Eira woke up first in the morning, finding with comfort that Gwaine’s warm arms were wrapped around her.
The memories of the previous night came to her and she smiled happily. She didn’t care about their fight or the bandits, the only thing that mattered was him.
Just saying it in her head was enough to make her heart flutter. She looked at the box on the chair by the screen and remembered the gorgeous stone he had given her. With him by her side, she had everything.
Deciding to let him sleep a while longer, she slowly removed his arms from around her, feeling how she faltered slightly at the absence of his touch. Using the bed as support, Eira stood up, knowing that the coming day wouldn’t bring anything easy. She looked down at her leg, pulling up her nightgown. It wasn’t hurting as much as it had yesterday and the red area around the cut had started to fade. Maybe her wounds would heal quicker than Gaius had assumed, which would mean that they could leave to Caerleon sooner. A meek breeze from the open window filled the room with promising air and Eira turned around to face it. Open window.
Who had opened it?
A yawn from Gwaine snapped her back to the present and she lowered her tense shoulders just in time for him to open his eyes and smile at her sleepily.
She focused on the toned muscles of his chest as he got out of bed to distract herself from the anxiety that was already building inside her head. Gwaine stretched his arms casually and as he lowered them he sneakily placed them around her.
″Good morning,″ he said and kissed her forehead.
″Good morning to you too,″ she replied.
″How’s your leg?″ he asked with a hopeful glance.
She showed him the already healing cut.
″It hurts more than the snake bite obviously, but I think my arm is getting better as well,″ she replied. But it wasn’t just a snake bite. It wasn’t just a snake bite. It wasn’t just a snake bite. She tore herself from uneasy thoughts and concentrated on Caerleon.
Gwaine’s thoughts seemed to lead to the same conclusion as hers.
″That means we might be able to go to Caerleon sooner,″ he said.
″That’s what I hope too,″ she said happily, hiding an unease that was growing taller.
There was a knock on the door and Gaius entered. His eyes went from the clothes all over the floor to the pillows and sheets all over the floor to the disorganized bed to Gwaine and Eira. He looked like he was about to make a comment on the state of their chambers, but didn’t and lifted his gaze.
″How are your wounds today Eira?″ he continued busily.
″They are much better, thank you,″ Eira replied.
Gwaine put a shirt on from the closet, walked over to the bed and started tidying up, feeling the physician’s humored glances. He knew something was going on between them.
Gaius then took care of Eira’s wounds and re-dressed them.
″I think these wounds will heal quicker than we thought if we give them a bit more time,″ Gaius quickly concluded and after a few moments he left, obviously in a hurry to get all his work done.
″Well that’s good news,″ Gwaine said and Eira nodded contently.
She helped him tidy up and sat down at the table to wait for him to get a maid that could tidy the rest of the room up. All of a sudden she heard a tapping somewhere and realized that it was coming from the window next to the one that had been open. She walked towards the window to look, assuming that it was some children playing a prank. When she didn’t see anything except for the usual view of Camelot’s Lower Town, she opened the second window. It creaked open and she jumped backwards when a raven suddenly flew in and perched on the windowsill. She looked at it, puzzled, until she realized that someone had tied a piece of parchment to its left leg.
Curious about who the message was for, she removed it from the bird and opened it.
In scrawled handwriting, it read:
″Hush pretty girl do not utter a word,
follow you sooner we shall as you’ve heard,
watching your every move for the rich stone,
when you see this bird, you’re never alone,
we know who has gone to look for a broom,
tell your dear knight, and you’ll lead to his doom.″
Eira could almost see the leader bandit smiling cruelly. Eira thought carefully, not sure if she should return a message or show it to Gwaine. Both options were out of the question.
The rhyming message was no riddle, she knew exactly what it meant.
He had made it simple enough for her to understand, but only she alone.
It sounded like they were going to follow them on the quest for the Helix, and that the bird would be the only sign of the bandits that she would see. The ″knight who has gone to look for a broom″ must be Gwaine who went to get a maid, but that means that they must have somehow seen them in the previous minutes. What if the bandits had somehow been watching her the whole night? The entire time since their first encounter?
