King Arthur doesn't dream. 'He' sees premonitions of inevitable destruction. 'He' sees a certain future that can only be delayed, never changed.
Artoria pendragon doesn't dream.
She only sees nightmares.
Tonight was no exception. She dreamt of death.
Her people's death.
Her own death.
Her kin's death. A young man who claimed to be her son.
No, he was her son.
She wanted to deny it. She told him she could not accept him as her heir, but one look at his face and she knew that everything she built would fall apart.
She had her suspicions a long time ago, when she consulted Merlin about the need for an heir.
Something has gone wrong, yet she had no memories of it.
"How does it feel, dear 'Arthur'?" A voice whispered, dripping venom. Everything was black. "To have something taken from you? Stolen. Torn apart as you could only watch helplessly. Just like you took everything from me."
A pair of eyes identical to hers stared back, burning with hatred, setting everything around into flames.
"One day, you will reap what you've sown."
Artoria woke up.
She sat up, gasping for air, and grasping at the sheets.
They were wet. She was sweating so much, and her body was freezing.
It was just a nightmare.
Everything was fine.
A sudden headache took over, and her vision blurred for a moment. She grasped her head in pain, and once it was gone, she felt something drip off her nose.
She touched her nose in confusion.
She did feel sick, but some fever couldn’t have caused her to bleed.
This could be troublesome, and it would be best to see Merlin about it.
She wiped off the blood, and forced herself out of bed.
She could not afford to rest.
The rebellion was stronger than ever, even her knights were losing faith in her. She could still remember the look on Tristan’s face as he walked away, saying that he could not understand the hearts of men.
Perhaps he was right.
Mordred’s piercing gaze flashed through her mind, and she forced her eyes shut.
She had to endure.
She needed to consult Merlin about everything. Perhaps he could offer some helpful insights. There had to be a way to save Britain. As long as she was alive, she would never stop trying to save it.
She briefly looked back at the bed, noticing the empty space beside hers. Once again, her queen was nowhere to be seen.
Artoria placed a hand on the empty space, and let it linger there.
She was part dragon, and so she could pick up people's scents from miles away. So of course she would pick up on the new scent mixed in with her wife's. She knew her wife was seeing her best friend, Lancelot.
And so she kept quiet and endured.
Guinevere kept all of her secrets, and gave up her happiness to keep up this facade together.
She deserved happiness and love, and Artoria would not take that away from her.
Pushing down her own heartache… or perhaps it was something else?
Artoria was no longer familiar with emotions, or how to describe them.
She finally left her chamber, pushing down whatever she was feeling, and sought Merlin.
However, because today she changed her usual route, she encountered a scene that only added to the weight on her shoulders.
There she was, her queen, standing in the garden with Lancelot, laughing, unaware of who might be passing by.
And Lancelot… he was smiling at her, and his gaze was sharp, locked on the queen as if she was his.
She was not. Guinevere was-
The sharp pain returned, and Artoria felt herself stumble. She blinked, and there was blood again.
Artoria ignored it, this could wait.
“Guinevere.” She walked towards them, knowing that someone might spot them. The two turned to her in surprise, and moved away from each other, as if caught doing something. She tried not to let that thought wander.
“Yes, my King?” Guinevere asked, her eyes glancing at Lancelot for a moment, before meeting hers again.
Of course, Lancelot was her priority.
That’s alright, she was not upset. She cared for them both, she would not take any happiness from them.
“May I speak to you in our chamber? Something important came up.” ‘Arthur’ asked, barely sparing her knight a glance.
“Ah, yes of course.”
The two walked quietly to their chamber, there were no questions asked, no small talk, only silence. Guinevere walked a few steps behind her king, her eyes staring at her back, with a somber expression.
Once they were behind closed doors, Artoria inhaled.
“Guinevere.” She addressed her queen, and turned to face her. “I know about Lancelot.”
Perhaps cutting to the chase was not her best idea, not when panic filled Guinevere’s blue eyes, now dull from years of crying and loneliness.
"How... do you know that?" Guinevere gulped, and hugged herself. Lying would not get her anywhere. She knew her actions would be considering an act of treason.
"You two have not been subtle. What if it was someone other than myself who found you?" Artoria scolded her, and she ignored the headache that was growing. "I cannot protect you if word comes out."
"If word came out, you would execute me." Guinevere did not ask. Why ask for something she knew to be a fact.
Hearing it hurt a lot more.
Artoria would choose Britain over everything including herself, so of course she would sacrifice anyone.
She had already sacrificed villages and raided them, one worthless wife is barely a price to pay.
“Why did you not speak sooner about this?” Guinevere’s voice was low, upset, but she was used to such cold words.
“I do not wish to ruin your happiness, if Lancelot can give you that, then all I ask is for you to be careful.” Artoria answered. It was subtle, but the queen noticed her face muscles tightening. “I owe you too much to try and take that from you.”
Guinevere’s expression softened.
“But you’re upset.”
“What?” The king’s eyebrows furrowed. “This matter does not concern me-”
“I know when something is bothering you.” The queen tilted her head, trying to get an answer. "Artoria... could it be that you have fallen for sir Lancelot?" She asked, and silence filled the room. Artoria did not know whether to laugh or cry. The king blinked, and rubbed her temple, sighing. She would laugh if she could. "Guinevere what led you to such a ridiculous conclusion?" She felt her headache coming back.
“Like I said, I can tell when you’re upset.”
“That does not mean I have feelings for Lancelot. I do not feel anything more than friendship towards him.”
Guinevere looked at her as if she did not believe a word.
How does one admit that they are upset that their most ‘loyal’ knight was bedding their wife?
“Guinevere, I have a son.” Artoria blurted out, and the room fell silent for a moment. So they went from arguing about Lancelot to such a confession… good job king Arthur.
“You’re… just accepting it like that?”
Guinevere stared at her dead in the eyes.
“I need to sit down.” Guinevere sat on the bed, and took a deep breath, processing what she just heard. “Explain.”
