“HOW COULD YOU GWEN!?”
“I LOVE YOU… I… I love you” his voice had cracked and there were tears beginning to roll down his cheeks,
“Save it Gwen, I don’t want to hear it,” Gwen knew he was inconsolable. There was a bitterness in his voice behind the despair; a bitterness she had never heard before.
But he’d got it wrong. She didn’t love Lancelot. It had been a mistake, a terrible mistake.
They were laughing together by the river. It was a glorious day. She was watching him messing around at the waters edge. His blue eyes sparkled like the Pacific Ocean, shining with mischief on his glowing face. She had to admit it; he was the only guy she knew who could look utterly ridiculous but totally irresistible at the same time.
“Come on Gwen!” he laughed and ran over to her, holding out his hand. She giggled, accepting his hand and running with him down to the water. He pulled her in. The water was warm and inviting, a calming relief from the heat of the day. “You’re so beautiful” he kissed her gently. Her smile filled her face; her eyes radiant and full of happiness. He noticed everything about her; the way her nose rounded at the end, the way her eyes became lighter in the summer, the way she chewed her lip when she was flattered but embarrassed to admit it.
He loved her, and she loved him. They were destined to be together. It had long been foretold they would rule over Camelot, heralding a new age of wealth and prosperity to the land. But they didn’t know that yet. They were young, free and totally in love, no worries for the future. But that was all about to change.
“Arthur!” Uther sounded upbeat, almost happy, it wasn’t right.
“Father,” he entered the throne room and embraced Uther. They had never had a good relationship so Uther’s sudden friendliness worried Arthur.
“I received a letter this morning. The army has accepted your application, and are prepared to risk taking you with them. You, my son, are going to fight for Camelot in the War! You will be deployed next month” he was beaming; this was obviously great news for him. Once upon a time, it would have been great news for Arthur too, but that was before Gwen, before she turned his world upside down. “Arthur?” he frowned at Arthur, looking very confused, “This is good! You have been waiting years for this! Why aren’t you happy?” Genuine concern, that was a new one too.
“Sorry Father,” he paused, not making eye contact with his father “It’s just come as a bit of a shock. I never expected…” He trailed off. He couldn’t tell Uther about his relationship with Gwen, she was their housekeeper’s daughter; he couldn’t be with her, not in Uther’s eyes. He smiled weakly, “Thank you father. I will make you proud,” And as he walked away, a single tear rolled down his cheek.
“I always dreamed we could be together forever” They were back at the river, sharing a picnic in the midday sun, “That we’d go away for a while, together. See the world and just live,” his voice was quiet and withdrawn.
“We can do that Arthur, we can do anything we want” She was smiling, the shy smile she saved just for him, “You and me, we’ll go travelling and see the world. I’ll go wherever you want to go.
“Gwen,” He sighed, he had to tell her “The army have accepted my placement. I’m being deployed next month” he looked her right in the eye as he said it, she could see how scared he was, “I’d forgotten all about it. I signed up last year. But they said I couldn’t go, being the King’s son and all. But out of the blue yesterday, father called me to his chambers. He was so overjoyed, I’ve never seen him so happy,” his face fell, as tears began to fall down Gwen’s cheeks, “I don’t want to go Gwen,” he grasped her hand, “I don’t want to leave you”
“Wait Gwen, I haven’t finished,” And out of his pocket he pulled a small, scarlet, velvet box. As he opened it the most delicate of silver rings appeared; a simple white-gold band, but the diamond was a tiny, sleeping dragon, the tip of its tail a heart-shaped sapphire (the exact colour of Arthur’s eyes) “Guinevere, will do you me the honour of becoming my wife?” Anxiously he looked into her eyes. Her mouth was open, her eyes wide. She pulled him into a hug, laughing “Is that a yes?” Arthur asked, suddenly worried at the lack of a proper response,
“Oh gosh, yes! Yes! Of course” and she kissed him, slowly and tenderly, saying a million more things in that one kiss than she could with words. As they pulled apart, he slipped the ring carefully onto her finger, and put his nose against hers,
“I love you Gwen. Never forget that.”
The month flew by. They spent as much time as they could together; which still wasn’t much, Arthur was in training eight hours a day. No one was there to see him off except for Gwen. They approached the plane together, hand in hand, their fingers tangled together. She was crying. He turned to her and took her face in his hands,
“I love you Gwen,” he brushed the tears off her cheeks with his thumb, “Be strong my love. I’ll be back before you know it,” He rested his forehead against hers, trying desperately to remember everything about her; her dimples, the curl of her chestnut hair, the smell of her favourite perfume, everything.