Eira panicked. She wasn’t entire unfamiliar with magical deception and gadgetry. She ran her fingers over her clothes and realized that there might be something planted on her that the bandits could use. She ran to the half open closet and tore through garments to find the unwashed dress she had worn that night when she had been confronted, the one she had carefully hidden. Sure enough, there was something stuck to it. She removed the small crystal-looking item and almost threw it out of the window, but then decided to tie it to the bird. She calmed her thoughts. They were going to kill Gwaine if she told anyone about the bandits’ plan. They gave her no choice, she would have to think of something later. She retied the parchment to the bird’s leg as well, shooed the bird away while trying to avoid its sharp eyes, and closed the window.
Just then, Gwaine returned, with a servant.
He told the maid what he wanted to be done, but in a very gentle and neutral way as he always did. Eira really admired him for it. She took a deep breath and turned to face him.
″I ran into Gaius again, he wanted me to tell you that he predicts it will only take two more weeks for your wounds to heal. Then it’s safe for us to go to Caerleon,″ Gwaine said.
Eira smiled on the outside and cried on the inside.
″Two weeks until we can finally get started,″ she said.
Two weeks until the bandits get their fingers on the stone, she thought.
″I’m glad that everyone seems to have accepted...us,″ Gwaine said carefully, focusing on her with his brown eyes.
″I guess they have. Remember that Jetta wanted to go out into the market with me and get some clothes today,″ Eira said, remembering her kind friend’s offer.
″I don’t doubt that she wants you to give an opinion on something special she would wear for Percival,″ Gwaine replied and laughed.
″I’m sorry to interrupt, but would you like me to dress you miss?″ the maid asked.
Eira nodded and went to the closet. She only had three dresses, the red one from Gwen, the gray one she had worn when the bandits attacked her and the blue one she had worn at the dinner. She didn’t even know if she could ever wear the gray dress again. She gestured to the blue one instead and went behind the screen as the maid brought it to her.
When she was dressed, Gwaine fastened the chain of the necklace he had given her around her neck, stroking her cheek with eyes that seemed to tell her to relax. Of course he could sense her restlessness.
″I’ll see you a bit later,″ she said, leaning into his embrace for a few seconds and just breathing in his safety.
He said goodbye to her and she left his chambers along with the maid.
″I’m sorry for listening miss, but did you say that you were going to go out into the market with Jetta?″ she asked Eira.
″Yes, why, do you know her?″ Eira replied.
″Actually she’s my cousin, I don’t know if she mentioned me?″ the maid continued.
″She did actually, I think she said you were Morgana’s maid for a while,″ Eira said.
″Yes, I was. I was just wondering if you could give this message to a woman that sells fabric, her name is Matilda,″ Jetta’s cousin said and handed Eira a piece of parchment.
″Of course, I will, I just wanted to ask, what is your name?″ Eira said and smiled.
″My name is Juliana. And you are Eira, right? Anyways, I have to go now, give my regards to Matilda! And...Jetta,″ Juliana said, the enthusiasm slightly leaving her voice when she mentioned her cousin.
″Yes, and I will,″ Eira replied and waved to the maid as she left.
She walked down the corridor and down the stairs and when she got to the Citadel, she looked around for Jetta. At first, the dark haired girl was nowhere to be seen among the tens of citizens bustling around, but then Eira spotted her just by the gates to the Lower Town, holding a basket.
She waved to Eira happily and Eira walked to her. Even though they had only met once, and that once was yesterday, they hugged and greeted each other like they had been friends for years. This made her feel a little bit better, there were people here that cared for her here.
″So, we have to find some colors that Gwaine will like on you!″ Jetta said and smiled playfully.
″What doesn’t he like on me? And you have to get something too! Tell me what Percival likes,″ Eira replied with new confidence and they laughed.
″I met your cousin Juliana this morning,″ Eira said and they talked about her a bit, Jetta not sounding very fond of her cousin either, but Eira knew better than to ask.
They walked down into the market, their eyes torn to one side when they saw a nice color and the other when they saw a stylish design. They held up all the fabrics and cloth they could find. They were reaching the middle of the marketplace when Jetta gasped when she walked past a stall filled with things in varying shades of purple.
