened দ্বারা good খাবার and drink.
“My lord, how fares your daughter?” Gwen asks gently.
“Vivian?” Olaf asks, turning.
“Yes, my lord. Have আপনি another daughter?”
“No. I barely have her anymore,” he sighs.
“Is she not well, then?”
“She has gone… forgive me, my lady, but she is nearly mad with grief over your husband’s death. I fear she never got over her infatuation with him that she developed all those years ago,” he sighs, clearly at his wit’s end.
“Olaf,” Gwen says carefully, “would it help to learn that Vivian had been এনচ্যান্টেড to think she was in প্রণয় with Arthur?”
“What?” he asks, a little too loud, and a few heads turn. Gwen waves back Percival, who is starting to rise from his আসন where he is chatting with Mithian.
Gwen sighs. “I regret that it has gone on this long. I had hoped that it would wear off, অথবা someone would have been able to lift the enchantment from her like I did for Arthur. অথবা even that it would break when Arthur died.”
Olaf furrows his brow. “Arthur was এনচ্যান্টেড as well? How did আপনি lift it? আরো importantly, who এনচ্যান্টেড them?”
“They were both enchanted, yes,” Gwen nods. “From what I understand, it was all Alined’s doing. His servant and jester, Trickler, was apparently some sort of sorcerer. Alined was trying to start a war between আপনি and Uther.”
“He nearly succeeded,” Olaf mutters, remembering how he had nearly defeated Arthur until the last round, when the then-prince had spared his life in the name of peace. “But how did you
free Arthur from his enchantment? Are আপনি a sorceress?”
“No, though আপনি would not be the first to think so,” she says wryly. “I, um… kissed him. Before the final round of your fight. If I hadn’t আপনি surely would have killed him.”
“So I just need to have someone চুম্বন her,” Olaf muses, frowning at the thought.
“No, not just someone, my lord,” Gwen says carefully. “I was able to lift the enchantment because I was the person whom Arthur truly loved.”
“Even then?” Olaf asks, incredulous. “Right under Uther’s nose?”
“We kept it a secret for a very long time,” Gwen admits. “Even from ourselves, at times.”
“Well, that’s it then. I never gave Vivian the chance to find a true love,” Olaf sighs.
“You might consider trying to find Alined অথবা Trickler,” Gwen suggests.
“Dead,” Olaf states. “Made the mistake of crossing paths with the Lady Morgana on a bad day, I understand. Trickler was nothing but a two-bit magician compared to the likes of her.” Of course,
Gwen thinks. “I see. Surely, though, there must be someone. Was there ever a young man that she fancied? Someone who has quite likely been banished from your kingdom দ্বারা an overprotective king?” she asks, raising an eyebrow at him.
He snorts a laugh and Gwen relaxes a bit more. “Maybe…”
“The only other suggestion I can think of is that আপনি find some Druids that may be sympathetic to your cause,” Gwen says.
“Thank you, Guinevere,” Olaf says. “I do feel better knowing that my daughter’s madness is not her fault, and I will try to fix it. A name is creeping around the back of my head now, buried, but I will unearth it.”
“Olaf?” Gwen asks suddenly. Dare I? I must. If she’s his only heir, I have to. For everyone’s sake.
“A word of advice, if I may. If আপনি do manage to bring her back to herself, do not indulge her so much. Stop coddling her and stop sheltering her.”
“Forgive me, but I was her lady’s maid during your last visit, and the woman was insufferable.”
Olaf opens his mouth to speak, but no words come. His face is a kaleidoscope of surprise, confusion, and anger.
“She is your heir and your only daughter. আপনি owe it to your kingdom, to all our kingdoms, and to her
to mold her into a good and just queen, rather than allowing her to continue to be a petulant child.”
Behind her she hears someone spit their drink across the table, obviously having heard what she has just said.
Olaf stares at her.
“I know what আপনি must be thinking, and I’ve gotten into আরো trouble for saying less than that, my lord,” she says, twitching back the smile that inexplicably wants to spread across her face.
