Part One: Foundations
He woke up walking. He was in his castle, with tall towers –one of which he was perusing right at that very moment- and solid walls made out of mismatched pieces of stone and rock that he felt when he pressed his palms against the surface. The corridors were lined with marble at the sides and the ceiling high above him. There was a rustle of fabric coming from behind him and he turned, hoping to see a face behind the sound but he realized it was just the sound of his red cape trailing behind him.
He smiled to himself, as if saying, of course.
He wondered how much time he had to explore the castle, even though he knew the land with his eyes closed. He knew that if he turned right and went up the stairs there, he would be welcomed to a row of guest rooms, each furnished with magnificent bedding –red in colour, of course- and a bowl of fresh fruit for each of the guests. He knew that if he turned back and went down the winding stairs, went further ahead, just a bit, he would smell the cooking of the kitchen staff and maybe poke his head into the spare window he found just to see what he would be eating for lunch.
He knew that his own chambers were at the end of the hallway he would find if he stepped back a few steps. He knew that just a few steps ahead from where he was standing a window stood.
He stopped walking as he saw the window overlooking the outside. He poked his head through it, trying to breathe in the life outside the window, down by the marketplace. He liked going there, liked blending in with the rest of the crowd, seeing what it was the world outside his castle had to offer him in such a limited space crowded by people. Sometimes, when they saw him, they would part their ways for him but, mostly, he never wanted them to. He wanted to see the world as they saw it, feel the smells around him like some odd security blanket.
The world smelt like smoke and freshly-baked pastry this morning. He wondered if it always smelt like this, he forgot what they smelt like on other mornings. Why was that?
His chainmail was getting heavy around his body and he yearned to take the armour off and go to bed for a while. Not yet, though, he told himself. He withdrew himself from the window, from the world outside that would still be waiting for him when he got back and walked more hurriedly –more with a purpose- towards the main room further ahead.
It wasn’t just the main room to him, it was where he found himself in the midst of capes and chainmail, found his purpose and aim in life. The room seemed to be empty, as light poured into it through the stained glass windows that painted streams of light on the hardwood floors, as if they were celebratory streamers, welcoming him back to where he belonged.
It was a big expansive space, framed with wooden floors and stone walls, that gave him the peace of being himself at being alone. There was a long, red carpet leading further ahead and he smiled at the sight for, there, right there at the end of the room, was a throne. Perhaps, to others, it was nothing more than a decorative chair for someone important to sit on but to him, however, it was a symbol of his efforts for getting here. He deserved to sit here, to adjust the crown upon his head and the red cape around him, to look presentable to the fates that led him here.
Perhaps he was just boasting himself a bit more than he should but efforts should be celebrated, should they not? Efforts were, were they not, the only thing one had at the end of the day. The effort to get out of bed, to live, to know without uncertainty what their plan was for that day and all the days after.
Maybe it wasn’t wishes or hopes or dreams or naïve ideals that float away along with your adolescence as you grow up and become hardened with the tough facts of life: that it was all about survival and to get what you came for, no matter what it took. Maybe it was this, it was fighting and surviving until there was nothing left to take but everything left to give for others.
The thing was, as his eyes surveyed the throne room, he became frighteningly aware at how his hands were getting wrinkled and withered from age; at how he leaned in his seat with no seeming energy. He became frighteningly aware that he was alone and he’d been alone for a while now.
He was woken up with a sharp prod in his ribs. His eyes made an effort to open without his consent only to be blinded by the morning sun and he only groaned at the contact.
“Oy, come on, then!” another poke came.
“I hate you,” he managed to grumbled.
“No, you don’t, you sod. Your life would be miserable without me,” the other voice said and he could almost see his smirk.
“Hey, don’t forget who you’re talking to!”
“Yeah, I’m talking to Uther Pendragon, insufferable twat, my best friend and future leader of us all, may the Gods help us,” his friend chuckled.
Uther opened his eyes and saw his best friend sitting at the edge of his bed. Readily dressed, Gaius looked at him like a mother hen with his green eyes shot disapprovingly. Usually, if anyone else put on the demeanour, he’d get out of bed and do something about it but Gaius’s hair ruined the whole illusion, what with the red hair poking this way and that like it was on crack.
“We’ve got a class, Uther, come on,” Gaius prodded him again to which Uther surrendered, saying, “Okay! I give! I’ll get dressed, you loser.”
“You better,” Gaius stood up, crossing his arms. “Have you looked in the mirror lately? I bet I could even look a right side better than you on my hangover days, mate. And, really? Loser? That’s the best insult you can come up with?”
“Alright, alright, I’m going! And you know the best way to wake me up is not to play Iron and Wine, you know they put me to sleep. Play some goddamn Arcade Fire, at least.” He got off the bed and he may or may not have kicked Gaius in the shins in the process but his best friend didn’t have a witty remark or anything, he knew better than to retaliate in a fight when they were supposed to be in a hurry. “Honestly, mate, how does Alice cope with you?”
“Well, I’m nice to her,” Gaius answered, smiling fondly at the thought of his girlfriend.
“So what? I’ve got to shag you to get special treatment?”
“Pretty much, yeah. I’ll wait here, go on then,” he gestured to the toilet. “Oh, and just for insulting Iron and Wine, I’ll wake you up with the Small World song next time.”
“You have been reduced to cheap tricks, Germaine. You’re tacky and I hate you.”
Uther dodged the incoming pillow coming his way and stuck his tongue out as he took his towel. Yeah, they were really mature.
Their room wasn’t much; it was just one bed on each side of the room but it was spacious in between them. It was like there was a line drawn on the floor to keep from getting their stuff mixed up but they ended up getting mixed up anyway. That was alright, wasn’t it? That was what it was like with best friends: there was no real sense of ownership with either of their stuff and Uther was pretty okay with Gaius touching or sharing his things. There was a window on the wall, one desk for each of them and that was basically it.