″This!″ she exclaimed and held up a beautiful dark purple fabric that would make a really nice dress. She held it up against Eira’s hair and skin, and after holding it in every way possible, Eira handed money to the woman owning the stall and hugged the fabric.
Then she remembered the message that Jetta’s cousin Juliana had given her.
″Do you happen to know a Matilda?″ Eira asked the woman in the stall.
″She’s on the right here,″ the woman replied with a small smile.
″Thank you,″ Eira said and went to the other stall with Jetta behind her, also fondly clutching Eira’s fabric.
″Matilda?″ Eira asked and the woman in the stall turned around and looked at her. She had light brown hair and looked a bit like Juliana and Jetta.
″Aunt Matilda!″ Jetta exclaimed and ran to hug the woman.
Jetta explained that Matilda’s sisters were hers and Juliana’s mothers and that Matilda was the youngest sister; both of Matilda’s nieces were very fond of her.
She introduced Eira and Matilda smiled warmly. Eira had a hunch that she should give Matilda the message when Jetta wasn’t there.
″Jetta look at that gorgeous light blue and green colored fabric! I’ll be right there, you should go look at it!″ Eira said and when Jetta had left she handed Matilda the piece of parchment.
Matilda read it quickly and her face became serious. She looked around to make sure that Jetta wasn’t looking from the other stall. She met Eira’s confused face, put the message in her pocket and said, ″I’m sorry dear, but as much as I would like to share the message with you it’s quite private.″
″No, no it’s fine, Juliana didn’t really talk much about it,″ Eira replied and smiled. Opening the message before hadn’t even occurred to Eira.
″Well thank you! I have to go now,″ Matilda said and hurried off.
The message slipped out of Matilda’s pocket but before Eira could tell her, she had left.
Eira looked at Jetta, and she was busy studying the fabric. She couldn’t resist opening the parchment, so she did.
Please do not tell anyone about what happened with Percival,
I regretted my lips touching his as soon as it happened. Please ask him to speak to me this afternoon, and make sure Jetta doesn’t find out.
Love from Juliana″
Eira was surprised and quickly folded the note, why would Juliana kiss Percival? And why would she tell her aunt? Exposing it all on a note? And why were the cousins not getting along? Eira looked for a pocket to put the message in, but as she saw Jetta skipping happily towards her she panicked and stuffed it in her dress.
″You won’t believe the colors that I found!″ Jetta said excitedly and showed Eira the blue-green fabric that she had bought. Eira held it up against Jetta’s dark hair and skin.
″This looks stunning on you! Percival will love it!″ Eira exclaimed and pushed her discovery about him aside.
″Just imagine the dress I can make!″ Jetta said and the two girls continued their stroll in the market.
Eira returned to Gwaine’s chambers in the late evening, satisfied with her new clothing. Even though more messages from the bandits might contain more useful information, she hoped that there wouldn’t be more threats. She didn’t need any more, she was already terrified.
She entered and threw all of the things she had bought on the bed just as she saw Gwaine laying there. He opened his eyes, ″Thanks for that but I was nearly already awake, I didn’t need things flying at me,″ he said cheerfully and smiled surprisedly. Eira stuck her tongue out at him and bent down to pick up some of the fabric that had missed the bed. As she did, the note for Matilda that she had stuffed in her dress fell out. She let it fall to the floor and then picked it up, hoping that Gwaine hadn’t noticed. He had. ″What’s that?″ he asked and moved closer so that he lay at the foot of the bed. ″Oh it’s nothing, just a piece of paper,″ Eira replied. His gaze traveled down to where she had hid the note and looked back up at her. ″Do you usually shove paper down your dress?″ Gwaine asked. She stood up. Telling him couldn’t hurt anyone.
″It’s a note from Jetta’s cousin to their aunt,″ she explained. Gwaine motioned for her to give it to him and he read it. He looked confused. ″Percival?″ he said and Eira nodded.
″I don’t know any other information, but I think we should keep it a secret that we know about it,″ Eira said.
″There’s been a lot of secrets lately, but I agree. Why didn’t you want me to read it though?″ he replied, slight disappointment in his voice.
″Their aunt told me that she didn’t want anyone to read it, and then it just slipped out of her hand,″ Eira said and sighed.
″Alright then, but let’s try to limit the secrets,″ he said and smiled. She smiled back, relieved that she had one less secret to bear alone.