“I will take your উপদেশ into account, my lady. There may be truth in your words. And I thank আপনি for all the information আপনি have প্রদত্ত me,” Olaf finally says.
“You are welcome. Please do let me know if আপনি have success,” Gwen says, starting to stand.
Olaf stops her, touching her hand. “Your reputation precedes you, আপনি know,” he says cryptically.
“My lord?” she asks, sitting back down.
“You do seem to have a… way with words, Guinevere. I am surprised আপনি managed to keep your head attached to your body under Uther’s rule.”
“I nearly didn’t, on আরো than one occasion,” she says, just as cryptically, and finally stands. “My lord,” she nods at him and turns, seeing that it was Creoda who overheard her little tirade about Vivian’s behavior.
“Nicely done, Gwen,” Creoda mutters, squeezing her hand as she passes.
xXx “You are an amazing woman, have I told আপনি that?” Arthur asks. Gwen has just stepped through the familiar doorway, from the bright light of her world into what she now feels is a comfortable darkness.
“Six months, Arthur,” she says, ignoring his compliment, her hands on her hips. “Six. Months.”
Arthur presses his lips together, looking contrite. “About that…”
“I was told to stay away for a while.”
“You were told.”
“Yes. After your… close call. They didn’t want আপনি to be tempted. And I… as much as I প্রণয় spending time with you, I don’t want আপনি to depend on me. আপনি need to make your own decisions. Camelot is your kingdom now.”
Gwen says nothing, looking down at her hands. “I’m being selfish again. I am lucky I get to see আপনি at all, I should not complain about the interval.”
“It was killing me,” Arthur says, reaching for her hand. “But of course I’m already dead, so…”
“Arthur!” Gwen exclaims, trying not to laugh. “Don’t do that!”
“Don’t do what?” he asks, pulling her close. “Don’t make jokes about being dead?”
“Yes! It’s disrespectful,” she says, but as soon as the words are out of her mouth she realizes how foolish they are.
“Disrespectful? To whom? Me? I assure you, my love, I am not offended.”
“Stop it!” she says, giggling now, her head dropping অগ্রবর্তী on his chest.
“You did a great thing today,” he murmurs into her hair. “Eight kingdoms. Eight. United in peace.”
“Thank you. It was… actually really easy,” she says, puzzling up at him.
“I’d be jealous, but of course, I laid all the groundwork for you,” he says smugly. “The hard part had been done already.”
Gwen sighs, mildly exasperated, but she lets him have his moment. “Odin was the most surprising. He was nothing at all like you’d described him: hard, bitter, angry. He was quite mild and amiable. He even brought a gift for Llacheu.”
“Did he, now?” Arthur raises his eyebrows.
“A wooden dragon that he carved himself. I was very impressed.”
“Is that safe?”
“There is not a point অথবা a sharp corner on it, Arthur,” she sighs. “And he loves it.”
“Know what I love?”
“Well, yes, you, of course, but this time I was talking about when Llacheu holds onto your crystal pendant.”
“You know he does that?”
“I do. I feel… warm when he does that. I told আপনি that I do not feel cold, but the complete truth is that I feel neither warmth nor coldness. But when he is holding it, I am warm. A good warm. Like a soft blanket around me.”
“I’m glad I let him, then. His nursemaid tried to tell him to stop, but there’s no way he could break it, so I just let him.”
“Keep letting him,” Arthur says.
“Do আপনি feel it when I touch the crystal?” she asks suddenly, recalling that she toys with it frequently.
“Well, আপনি are always touching it; it is always against your skin,” he says, tracing his finger along her collarbone then down along the chain. He stops just short of the swell of her breasts, realizing that he has no idea what that could lead to অথবা what could happen, if anything. “But if it helps, I knew the moment আপনি put it on, and if it were to ever come off, I would know that as well.”
“It does help,” she says, reaching up to touch his cheek. “He’s a very happy child. Every night before he goes to বিছানা I tell him about you.”
“What do আপনি tell him?”