“Arthur!” He turned from her to face Merlin. His skinny, but surprisingly brave best friend was calling to him, “We have to go! Get your fat backside over here!”
Arthur pulled a face at him then turned back to Gwen, planting a fleeting kiss on her forehead,
“I’ll be back before you know it,” He smiled weakly at her, “I’m going to miss you so much,” She nodded slightly, merely to prove she was listening, “See you soon,” and with that he picked up his bag and walked away.
All the time he was out on the battlefield, he kept her picture close. Whenever he could he would write her letters and call her as often as he could. He fought for her. He wanted Gwen to have the perfect life, without the threat of war; he had to keep her safe.
Merlin often taunted him for this, “You’re like some kind of knight in shining armour! Seriously Arthur, it’s like you’ve come from the middle ages,” he said to him one night, “I must defend my country and rescue the damsel in distress,” he said laughing, mimicking Arthur’s voice perfectly. Arthur had subsequently got Merlin into a headlock, dragging him to the ground until he took it back; but inside Arthur could see it too, he could (for once) see where Merlin was coming from. It was like a natural instinct; he had to protect her, he couldn’t help it. She gave him strength when it seemed all hope of winning was lost; her letters would always come just when he needed them, baring the exact words he needed to keep him going.
He longed for letters from Gwen, he would re-read her previous letters, craving her presence, and (even though he was ashamed to admit it) when he was in bed at night, he would smell the shawl of hers that he had taken, inhaling her scent.
He didn’t tell anyone about the new guy in Gwen’s life; despite the fact he knew they were only friends. He didn’t even tell Merlin how miserable he was after the third letter explaining in detail her day out with ‘Lancelot’ (as if that’s a real name he thought to himself bitterly) despite how much he trusted Merlin.
What he didn’t realise was that Merlin already knew about Lancelot and his apparent effect on all the ladies. He was constantly writing and receiving letters to and from Morgana. Merlin and Morgana had never been the best of friends, but Morgana had pitied him when she had realised no one would write to him when he was away. Her first letter had been some what vague about him,
Honestly Merlin, I don’t see what the others see in this ‘Lancelot’ or whatever his name is.
But as the weeks had progressed they became more and more obsessive,
He’s got this exotic charm. Attractive because he is dangerous, like he has a darker side. I mean, he turned up out of the blue. A “traveller” apparently, he reminds me a bit of Esmeralda, you know the one from ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame” but obviously the male version! Totally dreamy but a complete mystery! Not surprising that all the ladies are after him!
But it was the 5th letter that had worried Merlin the most,
He seems to have a thing for Gwen, and I think she secretly likes him too. I don’t see why she has to keep it a secret; all the others would die for his attention! Although I suppose there is that ‘other guy’ in her life who has proposed to her but never even visited! And she refuses to tell even me who he is! He must be someone special if she is giving up on Lancelot for him!
Merlin had been noticing the upset in Arthurs face every time he skimmed over his letters from Gwen. Each one seemed to make him more miserable. Merlin was the only person who knew about Arthur’s relationship with Gwen, he had known Arthur far to long to believe his lies. So after much debate with himself, Merlin decided to just ask Arthur.
“So…” He sat down next to Arthur who was reading, leaning against the wall of their tiny room (not a good sign, Arthur didn’t read), “You alright?”
“I don’t want small talk Merlin” He replied flatly, “What do you want?”
“Nothing! I was just…” Arthur raised his head from his book,
“Just what, Merlin?”
Arthurs face fell and he looked away from Merlin,
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Arthur, I can see it’s affecting you. I’m not stupid.” Arthur laughed at that,
“Really? That’s all just an act then?” Merlin smiled at Arthur, it was nice to see him laughing again.
“Seriously Arthur, you can talk to me,”
“There’s nothing to talk about. She can be friends with whoever she likes. Guinevere…” He paused when he says her name, his face awash with affection and love, “It’s her life. She deserves to be happy and live how she pleases. I have no right to complain about how she spends her time and who she spends he time with.” That was it. Merlin knew that this topic was now out of bounds, end of.
They sat in companionable silence for a while. It his mind Merlin was plotting away. They returned home in a month; but that was plenty of time for Lancelot to get under Gwen’s skin, woo her, and take her away from Arthur. He had to stop it, but how?