Uther’s family had money, had a big house and nice cars to fit inside their spacey garage but his father said that the only way his son could see the real world and grow within it is to limit his expenses and, so, instead of being top priority at the uni, he got the normal rooms normal guys got. Not that he minded, he knew that there was not going to be real success if he started at the top. He had that ideal ever since he was a boy and it was too late to take it back.
There was obviously no room for a toilet in this space to they had to make do with a shared toilet across the hall. Luckily, everyone else had bathed and gotten ready for class –he probably shouldn’t mention that to Gaius or else it’d be even more evidence for him to say Uther was a lazy slob- so he didn’t need to share. Gaius was right about one thing, though, he looked horrible.
On good days, his dark hair would be messy in a neat kind of way but now it was just messy like someone decided to unleash a tornado around him. His blue eyes looked a bit bloodshot and oh god how much did he drink last night?
However much it was, he really should not be held responsible because his guardian last night was Gorlois. Gaius had to go to a date with Alice, which left him, Gorlois and his on-and-off lady friend Vivian in the nearby pub. The combination of all three of them and bad 90s pop music was never to be trusted because he could vaguely remember the bubblegum pop tunes of Spice Girls and Gorlois yelling in his ear to ‘tell me what you want, what you really, really want.’
Uther sighed, looking at his face, and then decided he should probably get ready.
When he got back to the room, he found his best friend on his bed packing his bags and smiling at him. He was always a little bit more calm after seeing that they were just a bit more closer to leaving. He was a bit anal, Gaius was, always organized on his side of the room and he wanted to get to class on time but, ever since meeting Uther a few months ago at the beginning of the school year, he learned to loosen up a bit. A bit being the emphasized part of the sentence.
Part of him felt lucky that this was the only class he and Gaius shared because he didn’t have to wake up like this all the time but, once again, as the sentimental side of him took over, it was weird to only have one class with your close friend.
“Come on, then, I’m ready,” Uther said when he finally put on his jacket.
It was weird, though, wasn’t it? To call someone your best friend after barely three months together? Uther had a lot of friends in high school but none of them came over to Caerleon Academy to study, they all scattered across the country, even the world, and, of course, they promised to keep in touch but, after a while, they never did.
When they left, Uther met Gaius. It wasn’t the sort of meeting that would go down in the books, though –the first time they met, Gaius opened the door to Uther’s face, resulting in him having a bump on his head and a wicked headache during fresher orientation. They sat together then, with Gaius apologizing profusely, but that was that. After that, it was just them. No effort required.
It was also weird, he supposed, how close they were considering the fact that they were both on different paths as far as careers and academics were concerned. The pre-law student with the future doctor –even though Gaius liked the term ‘physician’ better.
“Hey, Uther!” a familiar voice hollered at him on the way to the lecture hall. Gorlois, accompanied, as always, by Vivian. “Stop! In the name of love!”
“Oh, now, that’s just unfair,” Uther said to Gorlois. “Aren’t you hungover at all?”
“I’ve got my secret ways of getting over a drunken night, Pendragon, maybe I should show you one of these days,” Gorlois smirked, arm going around Viv’s waist.
“Please do, I’ve suffered through many a hangover with the bloke,” Gaius said to them.
They looked like the picture perfect couple, both of them, with Gorlois’s good looks he had no problem with showing off –the dark hair, the build girls always love from the swimming- and Vivian with her own beauty –stereotypical blonde hair and full lips that guys fawn over. If this was a 80s high school movie, Gorlois and Vivian would definitely be that couple that was followed by light shows or a wind machine when they walk down the hallway.
“We’ll see you later, Uther?” Vivian asked him and he nodded. People always figured Viv wouldn’t be as sweet as she was, being the way she looked and how she carried herself but if there was anyone to defy all stereotypes, it’d be her. In fact, Uther wondered sometimes if she was a Women’s Studies minor just to make sure people got her point.
They said goodbye and Gaius tugged on Uther so they wouldn’t be late to the class. The lecture hall was already pretty full by the time they got there but it wasn’t like that was an issue because they had seats saved for them.
Technically speaking, there were no assigned seats but that didn’t bother them. For three months, they’d been sitting at the same spot and they probably always would. Nim waved them over to their seats next to her and they shuffled until Uther was in the middle of the two of them.
“Nim, tell him we’re not late,” Uther said to her.
Nim smiled to Gaius and said, “Calm your balls, you’re not late.”
“My balls are very calm, thank you very much,” Gaius smirked.
“Run and tell dat, homeboy,” Uther laughed and settled in his seat.
Nim smiled at them both and opened her notebook to start copying down the History notes. To think, Uther almost never joined this class because he wondered what it would do for him as far as a legal future career went but, here he was regardless. But, truth was, he hardly thought Gaius belonged here, either, with being pre-med, and sometimes Nim, although she was a ruddy Philosophy major, barely fit in here either.
She always said she was never really interested Philosophy, she was really just interested in Magical Studies but the university only offered it as a minor. It was lucky the academy offered it at all because Magical Studies was something they didn’t normally teach around here. Or anywhere, for that matter.
Uther always thought Nim was more fitted to that, though, those out-of-the-world things that most people found out of reach, she belonged in that realm of reality. Even her appearance, all dark hair and fair skin, seemed to emphasize that fact.
“I’m hungry,” Uther said to anyone that would listen. Nim raised her eyebrows. “What? Gaius didn’t feed me this morning.”
“Shut up, you sod,” Gaius grumbled next to him. “We’re having breakfast after this.”
“Ah but you’re forgetting, I’ve got Political Science after this,” Uther noted.
“Riigghhhttt,” Gaius nodded, putting on a sing-song voice. It was rare that Uther ever wanted to punch the smile right off his friend’s face but, whenever he did this, the urge always came back. “Political Science.”
Thankfully, Nim, though knowing exactly what Political Science meant, refrained from teasing him all the same and gave him one half of the sandwich she had in her bag and it was warm like it’d just been cooked. Having a magical friend was a perk sometimes.