“The truth. That আপনি were a boorish, ignorant, fat, ugly man with warts and a hump,” she says, refusing to indulge his ego even in the quasi-afterlife.
He pouts. She melts. “I tell him stories about আপনি and Merlin. Things you’ve done. He loves Merlin, incidentally.”
“I know,” he mutters. “He’s too little to know better,” he adds, just out of habit.
“Yes, yes, I know, I shouldn’t speak ill of him after all he did for me. Especially because I left him dangling out in the world.”
“Exactly. And he’s been around আরো because of Llacheu. I made him his godfather, আপনি know.”
“As it should be,” he allows. He wraps his arms around her tighter now, holding her small body against his. “It’d be nice if there was a chair অথবা a bench অথবা something in here,” he says absently, and Gwen laughs into his chest.
“Guinevere,” Arthur says, looking down at her, “I am very proud of you. In just over a বছর you’ve lifted the ban on magic, which I was never ব্রেভ enough to do, and united eight kingdoms, when I was only trying for five. I would say you’re making me look bad if I wasn’t so damned proud of you.” He smiles down at her, his eyes alight.
“Thank you, Arthur. But আপনি were right: আপনি did do all the hard work. I merely finished what আপনি had started.”
Arthur touches her chin lightly with his fingers, lifting her face to his as he swoops down to চুম্বন her. He kisses her softly, sweetly at first, but then her fingers tighten on his tunic, pulling him a little closer, and her lips part beneath his. He groans and bunches the material of her silken nightdress in his fists as his tongue finds hers, hungry and wanting.
Reluctantly they part, breathing heavily. Arthur glances over his shoulder now. “That was dangerous,” he whispers, স্নেহ চুম্বন her temple, skimming his lips along her hairline.
“I know,” she answers. “Could we even…?”
“I have no idea. And somehow I think it would be frowned upon.”
“You’re probably right,” she says.
“Love is powerful magic,” Arthur says quietly. “Ours especially. অথবা so they tell me.”
Gwen is sitting in the সিংহাসন room granting audience, hearing requests from the people, when suddenly there is a commotion in the corridor.
Two guards come bursting in, dragging a young woman between them. They throw her to her knees in front of the queen.
“She was found skulking around the lower town, my lady, very close to your old house, in fact,” one informs her. The girl looks up. Her face is dirty and streaked with tears.
“Sefa,” Gwen gasps. “What are আপনি doing in Camelot?”
“Forgive me, my lady,” Sefa says, her voice trembling. “I… I did not know where else to go…”
“You were found guilty of treason and sentenced to death, Sefa. Was it wise to return?”
“No, my lady. But no one will have me. I am scorned and shunned wherever I go. I… I remembered your kindness, my lady, and I thought… either আপনি would প্রদর্শনী me mercy অথবা put me out of my misery.”
“But আপনি are a Druid. Surely they…”
“No, my lady. I fear they have turned their back on me for what I have done. I… I cannot find any camps…” she trails off, tears falling.
“Shall we take her to the dungeon, my lady?” one guard asks.
Gwen ponders Sefa for a moment. I often thought about what I would do if she were ever to return here,
she thinks. I do not believe she is truly a bad person. I never did.
“Please, no, my lady,” Sefa begs, her voice a whisper. “I… I will do anything. I know it’s too much to expect to be able to return to being your maidservant, but I will do anything
if it means I can stay here,” she sobs.
Slight motion in the doorway catches Gwen’s eyes and she looks up. She connects with a pair of bright blue eyes in the back of the room, in the shadows, and a brief moment of understanding passes between them.
“Percival,” Gwen says, “take Sefa to the small guest room in the south wing. Sir Leland and Sir Ronald will follow and stand guard. She is not to leave the room until I have made my decision.”
“Yes, my lady,” all three men chorus.
“Thank you, my lady, oh, thank you,” Sefa says, still crying as she is hauled to her feet.
“You may unbind her hands. I don’t believe she will be up to any mischief,” Gwen says. She waves to her maid. “Lily, find a clean dress for her, please,” she says quietly.
