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Leon’s heart sank as soon as the inn came into clear view. The wench leaning in the doorway meant the low calibre of the place was without question. But the storm was right behind them, and it was the only place to get shelter this side of the valley.

Pulling up close-by to Arthur’s steed, Leon said, “We’re going to have to stop here. Before we do I need to talk to you, Sire. And I need you to dismount.”

Arthur nodded his assent, looking puzzled though not questioning. Leon lead the horses to the sheltered side of a thicket away from prying eyes.

In the wake of his sixteenth birthday, Arthur had grown a spread hand’s width and his frame was newly muscled and taut. The vestiges of the boy were fading fast, except for his face, in moments of tiredness, frustration or unabashed laughter. He was getting more handsome by the day and it was going to be as hard to disguise as his carriage. Leon was going to have to work a miracle.

“We need to get a room at the inn down there but I fear it’s a place of ill repute and we need to alter our appearance so as not to attract undue attention.”

“We’re armed, and I’m a prince. They’ll show us the respect we’re due.” Arthur looked so sure of this that he moved to remount his steed.

“Please, Arthur. It’s not safe. We could easily be outnumbered by thieves and vagabonds. The wise thing to do is to go unnoticed. You have to trust me on this.”

The trouble was that Arthur was more and more inclined to know his own mind - his certainty in this circumstance dangerously outstripping his experience. Arthur would defer to Leon’s authority if he insisted. Nonetheless, it was better to ask. Arthur could still sulk like a child.

Arthur shrugged. “All right. How?”

Leon took out an old tunic from his pack and divested himself and Arthur of their cloaks. He folded them back into his pack and slipped the tunic over Arthur, then another over his own head. Their swords he wrapped in one of their blankets and tucked it deep under the scrub, covering it in dirt and leaves until the hiding place was completely concealed. Finally, his hands black with soil, he beckoned Arthur and smudged grime over his cheeks and hands; ruffled his hands through his hair.

Leon stood back and smiled. “I don’t think you’ll ever pass as a peasant, but if you keep your head down and don’t say a word, hopefully you won’t turn too many heads.”

Arthur returned the grin, instantly puffing at what he must have taken to be flattery.

***

The bar was crowded with low-life.

Leon took Arthur by the hand. When Arthur tried to resist, Leon squeezed it hard and looked at him in disapproval. With a low growl he said, “Come on. I haven’t got all day.”

Arthur’s lips tightened, his nostrils flaring, as Leon drag-walked him across the straw-strewn floor to the landlady, who sat at the bottom of the stairs on a high stool, her ample bosom heaving and clammy in the cloying, must-stinking air.

“I want a quiet room for me and my boy.”

“Oh, he’s a sweet-looking one. Come to break him in away from the missus?” She snorted. “We get a lot like you.”

Leon gave her a dismissive nod and handed her a coin which she swiftly secreted to a pouch in the folds of her skirt. He glanced back at Arthur, whose grip on Leon’s hand had suddenly tightened.

“Last room on the left.” She winked with a gap-toothed smirk.

“Send us up a light supper. After that I don’t want to be disturbed.”

Their board, food and privacy paid for, Arthur virtually pushed Leon up the stairs and down the corridor to their room.

***

Before they sat down to their broth and bread, Leon wiped the dirt from Arthur’s face with a wet cloth, cleaned his hands and tried to brush the debris from his hair. Arthur allowed Leon to carry out the task without any more comment than a flicker of his lashes, used as he was to the attentions of a servant on his body. But for Leon it was a stirring reminder that the more time he spent with Arthur, the more he was unable to deny the shifting burden of his affections. Arthur was his lord, his student, his charge, and of late, his friend: but no matter what Leon desired, Arthur could never be anything more.

They sat down to eat on the edge of the single straw-stuffed pallet, just big enough for two average adults to sleep side-by-side. With Leon’s stature a full head height more than the average man, he would have to take the floor.

Arthur was uncharacteristically quiet – not a surly remark or single complaint about their situation. In the end Leon asked, “Are you all right, Sire? We’ll be safe in here. You don’t need to be concerned.”

Arthur spoke in a hushed voice, his gaze cast down to the floor. “Someone touched me, while you were talking to the landlady.”

“Who? Where?”

Arthur blushed furiously, even as he drained his trencher and started to pick out the gravy-sodden bread. “On my arse. One of the women ran her hand over my arse and underneath..." He didn’t finish the sentence but having got the words out he cast Leon a frown, his face screwed up as if he’d been assailed by a foul smell.