Gwaine looked through the fabric on the bed that she had thrown at him.
″So what’s all this then?″ he asked curiously.
″Just mostly fabric. Jetta is planning to make dresses out of most of it,″ she replied and sat down.
″Can I see them on you? Or do you look like a troll?″ he asked and laughed.
She snatched the purple fabric from his fingers and wrapped it around his head.
″You can’t see until they’re finished. You look more like a troll anyways,″ she replied and then laughed at his face imitating that of a troll.
″Give it!″ she said and crawled closer to him.
″No! I like life better as a troll,″ he said, teasing her and gently holding the fabric away from her as she fought wildly. Eira managed to pry the fabric from his fingers, crawl onto him and cover his face in the material.
″Oh, you want to fight do you?″ he said playfully but instead of pulling out anything dangerous, he pulled out a thin, long roll that some more of the fabric had been kept in. Eira took one as well and pinned him down on the bed as they fought. Her skills were no match to his and she was soon the one pinned down. He stood up and let her too, and then they fought with the fabric rolls.
Gwaine powerfully swung his arm into the air and as he did, he accidentally detached something on the top of the bed. The large curtain covering the two back bed-posts came down on top of them and everything went dark. There was silence for a few seconds, but then Eira started laughing and Gwaine did too.
″Where did you go?″ Gwaine said between breaths as they fumbled for each other.
″Fair maiden, I shall save you!″ he stated and picked her up, but most of the curtain came along too. He made his way out from under the curtain and held her, she was still laughing.
″Thank you, brave knight. I think you’re too wild to do anything except sleep though,″ she said amusedly.
″Definitely. Now how do we put this back up?″ he asked.
″You’ll have to call a servant. And what will we say?″ she replied.
″Hello? Servant person?″ Gwaine called loudly.
Eira put her fingers over his lips. ″Lillian might hear!″ she said and laughed.
″Lillian!″ Gwaine called even louder and tried to put her fingers in his mouth.
She laughed and pulled them out, just as a manservant came running into the room.
″Yes sir?″ he said politely, looking utterly posh, which annoyed Gwaine.
″You’re not Lillian,″ Gwaine said and Eira hushed him, laughing.
The manservant looked at them with a confused face.
″I’m George, sir,″ he said.
″Put me down!″ Eira demanded.
″Dear George, please put the curtain up again. Thank you,″ he said, imitating George’s posh voice, ignoring Eira’s growls.
″You’re staying with me, fair maiden. We’re off to Merlin’s,″ he continued and laughed as he walked out the door, Eira over his shoulder.
The rest of the week went by quickly, and Jetta decided to make a dress for herself out of the turquoise fabric she had bought. She wanted to make Eira’s dress as well but Eira didn’t want to cause more work for her friend and told her that she would find another talented seamstress. Eira was getting used to living with Gwaine, and the two had started to get closer again. Eira still wasn’t sure if they were ‘together again’ as Jetta had asked her, but she didn’t want to ask Gwaine. Every moment with him was perfect just as it was.
The journey to Caerleon was planned to take place a week after the one during which Eira and Gwaine had found out about Percival and Juliana’s kiss, and Eira wasn’t sure if she was more excited or frightened.
As Gaius had predicted, Eira’s wound was healing faster. Gwaine noticed that she seemed very happy in Camelot, but sometimes her mood would completely change. He knew that she didn’t want to seem nervous in front of everyone, but she had explained to him that she hadn’t really been on any long journeys before, and that she wasn’t prepared for everything that could happen. He tried to calm her and talked to her about all of the fighting tactics that the group could use. After she begged him for days, he finally agreed to teach her a bit more about handling a sword.
Merlin was getting restless and jumpy, probably because he seemed to know the most about the huge challenge that awaited them. He was also worried about bringing Arthur back, and about what would happen if they failed. The knights were planning exactly which route to take, and they predicted that it would take about three days on horseback to reach the Cave of Forgotten Secrets. They would have to pass by Queen Annis’ castle on the way there, and Gwen hoped that it would be safe because of the peace treaty between Caerleon and Camelot that Arthur had established. Gwaine was quite excited about the journey to Caerleon because he had been there a few times with his mother when he was little. His father had been a knight for King Caerleon, but he’d died in battle. Gwaine wanted to meet the widowed Queen Annis to know who his father had served so willingly, even though his grudge against nobility still existed.
