"Wart's chasing the kitchen wenches again," Bedivere said, as he sat down next to Cei on the grass.
Cei kept his eyes on the men training below. "He is not."
"He is." Bedivere leaned back, bracing his hands on the ground behind him. "Your father's really going to have to speak to him about it. It's getting quite out of control."
"I assume there is a point to this nonsense?" Cei leaned forward, shifting away from Bedivere.
"The point is that you really have no idea if I'm telling the truth or not. You haven't been to studies in almost two weeks now, Cei."
"And if I have not, what business is it of yours?" Cei frowned.
Bedivere sighed and let his arms give out, collapsing fully onto the ground. "Why are you being so very stubborn about this?"
"There seems very little point in going anymore," Cei shifted, bracing his elbows against his knees. "Merlin seems to talk only to Wart."
Bedivere turned his head, staring at the small patch of grass between them. "Arthur's his charge, we both know that. But it doesn't mean his words aren't of any use to us."
"I've been restless of late. Winter's coming and there's so much to do. I should come, I know. I just wonder if there's any point to all of this." Cei bowed his head, lowering his eyes to the ground before him.
"The distance between you and he gets larger everyday. It doesn't mean he loves you any less. You're Arthur's hero, surely you see that." Bedivere plucked a blade of glass.
"I've been watching him train lately." Cei reached out, running his fingers along the sword laying beside him. "He's better than I was at that age."
"He's better than most of us were," Bedivere stripped the blade in half, straight down the seam. "Arthur's meant for other things."
Cei sighed quietly and crawled around to face Bedivere. He saw his foster brother lying on his back, stretched out, head cushioned by the grass. He snorted to himself, quietly, and laid down on his stomach, one hand still within reach of his sword, the other a hand's distance from Bedivere. "I am feeling the unease of responsibility, I admit to it. I'm allowed, I think. You needn't chase me down every time I withdraw."
Bedivere smiled lazily. "And if I do not, who will? Arthur thinks it's all his fault, even though he's too young to see, really, what's happening around him."
Cei plucked a blade of grass from the ground and rolled it between his forefinger and thumb. Green ground into the rough calluses of his fingers. "I'll try harder."
Bedivere reached out and snatched the crumbling blade from Cei's hand. "I suppose I force the issue because I don't understand. Your future is laid out before you, Cei. What have you to worry? You have this land, it will be your own someday. This land and these people. What more matters than that?"
"These people who will always wish I were more than half my father's son?" Cei looked at him, his pale green eyes darkening.
Bedivere arched an eyebrow. "You will be a good leader, as soon as you stop being so melancholy. The people will love you. They already do." He propped himself up, elbows on the ground. "I don't know why you and Wart are so frantic about the future. You both have your fates laid out. Yours at your father's behest and Arthur has whatever it is that Merlin is preparing him for. If anything, I should be the nervous one."
Cei's face twisted but he said nothing.
Bedivere looked away, off to the castle in the distance. "I have no family to guide me, no footsteps in which to follow. I am the only one of us who must make his own way in the world."
Bedivere squinted, unable to stand the stark brightness of the sun. "I am the one who will earn my keep from other men."
"You will always have a place here. You know that. My father would never willingly part from you. You are his child, as much as Arthur, as much as me." Cei reached out, squeezing Bedivere's shoulder awkwardly.
Bedivere looked at the ground and smiled tightly. "I won't burden your father any longer than I have to, Cei. He has given me more than enough."
"You aren't a burden," Cei shook his head. "You're a good fighter."
"You said it yourself, Arthur will be better," Bedivere reminded him, his voice sounding more cheerful than he looked.
"Arthur will not be here forever," Cei reminded him. Bedivere opened his mouth to reply but Cei beat him there. "I will be."
Bedivere frowned and turned his head over to look at Cei, confusion on his face.
"I would have you with me. You could train my people. I would have no one else beside me." Cei's words came out a rush.
"I…" Bedivere trailed off, unsure of what to say.
"I would have you with me," Cei repeated.
"If you require my presence so, then I would stay." Bedivere bowed his head.
"I do," Cei said firmly.
"Not patient enough to train your men, I think," Bedivere grinned, his mouth wide and open.
"My lack of patience is legendary," Cei agreed, smiling back.
Far off they heard a shout, their names in succession. They raised their heads, looking to the east and seeing Arthur and Merlin fast approaching. Bedivere stood up fluidly, brushing grass from his breeches. Cei pushed himself off the ground, coming to stand just behind Bedivere.
"We've been looking everywhere for you," Arthur said, breathless, when he met them.
"Have you?" Bedivere asked. "Obviously you haven't been looking very hard, Wart."
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Oh honestly, Bedivere."
"Cei, Bedivere." Merlin tilted his head in greeting.
"Lord Merlin," they replied in unison, bowing their heads.
"We were going to have a lesson in the forest this morning. Would you grace us with your company?" Merlin arched his eyebrows questioningly. "You absences have been slowing us."
"Of course, my lord." Cei shot Bedivere a look and Bedivere looked suitably guilty.
Merlin smiled. "Good." He took the lead, his large staff marking the beat of their pace.
"Absences?" Cei hissed at Bedivere.
"We've been reviewing Latin," Bedivere ducked his head. "You know I'm terrible with Latin."
"Come along, lads!" Merlin called.
"Yes sir," all three of them chorused and they scrambled to follow Merlin into the forest.