Strictly speaking, Political Science should be his most hated subject. He never really wanted to take it; he only took it because he should, what with his future career path. It would give him some insight on his political choices in the future: to see the ones people took before him. He had no friends in this class; Gaius was, after all, pre-med and had no need for Political Science and Gorlois always often joked he was majoring in fun and, in fact, not engineering, so he refused to take classes where he had to go out of his way to understand the ways of others. Not even Nim, even though she belonged to the liberal arts college, she took Ethics and Philosophy, not wanting to learn about the stature of other governments.
Obviously, he should’ve hated this class. But he didn’t. Because, on the first day of class a few months ago, Uther found himself in shambles and ran to class a bit late and there were only a few seats left. He refused to sit at the back of the lecture hall like some kind of lazy arse but sitting at the front would only label him as some kind of teacher’s pet. It was funny how uni was really no different than high school; they were all bred in a factory system with the same fears. Uther found himself in the middle of the lecture hall, with a good view of the professor, and decent people next to him.
Then, as fate would have it, his pen fell from his grasp while he was writing notes and bounced to the seat in front of him. He cursed but the girl in front of him just laughed, took the pen and turned around. There she was, right then and there, as if there should be cheesy music playing in the background as she brushed strands of hair out of her eyes and smiled at him, handing back his pen. Her hair was blonde, tied up in a lazy ponytail, face smooth and smile genuine.
Uther wasn’t one to have crushes –girls usually had crushes on him- but this girl seemed to be worth it, at least in the few moments he had with her. Ygraine, her name was, Ygraine de Bois, but she hated the name, she told him.
“Ray,” she had said to him. “Just call me Ray.”
“Uther,” he had responded back.
They were acquaintances outside class, that was it, they smiled at each other when they saw each other in hallways and politely gave them way at the local Starbucks. But, in class, well, he liked to think they were friends in class.
It wasn’t as if it wasn’t actually awkward talking to someone who was a seat in front of you but they made do. First, it was just the note passing and the normal, “You okay?” when he saw her cough or when she was absent during classes, then it got better. Then, Uther started whispering jokes into her ear about he thought their professor was some kind of slug worm because he moved around like he had no spine and she started trying to conceal her laughter behind subtle movements of her hand.
“I hate you,” she had told him once which was good because he always thought that the true point of when friendship started was when they started insulting each other with absolutely no guilt whatsoever. It was why Sam and Dean always called themselves jerk and bitch, right? Sure, they were brothers but the point still stood.
The thing was, though, Uther hadn’t figured out what he wanted. Not to say that he wanted something from everyone he knew but all things had a purpose, right? And this thing with Ray, if it even constituted as a thing, he didn’t know why he was doing it. It was odd because he was always doing things according to a plan or leading to somewhere but Ray completely threw him off the map.
Clearly all his friends thought he was completely in love with her and he wanted to get it on with her, as Gorlois said, but it wasn’t just that. He supposed he wasn’t completely against the idea of it being okay that he knew her odd quirks and using them, like helping her into a jacket when it dropped a certain temperature or making sure things were exactly right in her coffee. But, actually, he respected her far too much for that.
He sighed, crossing his arms and burrowing deeper into his jacket, feeling comfortable in his own cage of thoughts. It was okay, he told himself, he didn’t have to figure this out right now. He could just go on being confused for a while; it was good for him to feel things he couldn’t figure out.
“Hey, you okay?” Ray nudged him and Uther realized the class was over.
“Just lost in my own thoughts, I guess,” Uther shrugged.
“Anything interesting?” Ray asked, holding up her books against her chest.
Uther almost wanted to laugh. “Nah.”
He saw her raise an eyebrow –how was it that girls always knew how to do that and have that silent judgement face like you just grew an extra head- and shrugged it off. She was starting towards the door which meant that she was stepping outside the friendship zone and they were acquaintances from that point on. It was fucking ridiculous, actually, who ever said that their friendship had to be confined to the lecture hall?
“You wanna go get some coffee?” he found himself asking her, just to spite this unspoken rule fuck knows who made up. It could’ve been him, though, when he was looking but he’s looking now.
“Coffee?” Ray asked him.
“It’s a caffeinated beverage that’s enjoyed by many a person, young or old, and it’s conveniently served at a Starbucks five minutes away.”
Ray bowed her head and laughed. When she looked at him again, she said, “Sure. Coffee.”
The university was big, so Uther only figured that the walk to Starbucks would be a bit awkward and long as they passed the hallways but it seemed like Ray initiated conversation just for the sake of the same fear.
“So, Uther, I don’t seem to know much about you,” she said.
“What do you wanna know?” Uther turned up his collar in the cold January winter. It still smelt like Christmas, for some reason.
“Well, for starters, where do you live? Student housing or do you live off campus?” the way she asked that implied that she knew he had money and was probably forming the thought that he was some kind of arrogant prick. Maybe he was, he wasn’t sure yet.
“Student housing. I live over at Constantine, roommate’s a complete idiot, though,” Uther laughed a bit, thinking about how Gaius would react to that.
“Oh yeah? I live at Cornwall.”
“My mate Gorlois lives there!” Uther said and that might’ve been just a tad too enthusiastic. He didn’t want her to think he was a big gay or anything.
“Yeah, I know Vivian. I’ve met Gorlois in passing. Oh, don’t tell me,” Ray started looking excited and Uther was seriously considering hiding his head in shame because Viv and Gorlois had some stories on him, “are you the bloke they told me about that snorted vodka jelly and ended up vomiting all over Viv?”
“Yeah, that’s me,” Uther smiled awkwardly.
“Viv still hasn’t forgiven you for that, you know.” She laughed then, covering her mouth with her hand. He wished she wouldn’t.
“I wouldn’t forgive myself either. But I bought her a new shirt the next day.”
“Wrong size, though, she uses it as a pillow cover.”
“My choices in clothing are horrible and I take full credit for that.”
“Nah,” Ray said, looking him down. “You look good enough.”
