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The King

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"Bloody hell." Giles breathed out in awe and dismay, and Buffy looked up from where she'd had to brace her hands on her knees until her nausea had passed.

 

"Wha..." Buffy trailed off and widened her eyes as she followed Giles' gaze down the dirt road. "Is that- real?"

 

A hundred or so yards in front of them stood a castle. A formidable, well-tended castle.

 

"It's real." Giles grimaced, then ducked his head and gripped her arm to pull her to the side of the road as a cart rolled by. He tried to avoid the gaping gazes of the passengers, but Buffy gaped at them just as much as she had the castle.

 

"Giles," She hissed, and his grip tightened around her arm.

 

"Is Willow still with you?" He urgently asked her, lowering his voice though there was no one else near enough to hear them.

 

"I don't- " Buffy closed her eyes, took a breath, and stopped trying to panic about castles and horse-drawn carts and - she took another breath. "Willow?" She murmured aloud, feeling out with her Slayer senses. She could still feel her friend's magic, which helped her to relax a little more, and she nodded for Giles' benefit.

 

"I'm here, Buff. Hey - this looks like Ireland!" Willow sounded excited, and Buffy opened her eyes to find the witch standing to her left. "I did it! Right? I mean, I'm just going by the pictures I've seen, honestly. This is what Ireland looks like, right? Castles and quaint roads and greener-than-green grass - hey, are those people wearing gowns? Is there some kind of renaissance festival going on? Does Ireland have renaissance festivals or is that another Americanized thing…”

 

"Willow," Buffy grimaced at her friend’s over-excited babbling, closing her eyes again for a moment as the nauseating swirling in her mind returned. Giles' hand shifted to Buffy's shoulder, his touch more supportive.

 

"Sorry," Willow apologized meekly.

 

She wasn't actually with them; a form of her spirit was attached to Buffy, thanks to Slayer mystic stuff that Giles and Willow had discussed and Buffy had merely nodded cluelessly about and trusted them with. As such, Buffy was the only one that could see or hear Willow, currently.

 

"Willow, we have a serious problem. You must bring us back, immediately." Giles announced gravely, looking in the general direction of the opposite side of Buffy, but not actually quite at Willow.

 

"Wrong part of Ireland?" Willow grimaced apologetically. "Sorry about that. But hey, isn't the whole country like, the size of Indiana? I'm sure it won't be too difficult to get to where we need to be," She looked around hopefully, but her expression dimmed as she noticed the state of the roads, and more particularly the cart that was about half the distance between them and the castle now.

 

"Willow says she's sorry if she put us in the wrong part of Ireland, but sounds to me like it'll be easier to hitch a ride than to use the spell again," Buffy told Giles, but he began shaking his head before she finished.

 

"I suspect we aren’t even in the right country - however I'm more worried about the when than the where." He informed them gravely, shifting to return his gaze to the castle.

 


 

"Camelot?" The young local man frowned in confusion at Buffy, propping his hand casually on the hilt of his sword. Buffy had to admit that for an ancient-century kid, the whole look was really going for him. "I’m unfamiliar. You don't know where you are?" He laughed as if that honestly amazed him. "This is Caerleon!" He gestured his hand out wide, and Giles and Buffy both glanced around the large hall again.

 

Buffy noticed Giles' gaze double-take toward the red tapestry near the windows, and the tension in his body skyrocketed. Buffy frowned at the fabric, wondering what was so special about it.

 

"E-excuse me," He asked, and Buffy lifted her eyebrows in surprise at his stuttering. She hadn't heard him do that in ages. "Pardon me, but- but do you, i-is your name... Arthur, by any chance?"

 

The young man in question cocked his head to the side, and smiled a bit curiously, his eyes suddenly suspicious.

 

"Yes?"

 

"I- ehm," Buffy could tell Giles was floundering for an excuse, "I've heard tale of- of your prowess with the sword, my liege." Giles bowed low toward him, and while Buffy gaped, the other man laughed.

