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The oil from the lamp drips soundlessly by their feet soon it won't be needed, the sun rising, they can see it in the way the air shifts around them, over their shoulders, the way the world starts to smell of dew. They've been too distracted to notice the change in the light. Camelot will be rising soon, the guards will take their shifts soon they will no longer be alone.

Arthur pants, resting his hand on a nearby wood pillar. Whose house is this, they don't know, they are beyond city walls, freedom, open air, open space to move. Arthur pants.

`Do you give up?´ Gwen offers, she is breathing laboriously too, but, unlike Arthur, she can stand on her own.

He frowns sometimes she really annoys him. He takes a stumbling step towards her and Gwen raised her sword as a warning. No, not warning, Arthur knows by a shadow of a smile on her lips, not warning, defiance. Challenge. She's become quite a match for him, on the battleground. These practice sessions only serve to confirm her promise. It would be a good thing if a Queen could fight as well as a King and when did Arthur Pendragon start thinking like this? Gwen had been a constant presence in his life, like the castle, like this earth, like the wind, almost invisible. Now he looks at her: the tiny proud figure, her brow covered in sweat, with barely enough strength to hold the sword but she is holding it.

Arthur takes a long breath before walking on.

`Do you surrender?´ she taunts him further.

`Never,´ he smiles. `Never to a girl

He charges. She is expecting him but unprepared, the sword raised in protection at the very last moment. Their swords meet over her chest. Arthur shows his teeth, looking less like a prince and more like a hungry animal. Both hold their ground admirably, groaning, panting. A solitary lark that was quietly leaping through the damp grass is disturbed, and flies away.

They are both too weak, after hours of exercise. They pressure increases and they both fall to the ground, Arthur on top of Gwen and the two swords between them.

`Not bad,´ Gwen says breathlessly, but she refuses to give in one inch.

`Mmmph,´ Arthur is too worn out for anything but a non-committal response, he is very aware of his weight on Gwen's body, he is very aware of her hips, the rebellious strands of hair falling on her face, the smell of her sweat, the smell of the soft, wet soil around them.

A rooster crows nearby, outside the city wall. They are startled, it gives them pause.

`Truce?´ Gwen offers.

Arthur feels her shift a bit under him, her hipbone brushing- fuck he thinks, suddenly aware of, of everything really, truce, truce, truce his mind screams hysterically, in a moment the game has become too much. Gwen has become too much. He wants to get away. He is too proud to get away.

`A king must know when to fight on and when to settle for a truce,´ Arthur finally concedes, trying to sound as calm and distant as he can. His voice breaks a little at the end.

They throw their swords to one side, but they don't move away. They don't get up. Arthur breathes slowly and slowly notices Gwen's chest rising and falling under his chest, the pressure and shape of her breasts under his weight. They breathe on each other's faces, neither wanting to admit defeat this time. Gwen has that look on her face, he knows it, defiance again. He doesn't like that look one bit.

They shuffle a bit and kick the ground with their boots -mist and grass and dust turned into mud- and Arthur holds Gwen down, one hand on her left wrist, the other across her chest. They struggle, as if each trying to disentangle from the other, but who is fighting whom, who is keeping whom caged. In a thunder-roar moment of a second -Arthur thinks it's when Gwen threw her head to one side and her nose brushed his chin- it's like they have forgotten their names, or become different people, shed skins like snakes, changed leaves like trees, erode like stones at the sides of the river-

-and with that same clarity and confusion and helplessness of nature and bright sun and tides, Arthur puts his mouth over Gwen. He is surprised at how surprised he is by it all, he has to admit it has been there, for weeks, months, maybe years, hovering over them. Gwen makes a sharp, falling sound under his lips. Yes, they have forgotten who they are or where or the city that lies by their side or the swords in the dirty, their names; in exchange they have become very aware of the dirt under their fingernails as their hands dig into the ground, searching for an anchor for their bodies, very aware of the heartbeat of birds, very aware of the speed of spring, the half-rotten apple at the foot of the nearest tree; they have become especially aware of the cracks in their lips, the blue-pink-orange of the horizon, the scars on their knees from when they were kids coming alive to the touch.

There is a silent agreement of the moment, a this is going to happen sort of truce; they understand the meaning but they avoid each other's eyes; Gwen shifts her hips, Arthur presses his forehead against her neck; they avoid each other's gaze, Arthur watches her in fascination, when Gwen closes her eyes and her mouth turns wet, slack, Arthur's hand suddenly between her legs. Arthur feels the warmth of her thighs pressed against his palm, he feels the dampness of her body through the linen of her clothes, the heat... The heat reminds him of horses, the way he would put his hand on a horse's back and feel its entire body pulsating with heat. Arthur feels a second heartbeat.

`Do you give up?´ He asks, smiling, even if the smile it's an effort in bravery, the battle was won and lost long ago.

They have been avoiding each other's eyes but Gwen looks at him -is this a joke? is that all?- but his breathing struggles just like hers and his body is raw just like hers and he is in love just like she is.

`Never,´ she replies.

It takes all the energy she didn't know she still had but she takes Arthur by the wrists and twists his arms and turns him on his side, positions changed and reversed. Now she sits on top of him -Arthur groans, not entirely out of pain but mainly out of pain, and surprise-, holding his hands at his side for a moment. Then she sits up, Arthur's hands are free but he doesn't want to be free. Gwen brushes some hair out of her face with a proud gesture; it makes Arthur's bones turn to liquid, that gesture, that pride.

`Gwen...´ he moans as a warning, because now she is sitting on his lap, sitting on his groin and there's only so much a man -even a future king- can stand.

She moves - Arthur feels his whole body like a severed limb that still hurts, there's a connection but there's nothing his brain can do about it, no command it can issue, the body just won't obey, it's become its own. Gwen moves: like riding a horse, brushing against him, up and down, just like breathing. The sensation is like somebody had set all of Arthur's clothes on fire.

She bends over him she puts her lips to his brow, she tastes salt she continues grinding into him, rocking his body, without a rhythm, clumsy like loose, wild, tiny beasts in the woods. There's a strange calm about Gwen, it drives Arthur crazy even more than the pressure of her body on his crotch. He wants to scream but finds no voice; he wants to kiss her, bite her, scratch her, be at war.

`´ Gwen mouths with her lips very close to Arthur's ear, almost touching. She presses her legs, very tight, around his hips. Arthur looks up, not breathing, another gulp of air into his mouth, his lungs filling, his chest rising, his body shifting under Gwen's body, it would be too painful. The morning has settled; when he looks up, Arthur sees Gwen, her hair, the outlines of her body, the familiar profile of her neck and shoulders, lit up against the sun, blocking it, everything red, red, red around her.

`Yes,´ Arthur says finally, surrenders the words rather than utter them. `Yes, Guinevere, I give up.