Uther looked at her and smiled. There it was, that confidence again, the complete non-effort that came with friendships that he figured could last. Ray looked away and gave her attention to her phone, instead as it beeped.
“Oh, uh,” Ray started to say but Uther guessed.
“Raincheck?” Uther asked her with a smile, trying to disguise the fact that he was actually a bit disappointed.
Ray stopped for a moment, stopped packing and just set her eyes on him as she said, “Definitely.”
“Hey,” Gaius greeted him when he entered the library, slamming his books on the table.
“Violent towards the literature today, then?” the other boy asked with a smirk.
“What, do you think you’re funny, do you Geoff?” Gaius asked, sitting down across him.
“A bit, yeah.”
“And I thought you were nice,” Gaius said. Geoff was looking down at his books, but Gaius knew he could see a smile playing around his lips. He knew he was just joking, Geoff was always nice.
Geoffrey Magister –although if you weren’t his professor and you called him Geoffrey, you were probably going to be the victim of an excellent withering stare because he was taller than most guys and had this really great quality of staring someone down until they felt inferior- was probably the most solid and honourable chap he’s met, besides the withering stare of course. Uther always had Gorlois when he wasn’t with Gaius and when Uther was off and away or Alice, even, for that matter, Geoff provided the company.
Sometimes, he even liked Geoff better. He was good company and he was willing to listen, unlike Uther was most times. And he wasn’t boring, either, he was interesting and he knew a lot of shit most people would find useless but he found fascinating. He was studying English Lit in the college but Gaius could see the glint in his eyes when Gaius started talking about his pre-med stuff, like he was interested. He’d brush it off, though, just saying that he only liked it when Gaius was talking to him about it.
It was nice, just hanging out with Geoff like this because Geoff had this talent with silences, where he would make them comfortable, not awkward. Just, once in a while in the silence, he’d look up and smile at him or make a little joke that would make him want to smack him for distracting him from his studying, and that made all the other moments of dead silence incredibly at peace. And plus, he’d tap his fingers on the table or hum Beatles songs under his breath so that made it all the more comfortable.
Gaius was beginning to wonder if it wasn’t a talent, after all, maybe he just felt that way with him. Cause people sometimes found tapping and humming annoying, right? He just could never find it in himself to be annoyed at Geoff at all.
“What’re you doing?” Gaius asked him, taking out his anatomy textbooks out of his bag.
“Studying my namesake,” Geoff answered absent-mindedly.
“Canterbury Tales? I thought you memorized that shit already.”
“Ah,” Geoff smiled at him with his finger up, trying to mimic his professor. Gaius snuck into one of his Lit classes one, just for fun, and found it strangely fascinating. He never thought much of it in high school but just seeing Geoff there, debating on literary devices of Thoreau was kind of cool, just like how Geoff found anatomy interesting. “But the mind only remembers what it wants, not what it must.”
“The next great poet, you are.”
“Nah, I can’t get into poetry. It’s kind of exhausting to try to get to the point.”
“Maybe there isn’t a point at all, maybe it’s all a metaphor,” Gaius laughed.
“Maybe the blue curtains were symbolizing his depression!”
“Instead of just symbolizing the fact he just liked the fucking colour!”
The librarian gave them a loud shush that reduced the two boys into silent gags of laughter.
“I swear, if we were all just studying Lemony Snicket, life would be so much easier. Now, that is great twenty-first century literature,” Geoff told him, trying to get back to his book.
“Preach it to the choir,” Gaius said. “Although, I’m pre-med so the change of literature syllabus won’t really affect me greatly.”
“I’m still intrigued as to why you chose pre-med, if you hate it so much.”
“I don’t hate it!”
“Oh, please, I’ve suffered through the study nights, Gaius.”
Gaius knew that he had the habit of being a complete nutjob during study nights, nights where his coursework was due the next day and it was completely Uther’s fault that it wasn’t going to be on time. He would barely know what he was talking about, coherency be damned, so he had to have a guardian around making sure he didn’t mention boobs or write down numerous curse words on the document. Geoff always volunteered which was always weird because Gaius was worse on study nights than anyone would be on a drunken night. Mostly because he’d remember it all the next day when he woke up from sleeping on the ruddy table.
“I’m in pre-med because I am. You know that feeling when you know you just do? In something, you just feel the way you feel, you just do?” Gaius asked him, leaning forward on the table.
He was never one of the kids that played around with the stethoscope or asked his parents to buy the full set for him, just so he could pretend to be saving the lives of his stuffed toys. Nah, he was the kid who went up to the top of the small hill at their neighbourhood and then attempt to roll down like a big ball of cheese. Suffice to say, there was a reason only cheese was rolled that way and he spent a week out of school because of the injuries. He was also the kid who looked at his injuries, poked a little at the blood coming out of the wound and started to wonder.
“Yeah, you just do,” Geoff nodded, then turned his attention back to his book.
“Hey, you,” a familiar voice crept up on him with a hand on his shoulder. He looked up and smiled at Alice. She leaned down to plant a soft kiss on him then sat down next to him.
“Hey, Geoff,” Alice said to him.
“Hullo, Alice,” Geoff gave him his customary smile. His customary, polite smile that was kind of like a curt nod to acquaintances. It sucked that they weren’t closer friends, Geoff and Alice, but they hardly found time to hang out together, just the three of them without Uther cockblocking the whole thing.
“You staying?” Gaius asked, putting his arm around her waist.
“Nah, I’ve got a meeting with one of the professors,” Alice smiled apologetically. “Just thought I’d stop by.”
He liked Alice, he really did; she was some kind of magic without the trouble of actually being magic. Gaius didn’t mean to be a cliché but he always thought that girls like Alice –all dirty blonde hair and wide smiles and wit- didn’t end up with ginger nerds like him. He was glad she did, though. He was happy with her, in this relationship that tasted like morning toast and smelled like worn-out sheets on the morning after the night before.