Oh she was upset.
She can endure Guinevere’s wrath, but explaining it was another story…
“Do you recall… the day we were supposed to make an heir?"
"I recall planning, but I…" Guinevere frowned. "I don't recall anything after, at least not what happened that day…"
"As I suspected… She enchanted you as well. Morgan messed with our memories." Guinevere's was now alarmed. "Sir mordred approached me, saying he is my son and Morgan's. There is no denying it."
"You mean…" Guinevere was horrified by the implications. She could see how paler Artoria looked, explaining it. "But that was eight years ago! How could he grow so fast?"
"...Who knows what that witch did to him." Artoria pressed her lips. Her memories of that night were too blurry, she could not recall anything.
She was helpless, she let Morgan take what she wanted.
If only she had been more careful...
She did not realize she was shaking until she felt Guinevere's hands cupping her own, grounding her.
"What will you do?" She asked, softly.
"I have to deal with him. I was going to consult Merlin, but I'm sure he would come to the same conclusion." Her expression hardened, and so did the grip on hand.
"You're… planning to kill him?" The queen's voice shook. "What happened was not his fault… nor was it yours, it was Morgan's."
"I know. But if she is using him as a weapon against me, then I must kill him."
"No one would follow a king who kills his own child." Guinevere glared. "And you are not the kind of person to kill someone without a good reason."
"I burned and raided my own villages. You seem to forget how much blood is on my hands."
"I did not forget. But I know that if there was an alternative, you would have taken it. I know you hate hurting others." Guinevere argued. "If Morgan is using him to get to you, then do not reject him, pull him to your side. Be honest with him and do not turn him down for something that he was not responsible for."
"He demanded I make him my heir. He does not know the first thing about being a king."
“Then teach him. Try to understand him, and then make your judgment.” The queen insisted, and the king stared at her for a moment, then sighed, pulled her hand away.
“Very well…” Artoria tried not to read too much into the bright smile Guinevere gave her. “I will hear his reasons first, and then I will see what to do.” She walked away, feeling a fire in her gut, she was not sure what to make of it, but she was anxious.
Everything was too much, and she was tired, burnt out.
Tristan’s departure, Guinevere’s affair, and now her sister’s betrayal.
Artoria stood at the top of the castle, watching over her kingdom, wondering what more secrets were hidden from here, how many more betrayals she would have to endure.
It was quiet, peaceful to many, but not to her.
She could never know the peace.
There was once a little girl, who believed in this world.
Artoria killed that girl. She killed the child who pulled a sword just to make people happy, just to see them smile, yet everything she touched would turn to dust.
Her eyes darkened, and she shook the thought upon hearing a visitor approaching.
“Did you call for me, my king?” Mordred’s voice was calm, but Artoria could hear a hint of something, hatred perhaps, or may be anger.
“Yes. I would like to continue our conversation from that day.” She turned to him, and for a moment she had to stop herself from avoiding his gaze. He had his helmet on, so that no one would see his face, but Artoria could remember his eyes full of hope, and all she could think of was Morgan. “I would like to ask you, why do you wish to be my heir? Is it because you are my son, or is there another reason?”
“Arthur… Do you think that I’m after the throne for power?” Mordred almost growled.
“I do not.” She answered, and her eyes wandered back to the kingdom. “Do you know why I pulled the sword?”
“Because you’re the rightful heir to the throne.”
“No. I never wished to be a king.” She closed her eyes, trying to find the memories of her childhood. “I was happy living a normal life. I believe I had everything I wanted. But I remember the day of the selection, and the disappointment on everyone’s faces when the sword chose no one. I remember finding out the truth, and I thought… if people could smile, then pulling the sword can never set me on the wrong path.”
The boy remained silent.
“I think that you are a strong knight, with so much potential to grow. I am proud of all the things that you have achieved, however… I cannot make you my heir, not yet.”
“I cannot call you my son right now, I was never aware of your existence, and my sister...used me. I recently found out from you, and I am still processing everything. Not to mention that I do not know you that well, and neither do most of the knights. You keep to yourself, and so we only know about your strength.” The king explained, carefully studying the knight’s eyes. “I wish to understand you and to know you, and that will take time, but perhaps someday I can know you well enough to call you family.”
The knight slowly took off his helmet, revealing that innocent looking face, full of wonder and confusion.
He was just a child… And Artoria… ordered him so many times to dirty his hands for her… She destroyed this child’s innocence, without even knowing.
“You… don’t hate me?”
“I have no reason to hate you. I simply rejected you because a king’s role is full of burdens, and it is not something I would throw anyone into. You are not fit to rule right now.” She sighed. “However, I can teach you.”
“I… I cursed you, and I yelled at you. You’re not mad?”
“Not at all.”
“So you don’t think I’m weak either? You don’t hate me for being Morgan’s child?”
“Why would I? Most of my trusted knights are her children as well. I would never judge a child by their parent’s misdeeds.”
Mordred remained quiet for a moment, contemplating everything.
“Do you think that is acceptable, sir Mordred?” Artoria asked, and when she noticed the slightest hint of rejection in his eyes, she cleared her throat. “I mean… Mordred.” His eyes brightened immediately.
“Yes! Yes I can work with that Father!” The boy was so excited, that he basically tackled her, and it was extremely awkward with his armor, but she figured she would let it slide. He noticed his mistake, and pulled away quickly. “Sorry, I uh… I didn’t mean to, I mean I meant to but I…”
In an awkward attempt to console him, she patted his head, something Kay used to do for her when they were kids.
The boy flushed, unable to repress his smile.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”
Unfortunately, right as she said that, a sharp pain took over.
Artoria’s vision blurred, and she could no longer hear Mordred’s voice. Blood… The blood was running down her nose, she was about to fall, but the knight’s arm supported her.
All of her senses, especially the dragon traits, were amplifying, everything was echoing in her ears, and her heartbeat was running faster than it ever has.
And then she lost consciousness.
And she dreamt of a hill.
