The fire snored softly, delicate flames crackling in the silence of the night. The wind whispered, rustling fallen leaves nearby, and the occasional cricket could be heard; though all these sounds did nothing to distract the unease in the young king’s mind.
The knight that sat besides him was quiet too, breath barely audible, a quiet rhythm that seemed too distant to grasp on to. He calmly observed the flames before him, the firewood he’d gathered a week ago was now almost fully spent, black slashes marring the wood’s surface.
The man besides him was looking elsewhere, his head angled slightly away, just out of sight. He seemed to be staring beyond their temporary campsite, lost in the horizon.
To anyone else, this wouldn’t be so concerning.
To Lancelot, who’d grown to know his king, it was very unusual. Sparse were the times where King Arthur had nothing to say. It was quite the opposite, really; the young man never ceased to speak, always cheerful, always bursting with an energy that seemed to have no end.
Here, today, resting after what had been a day of labour and arduous work, his majesty was silent.
Arthur was doubting himself again, Lancelot knew this much.
The knight stood, and the sound of metal rubbing against itself filled the air. It was awkward, unnatural. Lancelot pursed his lips tightly, uncomfortable with the disturbance he’d created.
Though Arthur didn’t seem to mind, head cradled in his palms as he kept an intense gaze on what lay ahead. There was nothing but grass to be seen around them, fields as endless as the eye could see.
Lancelot wasn’t too keen on setting up camp here, where there was nowhere to hide. He felt unsettled by the plainness of it all, by the open air. Should anyone be travelling near, they’d easily be seen.
Still, it’s not like he had much of a say in it. They hadn’t seen a forest in a few days, and after a particularly harsh afternoon, restoring their energy was of vital importance. There wasn’t any use on wasting time searching for a better shelter, if there were any lying nearby.
Lancelot tended calmly to the fire, moving things around, brightening the flames. This was the last of their wood, but home wasn’t far, and the air wasn’t too bitter. They would survive without it, should they need to.
As the knight regained his seat, a soft sigh could be heard from the figure next to him. And Lancelot could bite his tongue no further; afraid that the King would lose too much sleep, if he didn’t speak of the things on his weary mind.
“Sire?” He spoke, his voice a little hoarse from its rest. For the first time in a while, Arthur moved, lifting his head from his hands, shuffling around to face his knight. Lancelot received a small grin from his part, undoubtedly meant to ease him. There was sorrow beneath the smile, and it just seemed a little too false.
“Yes, Lance?” The nickname was an unfortunate habit, one that had bothered Lancelot at first. King Arthur wasn’t one for formalities, oddly. It was something Lancelot had grown accustomed to, though it still struck him as odd from time to time.
“Permission to speak freely, my King?” Arthur gave a quick nod, gaze vaguely wavering, unable to focus on him for too long. When Lancelot didn’t proceed, Arthur spoke.
“Yes, of course, you can always speak freely.”
“Please forgive me if I cross a line, I would never wish to offend you.” The knight started. Unlike the man besides him, Lancelot was bound to formalities, never daring to betray the oath he’d taken. Even in moments like these, away from prying eyes and ears, Arthur could never truly get him to “loosen up”, as he’d call it. “Is something the matter?” he finished, head tilting slightly, as it always did when he asked questions. (Which wasn’t often, Arthur had noted. Lancelot seemed to always know what he was doing, one of the many traits which granted him the King’s admiration.)
“Psh.” The blue hedgehog uttered, in an ill attempt at dismissal. He had aimed for a cool casualness, but struggled to replicate it under the weight of emotion. “Of course not, Lance! Everything’s fine.”
“Yes, of course. Pardon me for bothering you, Sire.” The man besides him spoke softly, face hidden away behind a metallic visor. Arthur’s eyes could not seem to focus on his knight, uncomfortable with the lie he’d told.
They fell into a new silence.
And Lancelot worried for his King. It wasn’t often that Arthur seemed upset, certainly not in company. The king would allow himself to be different around Lancelot, but this was still new. His first in command felt uneasy, too bothered by his sovereign’s chagrin.
Arthur had said everything was fine. And yet the knight couldn’t move past it, mind focused solely on what sat besides him. He wouldn’t dare ask a second time, though, fearing his inquiries to be impolite, rude.
With a resigned sigh, Lancelot stood, beginning removing his armour. It served him no purpose to worry himself sick, and so the knight figured it wise to rest, to end the night here.
Slowly, pieces of his armour came undone, shed onto the dark grass. With every fragment removed, Lancelot began to feel lighter. There was an ache in his bones, one that usually came after a few days of travel.
Arthur watched him carefully, finding the process intriguing. Even if he’d seen it multiple times, it fascinated him. In fact, all that Lancelot did was intriguing, Arthur thought. From his mannerisms, his hobbies, his various duties, to the way he spoke; it all fascinated the king in a way he could not explain.
The knight’s headpiece was always the last fragment to be removed. Lancelot scarcely parted with it, and so it was a rare sight to see, all there for Arthur’s intrusive glare.