“I’ll see you later, then,” Gaius said, kissing her again. “I’m in good hands, see?”
Alice directed another smile to Geoff and nodded. Gaius thought she wished they were closer, too, instead of just being acquaintances through Gaius. He made a date with her for later as she walked away. Geoff leaned in his seat across from him and managed to put his feet up on the chair next to Gaius, his toes poking his side until he burst out laughing and the librarian looked at him like her claws were going to retract on his face.
Yeah, so sometimes, Geoff could be a bit of a brat.
There was like some kind of unspoken rule between all of them. If, for some glorious reason, they found themselves free for the morning, if there were no classes about to plague them in a few hours or coursework being hung around them like a tight noose, they’d all find themselves out of their rooms, perfectly dressed and ready, and walking to the café on campus. The campus was big, different colleges had different buildings and there was always the spare coffee cart here and there but, the thing was, they wanted to sit down, wanted to pull their feet up and look at each other’s faces when they talked instead of the road ahead.
And, the thing was, no one else really did. They weren’t slackers or anything; in fact Gaius was pretty sure they’d all been called brilliant at least once by the professors teaching their major, they just found it in themselves to see light in the dark classrooms in their friends.
Gaius learned early on that Uther liked crowds and was very much a people’s person –go figure- so it wasn’t much of a surprise that the people he surrounded himself with was a mix of more than a few young men and women. He ordered his normal –hot chocolate and a ham sandwich (Uther joked once that it was a kid’s order, like it was an insult)- and sat down next to Uther as he always did.
At the beginning of the year, it was just Uther and Gaius, roommates trying to get to know each other, sitting at a small table at the corner of the café, then Uther met Nim and he described her as a sort of firework and invited her to join in on their mornings. Gaius could see it as well, the spark, in her eyes and in her way, and everyone always seemed to be caught in her one way or another. Afterwards, Uther was introduced to Gorlois, the son of his father’s friend and formed a bond through the fact that they both thought they weren’t just shells of rich men’s sons.
Soon after, Gaius found a love in Alice, a fellow pre-med student who had lips he could kiss; lips that formed a smile and smirk all the same. The table felt full with good company as Gorlois invited his friend, Rupert, and girlfriend, Vivian, both beautiful and handsome in most classical sense but, when he met Geoff, there was no way he wasn’t bringing him along. Geoff had been awkward a bit at first but he found his rhythm, which was good because he didn’t want his good friend to feel alienated in Gaius’s group of friends; he wanted him to be comfortable, at ease, like he usually was when it was just them both.
He caught his eye now and smiled. Geoff looked at him and kept it in his laugh as he gestured to Gaius’s chin where the mayo was running down from eating his sandwich and he almost stopped his own conversation with Rupert because of it. Geoff was sometimes just too absent-minded.
Gaius looked down to his watch and sighed. He nudged Geoff with his elbow and stood up from the table. “I’m leaving,” Gaius said to Uther.
“Oy, where are you going, then?” Uther asked.
“Picking up Hunith from the station, don’t you remember?”
“I was supposed to follow you, wasn’t I? Why aren’t you kicking me yet?”
“Geoff’s following me instead,” Gaius answered, putting on his jacket.
Uther looked over to Geoff and gave him a thumbs-up, saying, “Bless you, mate. It’s not that I hate Hunith or Gaius or anything, I just-”
“He’s got to stay here so we can work on him finally getting over his absurd infatuation on Ray de Bois!” Gorlois yelled excitedly and Viv smacked him on the arm, as if to say that having a woman to want in life wasn’t the worst thing in life.
“Have fun with that, you lot,” Gaius laughed –mostly because he saw Uther blush from it, hinting the fact that he didn’t want to get over his crush on Ray.
He leaned down to kiss Alice goodbye (with a dirty promise being whispered in his ear) until Geoff interrupted with a cough. Right.
He and Geoff walked to his car and Geoff started driving because he knew better than to let Gaius drive before noon, so Gaius sat in the passenger seat, trying to find a radio station that didn’t make a habit of playing Ke$ha every five minutes. When he found one that was playing The Killers, he leaned in his seat, almost wanting to press his feet against the dashboard.
“Hey, Geoff?” Gaius asked.
“Yeah, Gaius,” Geoff said back, eyes on the road.
“You like my friends, right?” he asked, not really know why he was asking but also knowing he had to.
“Yeah, ‘course I do, I mean, they’ve all got their pros and cons but so do I. and, besides, they seem to be a solid lot if you think they are.” Geoff shrugged.
“Okay,” Gaius smiled to himself, happy with the answer.
“Why?” Geoff asked after a few moments of silence.
“Why did you wanna know if I like your friends?”
“Cos you’re my friend, too, I guess.”
“Yeah,” Geoff said, eyes still on the road but Gaius couldn’t help but feel like he was looking at him, anyway. “But just because I’m your friend doesn’t mean I should be theirs, too. I could just hang out with you and not them.”
“I guess but they’re important to me and you’re kinda important to me, too and it’d be nice if all the important people in my life got along. And, you know, just cos you’re not with me sometimes, it doesn’t mean you have to be alone.”
“Oy!” Geoff managed to smack him on the arm with one hand on the wheel. “I got a life outside of you and the Prat Pack, thank you very much!”
“I really don’t think so, I think your life revolves around me and when I’m not around, you think about me constantly,” Gaius said jokingly and Geoff laughed a bit, like it was an awkward joke and he was only laughing to be nice. “Geof-”
“So, Hunith,” Geoff said, making Gaius snap back to reality without really knowing he ever strayed. “Your cousin? Why is she here?”
“She’s in her last year of high school, starting to scope out colleges. She wants to see if Caerleon could be a good fit for her.”
“Would you like it to be?”
“Dunno, her choice really, but it would be nice having some family here and I love the girl to death,” Gaius shrugged. He did want her to stay, though. they’d been best friends when they were kids and it’d be nice to form that bond with her again. And he didn’t want to feel like he was losing his old family just because he found a new one because that would mean he was a massive prick.