She was surrounded by corpses, alone, and injured, and there was no one to find her.
Everything she has built has turned to ashes.
Then there were faces she could not recognize, a place and an era she has never been to, seals setting fires to her veins, and then…
She woke up confused, and she was met by the sight of the ceiling of her bedroom.
She tried to push herself up, but failed.
“Easy now, you’re in no condition to move.” The mage gently pushed her down, and sat on a nearby chair. “You’ve been out of it for a few days.”
“What…?” She grasped her head, trying to make sense of everything that has been happening. “What happened?”
“Mordred brought you to me, said you fainted and your nose was bleeding. You had a high fever and you still pushed yourself to move. How reckless could you be?” He chuckled, and she failed to see the humor in this. “You made your wife worry, you know.”
“What happened while I was asleep?”
“A battle broke out.”
“What?!” She sat up this time, and the simple action made all of her muscles scream in pain, but she ignored it. “What do you mean?!”
“MERLIN!” Guinevere walked in, furious. “She just woke up, and that’s the first thing you tell her?”
Guinevere glared at him, and then rushed to Artoria’s side, taking her hand.
“Everything is under control, it is not something that requires your attention, that’ s why you should rest.” Her tone changed from anger to worry, and Artoria subconsciously locked their hands.
“Guinevere, tell me what happened.”
“The rebels took advantage of your absence and launched an attack.” Merlin answered, earning another look from the queen.
“What are the odds...?”
“I would say it’s an easy battle to win, but it will cost many victims this time. They have gathered in more numbers than usual, but with all the knights of the roundtable, it will be under control soon.”
Guinvere stopped her. “You can’t fight in this state.”
“With me there, there will be less casualties.”
“You don’t even have Avalon with you!”
“Merlin, leave us alone for a moment.” Artoria ordered, and the mage shrugged, disappearing from the room.
"You haven't recovered, yet you're pushing yourself again." Guinevere was fuming. “You can afford to miss one battle!"
Artoria sighed and pushed her away. She left the bed, almost falling in the process, but she kept herself steady. "The kingdom needs me. I cannot afford to rest."
"You will die!"
"I knew how I would die before I even pulled Caliburn." Artoria tried to keep an even tone, but her exhaustion still slipped through. "I don't see how it matters now." She proceeded to change into her armor, and the queen clenched her fists.
“Do you have any idea how worried we all were? If you die because you went to battle in such a state, then who would protect Britain?!”
Guinevere's patience was running thin.
“Gawain should be my heir. I promised to train Mordred, however, if I do die, make sure Gawain succeeds me. If you try to stop me, I’ll have to ask Merlin to restrain you.” Artoria replied coldly. She did not have time for such a pointless conversation. "My life has no value. You should not concern yourself with such-"
Artoria felt a sharp pain, and blinked. It took her a moment to register that she has been slapped.
She stared at Guinevere in shock.
Her queen, who never complained, never raised her voice, just slapped her.
And now, she was glaring at her, eyes full of rage.
"Go ahead and die then, if that's what you want." The queen's voice was colder than a winter night. "You can never change... and I hate you for it."
With that, she walked away, and Artoria was alone.
That was fine.
Artoria was used to people blaming her for everything. She was used for people cursing her, and so... She proceeded with her goal.
She mounted her horse, sparing one last glance at Guinevere, who watched her from the gate, crying, and staring at her silently with something she could not place.
That didn’t matter.
If she were to die, Guinevere can finally have a life with Lancelot.
It was fine.
Artoria reached the hill where the battle was happening, and her thoughts were racing.
She knew this hill, she knew what that meant.
Still she kept on fighting.
She pushed her body to the limits, killing every rebel that came towards her, if something had to bloody their hands, it was her.
She would trade her life for everyone’s.
If she could make sure less people fell in this battle, then she would die happily.
If she could make even the slightest of difference, then that little girl’s dream... perhaps it could come true.
However, Artoria could not change fate, and so, she could not block this last attack in time.
Everything went dark for a moment... everything was quiet.
Artoria felt peaceful, at ease even.
Her enemies were defeated, she made sure she protected each and every knight.
However she may have strayed too far, because when she woke up again, she was alone.
She was lying in her own blood.
Artoria was cold... so cold, that it felt like any step she took would break her.
Her limbs were frozen, ready to be shattered like ice.
She stumbled, and was brought to her knees.
She could see her own blood, pouring down the hill, despite her best attempt to conceal the wound with her hands.
But what good would a shaking hand do?
"It's okay..." she breathed out, or maybe she was not talking at all. She could not hear anything but the sound of her faint beating heart. "You're... going to be..."
She vomited blood, and her vision blurred.
If someone could just find her...
How strange... Artoria knew she would die, but now that her time has come, desperation started to kick in.
She was scared.
She was terrified.
She was alone.
No one could hear her cries, and if they did, would they come?
Of course not.
She came to the cruel realization.
Artoria loved everyone, but no one loved her.
From day one, she was just a tool. She was not born out of love. She was not raised out of love.
She was not admired, but feared.
Everyone kept secrets. Everyone lied. Everyone tried to take something.
Morgan deceived her. Tristan walked away from her. Lancelot betrayed her. Guinevere lied to her.
Artoria's eyes were welling up with tears.
"Ah..." no one.
No one will find her.
No one will care.
"I hate you." Guinevere's words came back to haunt her.
"You cannot understand the hearts of men." Tristan's accusation plagued her mind.
"Ha... see... i see..." she was crying. She was weak. She was nothing. "You all just... used me... lied... none of you..."
"None of you saw me."
She lied on the ground, no longer having the desire to be saved.
She raised her hand to the sky.
Her breaths were violent, trying to suck in air and failing.
Her hand fell to her side, and she tried to breath.
She couldn't... she...
The violent breaths wouldn't stop.
And her mind was going blank.
Her body was shutting down, slowly, painfully, and her last thought was...
"I wish I was never born."
She sucked in one last breath, and she was no more.