It was hard not to laugh at Arthur’s indignation, as endearing as it was. Leon had to bite the inside of his cheek. “As I said, this isn’t a nice place and the people that frequent these establishments are immoral. That ... and I expect she found you irresistible.”

“Me?” This seemed to ease Arthur’s vexation at once.

“Yes, you.” Leon looked at him with fondness, caught between wanting to cuff him playfully about the ear, as he sometimes did, and wanting to run his thumb over the splash of gravy on Arthur’s bottom lip.

Leon would never abuse his position, but he was only a man of flesh and blood - and convinced that sometimes the sultry curl of Arthur’s smile, the lingering brush of his hand and the heat of his breath as they were close in a parry were deliberate and intentional. Leon dismissed it as fancy, and reminded himself he was purely in need of more frequent relief of his manly urges.

There was a low rumble in the distance and the room went from dim to dark, the wind outside picking at the shutters. Leon lit a candle and laid his cloak out on the bed, over the straw and dubiously mottled-grey linen.

“Help me move the bed then I think you should get some sleep.”

Leon dragged the foot of the cot over the doorway while Arthur asked, “What about you? Aren’t you going to sleep?”

“Later, when this place has quieted. I’ll sit at the foot of the bed and you can rest up there.”

Arthur had stripped to his linens and pulled his blanket up over his shoulders. He seemed to settle quickly, leaving Leon with his legs across the end of the bed, his back to the door and his mind wandering waywardly to the curve of Arthur’s hip.

The corridors were busy, the night traffic in full sway in spite of the wind picking up and patter of rain growing louder on the roof. There was a bang on their door as someone passed and Leon barked out, “Piss off!” in the ugliest tone he could manage.

Arthur lifted his head. “People come here to fornicate, don’t they?”

Leon tilted his head back and banged it against the door, unintentionally loud. “Yes.”

“And the landlady thought you were going to defile me?”

“Yes.”

Arthur barely paused. “Have you ever been with anyone, in a place like this?”

“No!”

Arthur deliberated further. “Do you think there’s someone having relations, right next door?” He sprang up at once onto his hands and knees and leaned off the head of the bed, pressing his ear to the thin partition wall. “There is, isn’t there?” Arthur looked like he was desperately straining to hear, and enjoying every moment of discomfiting Leon.

“Arthur, get back into bed. And please, can we not talk about this now?”

“Is it making your loins stir?” He scrambled back down the bed and pulled the blanket back up over his legs. “It’s making mine stir.”

Leon silently begged and prayed for Arthur to stop asking questions about sex.

“Please try to rest. I’d like to make it all the way back to Camelot tomorrow. I’ve got enough explaining to do without having to spend another night in some flea-bitten hole with a horny youth.”

Arthur pouted and flopped back to lying down. He looked like he might be pawing himself under the blanket, but Leon was determined not to look. Not to be drawn into this. His cock, under two layers of clothing was more than happy to respond without Leon looking. The mere thought, as Arthur had so guilelessly highlighted, that in every other room along this corridor people were indulging in pleasures of the flesh, and on top of that Arthur lying next to him, more golden and enticing than ever in the candlelight, was enough to swell Leon half-hard without him so much as shifting.

Leon took slow, even breaths, focused on the storm, fretted about the horses and tried to think about anything but sex and Arthur. He settled on Uther’s scorn as a good and appropriate dampener to his ardour.

Much to Leon’s relief, before long, exhaustion likely taking over curiosity, Arthur’s breathing stretched out in slumber and Leon was able to readjust himself and get more comfortable.

Night was fully upon them, as was the rain and a low-howling wind. The weather must have deterred all but the most determined of punters, and the thuds and thumps and raucous voices below soon faded to a mumble. It wasn’t long after that, Leon slumped at the foot of the bed, finding himself a wedge of space around Arthur’s legs.

Leon had closed his eyes for no more than minutes when there was a flash of light and several moments later a deep, ground-shuddering rumble. Leon started. The thunderstorm would be upon them soon. He looked with concern over at Arthur, his face illuminated by the candle and the intermittent flashes that slanted in through the shutters. It was only a year ago, caught out on their way back from a tourney in a neighbouring kingdom that they’d had to wait out an earth-quaking thunderstorm under the meagre shelter of a tent in the woods. A tree struck by the lightning and split down its trunk had been blown by the gale, landing with a violent crash on their shelter. Arthur had been pinned over his chest and shoulder, unable to take a proper breath until Leon had been able to scramble out and he and the other knights in their company had freed him. It had left a scar that didn’t show on Arthur’s skin, but ever since, Leon had seen it in the purple shadows under Arthur’s eyes every morning after a storm. He wondered how much longer Arthur would stay asleep.