“Oh, I love this song,” Geoff suddenly said and Gaius smiled.
“I never pegged you as a Daft Punk sort of guy, Geoff,” he said.
“Oh, I’m all sorts of guys, Germaine,” he said happily and started singing out the lyrics, albeit a bit pitchy, “Don’t stop, come a little closer…”
Gaius joined in, despite himself, because that’s what friends did, right? They refused to let the other be idiots without them. “As we jam, the rhythm gets strongerrrrr”
“There we go!” Geoff urged him on, clapping on the steering wheel.
The station was pretty much empty when they arrived and they had some time to kill before Hunith arrived so they bought some tea from the nice lady selling and hung around together. They explored the train station –it wasn’t much- and Geoff had this absurd idea to hide behind the pillars but the pillars were thin in concrete and his body showed.
Gaius started laughing and Geoff said something along the lines of, “So this is a rubbish place to play hide and seek,” to which Gaius replied by saying, “Or maybe you’re just rubbish at hiding.”
When that debacle was over, in which both of them agreed to never play hide and seek with each other unless they were hit with some kind of spell that suddenly turned them both into five-year-olds, they resorted to just sitting on the bench.
The clock struck twelve and Gaius said, “Hunith should be here soon.”
“Funny,” Geoff said, “I almost forgot about Hunith.” And Gaius realized he almost did, too.
Gaius promised he’d wait for her under the clock at the station but, as the two of them pushed through the sudden crowd of people that weren’t there before, he saw that she was already there. He must’ve not seen her for a while because, the last time he saw her, she was a small, adolescent girl. He vaguely remembered how her hair was tied to the side, her cheeks pink from the snow (he was visiting last Christmas) and how she smiled up at him when he carried her around the snow-filled yard.
Now, now, she was slowly becoming a very pretty young woman. Her brown hair was dropping below her shoulders, framing a heart-shaped face; he barely recognized her, save for the eyes. The same eyes he used to look into during staring contests until one of them laughed.
“Gaius!” she yelled out excitedly and Gaius couldn’t help himself. He ran towards her in a really clichéd way and hugged her tight.
“You’ve grown, haven’t you?” Gaius asked, pulling away but still holding on to her skinny frame by the arms. “You’re too skinny, though. We have to feed you up while you’re here.”
“Mind you, he and Uther just survive on takeout,” Geoff interjected.
“Well, takeout is still considered food, isn’t it?” Hunith asked him.
“Not the healthy kind,” Geoff smiled. “Sorry. I’m Geoff, Gaius’s friend.”
“And his escort, I take it,” Hunith pulled away from Gaius’s embrace and shook his hand. “Nice to meet you, Geoff.”
They exchanged pleasantries and Hunith started reminiscing about ‘the good old days’, prompting Geoff to ask every sordid detail of Gaius’s childhood, especially the most embarrassing ones. “I think you and I are going to be good friends, Hunith,” Geoff smiled at her as he loaded her bags to the car.
Sometimes, she wondered why a subject the academy didn’t normally teach or a subject that wasn’t very widespread among the students got the funding to have a whole building to themselves when they’re in class or practicing. Maybe it was the fact that they didn’t want any magic-related accidents happening around campus.
The Mirare Building of Magical Studies –a pretentious name the school board made up to make themselves seem more important than the colleges that weren’t teaching magic- was a decent walk from her dorm in Sarras Hall. She didn’t mind, though, she liked the walk there. Hardly anyone used the path to Mirare because hardly anyone really took the classes.
It was funny how people always seemed to look for magic but when it was within arm’s reach, they itched away from it like they wanted the magic from their dreamscape instead of the one reality offered them. Magical Studies only started becoming an official thing in the past few years. Before that, it was just there, it wasn’t illegal, it wasn’t legal, it was just in that space of actions no one knew what to do with.
People watched magic on the news, saw the coverage from Druid camps all over Northern England when their movement became so strong that they couldn’t tear their eyes away from it. Before magic became official and legal under the proper circumstances, Nim knew that it was just a subject people talked about over tea and suspicions.
They talked about this whole new race of people, who would ‘invade’ them with their spells and magical incantations; they wondered about the change this would bring to their country, even the world. The truth was, though, when it happened, when the Druids came out just as being Druids and getting the respect they deserved, when more and more magic users were coming to late, it served no real change.
People were still people; it just turned out that some people could levitate their coffee mugs to where they needed them. Some people just chose to be a little bit different.
Nim didn’t have that such luck, however; she was born with this difference. Magic users were mainly made, not born. Their skills were honed through endless research of spells and whatnot, taking classes just like the classes she was taking at Caerleon. Their effort to be magical was just that: an effort. She, however, needed effort to keep it in.
While the other students were just learning how to recite their first spells to make them happen, Nim was learning to recite them properly because she knew that she could make the product of these lessons happen –like ignite a fire- without even trying. She had her ethics, though, she wasn’t about to blow up the school just because she could. She had to learn the proper ways to conduct herself because it was the right thing to do.
She didn’t want to quote Spiderman or anything but those comic geeks were right, weren’t they? The responsibility came with the power, it was the occupational hazard of being magic.
Nimueh opened the door to the class, which was just about as normal-looking as lecture classes went. There was about twenty-plus students in the class, all of them deep in study already. She looked at the watch and saw she was a little bit late so she smiled apologetically to the professor –a middle-aged woman who’d probably seen better days than just teaching a bunch of younglings how to tap into their minds and extract from there some sort of magical ability.
“Walk went a little long there, did it?”
“You’re a sod,” Nim grumbled to him.
“Yeah, but I got the notes for class so you better start grovelling,” he smiled.
Balinor, when he wanted to be, was a really cheeky bastard. Not as much as Uther could be on a good day, obviously because Bal could actually see the shit when someone threw it to him without the help of a pretty blonde, but still. Nim really didn’t know why she surrounded herself with glorified pricks sometimes –besides Gaius, obviously, Gaius was the sweetest guy she knew in Caerleon- she just chalked it up to it being a source of entertainment.
