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The king's retreat

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Camelot is hot and miserable in the summer. It’s hardly as bad as some, but the streets and crooked houses trap the heat, and the manure and refuse simmer and stink to the heavens. The castle, set apart as it is, escapes the worst of it, though Gaius stocks up all spring on the tincture he uses to treat the serving maids and scullery boys who fall faint in the boiling hell of the kitchens. Those who are able -- the nobility, at least those in favor with the crown -- follow the royal family into the countryside to escape.

The king’s retreat is tucked higher away into the mountains, at the head of a long valley with a quiet river that feeds the lake. A pavilion sits on the river bank, handsomely appointed, curtained against the night air and prying eyes. The prince is oft to be found there of an evening, entertaining, the wine flowing for his friends and knights in sweet abundance. His manservant attends them -- the only outsider allowed to listen to their stories of battles and women -- and he alone remains long after the guests have stumbled home to barracks or the beds of lovers. The pavilion is quiet, then; the prince retires for the evening, laid out in state among the trappings of the royal bed.

The moon rises, and the world sleeps quiet beneath her watchful eye… and yet. And yet, if a fox or other nighttime listener were to cock one ear toward the pavilion, they might just hear the murmur of soft voices. They might, if their ear was keen, catch the high and ragged edge of a gasp, or the falling sighs of pleasure. They would not see, hard as they tried, the manservant wrapped deep in the fine sheets and the arms of the prince, but in the morning, if they rose early, they might just see the servant part the curtains to greet the dawn with the prince standing too close behind him, one royal hand curving just around his waist.