Guinevere had made up her mind not to go with them to find the Helix; she was still worried about Camelot and didn’t know who she could trust her kingdom with. Leon would also stay. The other knights needed someone in charge and he was one of the only people Gwen completely trusted.
The expedition was supposed to be quite discreet, they didn’t want to attract unnecessary attention, so there were only five experienced knights going, including Gwaine and Percival. Eira’s healing injuries had been approved by Gaius, and Merlin was coming too. Seven people were going to be enough to get through unknown land, but also a small enough number to not attract attention.
Percival was getting uneasy about keeping the secret from Gwaine for so long.
He decided to confront Eira since no one had asked her any more about the night in the woods and he assumed that he was the one who knew the most. Gwaine was out with Leon training the newly recruited knights and Percival knew that Eira would be alone. He headed to Gwaine’s chambers right before noon and knocked on the door. She opened it, smiling at first when she saw him.
″Percival, what can I do for you?″ she said.
He was tired of being polite and pushed past her into the room. She closed the door behind them.
″What do you want?″ she asked him again, this time with a different tone of voice.
″I want to know why you were kissing that man in the woods. The night that you were ‘attacked by a snake’.″
″How did you know that happened? Did you follow me? Is that how trustworthy I am?″ she asked.
″No. I came there because of a trap that I had forgotten to check when I heard voices and I saw you standing against a tree. I left right after I saw you kiss a man I didn’t recognize,″ he said.
″You mean the man that kissed me,″ Eira said.
She continued when he stayed silent.
″I honestly cannot tell you why it happened, otherwise I’m putting others in danger.″
She sighed unhappily. ″I shouldn’t even have told you that.″
He could tell that she wasn’t lying, but he couldn’t tell if that was the complete truth.
″Why? Who said this?″ he asked.
She looked away and bit her lip so tears wouldn’t come.
″I….I can’t….they’ll-″ she said and stopped, fighting to keep the tears back. She had been fine a minute ago; he wondered what had happened that was enough to make her cry.
″So it’s several people?″ Percival asked surprised. ″But why go after you?″
″I can’t tell you anything, I just...just please know that I didn’t kiss that man willingly! You know exactly how I feel about Gwaine,″ she said. Percival met the scared look in her eyes and knew that she was telling the truth.
″Did they go farther than just kissing you? Were they the ones that made that cut on your leg?″ he asked, feeling sorry for her now that he knew she was being honest.
″No, it was nothing else like that, only my leg and the snake bite,″ she took a deep breath and looked around before continuing. ″Do you understand why I couldn’t tell anyone?″
″It makes more sense now, I knew a rock couldn’t have done that. Gwaine really cares for you, have you told him this much as well?″ Percival asked.
″No, I haven’t told anyone this! Percival you must promise not to tell anyone, I wish I could tell you and Gwaine and everyone everything, but I can’t! I really don’t want to have this fight again, I already had it with Gwaine, except I didn’t tell him everything because I knew he could get hurt!″ she said.
Percival nodded, he knew that she was in a very difficult situation, and that no one could help her even if they wanted to.
As he stood up to go, Eira said, ″Percival! There is something that I have to tell you,″ and he nodded at her again to continue. She almost smirked. ″We’re sort of in the same situation. I know something about you, and you know something about me, and I need to know if you are as innocent as I am regarding this.″
″What do you mean?″ What could she possibly know about him?
″Juliana,″ she said and waited for his reaction. He didn’t move. ″She asked me to deliver a message to Matilda. Matilda dropped the message and I read it. It said that Juliana wanted Matilda to ask if she could speak to you. And it also said that you kissed Juliana.″
Percival had almost forgotten his moment with Jetta’s cousin. ″Then you should know that both of us regret the kiss. But since you explained your story to me, I’ll explain mine to you,″ he continued.
Eira nodded, satisfied.