Guinevere had many regrets. Anyone would after sealing away their happiness for the sake of others.
She was constantly plagued by thoughts of 'what if', or her constant helplessness towards her 'husband'.
Their relationship was fake from the start, not a marriage out of love, but out of ideals instead.
It was nothing but a lie.
That did not mean she did not care for Artoria.
However, it was hard, and before she knew it, those hurtful things left her mouth.
Artoria has not shown any sign of weakness or sickness, so it came as a shock to everyone, when a scared Mordred alerted them that the king fainted.
And then she did not wake up for days.
And once she did, she rushed into battle.
Guinevere stared out the balcony of her room, worried sick.
It was night. There was no sign of the knights returning.
There were no news about Artoria.
She continued to pace around the room, anxiously waiting for anything. Usually she would still be at ease, knowing that the King had Avalon with her, however… She lost it.
And she was not fighting at full strength.
No, surely she was fine.
She will come back alive, and well.
At least that’s what Guinevere thought, until the castle went into an uproar, and the knights returned in the middle of the knight.
Mordred was the first to rush in, carrying-to Guinevere’s horror- a bloodied Artoria, pale, and barely breathing, to the point she would have thought she was a corpse had she not approached her.
“Arthur!” She rushed to her side, then froze, knowing that there was nothing she could do.
She merely watched as Artoria was taken away to be treated, and once again she helplessly watched her suffer, while she could do nothing for her.
“My Queen.” Lancelot approached her, looking exhausted, and worried, but he was fortunately uninjured. “I am deeply sorry… The king rushed into battle, taking down enemies as if possessed by something. I have never seen him fight so recklessly… And then, he was out of our sight.”
“How… How bad are his injuries?”
“His wound is too deep, and he bled a lot. I think that if not for his dragon blood, he would have died hours ago.”
“He might not…”
“No.” Guinevere interrupted, shaking her head. “I don’t want to hear it, please.” She walked away, placing a hand on her chest, feeling as if her heart had been ripped apart.
The knights have come back safely, with a few injuries that were not life threatening. There were a few casualties, but nothing compared to the number of rebels they took down.
Artoria was the only one fatally injured.
This did not add up.
But Guinevere could not dwell on that, not when Artoria was being treated.
She pushed away those questions to the back of her mind, and waited.
The wait was too long, however.
She did not sleep at all, there was not a single thought that could ease her mind.
She did not love Artoria, no.
They were friends, sometimes even strangers.
But even strangers can mourn the loss of their company.
It was not until dawn that she received the news.
"I am afraid the king won't wake up for a while." Merlin came to get her. "Perhaps, never."
Artoria was brought back to her room. Her wounds have been treated, and she looked peaceful in her sleep.
"Merlin… if all of her wounds are taken care of, then why are you saying this?" Guinevere asked, feeling as if she was walking on thin ice, and the ice might break at any moment.
"There is great magic affecting her." Merlin paced around the room, and he stopped before Excalibur, resting against the wall. "From the day Caliburn was pulled, it was fated for King Arthur to die today."
One simple sentence was all it took to break that ice.
"King Arthur was fated to die today." Merlin repeated. "This battle was meant to end with Britain falling, most of the knights of the roundtable killed, and Artoria dead."
The Queen struggled to speak.
"I don't think I follow."
Merlin glanced at the unconscious king, fatally injured, and on the verge of death.
The king who was once a bright child he raised.
Merlin wouldn't pretend to understand human emotions, but even he could feel something eating at him from the sight.
"Artoria knew from the day she pulled the sword that her fate was sealed. She would suffer a lonely and cruel death, but when the time came, she could not accept it after seeing the remains of her kingdom. So she answered the holy grail's call, and fought in a different war." Merlin would have found the look of confusion he received amusing, if it were not for the circumstances. "The holy grail could grant any wish to whoever wins, and so, Artoria changed fate."
Guinevere's eyes lit up.
"Does that mean she will survive?"
"Unlikely." Merlin hated to be the bearer of bad news. "It is still possible, as so much has happened. Originally, your affair with Lancelot was exposed, leading Lancelot to kill in rage then flee the kingdom, and Mordred took the opportunity to lead the rebellion against Artoria, ending with them killing each other." Ignoring the look of shock and guilt on Guinevere's face, he continued. "However, the affair was never exposed this time, while Mordred never betrayed anyone, and everyone but Artoria came out intact."
"Then... why can't she survive?"
"The shackles of fate hold her back.
It was not uncommon for some people to be completely shackled by fate, not in just one life, but in many. Artoria was one of those people. Fate desires her dead, like it desires her ruling Britain."
Fate desired her dead?
After everything, she would not be granted even the slightest amount of happiness?
This holy grail war… what was it? Did she fight knowing it would not save her?
"You knew about everything." Guinevere turned to the mage, calm and collected, something unexpected from someone who just heard of everyone's demise. "You knew Artoria's battles were pointless, and you never tried to change it?"
"They were not pointless." He answered, but even Merlin felt guilt. He could not understand humans, but he cared for them. And Artoria's fate saddened him. "Everything she has done until now saved many lives. If not for her, the cost would have been higher.
He knew from the moment she pulled the sword that he made a grave mistake.
The child smiled brightly, despite hearing about her possible doom.
"People were smiling." He remembered her words, words that shook him to his core. "This path cannot be wrong."
Did that hopeful and optimistic child disappear forever?
Did he kill her?
"But the result is the same." Guinevere bit her lip, cursing this reality. King Arthur would die remembered as a hero and a legend, but Artoria would die alone and scared, isolated from the people she loved.
What a sick joke.
Guinevere, for the first time in her life, cursed Britain.
Merlin, closed his eyes, cursing himself.
-Back to Zero-
A week has passed with no signs of Artoria waking up.
Guinevere has taken it upon herself to take care of her and change her bandages.
She did not want anyone approaching her while she was vulnerable.
Merlin used a spell to keep her body in a frozen state while giving space for her wounds to heal.
