He returned on the first of the midsummer festival's three days. Coincidence (or what Arthur would later call the unwinding of destiny) brought him; though he marked time by the turn of the seasons and the rising and setting of the sun, he no longer tracked it by occasions for glory.
The pale sun crept along the edge of the horizon to burn the dew off the grass and Camelot already flashed bright against the sky. The strangest part of his honor, the fragment he'd gone questing to discover, still resided here, among the stones and between their cracked and mended edges.
He had a history before he came here – a village destroyed, a family lost, a lady in white samite who offered him the promise of another life, if he could but prove worthy. She never revealed to him how he would measure worth against Arthur, how it wasn't just to Camelot he returned, but to Arthur.
A field argent, the color of samite and of unwritten sheaves of parchment, of the cool stone walls of Camelot, of the pre-dawn sky before the sun touched the horizon, he settled on the table before the tournament master and gave no name.
First, the charge, then the tournament itself, then the mêlée, where Arthur and Lancelot met, fought, and exhausted each other with blows that spelled out both honor and ruin.
Nobody challenged Arthur like that; nobody forced him to the point of fatigue and frustration, to fight a daylong battle in the hot summer sun. Nobody, so even if he didn't recognize the set of his shoulders while he rode or the angle of his wrist at the first clash of their swords, Arthur would've known the white knight to be Lancelot.
And though the angles of his face were sharper, his body leaner and harder, and his hair longer, past his shoulders when Arthur pulled it loose, he recognized him in such similar ways once they moved from the lists to the hall to the bedchamber. His palms curving over Lancelot's shoulders, two fingers following the angle of his wrist, he found a scar, a flash of thread-thin paleness that ran the length of his arm.
Here, Arthur thought, was how the history of his reign would begin: the first knight to pledge himself to both king and kingdom, the first Arthur had trusted with this intimacy of mutual submission.
Arthur rested one hand on Lancelot's chest. "Will you ever agree to stay?"
"Someday, I'll choose to remain. Sire," Lancelot said, then, "Arthur," and pressed the word to Arthur's mouth.
"I won't need a ravenous, mythical beast or yearly tournament to see you, will I?"
"There are greater battles to be fought than those."
"Stay," Arthur repeated, moved his own mouth over Lancelot's, let his hand rest warm and heavy against Lancelot's hip, "We have hours; you needn't leave at sunrise."
While Lancelot rode way, the midday sun bleached the castle's flagstones the white of parchment, samite, and scarred skin.