″For some reason, Jetta and Juliana don’t get along, so Juliana came over to talk to Jetta, but she was out buying something, so she explained her situation to me. I don’t really know what happened, but suddenly we were kissing. Matilda walked in and saw us, and she took Juliana away. I was so scared that Jetta would find out, but I don’t want to be with Juliana like that. We’re just good friends,″ he finished and sighed.
″Well then what did Juliana want to talk to you about?″ Eira asked.
″That, I can’t tell you. I don’t know the full story. But it concerns Juliana’s situation with Jetta,″ he said.
″At least now I know that we’re both pretty innocent,″ she said and grinned.
″Pretty,″ Percival agreed.
″Well then, good luck packing for the trip. We’ll be gone quite a long time,″ he said and left. His steps felt lighter now, even though he still held a grudge against Eira’s story. Or maybe it was Eira he held the grudge against, he realized.
Eira was once again reminded of the boring and long task of packing hers and Gwaine’s
clothing and belongings since she didn’t want a servant to do it. Gwaine came in an hour later, tired and soaked in sweat after training the new knights.
″Those newcomers are certainly feisty and fast ones,″ he said and walked towards her.
Instead of kissing him, she blew into his face. ″No, you’re sweaty,″ she said but when she saw his expression, pretending to be offended, she took his face in her hands and kissed him.
″Just imagine how thrilled they are to be serving Camelot, they sure want to impress the knights in charge. They look up to you,″ she replied.
A servant entered. He took Gwaine’s armour off and ran off to clean and polish it without a word.
″At least the new knights are better than the servants. The servants here sure are mysterious. It’s almost like they’re leading double lives. You try to talk to them, but they don’t even want to look you in the eye. Then you see them later around the castle, chattering and gossiping with other servants like the kitchens are empty,″ he explained. Eira giggled at his comparison.
″Their employers probably instruct them not to speak to anyone considered ‘higher class’ unless told to,″ she replied.
″Like Lillian,″ Gwaine said and laughed.
Eira laughed too, ″Female servants seem a bit more friendly though, like Jetta’s cousin Juliana.″
″Only know one thing about her. Never met her,″ Gwaine said and sat down at his desk.
Eira looked at him and sighed hopelessly.
″Yes you did. When she cleaned for us the morning after we were at the tavern with Percival and Jetta. I’m not even sure what we did to make your chambers so untidy,” she remembered, sending him a slightly confused look.
″Oh, well I know what we could have done,″ Gwaine said playfully, gave her a wink, and then looked down through his papers.
She knew what he meant, and felt a slightly anxious warmth bubble inside of her. She almost couldn’t remember the night when she had slept with him the first, and also only, time. That had been Morgana’s plan to get Gwaine even closer to Eira. Eira was overwhelmed with nausea for a second when she thought about how cruel it was to use Gwaine like that, and she hadn’t even been in control of herself. So she had, technically, never genuinely slept with him.
Eira continued packing to think about something other than betrayal, and she had finally reached the part where she got to pack her clothes.
″You don’t think I will need this purple or red one, do you?″ she asked him and looked at her new, beautiful purple dress that the seamstress had finished making.
Gwaine looked up and thought about it, carefully examining the gown.
″No, I don’t think so, but I don’t doubt that Queen Annis will invite us to a banquet. It depends on the kind of impression you want to make on her famous new knight and trusted advisor. Everyone is talking about him, haven’t you heard?″ he teased.
″I don’t want to impress her new advisor! I don’t want to impress anyone!″ she defended.
He grinned, ″You’re the female representative of Camelot. You have to look good.″
″Don’t I already?″ she asked and raised her eyebrow.
″To me you do. Bring the purple one,″ he said flirtatiously.
″Why? Only because you like it better?″ she said and grinned.
″I never said that!″ he responded.
″No, you didn’t. But your eyes did,″ she said and laughed.
Gwaine gave her a look, laughed and went back to his paperwork.
Eira looked at him, and packed the purple dress. She held up the gray dress and shivered. She packed it anyway along with the blue dress and the rest of her clothes.
Gwaine looked up to see what she had packed.
He sighed. ″Do you not know anything about travelling? You need some trousers and a blouse. You can’t travel for a week in just dresses.″
″Fine then, then I’m relying on Jetta to have some more suitable clothes I can borrow,″ she said.
″But still bring the purple one,″ he replied. She gave him a look and continued packing.