Regardless, Nim was grateful for Balinor. He was pretty much her only friend in the class. Sure, friends weren’t really a necessity in a class to make it good but it was always good when they were there. This was her space away from the rest of her friends, away from Uther and Gaius, so it was nice to spend time with a fellow misfit.
“Any idea what’s on the agenda today?” Nim asked him.
“Theory lessons,” Bal grumbled.
“Well fuck that,” Nim groaned, landing her head on the table.
She could hear Bal laughing a bit and said, “My thoughts exactly. Go on, then, I’ll wake you up when it’s over.”
“You’re glorious, you are.”
“I thought I was a sod.”
“Yeah, well, that, too.”
Her head met the surprisingly cold surface of the table and it all turned black for a moment before it turned gold. All her life, Nimueh had been plagued with these dreams, well they weren’t dreams, per se, they were just looks outside of her own life, telling her something was coming. It was a sign. Along with believing in fate and destiny, believing in signs was also in the territory.
It was like small dejavus, belonging just to her. While dreaming, she wouldn’t quite remember what she was dreaming about she knew that when the dreams increased in frequency, that there was something coming. There was something she should look out for because her dreams had told her beforehand. She just had to remember.
She never quite got the grasp to remember, though. When the dreams invaded her every night when she was eight years old, she never remembered what they were telling her until her mother was packing her bags. One day, she would remember. One day, she’d know things before they happened.
She didn’t want to be psychic or anything but she felt like she had to be.
Destiny and all that crap.
Balinor woke her up like he said he would and Nim, as always, just took a while to reassess her surroundings. This was how it always was, in the end, the fact that she knew she had a dream, she just didn’t know what it was about.
“You alright?” Bal asked.
“Yeah,” Nim managed a smile. “Always.”
“Come on, then, I’ll treat you to lunch at Union. ‘s not like I can afford anything else.”
They decided to take the longer way to Union because Bal said he needed to pick up his paper outside his professor’s office. She didn’t mind, though, like she said, she liked walking.
Caerleon Academy was located in the very heart of Nottingham, far enough from the real city to get some peace and quiet but not too far that it was ghost town. Outside the university, there were just a few roads and a field and further ahead, was a clock tower and then shops. She always did like Nottingham, well, more than she did London, anyway. She liked the cities that didn’t quite have that city feel in them. It was probably because of where she grew up because Wales was just...Wales. At least to her.
The uni itself was pretty big. There were five residence halls and all her friends were scattered around them, with Uther and Gaius in Constantine –the biggest hall, which should be expected because Uther Pendragon lived there- and a bunch of people in Cornwall, where Gorlois roomed with Rupert –they weren’t originally but Gorlois was a persuasive bastard- and Viv roomed with Ray de Bois, Uther’s long-running catch and her own dorm was in Sarras Hall. It was pretty okay, Sarras Hall, once again, it was detached from all her other friends like the magic classes were.
She sometimes did wonder if it was just supposed to be that she would have her own life, void of her friends. Or maybe she was just a bit antisocial when she didn’t want to be social. That was a possibility, too.
She and Bal ended up in Constantine on the way to Union and she saw Gaius there, being overshadowed by bags, but he still took the time to wave a bit at her. Geoff was there, too, opening the door to the dorm shared by Gaius and Uther, along with a pretty girl with dark hair. Hunith, that must be, Gaius’s cousin and old fond memory of his childhood.
Nim wanted to wave at her as a hint that they’d probably be spending some time together the few weeks she was to be here but she clearly didn’t have her attention.
Hunith, the dear girl, was looking at Bal, her eyes flicking up in a fey-like glance and Nim tried to conceal her chuckle.
Ah, to be young and in love.
When the trio went inside the room, Nim turned to Bal and asked, even though she knew the answer, “Who was that?”
“What?” Bal cleared his throat, trying to keep up the pretence he was just this big guy who had no feelings whatsoever. Bullshit, where she stood.
“The girl you were sharing intense eye gazing with.”
“I don’t know her,” Balinor said to her clearly.
“Yet,” Nim finished his sentence for him. “You don’t know her yet.”
“You know, you’ve got your annoying times, as well.”
“Oh yes it’s incredibly annoying when I’m right,” Nim smirked at him. “Come on, lad.”
When he saw her next time, it involved actual conversation. But her smile and her eyes, they told him that she recognized him in a passing glance and they were almost like they knew him already. Balinor almost felt like blushing under her gaze. It wasn’t one of those concentrated stares that involved staring him up and down, seeing who he was by what he chose to give, it was sweet and innocent and naïve and that was what made him almost feel red around the cheeks.
“So, uh,” Balinor said, “you’re new around here?”
“Not really, no, I’m just visiting my cousin and I’m trying to see if here would be a good option for me to go next year,” she said. Right, she looked young, he should’ve figured, something around the cheeks and eyes.
“Sorry, I’m Balinor,” he outstretched his hand.
“Balinor,” she slurred the name around her tongue, getting used to it. “Can I call you Bal?”
“If you must, I suppose,” Balinor said, smiling.
“I’m Hunith,” she said, finally taking his hand. “And, no, there’s no short form of it that doesn’t sound unattractive so don’t bother at all.”
“Yeah and Bal isn’t unattractive?”
“Well, it’s acceptable, at least,” Hunith –Hunith- smiled at him. He hated to admit it but there was this moment. It was only for a second, though, but he couldn’t deny it was a moment. That sucked because he never actually believed in moments before; he instead found time and it was always fleeting.
But here it was, a moment with a girl he was strangers with, and he didn’t know how to deal with it.
“I should go, I have class,” he said instead.
“Okay,” she smiled again. “I’ll see you around, then, I guess.”
“Yeah, see you around,” he said and left, not knowing what he was actually leaving.