Please be careful. This Lancelot, he likes you. But remember who you love, remember Arthur. He still loves you, is still loyal to you and he will be forever. Please Gwen, don’t forget what you already have. I’ve made that mistake and I regret it so much. You have so much to lose, don’t spoil it for a handsome stranger.
She read the letter again and again. How does he know? How can he tell? He’s on the other side of the world! She was frightened. She still loved Arthur with all her heart, but it had been so long. And Lancelot was just there, he was so easy and he wanted her. When he had first arrived they had been friends. They had gotten on well; they talked easily; they liked the same things, it had been good. But then he had told her; she remembered it clearly “I think… I think… I love you” it had come completely out of the blue, and he had seemed so shy and reserved, like he really meant it. It had shocked her, shaken her right to the core, confused her. She still didn’t know what to do, and his unexpected declaration had been two weeks ago. She had been avoiding him like the plague; barely leaving her room. He visited her often, standing under her window, “Gwen! Gwen please! I just want to talk to you! I never meant to upset you! Morgana told be about the other guy. I’m sorry, I didn’t know! Please just come down and we’ll sort it out!”
It took her three weeks of solitary confinement before she dared to leave her room. On a cold Monday morning in early November, she put on her red shawl (she would have worn the blue one but she couldn’t find it anywhere) and walked down to the shop to but the daily paper. To her horror the headline read;
SOLDIERS OF THE GREAT WAR WILL NOT BE RETURNING FOR ANOTHER MONTH AFTER REPORTS THAT KING UTHER IS DISCUSSING NEW PEACE TALKS
Another month away from Arthur, another month to avoid Lancelot; she was at breaking point.
“Horrible, isn’t it?” A voice came from behind her, making her blood run cold, “They promised those men they would be home before Christmas,”
“Go away Lancelot.” She didn’t turn around, a shiver running down her spine; she couldn’t bring herself to; she knew what would happen if she did. She longed for the touch of another man, in her heart she longed for Arthur, but Arthur wasn’t going to be back for at least another month.
“Aw come on Gwen! We were getting on so well!” He came up behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist, “This guy never visits, he’ll never know…” His voice trailed off as he nuzzled into her neck. She sighed, she could do it, he was right, Arthur would never know… She turned to him,
“Ok.” And he took her hand and led her away…
You will never believe it! Rumours are flying round Camelot; Lancelot’s gone, apparently just after a fling with Gwen!
Merlin slammed the letter down onto his desk, his face burning with anger. No no no no, I warned her, I told her! He glanced over at Arthur, who was giving him a questioning look,
“You alright mate?” Merlin didn’t reply. He couldn’t look Arthur in the eye. He had to find out if the rumours were true, if Gwen really had had an affair with Lancelot…
I don’t have time for messing around. Morgana told me about the rumours. I want a straight answer, did you or did you not sleep with Lancelot? Don’t even think about lying to me, I can tell when you’re lying. And so does Arthur. You can’t hide this from him forever, even if the rumours aren’t true.
She was crying. Lancelot had made a complete fool out of her then dumped her in the gutter. It had all been an act, he had made it up; he didn’t love her, he’d just known she was vulnerable and lonely. She had told no one about that awful night. About the things he had made her do, of what he had done to her. To them, Lancelot was still a mysterious, handsome, friendly man; but they didn’t know the truth. He had run off, probably to go destroy another woman’s life, and she was left, alone and afraid, to pick up the pieces of her once perfect life.
She replied to Merlin’s letter. It hurt her so much, but she knew she had to. Whether she did or did not reply, he would always know what she had done. Merlin always had a way of knowing the truth; he never had to even ask. Would he tell Arthur? Will he ever talk to her again? There was only one week then she would have to face Arthur again.
“I know, Merlin. I found your letter from Morgana. Leave me alone.” He had been crying. His eyes were red and puffy; he hadn’t slept. Merlin turned to walk away but was interrupted, “I love her Merlin; I really do.” It wasn’t a question, it was a statement that Merlin didn’t quite know how to respond to,
“Arthur… look, I can’t tell you what to do. But I can tell you…” he paused and took a deep breath in, “I wrote to Gwen, asking if the rumours were true.” Arthur looked up at him hopefully. It pained Merlin to say the rest, seeing the pain in Arthur’s eyes “She hasn’t replied. She neither denies it nor says that the rumours were true.” Arthurs face fell, “You’ll never know Arthur.” He said quickly, trying his best to sound reassuring, “The peace treaty has been signed. We can go home, you can talk to…” but he was interrupted as another solider came into the room,
“You got mail, Merlin. Your last one before Christmas, they’re not delivering anymore” He handed Merlin the letter. Merlin’s name was written in Gwen’s familiar writing. He glanced at Arthur, who already knew who it was from, just by the look on Merlin’s face. The soldier walked off and Merlin ripped open the letter. He skimmed through it,
The rumours are true. Tell Arthur I am sorry.