 

"Oh, please don't start that!" He begged humorously, and Giles hesitantly straightened again, looking a bit wrong-footed. "I don’t need to be anyone's king anytime soon," The young guy laughed again and said to himself, "Merlin will get a kick out of this. Oh, wait until I tell my father. Haha!"

 

"Merlin? Arthur? Merlin, Merlin?" Buffy yelped, and Giles reached for her hand quickly, giving it a hard squeeze in warning that was just slightly too late.

 

"You know Merlin?" Arthur asked her, not sounding suspicious any longer, merely a friendly sort of curiosity. "How does he come to know such a pretty lady as you?"

 

Buffy straightened a little, surprised at his blatant flirt, especially in front of Giles. Granted, it wasn't like he knew who either of them were, but still.

 

"I, uhm..." She tried to think of an excuse that would make sense. She should have paid more attention in her medieval history class. "I travel a lot - quite often. We've met in passing every now and then," She gestured her hand vaguely in the air, "In the market..."

 

Giles looked at her incredulously, mouthing ‘in the market' as if she'd lost her mind, but Arthur merely took this in stride and nodded, gesturing for them to follow him as he led them down the hall toward another set of large doors.

 

"Of course. He's my manservant, so I've sent him on countless errands." Arthur remarked casually, and Giles gaped like a fish until Buffy was the one squeezing his hand warningly.

 

She'd barely noticed that they'd still been holding hands. She didn't mind it, though, because this was all seriously starting to wig her out. They were really in a different time period - somehow, that unsettled her even more than parallel universe travel. This wasn’t just like, ‘let’s hop back to last week to stop this demon from rampaging the town’ - this was serious time travel.

 

“So, the people talk about my swordsmanship, eh?” Arthur grinned smugly, pleased pride in his eyes that looked a bit too eager in Buffy’s opinion for the smugness to be genuine.

 

"I'll be back, Buffy, okay? Gonna do some Googling on this Caerleon place." Willow murmured, though it was unnecessary since no one else would have been able to hear her anyway. "King Arthur! And Merlin. Wow!"

 

Buffy wanted to snark something at Willow's glee, but then she was gone, her spirit aura once more back at home in their normal time.

 


 

"Father," Arthur's tone leveled a bit more formally as he entered the gaping room, though not by much. "We have some visitors from afar,"

 

"Visitors?" The man leaning over maps strewn out on a massive table straightened, and turned to face them. He appeared obviously annoyed, by the set of the shoulders and, when he faced them, the narrowing of his brow.

 

Buffy gaped at him, completely unable to do anything else otherwise. It wasn’t very often she found herself honestly speechless.

 

"Today is not- "

 

"I know, father," Arthur interrupted, and the man’s eyes sharpened dangerously for a moment, no doubt at the rudeness of his son speaking that way in front of strangers.

 

Buffy recognized that look. She'd seen it on Giles' face countless times.

 

She'd seen that face on Giles' face countless times.

 

"But I believe you'll be interested to know who they are," Arthur was finishing, just as Giles and the king both froze and stared at one another.

 

Even had Arthur not called him 'father', the crown resting atop his short cropped hair stated who he was clearly enough. That, and the style of his dark blue robes were obviously of royalty.

 

"And who are they?" The king stepped toward them suspiciously, his question mostly pointed toward them and not his son. His right hand rested atop the pommel of the sword at his hip, but it seemed more out of habit than a threatening gesture. His eyes didn’t stray from Giles for a second.

 

"Remarkable." Giles breathed, speaking at about the same time the king had. The king raised an eyebrow, and Buffy held her breath.

 

He stood differently than Giles, walked differently, weighed a little more, had more lines on his face and more grey in his hair - but their similarities were striking. Same forehead, same chin... and the set of his eyes, though harsher and more shrewd, was fairly similar as well.

 

That detail unsettled Buffy the most, even out of everything that had happened within the past fifteen minutes.