He didn’t have to wonder long as the lightning flashed its brightest yet and almost immediately the thunder followed. The storm was heading directly towards them.

Arthur’s eyes flew open and he lashed out, sitting bolt upright as he grabbed at the covers.

“Steady, steady.” Leon pressed a hand to Arthur’s leg. “It’s just a late-summer storm. The roof will hold.”

Arthur scowled. “I know that.”

He lay back down, but Leon could see him lying rigid and awake, his breathing fast and shallow. Leon blinked hard, steeled his nerves and stretched out alongside Arthur, his head pillowed on his arm. “I was getting a cramp. Do you still have enough room?”

“Yes.” Arthur curled on his side away from Leon, and with the next flash and crash he tensed again, burying his head into the folds of Leon’s cloak.

It was unbearable to see his anguish. Leon leaned forward, close enough for his lips to graze the wisps of Arthur’s sun-bleached hair. “I expect we’ll be awake until this passes. So, tell me, which is your favourite, the sword or the quarterstaff?”

Arthur rolled onto his back. “The sword, of course. You know that.”

“I know you’re best with the sword, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your favourite.”

“Well it is. And you favour the sword also,” Arthur turned his face to Leon, “but Sir Bedevere likes the swing of the war hammer. It’s his extra weight.” He smirked at his own joke as the room lit up again. This time, as the angry sky shook the inn, Arthur rolled in on his side and gripped Leon’s shirt sleeve even while he continued with his analysis. “Sir Galahad prefers the mace, and he’s the finest.” With an air of authority Arthur said, like a philosopher, “But I suppose, one has to wonder whether one favours a thing because one is good at it or whether one excels at a thing because one enjoys it more.”

“I think it’s a bit of both.”

Without warning there was a daylight-bright, flickering flare of lightning followed hotly by a clap-crash of thunder that shook the whole inn, rattling the shutters and the door. They both flinched, though this time the tremor subsided as quickly as it had arisen. Arthur howled with laughter and gave Leon’s shoulder a push. “You should have seen your face then.”

Leon laughed back –

And Arthur kissed him hard and smartly on the lips.

Leon stayed stark-still for too long. When finally he cupped Arthur’s jaw in his hand, pushing him away, urging, “No, I mustn’t,” - it was too little too late.

“Why not?”

“It’s not ... it would be taking advantage. It would be improper.”

“You did it with Perinore.”

Leon couldn’t fake his shock that Arthur had heard about the hurried grope in the stables that had happened more than a summer ago by now. “That was different. Perinore was eighteen, I wasn’t his first ... and he’s not of your station.”

“I’ll be quick.”

Leon’s heart frayed seeing the hope in Arthur’s eyes. “That’s generally not the idea.”

“It isn’t?”

“No.”

“But I heard...” Arthur sighed. “No one tells me anything.” He pushed Leon’s hand away as he said, “I know you want to.” His tone was much less confident than his words.

“What I want is of no concern. Please, Arthur. Your passions are running high from this place, from the storm.”

“I won’t tell anyone.” Arthur’s eyes narrowed. “In any case, it’s your job, to teach me.”

Leon held his breath, praying to all the gods he believed in, and several that he didn’t, that for once Arthur’s powers of persuasion weren’t up to their usual par. “I’m to teach you the art of combat, not the art of love.”

“I heard there wasn’t much difference.”

Arthur wiggled and snaked his hand around Leon’s waist and pulled himself closer, his chest heaving so near that Leon thought he might hear the race of Arthur’s heart in step with his own.

Leon’s resolve was wavering like the rise of hot summer air on the horizon. “From where did you hear such nonsense?”

“It isn’t nonsense. I read it in a book.”

Leon was appointed Arthur’s instructor with high credentials. Among his contemporaries he was considered an exemplary adherent of The Knight’s Code; a fine role-model for the young prince. More than this, he was chosen over other older knights because of his ability to coach. Leon was amongst many accomplished and experienced swordsmen but his greatest skill lay in isolating the strengths and weaknesses in his students; striving to improve on the former and diminish the latter.

Arthur’s inherent ability had flourished under Leon’s tutelage, and that had earned Leon the highest ranking in the King’s esteem.

