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If I Cannot Be Your Queen

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My dear Arthur,

You say you cannot bear to see me, but I hope it does not pain you to read this note, to know that I am alive. Some might even say that I am fortunate, that I am well. Yesterday I arrived at Hunith's home, and she embraced me as a mother would her own daughter. You've been here before. You know that her house is small, the food meager and tasteless, but that she makes everything warm. She gave me her own bed to sleep in and says the neighbours will help me build my own house if I decide to stay.

I wish I could go back to your dungeon.

You know what those cells are like, for you've been there before too. It is dank and cold and smells of rot, rats and waste. In the night after you found me I did not sleep, but I lay down in the thin straw, and in the morning my back pained me more than the night you made me sleep on the floor of my own house. The guards laughed at me and called me a whore. The food you give your prisoners is disgusting. (I'm not sure it's fit for anyone, even one as low as I.)

I would live there for the rest of my life, if only I could be near you. If only, from time to time, you would come down to visit me. If I cannot be your queen, would you not make me your prisoner, your slave?

That is the danger, isn't it? That your knights, your enemies and your rivals will see a traitor at your side and think there are no consequences for disloyalty? Then let them see a captive at your side and ponder what may befall them if they betray you. Put shackles on my wrists and a collar around my neck and have me kneel before your throne.

You could even take me outside, use me as an example so the people too can learn to fear you. Let me bow my neck in the stocks while the children hurl their rubbish at me and all of Camelot jeers. You could chain me to the whipping post, Arthur, and let me bleed for you, for the crime of hurting you. I will beg for your forgiveness but I won't beg for the pain to stop. I will show them all how much I love you still.

But perhaps that's not enough for you. Agravaine worries about what the others think, but you sent me away to protect yourself, your own broken heart. I tell you honestly, I still cannot understand what came over me, but do you really believe that I would make the same mistake again? Even if you do think so little of me, surely a king can keep a captive to himself. Keep me in your dungeon and tell your guards to behave. Or keep me chained to your bed and let no servants enter when you are not there.

Did you know that after their visit to Camelot, King Olaf had his daughter's hips and her sex clad in armour so that no man or maid can touch her? Have my brother forge such a thing – or another smith, if you will not trust anyone in my family – and give you the only key. I would wear it joyfully. I wish never in my life to be opened to anyone but you.

(Or perhaps, instead, you could remember something else about Lady Vivian: how you kissed her in front of three kings and my best friend and told the whole world that you loved her with your whole heart. You could remember how you hurt and shamed me that day, and how I forgave you when it was over.)

I asked Hunith if I should send you her regards, and she said she would only wish to see you if you would come here and beg for my forgiveness. That if you would punish me for what I've done then I am better off alone. I am hiding this letter from her. She means well but she does not know my heart.

I do not want to be alone. It is I who wish to beg, I who wish to submit to whatever punishment you decide I deserve.

If you will not take me back at least take my words and my love. Please write to me to say you are not dead, that I am not dead in your eyes.

Always, always yours,