 

The king glanced toward Buffy for a moment, quickly taking her in - pausing on her hand still clasped within Giles' - like a man gauging an enemy. His gaze cast over Giles in the same way, but then immediately returned to Buffy, something different behind it now.

 

"Remarkable, indeed." He mused quietly, staring into her eyes. She stared back, completely thrown for a loop. Now that he was closer, he didn't quite look so much like Giles as she'd first thought, but still... he unnerved her. And his gaze was intense.

 

"I believe they may be family," Arthur quipped, and the king scowled briefly as if he were exhausted.

 

"Go find your manservant," He advised his son, "I had him work on your sword and it should be practiced with before the end of the week."

 

"Yes, Sir," Arthur's tone was more respectful now, though his half-bow not quite so much, and Buffy was surprised to see the quick flash of a grin on the king's face as he watched his son leave the room.

 

Then in a blink that expression was gone, and he was staring at the two newcomers seriously.

 

"Why is there a Watcher in my kingdom?" He demanded, and then his brow furrowed in distaste. "And wearing such odd clothing?"

 

Buffy and Giles glanced at one another with wide eyes, equally wary. How did he know Giles was a Watcher? How did he know about Watchers at all?

 

As if reading their looks, he gestured toward their clasped hands.

 

"I recognize that ring. My brother had one just like it."

 

"Your brother was a Watcher?" Giles wondered in surprise, and the king narrowed his eyes even more, which Buffy was surprised to find possible.

 

"I will be asking the questions... I suggest you answer them."

 

"I..." Giles hesitated, and then gently slipped his hand from Buffy's, squaring his stance and relaxing his arms non-threateningly by his sides. "We have been undercover... my liege,” He explained of their shirts and pants.

 

"You are not from Caerleon," The muscle beneath the king's eye twitched, slightly. "I am not your king." It was almost said in a resigned manner. Then he added, "And a Watcher answers to no one but his Slayer."

 

Buffy raised her eyebrow and slowly turned to face Giles, smug. He glanced at her, pursing his lips, but otherwise ignored the comment.

 

"I only meant respect." Giles returned genially, and then finished answering his question, "We were... unfortunately overwhelmed by... beasts. We have nothing left of what we’d brought with us on our journey."

 

The king looked at him thoughtfully for a long moment, but eventually nodded, deciding to accept the explanation whether or not he really believed it. Buffy had to admire his approach; he was clearly a tactical man, not just some dude that sat on a chair beheading people.

 

Well, maybe he did that, too. She had no idea.

 

"And does this make you...?" The king focused on Buffy, and Giles quickly spoke up, verging on interrupting him,

 

"She is my ward, in training to become a Watcher one day."

 

Buffy blinked, her only tell that she was surprised by his decision, and refrained from giving him an incredulous look only because the king was watching her so closely.

 

"Your ward." The king repeated, not quite dubious, but he hardly blinked. Buffy couldn't help but stare back, amazed by his eyes. He didn't have that distinctive splash of amber in one - thank God, because that would have definitely been wiggy - but the green was otherwise very much like Giles'.

 

And incredibly intense. She wouldn't say that she was intimidated, but she had to acknowledge the formidable presence in front of her. She could kick his ass, of course, as the Slayer - but he wordlessly and effortlessly demanded a sort of respect that she didn't often see.

 

"Anne Summers," Giles introduced softly, and Buffy smiled a little, taking the cue. "I am Rupert Giles." Her smile only wavered a tiny bit. Oh, so apparently he gets to keep his full name?

 

"Lady," The king nodded his head toward her in a respectful small bow, and she hesitantly returned it, glancing toward Giles. "I am Uther Pendragon. You’ve met my son, Arthur." He told them.

 

"Forgive me, we haven't much case to see royalty. She's still studying," Giles apologized for Buffy's apparently-not-good-enough response, but Uther held his hand in the air as if it wasn't a bother.