It might be that Leon knew much of all there was to know about weapons, about sizing an opponent and how to claim victory in combat. However, in the matter of more scholarly pursuits such as philosophising he was less schooled. It was entirely possible that Arthur was making it up, which in some respects Leon had to admit was an inspired offensive and one which was rapidly eroding his self-restraint. Were love and combat such strange bedfellows? No stranger than he and Arthur: servant and master, teacher and student.

The foundations of reason were crumbling beneath him, leaving Leon holding onto the mercy of Arthur’s determined embrace.

“All right. Just say, for the sake of argument, I am to instruct you in the art of physical love. Firstly, how do you know I will be a good teacher? And secondly, what would you have me teach you?”

This was a slippery slope, this acquiescence, this indulgence. Leon was tripping over the edge and plummeting into moral decline. He would go to hell for even considering there was possibly a way to justify what was tantamount to molesting his charge.

Arthur spent a long moment considering his answer.

“You’ll be a good teacher because you love me.”

Leon’s heart skipped a beat. It was true, he couldn’t deny it. Other suitors might see Arthur only as a conquest but Leon would lay down his life for this boy before hurting him.

Arthur needn’t have said anymore. Leon was already gone, into the abyss.

But Arthur continued, bunching his fist into Leon’s shirt, speaking in earnest. “I don’t know what you should teach me because I don’t know what there is to know. But I trust you more than anyone and I want you to be my first. Please, Leon. Please.”

The lightning and the thunder grew further apart, as the storm moved away into the distance, while Leon condemned his soul and pushed Arthur onto his back, pressing his mouth upon Arthur’s parted lips. Arthur responded at once, his tongue venturing across Leon’s, his arms wrapping around Leon’s neck. They tangled limbs, stroked out caresses through the blanket and the layers of clothes and linens until Leon pulled back breathless and regarded Arthur’s wide-eyed face, red-lipped and flushed.

It wasn’t such a distant memory for Leon, when he’d had no idea of the possibilities. He ached to show Arthur how good he could make him feel, and every consideration made him burn with desire to have Arthur touch him, to bring him to release.

The candle sputtered, half burned down, the melted wax spread over the holder. They wouldn’t have light for much longer.

“Arthur, I have to be sure.”

“I am sure. Show me. Show me everything.”

“It’s late. So not everything, not here."

Without further delay, Leon undressed himself first then Arthur. Arthur covered his hands over his privates, shy at being exposed, but fully aroused all the same. It was a huge temptation to take Arthur in hand, or in his mouth, to tell him how perfect and lovely he was, for Leon to feel him unravel and spill under his touch. Reining himself in, reminding himself that this was not a seduction but a lesson, Leon knelt at Arthur’s side and took Arthur’s hands gently in his, pulling them away from his engorged cock.

“We’re both the same, see?”

“You’re bigger.” Arthur seemed ashamed.

“Not really. Put your hand around me, feel for yourself.” Leon prayed for the strength to do this properly, not to give in to his ardour.

Arthur took Leon’s cock in his fist, feeling it with a loose grip, moving his hand up and down slowly, tentatively. “Shall I keep going?”

“Not yet.” Leon keened out a breath, and forced a smile. “This is instruction, remember?”

Arthur nodded.

“Your cock isn’t the only part of your body that feels good, and there are many different ways to touch. To start with, you’re only going to use your hands. Come, lie against my chest. I want you to show me where you touch yourself.”

Leon positioned Arthur so that he was lying with his back against him, between his open legs, in the cradle of his arms. Arthur’s shoulders fit across the breadth of Leon’s chest, the side of his head against his cheek and his hips snug into Leon’s groin. Leon’s cock was pressed between them, hard and leaking, aching for friction that would have to wait.

Arthur let his thighs drop open and reached past his cock. He lightly pushed at the loose skin of his balls, rubbing his fingers through the dusting of coarse hair, rolling them while his breathing grew heavy and low. He loosely fisted his cock, not rolling back the foreskin or touching the head, or the globule of moisture that bloomed from the slit.

Leon kissed Arthur’s temple, rubbing his hands in reassurance up and down Arthur’s thighs, as he whispered, “Anywhere else?”

“No.”

“I’m going to touch you, and you can tell me what you like, or if you want me to stop. Everyone is different, and different things fuel their passion. When you take a lover it’s something you have to take the measure of.”

“Like on the tourney field?”

“Yes, a bit. Though one hopes the end result is more agreeable.”