She could not sleep or drink, so this was the best alternative until she would wake up.
Guinvere had no words to say, and no tears to shed.
She simply did her duty as a Queen, nursing her husband back to health.
She spent her days taking care of Artoria and thinking about Merlin's words.
She avoided Lancelot at all cost, feeling anxious whenever she saw him.
It was not his fault, but… Merlin told her in detail what should have happened.
Her affair was exposed, and as a result, Lancelot murdered Agravain.
Artoria forgave them, but had to execute Guinevere.
Gareth and Gaheris were killed by Lancelot in his attempt to rescue her.
Camelot fell, missing most of its knights, the others rebelling alongside Mordred, and in the end, the father and child killed each other.
It was all her fault.
She started a series of events that led to everyone's deaths.
She stared at the sleeping Artoria, and she was holding her hand -it was cold-, checking her pulse every now and then.
Artoria was never bad towards her. In fact she was caring.
When they first married, Artoria constantly checked on her and helped her adapt to her new home and duties.
She always made sure to include her.
There was a time where they talked like friends.
And then one day, Artoria came back from a battle, tired and bloodied. It was not her blood, Artoria said she wished it was hers.
"Hey, Guinevere." Artoria started, sitting at the edge of their bed, unable to sleep. "Do you think this bloodshed will ever end? How many more lives do I have to take for it to be over?"
Guinevere could not understand her struggles, because she has never taken a life. She did not understand the weight of her words.
"It will be over. You will protect everyone."
"No. I am more of a sword, cutting through everything. A sword cannot protect." Artoria sighed. She was not facing her, but instead staring forward, eyes duller than ever. "Our enemies, they are not bad people. They are trying to survive like us."
Guinevere stood up, and walked to Artoria's side.
"They have families too, people to protect. Who knows how many kids I have orphaned." Artoria's voice cracked, if even for just a second. Her wife took her hand, but she couldn't bring herself to reciprocate. "I am a monster."
Guinevere now held her hand, and as she watched her in her comatose state, she continued to wonder.
If she said something, if she had done anything but listen to her burdens, would she have been happier? Awake?
If Guinevere took her hand, instead of supporting from the shadows, would things have been different?
In the end, all she has ever done was fail her.
She let go of her hand -like she always did- and spared one last glance at her, before leaving.
The people have been in a state of anxiety, not knowing what would happen to their king, not knowing who would lead them next.
The fact they were talking about who to replace Artoria, made Guinevere sick.
She suffered so much, endured so much hate and and carried so many sins for them, only for them to throw her away.
The sickening feeling did not leave during the meeting at the roundtable, if anything, it only grew stronger.
"We have to decide on a successor." Agravain spoke up, and then tension in the room grew heavier.
It was something they all refused to speak of ever since Merlin gave them the news. Unlike her, they only know that Artoria is in a state of deep sleep that she may never wake up from.
Aside from Merlin, she was the only one who knew the full truth.
Perhaps as a little guilt trip for being the indirect cause of Artoria’s ‘death’.
"What are you saying?!" Gawain was so enraged that when he stood up, he knocked his chair down from the impact. "To speak of replacing the king, how dare you?"
"His majesty is still alive!" Bedivere sided with him.
"We don't know for how long." Kay intervened. Everyone stopped, the reality hitting harder when Kay of all people muttered such words. "Britain needs a king. We need to reassure the people. As long as they have no guide, there will be chaos." His tone was far too calm, far too unnerving.
Of course, Artoria was his sister, blood or not.
"Let's wait it out!" Gareth raised her hand to intervene. "I am sure we won't need a replacement!"
"I agree." Lancelot added.
"Someone must take on his duties for the moment." Merlin eyed the knights.
"The people are already wondering who will rule next. It is pointless to continue walking in circles." Agravain argued. "Even Merlin's magic could not wake the king!"
"It has only been a week!"
"A week is enough time for a kingdom to fall apart!"
"It won't! That is why we are here!"
"In that case let's put it to a vote."
"I refuse! King Arthur is not dead!"
"Gawain! How childish can you be?"
"THAT IS ENOUGH!"
Everyone at the roundtable stopped, shaken by the rare anger from their Queen.
If anything, their Queen's glare could turn anyone into stone.
"Britain will not fall. I am still the Queen, and I will do my duties and more to assure Arthur wakes up to find everything at peace." Guinevere stood with confidence, her hand still slammed on the table, and her eyes piercing Agravain. "Understood? Do not bury my husband alive."
"Your duties? Forgive me my Queen, but I recall his majesty taking all of your duties upon himself." Agravain almost scoffed, and Guinevere clenched her fists. "Why is that?"
"Sir Agravain, are you trying to imply something?"
"I would like to know if we can trust you to take matters in your hands when you haven't been doing anything as of late."
"Agravain! How dare you disrespect the Queen?" Lancelot growled. And for a moment, Guinevere panicked. "His majesty loves and trusts the Queen more than anyone." Guinevere's eyes widened. "He would never take away her duties unless it is something important."
"And that important thing is the fact that she is incompetent."
"Sir Agravain." Guinevere kept her calm. She would not let him get the best of her. "My husband took them because I was not well for a while. There is no deeper reason than him looking out for me until I recover."
"You do not look sick."
"I got better with Merlin's help." A liar needed an expert liar after all.
"That is true. Our queen has been under the weather for a while." Merlin shrugged.
"Hey." Mordred finally spoke since the start of their meeting. He exchanged a look with a worried Guinevere, before speaking again. "I think she is right. Camelot still has a ruler, and if we put it to votes, most of us will agree on not replacing the king."
"You..." Agravain stared at Mordred for a long time, before sighing. "Very well."
Guinevere was relieved.
Originally, she was also scared of Mordred’s reaction. Artoria told her he demanded to be her heir, so she was grateful that he did not say a thing so far.
That was why she needed to speak to him.
She needed to keep everything at peace.
She had to try her best for Artoria.
She waited until everyone left.