 

“Female Watchers are rare, to my knowledge." Uther mused curiously, folding his hands together in front of his waist casually as he eyed Buffy more critically. She resisted the urge to snark something at him for eyeing her, and Giles - knowing her well - briefly looked relieved at her silence before replying to the king,

 

“Rare, but not unheard of.” Giles replied agreeably. “She shows... certain talent, and fierce desire, in the field of work. While her research skills leave much to be desired," Here Giles smirked a little, and Buffy frowned at him. "Her skill in battle is profound. She has bested many men."

 

He was falling into the lingo quite well, wasn't he? Buffy's frown wavered as she glanced toward Uther and then eyed Giles more critically. She could actually see him in that sort of getup; with the loose trousers and the tall boots and that shirt tunic thing with the low open collar... She blinked quickly and looked away from her Watcher, urging herself to focus.

 

"My son was never much interested in book studies, himself," Uther laughed lightly, and just like that the men seemed to have reached some sort of understanding that Buffy didn't quite follow. "Though this is curious." His gaze roved over Buffy once more, appraisingly. "Your womanhood aside, you are quite small to be a warrior."

 

Buffy's jaw twitched and Giles' hand immediately clamped down on her shoulder, hard.

 

"I'm quite proud of her." He announced, his tone indeed proud, but his grip on her was sharp and warning.

 

Don't get sassy and piss off the king of Camelot. Right.

 


 

Uther wanted to talk with Giles more about who-knows-what, and it was obvious that Buffy was being dismissed to go entertain herself elsewhere. She wasn’t too happy about that, but a lanky dark-haired man had stumbled his way into the room looking for Arthur, and Uther immediately ordered him to “see to the Lady properly” - whatever that meant.

 

Buffy hoped it didn’t mean what it sounded like it meant. Sure, the guy looked cute in a dorky sort of way, but Buffy was the kind of girl that liked to get to know a guy a little bit first before they reached the “see to one another properly” stage.

 

“And Merlin!” Uther called out before the young man could scurry away through the door again, and Giles’ eyes widened almost comically. “Keep Arthur out of trouble?” He requested with a sigh, as if this were a frequent occurrence, and Merlin nodded his head quickly before reaching for Buffy’s hand and tugging her out of the room.

 

“Merlin... is your son’s manservant?” Buffy heard the strangled tone in Giles’ voice as the door closed behind them.

 

“Yes...? Do you know him? He’s the ward of my old friend. He’s a bit of a bumbling idiot, but admittedly he’s saved my son’s life on more than one occasion... so I offered him a place here, to continue in that duty.”

 

“He- I- ...my, uh, Anne, they are distant acquaintances, I believe.” Giles managed to stumble over her lame cover story, forced to go along with it. She could hear the pain in his voice at the idea that such a well-known and powerful sorcerer (in their time) was... not nearly as such, here and now. “I’ve heard her speak of him.”

 

The heavy wooden doors thunked fully closed, then, and Buffy couldn’t hear the rest of their conversation. Merlin had let go of her arm by now, but he was still practically half-running down the corridor, and she scowled at him as she skipped ahead to catch up.

 

“What’s the rush?” She wondered, a little annoyed.

 

“I uh, just don’t like to be alone with him too long.” Merlin admitted, immediately slowing down to a more normal pace. Buffy raised her eyebrow, and he grimaced and avoided her eyes.

 

“He’s kinda... formidable, huh?” She noted, and his eyes narrowed at her just slightly before he nodded. She bit her tongue a little and reminded herself that she needed to be careful about how she talked around here.

 

She had a feeling she was going to have a much harder time getting into the lingo than Giles had, either way.

 

“Why did your guardian say that you and I know one another?” Merlin asked curiously. “I’m certain we’ve never met before.”

 

His flirtation was even more painfully obvious - and awkward - than Arthur’s, and Buffy rolled her eyes.

 

“Simmer down, Mr. Wizard, you’re a bit young-”

 

Merlin’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head and he leapt forward, pressing his hand over her mouth as he darted his gaze around the hallway… which was still as empty as it had been. Buffy pushed his hand away - it was gross; it smelled like hay - and scowled at him.