Leon felt the huff of a laugh, chased by a gasp as he dragged his hand slowly up over Arthur’s tensed stomach, to his chest, and circled a nipple with his thumb.

Biting down on his bottom lip, Arthur was stifling his whimpers.

“Do you like that?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t have to be quiet. I want to hear you; I want to make you feel so good you can’t stop yourself.”

Leon teased each of Arthur’s nipples in turn, pinching and soothing with caresses, while he held Arthur's cock in his hand, not moving his palm, only rubbing his thumb around the slit. Arthur gasped, high-pitched in the back of his throat, trying to push his hips into Leon’s grasp. Leon savoured the rub of his cock against Arthur’s back, the slow simmer of arousal made all the more gratifying as Arthur gave in to Leon’s touches.

Keeping his arm across Arthur’s chest, Leon slid the other from Arthur’s cock, his fingers teasing lightly over Arthur’s skin, over the sleek curve of his buttocks and onto his thigh. He urged Arthur to lie back further: with his hand, with kisses to the side of his face, while Arthur clutched at the sheet, his head back; mouth open. He was debauched and gorgeous and it wouldn’t take much to tip him over though Leon had hardly begun. He pulled Arthur’s right thigh over his own, working his hand beneath Arthur, massaging his buttocks, easing his fingers slowly into the cleft of Arthur’s arse. Leon didn’t want to surprise him; Arthur either didn’t do this to himself or else he’d been too shy to admit to it. Either way, he was probably going to be nervous about Leon touching him there.

When Leon’s finger brushed over Arthur’s hole, Arthur flinched.

“Do you ever touch yourself here?” Leon asked, his voice gone gruff, as he pushed lightly against the tight ring of muscle and soft-puckered skin.

“No. What are you going to do?”

“Just this, for now. Do you want me to stop?”

“No. I like it,” Arthur panted, his palm pressing over his cock, not taking it in hand but easing out the throbbing as he became more and more aroused, more undone.

Leon continued, rubbing and circling Arthur’s entrance. “Inside you there’s a place, a spot that can only be reached by going inside you here. When you press on it, with your fingers, the feeling can be good, for some men as good as when you touch your cock.”

Arthur’s breathing had gone ragged and his hips were jerking despite himself. “You aren’t going to do it to me this time?”

“Do you want me to?”

“No. But I like that, what you’re doing now.”

“Good. You’re doing so well. I can’t even tell you.” Arthur turned his head and tilted it up for a kiss, his face hot and sweaty; his breath trembling and tumbling from his mouth.

Sensing Arthur had probably had more stimulation than he could take for this first time, and aching like an untried babe himself, Leon decided it was time to finish Arthur off and himself, too. He spread his palms over Arthur’s hips and whispered, “Turn around. I want you on my lap.”

Arthur nimbly moved without question, straddling Leon’s hips, holding on with his arms over Leon’s shoulders. He was flushed and glowing, the sweat glistening over his forehead and chest, where golden curls of hair had started to grow. He kissed Leon without inhibition, bunching Leon’s hair in his fist while he ground his hips into Leon’s, their cocks touching, colliding with every cant of Arthur’s hips. Leon held him, let him explore, let him take with his mouth, with his hands, let him rut with fast thrusts and groans. It went on and on until Arthur sounded desperate and frustrated, his thighs shaking as he pushed harder and harder, his teeth clenched and face pulled into a frown.

It was at this point that Leon realised Arthur might be waiting for permission. Perhaps he was anxious he was finishing too fast, though they must have been grinding and touching for longer than Arthur had ever spent pleasuring himself.

Leon took Arthur’s face in his hands. “I want you make you come. Are you ready?”

“Yes.”

“Put your fingers in my mouth.” Leon sucked and lathed Arthur’s fingers, not for a moment taking his eyes from Arthur’s, watching the sudden dawning that this simple thing was arousing, too; that Leon sucking on his fingers was making him burn harder. Leon pushed Arthur’s fingers out with his tongue, “Now, touch your hole, the way I did it before.”

Arthur steadied himself, hooking one arm around Leon’s neck, reaching behind with the other. “I won’t last. I can’t.”

“Me neither. You have no idea how good you are. Let’s see who gets there first, shall we?”

Arthur gave Leon a smile, smouldering with renewed confidence. “You best get on with it then. Shall I do you?”

Leon nodded, speech gone for the first time as he finally gave in. This was no longer instruction. He was taking this for himself, taking what Arthur was offering and there was no other way of looking at it, of rearranging the facts into a different truth.