“Sir Mordred, may I speak with you?”
-Back to Zero-
"Why did you ask to meet me here?" Mordred followed her request, meeting her in the garden.
It was rather secretive, and she often met Lancelot there.
"My husband told me about you. You do not need to keep the helmet on." She said, running her hand through the flowers, busying herself with anything.
Anything that would keep her thoughts away from Artoria's sad fate.
"Thank you, for supporting me back there."
"Did you think I would reveal myself?" There was a certain bitterness to his voice, as if he was walking on eggshells.
"The truth is, I was worried, but now I know I can trust you." She turned him, and while she could not see his face, she noticed the way his shoulders relaxed.
"Aren't you mad at me? I am your husband's bastard."
"No." Her relationship with Artoria was fake. And it was not as if Artoria had a say in the matter.
And she would not blame this child for his mother's sins.
Mordred reculatently took off his helmet, looking down and avoiding her gaze.
His face was identical to Artoria's... a perfect copy of her.
The same eyes... she missed her eyes-
No, she had to focus.
"Does my face bother you?" There was a hint of snark.
"No you just..." she inhaled. "Look so much like your father."
Mordred grinned, his eyes full of joy at the simple statement.
This poor child...
"What did he say about me?"
Guinevere's heart sank at the innocent question. She was not sure what happened between Artoria and Mordred that day.
She could not tell him the full truth.
"When you first arrived, he spoke fondly of your skills." She sat at a nearby bench, folding her hands on her lap. "He said that in a few years, your strength would rival even sir Lancelot's."
"Really." She affirmed with a smile, patting the empty space beside her. "When you two met last time, what did Arthur talk to you about?"
"He said that he would teach me. He wanted to know me better." Mordred accepted her invitation. He was silent for a moment. He did not want to think of the possible future that could rob them of the opportunity. "I wanted to be recognized as king Arhtur's heir. The throne means nothing to me if he isn't here."
The child's desire was never the throne, but the love of a parent.
"What kind of person is my Father?" Mordred asked.
He never uses 'was', unlike the others.
Guinevere looked down, dwelling on how to answer.
They have been married for 10 years, yet she could not answer.
They may have been friends at some point, perhaps at the start. She had memories of a more open Artoria, who loved horses, and village festivals, and would talk to her about her fears and worries.
Now, she wondered if those were just memories she made up, because over the years, Artoria only became colder and more distant.
She became the perfect king, yet the most imperfect human she has ever seen.
"He is strong willed and kind. He hates killing people, but he does it to protect us. He gets really happy when there are opportunities to celebrate anything." She chuckled. "He loves festive times, and he smiles at people's happiness." She chuckled, now that she recalled more happier memories. "He is a sore loser, and he hates feeling weak." Her smile soon changed into a frown. "He was also a fool." She finally answered. "A fool who sacrifices everything and receives nothing."
"... Are you crying?"
"..." Guinevere cursed herself, and attempted to wipe away her tears.
Tears of frustration over a complete stranger.
Guinevere held no feelings for her 'husband', neither did she think of them as friends.
Truth be told, she wished they had never met.
Yet she could not hold back the tears, because it was so upsetting to watch someone break so much for others, and be discarded so quickly.
Artoria pendragon was the fool she hated more than anything.
She was also the fool whom she prayed for every day to wake up.
Chapter 3: A question of love and hate
The queen without her king.
Guinevere decided to quit her job as a queen.
Well, she couldn't actually do that, but she hasn't slept in forever and it was driving her insane.
"This will be it for today." Agravain placed a wall of papers on the desk. "Do you need anything, my Queen?"
I need you to die... she wanted to say.
It felt as if he was mocking her, handing her an impossible amount of tasks.
She shouldn't be complaining.
Artoria never complained.
But if someone finds Agravain's body at the lake, she could not be blamed.
"No. Thank you." He nodded and walked away. She leaned back into her seat, and sighed. Her whole body was sore, she had no idea how Artoria could endure this.
On top of that, Artoria did her job for her as well.
She missed her.
There were no news about her condition other than the fact that her wounds have completely healed.
There was still no sign of waking up.
"Your majesty?" Someone knocked on her door.
Gareth nervously poked her head out of the door, before walking in.
"Do you need anything, Gareth?"
"No, I thought I would check on you, see if you needed anything."
"Oh." She was always the sweetest person around with the toughest exterior. Despite Artoria's conflict with her sister, her nephews were still her pride and joy. "I'm okay, thank you."
Gareth nodded, but didn't leave. She pouted for a moment, and Guinevere would have asked what's wrong if not for how amusing her behavior was.
"My queen, pardon my intrusions, but you look a little stiff. Would you like a quick massage for your shoulder?"
"Yes." Was the immediate answer.
She needed relief so badly, one more hour and her joints might rust.
Gareth chuckled softly.
She placed her hands on the queen's shoulders and started working on the knots. Guinevere instantly felt some relief.
"Wow Gareth, you're so good at this!" Guinevere sighed with a smile. "I should have asked you to do this sooner "
Gareth perked up. "Thank you! Lyonesse taught me! She would always help me whenever I was tired from training."
"Oh? You two are very good friends, aren't you." Guinevere smirked, she could feel the knight pause for a second, perhaps blushing.
"Y-Yes! We are!"
"Gareth, could it be that you fancy her?"
"Don't worry about it! All of this work made me nostalgic for some gossip. Think of me as some village girl listening to your love problems."
"I-I can't do that!"
The knight hid her blush and continued her work.
"Are there... are there any news on our king...?" The shyness left Gareth's voice, replaced by concern.
Guinevere closed her eyes.
"Rest assured, Arthur will wake up soon. He just needs some more sleep." She forced a smile. "I think he deserves a small break, we just have to take care of Camelot until he wakes up." She turned to Gareth, who smiled back.
"Hearing your belief in him puts me at ease." The knight chuckled and then whispered. "You must really love him."