 

“Excuse you-“

 

“Keep your voice down!” He hissed, and then suddenly straightened stiff as a board and stood at an arms’ length from her. “I don’t know why you would call me that, it’s absolutely ridiculous. I am no wizard. I don’t know anything about ma- … about the dark arts.” Now Merlin was speaking in an oddly terse and loud tone, and Buffy raised her eyebrow high.

 

“What the heck is wrong with you?” She asked him dryly.

 

“Me?” He darted in close again, looking at her incredulously. “What is wrong with you? There are certain words you don’t ever say in Caerleon - much less within the castle walls.”

 

“What did I say?” Buffy wondered with a little pout, now thinking about how Giles was bound to find out that she’d messed up already, and he wouldn’t let her hear the end of it.

 

“Look,” Merlin began, then hesitated and glanced around once more, and then grabbed her arm again and began to drag her down the corridor. She was about to protest his manhandling when he suddenly darted into a little alcove and tugged her along with him.

 

“Woah - I don’t know how easy Caerleon girls are but-”

 

“I couldn’t say.” Merlin replied with a distracted tone, and when she gave him a curious look, he was already looking at her with a glower. “I don’t know how it is in the kingdom you’re from, but, magic is banned from Caerleon. Completely. Anyone even suspected of practicing magic is killed.”

 

“Oh my God, seriously?” Buffy exclaimed, and Merlin winced.

 

“Keep your voice down! Listen - you cannot just casually accuse someone of being a wizard, not even as a joke. That is a death sentence.”

 

“I- I’m sorry, Merlin, I didn’t know…” Buffy apologized sincerely, and worriedly thought about Giles. She hoped he didn’t let slip any specifics to the King about how they got here… or about his own talents.

 

Then again, Giles probably already knew alllll about the history of Caerleon and its anti-magic laws.

 

“So…” Buffy lowered her voice to barely a whisper of breath, “does anyone know what you do?”

 

“How do you?!” Merlin nearly wailed - if one could wail in a whisper.

 

“I-” Buffy floundered. Merlin narrowed his eyes, and then suddenly they flashed gold for a moment while he looked at her. She flinched in startled surprise.

 

“You… are not entirely human.” He mused slowly, in a more curious tone of voice than a frightened one. “It isn’t magic - or not any that I’ve ever seen before - but it’s… different.” He tilted his head to the side thoughtfully, and for a second he actually sort of looked like an adorably confused puppy.

 

“I’m called a Slayer.” Buffy decided to tell him the truth, to give him a secret in return for his own secret that she knew, as a gesture of trust. “I…” Giles was going to be disappointed he missed out on this opportunity for ‘The Speech’; “I battle evil. Vampires, demons, forces of darkness… et cetera.”

 

“You fight demons?” Merlin wondered in amazement, looking her over again in surprise. She folded her arms across her chest and raised her eyebrow, and he flushed and looked away. “You just seem… small, to be a warrior.”

 

“Yeah, well, don’t try me.” Buffy grumbled. “Look… how about a deal, huh? You keep my secret about being a Slayer, and I’ll keep yours about the magic thing.”

 

“You can’t tell anyone.” Merlin insisted, his eyes wide and serious again. “Especially not Arthur, or the King.”

 

“Cross my heart and hope to die.” Buffy promised, forming a cross over her chest. Merlin frowned, giving her a concerned look.

 

“You hope to die?”

 

“It’s-” Buffy huffed. “It’s a phrase we say back where I’m from, when we make a promise. It means the promise is, um, unbreakable.”

 

“I see.” Merlin nodded, and then very solemnly mimed a cross over his chest as well. Buffy bit her lip to keep from giggling.

 

After a beat, Buffy stepped out of the alcove and gestured down the hall toward the exit.