“Yes, my lady,” Lily nods, her face confused.
“Don’t worry, I’m not giving her your job,” Gwen smiles at the girl. Lily smiles back and scurries away.
“My lady, was that wise?” Leon asks quietly.
“Leon, you’re going to have to trust me,” she tells him.
“Well, আপনি know I do, my lady, but…”
“Yes?” she asks, looking up at him.
“Nothing, my lady.”
Gwen returns to her chambers to find Merlin sitting on the floor, playing with Llacheu. He’s got some sort of toy that he either made অথবা bought, a selection of wooden blocks of different shapes and sizes and a small টেবিল with matching cutouts. She slips in quietly, watching, unnoticed.
“Square,” Merlin declares, প্রদর্শিত হচ্ছে the baby the square block and placing it through the appropriate মহাকাশ on the table.
It slides through and Llacheu claps. “Ba!”
“Llacheu try,” Merlin says, retrieving the block and placing it in his tiny hand. Llacheu takes it and puts it in his mouth. “Put it here, Bug,” Merlin says, pointing to the square hole.
Llacheu takes the block and pounds it on the table. He likes the sound, so he does it more, harder. Merlin sighs, and the unnoticed কুইন giggles quietly behind her hand.
“Stubborn as your father,” Merlin mutters, and then he flashes his eyes, and the square hole glows gold. “Llacheu, where is the square?”
Llacheu’s eyes light up when he sees the glow, and he puts the block over the hole, shoving, but he doesn’t have it aligned right and his face crumples.
“Aaa!” he shrieks sharply, frustrated, and lifts his hand, ready to throw the block.
“No, no,” Merlin warns, angling his head. “Must keep trying, Bug.” He taps the টেবিল পরবর্তি to the still-glowing square. “Square.”
Llacheu puts the block back to the টেবিল and pushes. Somehow he turns his wrist just right and the block slides through. The স্বর্ণ glow around the square erupts in a ঝরনা of multicolored sparks.
“Ba!” Llacheu exclaims, clapping for himself now.
“Very good, Bug!” Merlin says, leaning down and স্নেহ চুম্বন the boy on the forehead. “Shall we try another?” he asks, picking up another block. “Triangle,” he declares.
“I think he’s probably had enough, Merlin,” Gwen says, stepping অগ্রবর্তী now as Llacheu starts rubbing his eyes. He turns at the sound of his mother’s voice and Uncle Merlin is promptly forgotten as he reaches his hands up.
“That’s a good toy,” she observes, scooping up Llacheu and স্নেহ চুম্বন him.
“Coordination and shape identification,” Merlin nods, standing. “I bought it in a small village in Caerleon.”
“I was wondering if আপনি had bought it অথবা if আপনি had made it,” Gwen says, fussing over her son, who squirms until he can reach her necklace.
“I have no skill for carpentry,” Merlin says, watching with interest to see what Llacheu does with the crystal, and, to his amazement, all the boy does is hold it. He doesn’t pull. He doesn’t put it in his mouth. He doesn’t even look at it, really. “Interesting,” he mutters.
Gwen smiles. “Well, আপনি do have other
skills, Merlin. And I presume that’s why you’ve chosen to pay us a visit.”
“Sefa,” Merlin sighs. “Poor girl.”
“Yes,” Gwen agrees. There is a knock at the door and the prince’s wet nurse takes him for his nighttime feeding. “You’ll help me?” Gwen asks.
“That is why I’m here,” he sighs. “You were always too smart দ্বারা half, Gwen. Of course, Arthur was half-stupid most of the time, so…”
“Merlin!” Gwen scolds him, but she is trying not to laugh. “Don’t be disrespectful,” she slaps him lightly on the shoulder.
“Old habits,” he murmurs with a small shrug.
“Are আপনি hungry?” Gwen asks.
After dinner, Gwen and Merlin make their way to the south wing and the room holding Sefa.
The guards step aside as she approaches. She knocks on the door and enters immediately, knocking only out of basest courtesy.