"W-what?" Guinevere's once steady expression now turned to a mess of deep red and panic. She tried and failed to regain her composure. "O-of course I do, he is my husband!"
No way. Loving Artoria? That is insane.
"Woah! I never thought I would see our queen so bashful!"
"What about you and Lyonesse? Shouldn't you make a move?" Guinevere fought back, and gained some satisfaction from hearing the knight yelp.
"W-we are just good friends!" Gareth retorted. "ANYWAY I wanted to ask for the longest time... how did you and the king meet? It was at your father's castle but how exactly?"
Gareth leaned in excitement, her eyes full of anticipation, her hands clasped together, awaiting a powerful tale of love.
"I broke Arthur's ribs." Guinevere shrugged, and the colors drained from Gareth.
"I fell on him from a tree and broke several of his ribs. He was fine."
"I've done worse to him."
"Like... like what?"
"Some things are better left unsaid but just know that it always happens by accident."
"You scare me."
"But you know... when I first met Arthur, I thought... What a pretty boy." Guinevere let out a soft laugh, unaware of the pink brushing against her ears. "I made his stay horrible, and we kept getting into trouble, but he was always kind and polite, and never once said anything to hurt me." She leaned against her desk, and rested her face on her palm, staring at a decade old memory.
"You really love the king, do you?"
"Of course I- G... Gareth!" Guinevere glared while Gareth laughed and skipped to the door.
"The queen is too shy to say it!" She sang and left the room.
And so, the queen was alone again.
She shook her head with a smile, grateful for the knight’s distraction. All she could do these days was work, and when she wasn’t working, she was thinking.
She was one of the reasons Camelot’s downfall happened, so she had to take responsibility.
She did wish to escape it sometimes, to start a new life, she sometimes thought about running away, convincing Lancelot.
But… she could not leave Artoria.
Despite all the grief that Artoria has caused her, she could not leave her.
Artoria was larger than life, but it was because she was larger than life that Guinevere could not reach her anymore.
There used to be a time when she could, a time when Artoria would smile and laugh.
She felt nostalgic, for their first meeting, for their wedding, for the first few years where Artoria was her friend.
Time rots everything though, doesn’t it?
-Back to zero-
The past month has been a slow one, and yet it felt like too much was happening.
Lancelot watched as fear and worry grew in everyone, from the knights, to the people, and yet not Guinevere.
She did not show any hint of emotion since the king’s return. It was as if the queen was wearing a mask the entire time.
He knew that the king and queen’s relationship was complicated, that the king was a woman. Guinevere confessed everything, wishing to be free of the secret.
And he, like a fool, fell in love with her.
No… his feelings were not pure, he knew. He has always been infatuated with his queen, from the first time he saw her, he was only looking for an excuse to pursue her.
Now that the king was on her deathbed, he felt disgusted by his actions.
However… he was only human, and he could not help but yearn more, he could not help but see this as an opportunity for him to take the queen away.
He made a mistake allowing himself to be selfish once, because now it’s all he could ever do, betraying everyone’s trust just for his own desires.
And so, when he started seeing the queen spending time with sir Mordred, he felt uneasy.
“Sir Mordred, what brings you to the castle? Do you not have duties elsewhere?” Lancelot asked when he saw the knight roaming around, as if anxious.
The knight remained quiet.
“Sir Mordred.” Lancelot tried again.
“I was worried about the king.”
“I’m in charge of personally protecting our king and queen, I will not let any harm come to them.” He insisted. He was the strongest knight of the roundtable, so naturally, Arthur gave him the role of being the queen’s personal guard.
“The king has many enemies, what if…” Mordred started, then changed the subject. “The queen asked me to meet her, I will take my leave.”
He did not question the knight, and instead asked Guinevere.
"My queen, is there a reason you're taking interest in sir Mordred?" Lancelot asked, and she pressed her lips in a thin line.
"Sir Mordred simply chose to support me, that's all there is to it." She turned to him, and watched the doubt and concern on his face. "Do you not trust him?"
"I am not sure... We have never seen his face, and he keeps to himself."
"But he serves loyally."
"That is true, but I remain concerned."
The two walked in silence. Gone was the comfortable atmosphere that used to surround them, and instead appeared the guilt and shame.
There was a time where they found comfort in each other, but right now, the game they used to play was threatening the peace of their country.
Only Guinevere knew.
"Sir Lancelot." She stopped, once she made sure there was no one around to see them. "We should stop seeing each other."
She couldn't turn to face him.
"Guinevere... did I offend you somehow?" He asked, concerned and hurt.
"No. Our relationship was wrong from the beginning. I have to focus on my duty as a queen." She braced herself for his reaction. The truth was, she was scared. She was terrified of his rage, the same rage he killed Gareth and Gaheris with in another world.
"What about your happiness?" But the rage never came, instead there was a desperate attempt at reconciliation. Lancelot took her hand. "You do not need to force yourself anymore, I can take you away-"
"I can't afford to be selfish!" She pulled her hand away, and faced him. She wished she could stop shaking, but whenever she was reminded of the possible future, terror took over her body. "Camelot needs me! My husband needs me!"
"Guinevere you have been neglected-"
"Stop making it about me!" She sighed. "Please respect my decision. I am sorry."
Lancelot looked at her, saddened.
She gave him a grateful smile, and walked away. He extended his hand towards her, but then stopped and took a step back.
He would not force his affection on her.
And so the queen walked alone, once again.
It was the right choice, and yet she wished to cry, she wished to curl up and drown in misery, she was truly alone.
The only thing to look forward to right now was… Mordred.
It was dangerous to get attached to a child that wasn’t hers. It was even more dangerous when the child was a weapon created by Morgan.
That woman was a mystery to her. She started out as a kind and helpful woman who would even act as Artoria’s advisor in times of need, but as time went by, she turned into a cruel witch, one who would not stop until she sees her sister dead.
However, Mordred was innocent, he had so much admiration for his father.
She smiled when the boy came into view, always hidden behind his armor.
