The problem with ‘happily ever after’, in Gwen’s experience, is that people introduce it at the wrong part of the story. An interesting plot will be developing: guy meets girl, helps girl escape from tower, they form a relationship, get married and then suddenly - happily ever after!
But that isn’t the end, Gwen always wanted to say. Where do they live? Are there children? What do they eat for supper, what grows in their garden, who ensures they have enough clothes to stay warm? How long is the after and what makes it happy?
Gwen remembers a little of her mother - her dark curly hair, her scent, the warmth of her hugs - but she died before Gwen could ask her about the rest of the story. She asked her father once, but he’d frowned for a moment, then kissed her head and said that it was a strange question.
These questions hadn’t seemed strange to Gwen as a child and they didn’t seem strange to her now. In two days time she would marry Arthur, in a scene that could have come straight from any of the stories her father had told her. There would be the handsome prince - well, the king now - the girl from a simple background, the pretty dress, flowers, and then the story stopped. Referring to everything following one’s wedding as ‘happily ever after’ was like labelling a map with ‘here be dragons’ - Gwen needed something more specific.
“Do you think things will change on Saturday?” she asked Merlin, who glanced curiously at her.
“Change how?” he said, and Gwen shrugged.
“Just...a different dynamic between us or something?”
“I don’t see why it’d have to change anything,” Merlin said, flashing her that twinkly-eyed smile, “when you’re queen you should be able to do what you want.”
“Are things going to be different once I’m married?” Gwen asked Morgana as they sat side-by-side in the candlelight.
Morgana squeezed her knee in reassurance and said, “It’ll be fine. There’s nothing to worry about.”
Which was nice, but it wasn’t an answer to the question.
It was only later that night as they piled into bed - always a chaotic, ad hoc arrangement depending on who felt like sleeping where - that Gwen asked them all together.
“What will happen to this after we’re married?” she said nervously, and saw Arthur, Merlin and Morgana glance at each other.
“We’ll all be just like this,” Arthur said, as if on reflex and then stopped. “I mean, won’t it? Do you want something different, or -”
“No, I like it!” Gwen said, “I just wanted to check because it wasn’t clear what you meant when you asked me and I don’t know how marriages usually -”
“I don’t think there are rules for this stuff,” interjected Merlin, and Morgana made a face at him.
“Of course there are rules, but the rules are stupid and don’t matter,” said Morgana firmly. “That’s the whole point of being the monarch.”
“We’ll make up our own rules,” Arthur announced, his voice soft, and stretched out a hand to touch her cheek. “It’ll be all of us, together, and it will work until it doesn’t. I asked you to marry me because I didn’t want anything to change.”
“All right, then,” Gwen said, and kissed him.
Gwen felt Merlin press against her back and a soft hand - Morgana - land on her ankle, and her worry melted away under the warm reassurance of their contact.
Perhaps there wasn’t an answer. Happily ever after would be much like the present, or it wouldn’t. It would happen the day after tomorrow, and the day after that, and continue happening for as long as they wound hands, swords and magic to keep each other safe. Happiness was enough to strive for and if, in retrospect, she found herself able to describe it then perhaps Gwen would write the story.
Once upon a time, in the beautiful land of Camelot, a maidservant married a King. And, unofficially, a lady of the court and a wizard, which caused great difficulty in fitting into a single bed and in preventing fights over the pillows. This is the tale of the adventures and furniture modification that followed...