Notes: In my mind, this piece occurs following that unfortunate Questing Beast and resulting Magical Illness incident. I've made the assumption that, while Arthur and Hunith may have miraculously survived, it still takes them a while to recover. As a result, they have spent a little time together and Hunith has the dubious pleasure of having a conversation with Uther.
“You must be cold, sitting here and waiting.” The voice behind Hunith is cool and urbane. “Here. Take this.”
A cloak is placed about her shoulders; competent hands smooth it into place.
“Thank you, sire. But I couldn’t possibly … You will be cold then.” She begins to remove the cloak from her shoulders, marveling at the smooth texture of the rich fabric and fur lining, the weight of it in her hands.
“No, I won’t. I have brought my own. The cloak you wear is my son’s; I merely intercepted the servant he sent to bring it to you. I suspect he would have joined you himself, but I felt that it was time he began to resume some of his duties, and I instructed him to do so.”
Uther’s voice, she thinks, is not unlike the cloak she wears about her shoulders. Smooth, rich, and carrying an unexpected weight.
“Then I thank you for delivering it to me, sire. May I ask you to thank the prince on my behalf for the kindness he shows by lending me something so fine?”
“It’s not a loan. He’s had it cut to fit you. I will relay your thanks to him although I am certain that you will have the opportunity to thank him yourself.”
“Again, your majesty, thank you. Both you and the prince have done too much for me as it is; I do not deserve anything so fine.”
“Indeed.” She stiffens a little when he says this, and she knows how ridiculous she must appear to him, a peasant woman, weathered by years of unrelenting work and well suited to wearing her homespun, covered in a prince’s finery. She keeps her head bowed and her eyes lowered, but she can feel the force of his gaze as he considers her. “Yet my son always seems inspired to give generously to you and yours.”
“I am …” she starts and stops herself, certain that she needs to tread carefully here. She speaks cautiously, “We are aware of the honor he does us, and we have no desire to impose upon Prince Arthur’s kindness. We only wish to serve him as best we are able and as your majesty deems fit.”
“I have no doubt of your loyalty or your son’s for that matter. Indeed, if I were not convinced that neither he nor you sought to use my son for your own gain, I would have already dealt with both of you.”
“As I would expect, your highness. But you need have no fear; we are both loyal to your son and to you.”
“You are a little more diplomatic than your son. He is, however, most entertaining. I am certain that you also understand that the issue at hand is not that you and your son are not loyal to the prince but rather that he returns that sentiment too strongly. He tends to forget his place and his duties around the two of you. He has twice followed your son into danger against my express wishes.”
“We would not seek to distract the prince from his duties or cause him to forget his place. Neither I nor Merlin asked for his aid after you forbade it.”
“I know. You did not ask. Merlin did not ask. He does not ask, at least not for himself. And still Arthur does.” His gloved fingers trace the collar of the cloak she wears and curve over her shoulder. They remain there, hard and heavy. “I am sure you understand my concern; I am certain you wish to ensure that your son remains safe as I do mine.”
He has come to the point then, she thinks. There is little reason to mince words or waste time with subtlety. She meets his eyes and speaks, “What is your will, sire? What would you have me do? Shall I take Merlin with me when I go?”
He watches her, hand sliding from her shoulder to her neck and to her face, eyes never moving from hers.
He smiles thinly and moves his thumb along her cheekbone as he pretends to consider. She is quite certain that he had made his decision long before he set out to meet her. He is merely here to declare his will and so she waits for him to do so.
“No, I will not take Merlin from him. I do not entirely trust Arthur’s response to that, should I fail to give him sufficient reason for the removal. While that uncertainty troubles me, I believe it is outweighed, for the moment, by the fact that your son would willingly give his life to protect mine. That is something I can appreciate. I need to know that Arthur is safe. As long as he is, then Merlin is also safe.”
“Then your majesty need have no fear. He is safe.”