 

“So - if our cover story is that we already sort of know one another, why don’t you tell me a little about yourself, Merlin-the-totally-normal-kid?”

 

“A-about me?” He squeaked, suddenly flushing and looking nervous as he followed her down the hall.

 


 

“Confused.” Buffy announced as she entered the large study/library-type room where Giles had already been told he was allowed. Of course, it was where he spent most of his time immediately. Some of the books in there probably didn’t even exist anymore. Not only would she not be surprised to find him with drool on his face, she honestly expected it.

 

“Hm?” His reply was distant, distracted; his nose deep into a large book.

 

“I thought the king before Arthur was an asshole? Like, strict and stern and all that.” Buffy lowered her voice as she approached him, just in case ‘the walls had ears’. Giles glanced up toward her, and raised his eyebrow.

 

“I confess most of my knowledge is from Arthur’s time as king,” Giles admitted. “Though it certainly seems Uther um, runs a tight ship.”

 

“Merlin and Willow both told me that he’s extremely distrustful of magic. Hateful about it even; like, I think we’re gonna get beheaded if he finds out- ”

 

As Buffy’s worried tone increased, Giles set his book on the nearby table and neared her, putting his hands on her shoulders.

 

“He knows of Watchers, remember,” Giles reminded her calmly.

 

“Yeah!” She frowned at that. “And how is that? He said his brother was a Watcher, but Willow hasn’t found a thing about him yet. Other than that he died in a battle elsewhere before Uther became king here.”

 

“I don’t know what to tell you, Buffy. He didn’t confide in me about that.”

 

“Well what did you guys talk about?” She wondered. “And why didn’t you tell him about me? If he knows Watchers, he knows Slayers.”

 

“As you mentioned, Buffy, he’s strongly anti-magic. The fact that he banned all use and mere mention of it from his kingdom was one of the few things I do recall from history.” Giles removed his hands from her shoulders as he gave her a look. “My magical abilities make me a rare Watcher, remember. You, however, as the Slayer - you are known to have abilities beyond human capacity. While he seems to respect my position, I have yet to figure out his feelings regarding Slayers.”

 

“Oh.” Buffy calmed, feeling less insulted and more embarrassed that she’d been rankled by Giles merely trying to protect her. She glanced at him apologetically, and he smiled gently. “Do you know why he doesn’t like magic? Because Willow told me that, too. Apparently it’s not common knowledge,” She leaned even closer to him, and he did as well, automatically understanding of the secret, “but that was how his wife died. Arthur’s mother. Some kind of spell gone wrong, or a bad deal with a witch, or something like that.”

 

“Are you certain?” Giles’ face fell as Buffy nodded. “That would explain it...”

 

"Yeah. Which is why I'm a little wigged. Why's he being nice?"

 

"Nice?" Giles repeated, confused again.

 

"Yeah. He gave me my own - ugh, maidservant - to 'use' while we're staying here. And said that I can keep the clothes that she'll provide for me," Pointedly, Buffy smoothed her hands down the simple but elegant dress she now wore. His eyes followed the gesture, and for a second she thought she saw appreciation there, but she blinked and he was just normal calm-faced Giles. "And he invited me to be his guest at dinner and it sounded an awful lot like- "

 

"He did?" Giles interrupted in surprise, and Buffy nodded.

 

"I mean, he invited us both, but, still not exactly what I expected after hearing what Willow told me."

 

"Hm." Giles half-turned away from her, his brow furrowed deeply. "We should keep wary, Buf- eh, Anne. Don't let your guard down. And be careful, please, about your abilities?"

 

"You got it, Giles." Buffy assured him. She hesitated before leaving him to his reading. "Should I call you something else? What do wards usually call their...." She trailed off and gestured at him.

 

"Well, a few more 'sirs' wouldn't hurt," He muttered with a tiny smirk, and Buffy rolled her eyes.

 

"Don't get used to it, buddy." She replied, and turned to head out.

 

"Wh-where are you off to?" He asked, sounding suddenly worried.