The only piece that remained was Lancelot’s sword, fastened at his waist, never leaving his person.
“Your Majesty,” Lancelot spoke softly, snapping Arthur out of his dreamy state. Their eyes met, the man besides him standing tall. “It is late. Perhaps… it would be wise for us to rest. Camelot awaits us, tomorrow. I fear they might want you in all your strength, Sire.”
Arthur’s lips turned into a sheepish smile as he admired the man before him, nodding quietly. “Yes, perhaps it would be wise.” He seemed to consider audibly, rising to meet his knight. He felt a bit flustered, unused to seeing his companion without his armor. Although he’d seen him like this for almost every night for the past week, it never ceased to make him falter, for one reason or another.
Lancelot nodded quietly, his features scrunched in a determined manner.
But as his knight spun around, making his way to their makeshift beds, Arthur felt a pang in his heart. A guilt, for having lied to him so plainly.
“Lance, wait-“ he spoke suddenly, unable to stop the words before they fell from his mouth. And even if Arthur was never one for formalities, he knew that his actions had perhaps been a bit too casual, recently.
Arthur couldn’t help himself. Lancelot’s presence excited him; there was this ease he felt when the two were nearby, an ease that urged to drop all the silly titles, the uptight mannerisms. He only gave into these urges when they found themselves alone, afraid of what the court’s advisors would say, should they ever witness it.
Lancelot had seemed uncomfortable with this at first, when Arthur had been freshly crowned, a stranger to the throne. Although, he had never once voiced this unease, and with time, he’d seemed to grow to not mind it, to appreciate it, perhaps.
He never reciprocated it, which didn’t surprise the king. For reasons he couldn’t quite explain, it made him a little sad sometimes. He wished to see Lancelot as more of a friend, as someone to count on in these strange circumstances. In the short time they’d known each other, the two men had grown fond of the other’s presence. Yet, his companion was reluctant to abandon any formalities, and so, Arthur found himself having to be content in what he had, to not ask too much of those around him.
“Yes, my liege?” Lancelot spoke.
“I’m uh- I’m afraid I haven’t been entirely truthful.” Arthur began, eyes avoiding the inquiring gaze before him. It wasn’t often that the king found himself in a state like this, much less in front of anybody else. “Something was, or rather, still is the matter. And I didn’t want to place a burden on you, Lance, I’m sorry.”
“Permission to speak freely, Sire?” the knight repeated his earlier words, look of concern plastered over his open features. It was jarring for the both of them, to see Arthur like this. The king nodded, and this time, Lancelot didn’t wait for a verbal approval. “If you feel as though something lays heavy on your mind… perhaps, it would ease you to speak it. I am… always here to listen, if need be.” His words were spoken softly, with more care than usual.
Arthur beamed at the words, signature grin plastering itself on his face. “Really?” He asked too quickly, too excitedly.
“Of course.” Lancelot reassured softly. “My purpose is to aid my King, in any and every way.” He added, nodding his head firmly.
The men sat down again, without needing to tell one another to follow each other. It was natural for them, to be besides each other like this. The light of the fire died, its warmth dimming as the minutes stretched on. Lancelot didn’t speak again, letting Arthur collect his thoughts, forming whatever sentences he needed to. With a small sigh, the King began.
“Do you ever feel, that all we do, is… useless?” the words weighed heavy on his conscious, maybe they had done so for a while.
Lancelot did not respond, a quiet request for Arthur to keep speaking. Tonight was different than the others, different than the ones that would follow. Here, tucked away beneath stars, warmed by a dying light, perhaps the knight would let his manners slip, if only a little.
“I don’t know. I don’t know why I think that. I mean, I’m supposed to be the king. A leader, a constant authority figure for the people to look up to, to blame things on. But I don’t quite feel like a king.” The blue hedgehog played with a strand of plucked grass, running it gently through gloved fingers.
His eyes were laden with concern, with thoughts that had been brewing for far too long. Lancelot’s gaze was fixed upon him, but Arthur kept his eye on the horizon, as he’d done all night. It was as though their roles had shifted, for it was Arthur who tended to stare unabashedly, and Lancelot, who tented to avoid such gazes.
“It hasn’t been long. But, I don’t know. You would think someone would get used to this stuff by now. With all the responsibilities, the titles, a sacred sword–“ Arthur’s hand went to caress Caliburn’s pommel, the feisty sword opting to be quiet, after its mention. “With all those things, and so many more… you’d think I’d feel right at home. But I’m so… uncomfortable.” Sweet emerald eyes spoke of chagrin as Arthur reared his head to meet Lancelot.
And the knight felt for his king.
“If I may ask… uncomfortable with what, Sire?” The dark hedgehog spoke, feeling the need to nudge Arthur a little bit, to encourage him in his journey. His counterpart gave a small smile, a gesture that only increased the melancholy plaguing his features.