All further deliberation ceased as Arthur spat on his palm, took Leon’s cock in his fist and set a relentless pace, stripping back the skin, flicking over the head of Leon’s cock with fervent rapid-short strokes. Arthur didn’t push down to the base, just concentrated on the head. Leon gasped out loud at the sudden onslaught, after waiting so long for contact, after focusing on building up Arthur’s swell of pleasure. Always the competitor, Arthur was in it to win, even if it meant waiting on his own release.

Leon held Arthur’s cock but was too honed in on the engulfing sensation - that throbbing tingle spreading low in his belly, tightening his balls, rising quick with every panting breath. The crash was fast and hard, his cock stiffening as Arthur’s eyes flew wide in the instant it dawned on him that Leon was about to spill. Arthur stilled as Leon grunted and bucked up his hips, clutching his hand over Arthur’s and rubbing out the final pulses of his release, his come painting a thick white line up the length of his torso to his shoulder.

Leon’s climax seemed to be more of a revelation to Arthur than anything they’d done thus far –that he’d made Leon fall apart in his hand. Arthur’s mouth was frozen in a gasping ‘O’ while Leon recovered.

Arthur’s cock was jutting heavily in front of him and as Leon released his hand from around Arthur’s, Arthur began to fist himself at once.

Leon stilled him by taking his wrist. “No, Arthur, let me.”

Leon flipped his legs off the side of the pallet, with one arm under Arthur’s hips and the other around his waist he moved forward, lifting Arthur in the cradle of his arms. He stood and tightened his embrace and felt Arthur leaking against his stomach, panting. As Leon laid Arthur down on the bed he slid down onto his knees and sucked Arthur’s cock into the wet heat of his mouth.

Arthur cried out as he came, the warm salt-tang filling Leon’s mouth as Arthur clenched and pulsed up with dying whimpers.

Using the edge of the sheet, Leon wiped them and settled Arthur’s heavy limbs back between the covers, just as the candle finally sputtered out the last crackle of flame and died, encasing the room in inky night darkness.

As Leon slid in next to Arthur, too sated and exhausted to worry about the aftermath of what they’d done, Arthur lifted Leon’s arm and slotted himself in beside him, his head resting in the hollow between Leon’s shoulder and chest, his arm slung over Leon’s slow-heaving ribs. Leon wrapped his arm around Arthur, and kissed his head.

“The things you do to me, Arthur Pendragon,” he whispered hoarsely into the darkness, sweeping Arthur’s fringe back from his forehead, his fingers straying through his sweat-damp hair.

The rain had subsided; the only sounds the drip, drip of water off the gutters, and their quiet breathing.

Leon waited in the darkness to hear Arthur fall asleep, to know he was content. The waiting stretched and Leon felt his thoughts meander, sleep pulling him from his intent. He was on the cusp when his body jerked and startled him back to alertness.

Arthur sniggered into his chest. “I do that sometimes.”

“You should be asleep.”

“I was just thinking.”

“You’re not regretting what we did?”

“No.” Arthur paused and added, “Storms still bother me. I know I’m safe inside and it’s a foolish weakness to fret when the lightning and thunder come."

“There’s nothing foolish about it. You could have been killed in that storm. Everyone has fears and worries, Arthur.”

“Even you?”

“Yes, even me. Where I grew up there were no lakes, only a small, shallow river. I didn’t learn to swim until I came to Camelot, and still now I can’t dive and plunge as you or some of the others do. You all think because I’m so tall and strong I must be like a fish in the water, but I’m more like a mill-stone. It makes me nervous, when we go to the lake at Big Rock, that someone will push me in and I won’t be able to make it to the side.”

Arthur lifted his head and said with kindness, “Then I will teach you to swim, Sir Leon. I can’t have one of my father’s knights skittish at the prospect of a mere pool.”

“And what about you, when the next storm comes?”

“I think I’ll be better and maybe soon not fearful at all. But maybe, if it’s a bad one, I can come and find you, or you’ll come to me?”

“You have my word.”

The inn was quiet now, the rain over and the storm gone. But the balance of the Earth had shifted.

Heaven only knew what accusations the cold morning light would bring, as it illuminated the night’s events on their wet trudge back to Camelot. Leon tried to push the doubts from his mind that he had abused a privilege and a trust, and held on tighter as Arthur fell asleep; his leg now curled over Leon’s thigh, murmuring softly in his sleep.

In the weighty silence that followed, Leon lay awake for long hours - praying that the night would never end.