The last time he had a girl like that, in that way, he was sixteen and he was in high school. Two years since he had a girl in that way, where he would feel comfortable to hold her hand –even though he rarely did want to but it was just that possibility that he could- some people would say he was weird or something. He was weird, though, always had been. Always the problem, always the odd one out; it was just the way he was programmed, he figured.
The point was, Hunith was looking at him the way she used to look at him, only with a tiny bit more intensity, if that level of intensity could even be reached by adolescents their age. And he really didn’t know what to do with it.
He didn’t know what to do with anything in his life, really, especially as of late. Especially with things the way they were at home and how they were supposed to be in his life now that his father was dying and it was his inheritance that he kept the trait going on until he had his own to pass it down to. That was easy, though, the preservation of a noble race of men, as his father liked to call Dragonlords, even though it didn’t sound like it.
This wasn’t easy, though, the look Hunith was giving off.
He was probably over thinking this, like he always was. Maybe it wasn’t a look, maybe he was just looking at her wrong or maybe she looked at everyone like that. Or maybe she had a rare genetic disposition that left her with that expression whenever she encountered someone new. Or maybe he was just a wanker who didn’t want to deal with his feelings.
Well, it was definitely too early to start using the word feelings.
Viv said that the movie was about to start soon, as said in her text to Gaius, but, as fate would have it, Alice found a dark hallway close to the common room and dragged him there and tried to kiss the sense out of him. It worked for a while, really.
She was being pressed up against the wall and her hand was in his hair, slowly tangling her fingers around the red strands of it. She traced her tongue along his bottom lips and he groaned deep in his throat.
“We’re not about to have sex now, are we?” Gaius asked, smiling against her skin. “Because it’s bloody cold here and I really do not want my balls to be frozen.”
“Later, then,” Alice promised him with another soft kiss on him.
They intertwined their hands together and embraced the cold night. Movie nights at the Cornwall common room; Gaius wanted to say it was a beloved tradition between all of them that was formed through managing to fight about which Harrison Ford movie was better until they all agreed to watch the best of the best until they fell asleep on the couch. Truth was, though, movie nights only happened spontaneously.
Someone would decide during the day that there was nothing better than huddling around watching movies and word would circulate. For some reason, the common room was always void of people but Gaius was highly convinced that the reason was Gorlois, who could pull anything off, really, with his charm or otherwise. Gaius was beginning to suspect that he was James Potter reincarnated in real form.
“Where have you been?” Hunith asked after them when she finally caught.
“Dark, dastardly deeds that I’m sure you don’t want to hear about from your cousin,” Gaius told her and pulled her in for a headlock. She’d been adjusting well here for the past few days. She followed along to classes, switching between Uther, Alice, Gaius and Geoff, who had all taken upon themselves to be her guardians in Caerleon.
“If you don’t wanna hear about them from your cousin, I’ll be sure to tell you, Hunith,” Alice said with a smirk.
Hunith pulled a disgusted face as they arrived at Cornwall. Geoff said he’d meet them there but Gaius didn’t get a message that he was already inside in the building. He said he had a meeting that might run late, though. What kind of meeting, he wasn’t exactly sure.
But he was about to find out because a loud voice yelling, “Oy!” was after them and he saw Geoff running towards them and catching his breath between Gaius and Hunith.
“Hullo, Running Man,” Hunith said to him. “Was the Chariot of Fire theme song playing in your head when you were running a sprint?”
“No, as a matter of a fact,” Geoff said, breathing deeply, “it was the Rocky theme.”
“You’re cheerful,” Gaius noted. He also noted the new purple band around his wrist.
“Meeting went well,” was all Geoff said.
With that, they entered the building and went up to the common room. Everyone was there, except Nim, who always did like running a bit late to everything. It seemed like girls and boys were being divided on the couch, some of them even taking pillows and lying on the floor.
Gaius took his customary seat next to Uther on the couch and Geoff took his usual seat next to him. Alice went over to Viv and her surprise guest, Ray de Bois, and Hunith went there, as well. Gorlois was lying on the floor in front of Viv with a sleeping bag all around him who was throwing popcorn to Rupert, who was sitting cross-legged on the other side of Uther, trying to catch them in his mouth.
“Should I pop in the movie?” Viv asked them.
“Nim would kill us if we started without her, though,” Gaius reasoned, which was met with a chorus of agreement. Right at that moment, speak of the devil, the door opened, revealing not one, but two figures.
One was obviously Nim but the other guy was someone Gaius occasionally saw around uni with Nim. Balinor, it was, if he wasn’t mistaken.
“Waahoo!” Gorlois and Uther yelled simultaneously.
“I would say that the party don’t start til I walk in but the point is there for all to see so then it’s no use, really,” Nim said. She gestured to Balinor and said, “You guys, this is Balinor, who’s a poor pathetic sod I met in magic class who I forced out here.”
“Because you’re a stand-up human being, obviously,” Gaius retorted.
“Obviously,” Nim nodded. She looked at Balinor and said, “Go on, Bal, there’s a seat between Rupert and Hunith over there. Make some friends, would you?”
“Bitch,” Gaius could hear Bal mutter and smiled a little. Yeah, he’d fit in just fine.
“Always,” Nim responded but Balinor did it anyway, he sat between Rupert who immediately stood up to shake his hand because he actually was a stand-up human being, and Hunith, who looked down before looking at him. Hmm.
“Okay, go on, then, Viv,” Nim said, sitting between Uther and Gaius and pressing her feet up to the couch.
The lights dimmed and the movie started –Inception, chosen by the women of the group- and Gaius managed to poke Uther on the shoulder and gestured his head towards Ray. He picked up a ‘Shut up’ from his best friend and it was pretty much insured that the guy wouldn’t be able to understand the fuck Leonardo Dicaprio was saying if Ray de Bois was sitting just a few feet away from him.
Geoff handed him a few M&Ms –not the yellow ones, he knew Gaius hated the yellow ones- and Gaius just sat there, starting to enjoy his fidgeting best friend and the respective movie.