Sefa appears cleaner and is wearing a new dress, but she still looks miserable, হারিয়ে গেছে and scared.
“Sefa, আপনি have eaten?” Gwen asks. Merlin lingers দ্বারা the doors, staying deliberately out of the way.
“Yes, my lady, thank আপনি for the food. And the dress. It is আরো than I deserve,” Sefa answers, her eyes downcast.
“Indeed,” Gwen says absently. “Sit.” She motions to a chair, and sits as well. “I am not going to have আপনি executed.”
“Thank you, my lady,” Sefa exhales, falling to tears again.
“I do not think আপনি are a bad person,” Gwen says. “I never have. আপনি are guilty only of doing what আপনি were told দ্বারা someone whom আপনি loved and trusted. আপনি thought আপনি were being a good daughter, doing what your father had bidden you.”
“Yes, my lady, I…”
“I’m not finished,” Gwen interrupts. “You will have a chance to say your piece, but first I will say mine. Your actions cost many lives, yes, but আপনি were merely a pawn, used দ্বারা your father so that he could achieve his own goals. However, your father was not the only one who used you.”
“I never had any intention of executing you, Sefa,” Gwen confesses, and Sefa’s eyes grow wide with understanding. “I, too, used আপনি to achieve my own goals.”
“You used me as bait to lure my father,” Sefa whispers.
“Yes,” Gwen says. “I used his own daughter, his own pawn against him. I am sorry.”
“No, my lady, আপনি have no need to apologize. It is I who is at fault. I… I had doubts, but I still gave my father the information he demanded. He told me time and again about how the Pendragons were cruel and heartless, deserving nothing less than death… oh! Forgive me, my lady,” she gasps at this last comment, her hands flying over her mouth. “I did not mean…”
“It’s all right, Sefa, I know আপনি meant no offense. Please continue.”
“But what I experienced here as your maid was the exact opposite of all that my father told me. I was prepared for cruel and heartless treatment, and আপনি showed me nothing but kindness. আপনি are the kindest person I have ever met, my lady,” she says, her eyes wide and sincere. “Even King Arthur, who had a reputation for being arrogant and brash seemed to me to be a kind, understanding man. It was so confusing for me. I am… not gifted with intellect as আপনি are, my lady.”
Gwen listens to her words, and finds that she feels nothing but pity for this poor, misled girl. Misled দ্বারা her father’s hatred. How familiar that sounds,
she thinks, Uther’s name springing to mind.
“Sefa, do আপনি have magic?” Gwen asks, shifting gears.
“A little,” she says, “My father never taught me how to properly develop it.” Of course he didn’t. He wanted to keep আপনি simple and meek.
“Merlin,” Gwen calls him forward. Sefa smiles shyly at him. Merlin nods, but does not return her smile. “Merlin has agreed to take আপনি under his wing. He will be responsible for you, and আপনি must stay with him and do as he says. If আপনি wish to develop your magic, he will tutor আপনি in the ways in which magic can be used for good.”
Sefa says nothing, just looking back and forth between Gwen and Merlin, mouth agape.
“This is not an recommendation, Sefa,” Gwen says gently. “You will go with Merlin অথবা আপনি will leave Camelot to wander again. Alone.”
“Thank you, my lady,” she finally says.
“Do not thank me, thank Merlin. He does this of his own free will, out of his প্রণয় for and loyalty to Camelot and to me.”
“Thank you, Merlin,” she whispers, her voice breaking as she starts crying again, this time tears of gratitude.
“You may sleep here tonight, but in the morning আপনি will be leaving with Merlin. He is your guardian now, and আপনি are his ward. If আপনি run away, the consequences will be dire, do আপনি understand?” Gwen asks, standing.
“Yes, my lady,” she whispers. She stands and reaches for Merlin’s hand, grasping it tightly. “Thank you, Merlin. I won’t disappoint you, I promise.”
“I know আপনি won’t,” Merlin says quietly. “Be ready to leave at first light.”
Part 8: link