Arthur had been staring at Merlin the whole time; willing the letter to tell him the news he was hoping for.
“She did it Arthur. She says she is sorry…”
“GIVE it to me!” Arthur had jumped to his feet, scarlet with fury. Hastily, he snatched the note away from Merlin, ripping the corner slightly. “NO! No, she can’t…” and he ran from the room, tears pouring down his cheeks.
They returned to Camelot two weeks after Christmas; the peace treaty signed, the war over.
Since the letter, Arthur had trapped himself away. Focusing purely on his work. Merlin had watched on helplessly as his friend broke apart in front of him. On the day before their return Merlin had tried to talk to Arthur, ask him if he would be okay, but Arthur had shrugged him off, not saying a word.
The plane landed at 6:45am. No one was there to see them home. No Morgana, no Uther, none of the local people to welcome their heroes home. They returned to the cold morning fog with 13 less troupes than they left with. All of them lying somewhere, forgotten forever, buried in a war zone.
Arthur lay his bags down in his room, and sat on his bed, resting his head in his hands. He couldn’t escape it anymore; all the locals would fill him in on the ‘gossip’ as they called it, whether he wanted to hear it or not. He knew he had to find Gwen. He still loved her. He had known it all along; no matter how hard he had tried to forget her, he couldn’t. He couldn’t imagine his life without her.
He lifted his head out of his hands as the sun was beginning to push its way through the fog. His room filled with light, spurring him into action. He changed his clothes, grabbed his mobile, and went to find Gwen.
He knocked furiously on her door. There was no reply. He pulled her key out of his pocket, praying she hadn’t changed the locks… she hadn’t, and within seconds he was standing in her kitchen. It was the same as it had been when he left; clean and simplistic, but it lacked the warmth it used to. Behind him he heard a small noise, a sharp in take of breath. He turned round. There she was. His Guinevere, standing there, still wearing her engagement ring (he had thought she would have taken it off. Was there still hope? He thought to himself, because even after all this time, he still thought she loved Lancelot). She looked tired; there were massive bags under her eyes; her hair was messy and un kept; she had no makeup on; her clothes were just a mismatch of old jeans, odd socks and one of Arthur’s old jumpers.
she stared at him; tears springing up in her eyes. She moved towards him,
but it was too much. All the anger he had been storing up inside of him for the past few weeks suddenly exploded out of him,
“HOW COULD YOU GWEN!?”
“I…I…” she couldn’t speak. She had known he would be angry, hurt, upset, but Arthur had never been that angry with anyone before.
“I LOVE YOU… I… I love you” his voice had cracked and there were tears beginning to roll down his cheeks,
“Save it Gwen, I don’t want to hear it,”
Gwen knew he was inconsolable. There was a bitterness in his voice behind the despair; a bitterness she had never heard before. Arthur turned from her and went over to the sink to get himself a glass of water. He downed it in one and washed the glass. Still with his back to her he asked,
“Why’d you do it Gwen?” His voice was quiet, almost as if he was afraid to ask,
“I…” she paused. No matter how she said this it would always sound terrible, “I don’t know… I just… don’t know. I’ve asked myself again and again why…”
There was a moments hesitation before he spoke again.
“Did he hurt you?”
Gwen was shocked, she couldn’t believe it. His voice was no longer bitter and angry, it was concerned,
“Y…yes…” it upset her to say it; to remember the events of that terrible night. Arthur span round,
“What!?” he ran over to her, grabbing her shoulders and holding her at arms distance away from him, unable to stand having her any closer. He stared intently into her eyes, his heart racing, “Do you need to see a doctor?”
“No… no Arthur, I’m ok now…”
He sighed with relief then pushed her away again. He took three deep breaths.
“We’ll never be quite the same, Gwen. I may never fully trust you again” Arthur whispered, not making eye contact “But I’ll try. No one will ever come between us again,”