“Morgana,” Gwen called, “your bath is ready.”
Morgana stepped out of her silk robe and slipped into the warm water, luxuriating in the warmth that seeped into her cold bones. She slid down, feeling the grain of the wood scratch her back and neck as she submerged her head.
Gwen sat behind her, working lather through the long black hair. When she had finished soaping Morgana’s locks, she put a hand on the woman’s shoulder and said softly, “please rinse.” Foam pooled on top of the water. Morgana’s head and shoulders re-emerged, water streaming down in rivulets around her open mouth. Morgana nearly purred as Gwen used rough fabric to work dirt loose on her neck and arms. Bathing done, Gwen wrapped her in the warm sheet, putting her arm around the lissome woman as they went to her dressing table.
Gwen picked up a bottle with oil, pouring some into the palm of her hand before rubbing it through Morgana’s dark wavy hair which contrasted starkly with the light sheet. Hair well oiled, Gwen reached for the comb and began to gather hair at the edge of Morgana’s face into three hanks. Swiftly, she worked the hair on the scalp into a plait that arced Morgana’s head and continued down her neck following her spine. Finally, Gwen reached for the red ribbon on the table to tie the end of the braid.
Caked, Merlin stumbled out of the stables. He had muck and straw all over. Swiping a dirty hand across his face just rearranged the dirt. At the sound of his name, he turned around to find Gwen. The sight of him covered with dirt and hay sent her into a fit of giggles, earning her a stern glare from Merlin.
“Come come. I’ll help you get clean, but don’t touch me,” she said sternly. Keeping a respectful distance from one another, they walked companionably to her house.
“Good job it’s summer,” she said cheerily. “We’ll start ‘round the back of the house. Now, strip off your clothes and we’ll start with this pail of water.”
She raised the pail and emptied it over his head. Merlin sputtered and shivered, but did not complain. A good amount of the muck and straw in his hair had been washed away, although there were some hairs that were encrusted and would need more coaxing than a mere bucketful of water could provide. Taking Merlin’s hand, Gwen led Merlin inside and told him to sit in the tub while she got some water. He took the opportunity to whisper “forbearnen” in the direction of the fireplace while she was out.
Walking briskly back in, Gwen said, “I see you’ve managed to start a fire. Now we can get to business.”
She poured two buckets of water over his head into the tub before reaching for a cake of soap. Lathering it in his hair, she began to sing. Laughing, Merlin joined in, twining a harmony around her melody. Gwen reached into the tub and easily rubbed her hands on the top of Merlin’s thigh to dissolve the soap.
“Be right back,” she said, grabbing the buckets.
In moments, she was pouring fresh water over his scrubbed head. She picked up one of his hands and inspected it.
“Good thing Dad needed a sturdy nail brush,” she said.
Humming lightly, she went to the window ledge for the brush. Firmly, she scrubbed the brush over the tips of his fingers applying just enough pressure so it didn’t tickle, but not so much that it hurt. Gwen stood and surveyed her work. Merlin grinned up at her, pleased to have had her help.
“Stand up,” she told him and wrapped a dry sheet around his shoulders, giving him an extra little squeeze as he took hold of the fabric. He stepped out of the tub and sat on a chair.
“Tsk, tsk, Merlin, sit on the bed,” Gwen chastised him fondly. “It will be more comfortable for both of us.”
He sat on the bed while she went for a comb. Comb in hand, she sat at one end of the bed. Merlin lay down, putting his head in her lap. Not minding that it was dampening her skirt, she worked through his hair, chasing after the smallest particle of dirt, until his hair was smooth and silky again. Merlin, clean and relaxed, pulled Gwen down into his arms. She entwined her legs with his and snuggled in, happy to have helped her friend.
“Meet me outside the walls after dinner,” Lancelot whispered to Gwen, arm around his waist, nuzzling his nose into her ear in the crowded hallway.
“No one will notice our absence with all the festivities tonight.”
Gwen saw a shadow carrying a small bundle under one arm separate from the stone wall and come towards her. Heart racing, she let out a gasp when she recognized her beloved. Reaching out, she grabbed his arm and whispered reprovingly, “Lancelot!” He responded by bending down to touch his lips to her own.
“Come, my love,” he said and grasped her hand in his. He lead her down into the forest, a bright full moon lighting their way.
“Where are we going,” she asked after tripping on another root.
“Patience, love, we are almost there,” he replied. She sighed.
In another few moments, Lancelot announced, “We’ve arrived.”
In the clearing before her, Gwen saw a distorted reflection of the moon on the smooth surface of a pool. She realized the distortion came from tendrils of steam that danced on the water like fleeting flames. Lancelot tugged at her skirt and she came out of her reverie. Smiling, she turned to him and kissed him lightly saying, “mmmm, warm springs.”
Lancelot placed Gwen’s hand on his breeches, encouraging her to undo his laces as he worked hers. Moments later they were naked and slipping into the deliciously warm water. Gwen groaned with pleasure as the warmth started to loosen work-strained muscles. Strong, warm hands massaged her shoulders and arms. Melting into his heat, she allowed Lancelot to slip his arms around her. He placed his cool face on her neck, raising the small hairs there. Unable to resist temptation, he started nibbling on her skin.
Laughing, Gwen turned around and asked, “Did you bring soap?”
Lancelot slowly separated himself from her and reached into his bundle at the edge of the pool. He raised his hand, displaying a white cake. Gwen submerged herself, wetting her hair. Lancelot worked the soap through her hair until it bubbled in piles on her head. Scalp tingling, she tipped her head back and let the water take the soap away. Now she reached for the soap and looked pointedly at Lancelot. Sighing, he submerged so she could return the favor.
Lancelot moaned when Gwen’s strong fingers started to work soap through his hair. He felt both relaxed and energized by her touch. Done with his hair, her slippery hands moved down to his neck and shoulders, leaving alchemical traces. She pushed firmly, sending Lancelot back under the water. He erupted, shaking his head, spraying Gwen and eliciting peals of laughter from her. She took hold of his hand and pulled him to the edge of the pool.
Searching through the bundle, she found a vial of oil and handed it to Lancelot. He tipped some oil in his hand, returned the bottle to her, and started working the oil through her hair, then drawing it down her glossy hair. Gwen murmured with contentment. Lancelot carefully parted her hair into three hanks and braided it simply, tying it off with an orange ribbon he snatched from the satchel. Hands still slippery with oil, he rubbed Gwen’s shoulders and then moved around to her chest, grazing her nipples, so he could cup her breasts. Moaning, she turned in his grasp and put her arms around his neck, drawing his head down for a full kiss.
Lancelot broke away saying, “I don’t get my hair oiled tonight?”
Gwen smiled and held out her hand. Lancelot carefully poured a small amount in her palm. She rubbed her hands together and then vigorously applied the oil to his hair, making Lancelot moan a little. Hair thoroughly oiled, she gathered hair at the crown of his head to braid tightly over the top of his head down to the nape of his neck. A similar orange ribbon finished his braid.
Climbing out of the pool, Lancelot grabbed a blanket from the bundle and the oil. He poured a small puddle in the palm of his hand, looked towards Gwen with a fond smile, and held the oil out to her. She joined him on the blanket, poured oil into her own hand. Spreading oil on warm flesh, both began to tingle.