 

"To explore, of course." Buffy glanced back toward him. "We're in a castle, Giles. I promise I'll be good, okay? Besides, Maisy'll be with me. Apparently she's kind of supposed to follow me at all times, or something." She glowered, and Giles sent her a tiny, sympathetic smile.

 

"Being a maidservant in a castle was not the worst job to have, in this time period." He murmured.

 

"Well, she was really helpful getting me into this thing," Buffy admitted, gathering the skirt of her dress in one hand and doing a twirl. "I never could'a done it by myself, that's for sure." She lifted her eyes back up toward Giles, raising her eyebrows in emphasis. "So many laces in the back!"

 

"You wear it well." He told her softly, and she beamed at him. Okay, he was definitely doing some appreciating of her outfit. Her skin warmed, and she was glad that Maisy had kept the corset a little loose around her ribs. Not good to be gasping like a fish at a time like this.

 

"You don't look to bad yourself, Watcher-mine," Buffy mused lightly, letting her gaze do some wandering of its own. She'd been right; he did look good in the linen shirt and trousers. The loosely tied collar of the shirt showed off more of his neck and chest than she'd seen in years. She forced herself not to stare lingeringly at the chest hair peeking out, and gave him one more casual grin before leaving the room.

 

She'd noticed his blush, too, but the quirk of his lips was pleased, and her smile widened as she strolled down the hallway.

 

"A pleasant conversation with your guardian?" Maisy asked, politely friendly, almost startling Buffy as she followed after her.

 

"Um... huh?" Did the young lady sound aloof, teasing, or was Buffy just imagining it? It wasn't like there was any reason to imagine that sort of tone. Her conversation with Giles had been perfectly normal... for them, anyway.

 

The flirting was kind of new, okay, but this girl didn't know that.

 

"He seems like a nice man." Maisy sighed. "Even if he does look oddly like the king." Buffy glanced over to her as she immediately went tense and stammered an apology. "I mean, nothing against the king, obviously, he's- he's a fine king..." She trailed off at Buffy's raised eyebrow.

 

"Giles is nice." Buffy saved her from having a panic attack. "The nicest." She gently nudged Maisy with her elbow. "I'm curious about this place. Where can I explore?"

 

"Oh, allow me!" She brightened, relieved that Buffy wasn't going to say anything about her not-quite-supportive tone concerning her king. "The kitchens are my favorite area. And they'll be busy preparing for the meal tonight - let's pop in for a bit!"

 


 

Dinner was… an awkward affair, to say the least. She was in yet another dress - a gown, Maisy had called it, and this was a proper one at that. She couldn’t move as freely as she was used to in dresses, and it took her a while to figure out how to eat and drink without making a mess of the gorgeous blue fabric.

 

It hadn’t escaped her notice that the wrap around Uther’s shoulders matched that of her dress perfectly. He’d done nothing in particular when she arrived among a few of the other guests, other than meet her eye and give her a small nod and a smile, before returning to his conversation with who Buffy would later find out was Morgana, his ward.

 

Giles, to his credit, had stood when Buffy reached her chair at the table beside his, and waited for her to sit first before resettling himself. It was kind of old school, but he looked a little flushed anyway as he did it, and Buffy smiled to herself as she admired the spread of food across the long table.

 

The King sat at the head of the table, of course, with Giles and Morgana at the corners on either side of him. Arthur sat beside Morgana, and Merlin stood a few steps away nearby, ready for anything Arthur might need, Buffy assumed. A pretty girl around their age stood with him, her eyes on Morgana as they whispered together. Buffy figured she was Morgana’s maidservant, and glanced back to sure enough spot Maisy a few feet behind her own seat.

 

She perked up thinking that Buffy needed something, but Buffy minutely shook her head and faced front again, not wanting to stress the girl out or anything.

 

“So…” Arthur piped up, popping a grape into his mouth and swallowing it before leaning a little forward in his seat. “Anne. Do you have a surname?”