“All of it, really. The formalities, more than anything. I was never one to follow these silly rules, as I’m sure you’ve noticed.” Lancelot gave a small nod and a huff; the closest Arthur would get to a laugh. It warmed him a bit, to find humour in such despair. “I’m sure you can see how odd it is for someone such as myself to have to live in the middle of all these titles, these odd restraints. Sometimes, it just doesn’t feel like I’m the right person for this. I don’t know, Lance. Forgive me if I speak too freely.”
With that final statement, Arthur heaved a long sigh, as if these thoughts had long burdened him. Lancelot felt conflicted; grateful, in the trust his king has bestowed upon him, yet displeased at the words he had spoken.
“My king, that is quite a heavy statement.” Lancelot began, formulating his response, slowly. He didn’t miss how the title made Arthur frown. The blue hedgehog had always reacted oddly to these royal formalities, evading them when no one else was around. He had come to trust Lancelot. When they were alone, on quests like these, Arthur would abandon all sense of formality, calling his loyal knight by a nickname.
It had bothered Lancelot at first. Shocked him a bit, really. But the knight had soon grown accustomed to these odd habits, even coming to find a sort of comfort in them. Besides, who was he to criticize his king? To deny his king?
His king. He was making Arthur uncomfortable. But had he not sworn an oath, to give him the utmost respect? Calling his sovereign by anything less than his royal titles was… forbidden, no? Lancelot was a man of honour, a man who respected his peers, and above all, respected those above him. To shatter that oath, be it the smallest detail – it was something that was entirely unlike him.
But to see the displeasure on Arthur’s face, to watch those stoic features turn sour – it was enough to challenge Lancelot. To obey a rule and to betray his king’s wishes, or to do the opposite?
“Lance?” A soft voice uttered from besides him. The knight was pulled out of his inner dilemma, rapidly returning to the world around him. To the soft whisper of the wind, to the dying embers that spurred out in the night, and to Arthur’s gaze, which was upon him. He’d gone quiet, he now realized.
“My apologies, my liege.” He blurted out hastily, a form of habit.
“It’s alright.” Arthur reassured, offering a small smile. But the look he gave Lancelot was distant, eerie. It uneased the knight, who felt as though he’d hurt his sovereign. And this simply wouldn’t do. Lancelot’s profound loyalty, his devotion, his determination – they all ran deep, far beyond other’s.
So, the knight took a deep breath, before violating a rule; a rule that he’d always promised to follow, until the day death had taken a hold of him.
“Arthur,” He started, the name fitting oddly in his voice. “It is with the utmost respect that I tell you that you’re being quite ridiculous.”
The king’s eye opened wide, Arthur nearly choking on his saliva as Lancelot spoke. His fur flushed a deep shade of red and he coughed awkwardly, trying to hide the smile that crept up his cheeks. He had gone a long time without the mention of that name, and here it was, beautifully hanging from Lancelot’s tongue. The dark hedgehog took a few moments before speaking again, letting the shock of his statement wash over the both of them.
“There is no one better fit to rule a kingdom than you. I’m certain it must be frightful; I cannot begin to imagine the weight of all the responsibilities bestowed upon you. But you mustn’t blame yourself, Arthur.”
There it was again, six letters mashed together into a name, spoken from a quiet and assured voice. Arthur fought the urge to pinch himself, to question if it was all a figment of his wild imagination.
“If I may speak my opinion, you are the bravest leader I’ve had the pleasure to serve. I do not doubt your decisions, for they are made from your heart. And if I can be so bold, you truly have one of the purest hearts I have ever seen. It is an honour to fight alongside you.”
The fire had long died now, and two men found themselves cast in darkness, with naught but the moon’s glow by their side.
Lancelot took a deep breath before speaking again, before stating something that was truly unlike him. Perhaps it was like him now, perhaps it had become a part of the person he’d grown to be. He felt at ease, calm and assured in the relationship he and Arthur shared.
“And if it is your request, I shall abandon titular formalities, when I am alone in your presence.” Lancelot finished this final sentence with a small nod and the ghost of a smile. His words had given birth to a new light inside the king’s eyes, something that brought a warmth to the knight’s stomach.
Arthur was at a lost for words, the caring validation sending him into orbit. He’d gone so long without thoughtful words, without the warmth of a trusted companion, he’d almost forgotten what it felt like. But he felt it now, more than ever, in a way he could not possibly begin to explain.
And so, he didn’t, letting his body speak instead. His hand reached out to softly place itself atop Lancelot’s, in a friendly gesture he’d hoped would convey all that was left unspoken. The man besides him observed the gesture with wide eyes, sharing the same feelings as his companion.
He did not move, letting his sovereign warm his fingers with his own, relishing in the warmth that buzzed throughout his body.
“Thank you, Lance.” Arthur whispered, only breaking the contact to move towards his bed for the night. His knight followed quickly, wordlessly following the other’s actions.
And so, the both of them headed to sleep, their hearts palpitating too quickly, limbs fuzzy and warm, despite the night’s cold embrace.