"Mordred." Guinevere smiled, but the boy seemed hesitant. "You can take off the helmet."
"No... I'd rather stay like this."
"Is something wrong?" Guinevere sat beside him.
"Sir Lancelot is suspecting me. I don't want to cause trouble." He muttered.
"You aren't causing any trouble."
"I'm your son's bastard child." Mordred clenched his fist, his hand starting to shake from anger. "Everyone already distrusts me! If they found out... Why are you so okay with your husband cheating on you? Shouldn't you hate me?"
It wasn't the case.
Artoria was never at fault.
But Mordred already hated the circumstances of his birth, would he handle the truth well?
"I don't care. I have no reason to hate you. Didn't you already ask me this?"
"Arthur did not betray me, to me he is not at fault, and neither are you."
Mordred’s shoulders slowly moved downwards, and he removed his helmet. The boy blushed and scratched his cheek.
“You are too nice, I can see why father loves you.”
Guinevere coughed awkwardly.
“Mordred, have you tried approaching your siblings yet?” She changed the subject, and he immediately rolled his eyes.
“Mother told me to never talk to them.”
“Your mother also constantly asks you to kill your father.”
“...Okay you’ve got a point.”
“I think it’s important to build a relationship with them. They too have been hurt by Morgan’s actions, but they learned to not let their mother define them.” Guinevere smiled, and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Just say the word, and I will introduce you to them properly.”
“But… father didn’t wake up.”
“I think it would be easier for your father to not explain everything to the knights. He… really loved his sister, and wished to be family, but she kept stabbing him in the back, so much that he prefers not to speak of her.” She sighed. Mordred’s creation was truly the last straw.
"Did she hurt him knowing he loved her?"
"I don't think she ever understood his love." Guinevere answered bitterly, remembering how crushed Artoria was the day Morgan was exiled, how she laid on her lap that day for comfort, and asked why did Morgan hate her so much.
"I don't want to kill more of my family." Artoria whispered that day, pleading even.
The more she would think of the past, the easier it was to see how Artoria was slowly falling apart, and the more she cared, the more it burned her.
How cruel is it, for someone to love and be punished for it?
“I will think about it… meeting my brothers I mean.” Mordred rubbed his nose nervously. “If one of them speaks up against me I am ready to answer with my fists! I am still a worthy knight of the roundtable!”
Guinevere laughed nervously.
Mordred and Artoria were not the same after all.
“Please do not punch your siblings.”
-Back to zero-
Between the two of them, Guinevere has always been the one to dream, while Artoria saw nightmares on the rare occasions her mind would drift away.
And yet that night, Camelot was on fire, and Guinevere was on her knees, watching as Gareth’s body dropped to the ground, and Gaheris ran towards Lancelot, blinded by madness, only for Lancelot to cut his head off.
Guinevere could not look away, nor could she stop shaking. She looked at Lancelot’s darkened eyes, and could not struggle as he took her by the hand and led her outside.
She wanted to scream.
It was a nightmare, she knew it was a nightmare, but her mind would still process Merlin’s words about the events that were supposed to happen.
“Stop… let me go, Lancelot!” She yelled, but he continued to lead her. He was far too strong for her to escape.
When he opened the gates leading to the outside fire, she closed her eyes, not wishing to see it, but as a result, she ended up tripping and falling right into it.
But instead of falling right into the flames, a pair of arms caught her, and Lancelot was gone. Guinevere opened her eyes, as the person embraced her.
Only one person called her by that name.
“Artoria!” Guinevere sobbed, and hugged her tighter. Artoria ran a hand through her hair, calming her down.
It all felt too real.
“You’re safe, it’s just a nightmare.” Artoria pulled away, and that was when the scenery changed. Guinevere looked around, and was hit with nostalgia for her old home. “It’s been a long time since you’ve visited, hasn’t it?” She let go, and turned towards the river, surrounded by the greenest of trees.
“Why are we here?” Guinevere asked, taking Artoria’s hand into her own, fearing that if she didn't, then she would disappear.
“This is your dream, the river must hold an important place in your heart.”
“The river…” She muttered to herself, trying to remember why she would be pulled back to safety and to this place specifically. She then blushed at the realisation. “Wait, this is where-”
“Oh, this is where you kissed me.” Artoria casually stated, and Guinevere punched her in the arm. “Hey!”
“Don’t say it so casually! I-I didn’t know you were a girl”
“Eh? Why are you upset? It's been over a decade now.”
“Give me back my first kiss!”
“I can’t do that! I’m a made up version of Artoria in your dreams!”
“I don’t care!”
Artoria chuckled, and Guinevere was cruelly reminded how none of this was real, how it has been so long since she heard that sound.
How she missed her dearly.
Guinevere did not want to wake up.
If this dream would let her keep Artoria by her side, then-
"Guinevere. You are brave and strong, and you are the only queen I would ever choose." Artoria took both of her hands in hers. "You must not give up."
"I am not strong. I am not as strong as you. I am nothing but an ordinary woman." Gwen shook her head, and stared at her with pleading eyes.
Artoria smiled, and rested her forehead against hers.
"That is why you are beautiful. It is because you are ordinary, that you can keep a monster like me grounded."
Guinevere woke up.
She was in her bed, and it was still night. The fire illuminating the room was starting to go dull.
She turned to her side, and stared at the comatose Artoria.
Not once did something change, not a move of a finger, not a change in expression.
She almost looked peaceful, if it were not for the daily question of whether she would wake up… or die.
Guinevere moved closer, and took her hand in her own, and placed her head against her shoulder.
She needed this.
She needed to feel Artoria's warmth, to know she was still breathing.
"Artoria..." She started, using her free hand to loosely wrap it around Artoria's arm. "Merlin said you might be able to hear me."
She remembered her smile from the dream, and fought back a sob.
"Please... Please come back to me."
Guinevere drifted back to sleep, and continued to plead in her sleep.
During that time, the hand in hers twitched, hold her for a moment, before letting go to the previous state.