 

“Summers,” Buffy answered him, and he smiled a little.

 

“Anne Summers… with golden hair like the sun.” He mused softly, picking up his goblet. Buffy blinked at him in surprise, but then the smirk was back as he took a drink. “Fitting.” He winked over the edge of his goblet, and Buffy had to bite her lip not to chuckle in amusement.

 

Did boys from the Middle Ages just not know how to flirt, or was this the Prince’s own shortcomings?

 

Uther and Giles were in deep discussion about local charters or something like that - something that sounded boring to Buffy's ears - so she decided to focus mostly on her food, and listening in on Willow's added commentary when the witch reappeared beside her.

 

And try not to laugh out loud when Willow sassed each of Arthur's thinly-veiled attempts to show off.

 

The rest of the meal was a little tense, but otherwise okay - until Uther spoke up to Buffy directly.

 

"Lady Anne, I hope you're enjoying your time in the castle."

 

Buffy glanced toward Giles, catching his warning look over the edge of his own cup, and knew that she should not tell the truth in this instance.

 

“They are.” She nodded toward the king, trying not to think about the sparse furnishings or the rough-looking bedsheets.

 

"Excellent." Uther looked pleased. "You are a guest in my home, and you are to be treated well." Only now did he glance away from her, to give his son a look that Buffy couldn't quite decipher... almost a challenging one?

 

Maybe he was being genuine, but she suddenly realized that he might also be making a point to show up Arthur… for some reason or another.

 

“Join me tomorrow.” He suddenly announced, not quite requesting. “I would like to show you Caerleon, properly.”

 

“I…” Buffy hesitated, noting Arthur’s mulling pout and Giles’ pinched lips. She thought over what Giles’ reaction had been when he’d found that Uther had provided her dresses and invited her to dinner as well, and got the feeling there was something more to this. “I would like that.” She eventually answered, because she was curious about this Giles look-alike - and she was hesitant to say no to the king.

 

She was just following Giles’ orders to be careful, right? Just smile and nod, and don’t make anyone in power suspicious.

 

“Wonderful.” Uther hummed, smiling with hooded eyes over his wine again.

 

Uh-oh. Boys from the Middle Ages might not know how to flirt, but the men sure knew. Or this one did, anyway.

 


 

“It’s not safe to wander these halls at night.” His voice seemed to appear from nowhere, and she jumped back from the window, spinning to face him. “One might think you’re… up to something.”

 

The king was ‘dressed down’ slightly, but not by much - she was sure he didn’t sleep in that attire, and she wondered what he was still doing up roaming this late.

 

“I’m- uh, sorry, your highness.” She stammered only because she wasn’t sure how much trouble she was actually in. It was hard to tell with him; he seemed perpetually… stern. “I couldn’t… sleep.”

 

“Mm.” He made a noise of agreement behind closed lips, his gaze drifting away from her and toward the window. He stepped closer to it, beside of her, so he could look out at the sleepy cobble streets dappled in moonlight. Buffy shifted a half-step away from him, wondering if there was some kind of rule of distance with the king. “From tell of your guardian, you’ve had a long and arduous journey.”

 

“Yes,” She agreed hesitantly, wondering what it was that Giles had actually told Uther, beyond ‘that they were attacked’.

 

“Should you want for anything,” He suddenly turned his head to face her, and she was startled to be caught by the sharp intelligence in his eyes, as if he were trying to sum her up with just one look. “Let your maidservant know. I’ll see to it that you have anything you might require.”

 

His gaze lingered on hers for just a moment, long enough for her to start to feel confused by the way her pulse began to pick up, as if she were gearing up for a patrol, as if in fight-or-flight mode. His brow furrowed slightly more deeply, like he was troubled by something, and suddenly he turned on his heel, his face mostly turned away from her. 

 

“Take care, Lady Anne, to return to your quarters soon.” He advised firmly, and then strode away, his boots clicking firmly on the stone floor, and Buffy stared after him, perplexed.