The Bargain

Chapter 14

The two girls stopped at Percival and Merlin’s chambers and knocked on the door. To their surprise, Gwaine opened it and let them step inside. Percival and Merlin were seated at the table, and they were looking through papers and maps and things that Eira didn’t care about right then.

″What was all that?’’ Gwaine asked.

″It was nothing, we were just being attacked,″ Eira replied sarcastically and everyone looked up with surprise. Eira glanced at Ina with a warning look. They would have to make up a story. ″They were unknown to us, they just came charging in. The guards took them straight to the dungeons,″ Ina explained. Eira was amazed at her friend’s ability to make something up and sound like she was telling the truth. She wondered if she used that skill often. Gwaine had a confused expression on his face and started to open his mouth but before he could ask anything, Eira interrupted. ″We just wanted to ask if we could borrow Merlin,″ Eira said quickly and gave Merlin a look. He nodded and left Gwaine and Percival. Gwaine sent another confused look to Percival and he shrugged. Eira smiled insecurely and almost ran out of the room.

They quickly dragged Merlin into Ina’s chambers, closed the door, and locked it, facing him with their hands on their hips.

“What are you going to do to me?” Merlin gave them a confused and slightly scared look. Ina nodded towards Eira to explain, she knew him the most.

″Merlin, please try not to...I don’t know, but this is going to sound very strange,″ Eira warned him, and took a deep breath.

″We think that Ina is pregnant,″ Eira said. Merlin gave Ina a surprised look but Eira continued before he could say anything, ″She is unsure of who the father is. It’s either the one person that would be suitable, or another. And he is quite the opposite,″ Eira explained, but she didn’t mention exactly who they were. Ina gave Eira a grateful look, even though Ina probably wondered why this was being told to Merlin of all people. She would soon understand.

Merlin looked away and Eira could see that he was trying to piece together who it could be, but she quickly dragged him to one corner of the room so Ina couldn’t hear and asked him if she could tell Ina about his magic. He nodded and suddenly smiled, happy that it seemed like he could use his incongruous gift that didn’t fit in anywhere else. They went back to Ina. Eira explained what they were going to do, and to her surprise Ina didn’t seem to react much to Merlin having magic.

Eira helped Ina lay down on the bed, and placed Merlin’s hand on her stomach. Eira saw the frantic rise and fall of Ina’s chest and took her hand to calm her. After a while and after some convincing, Ina nodded that she was ready and Merlin took a deep breath. He murmured a magical incantation and his eyes flashed gold. Eira was fascinated by it, even though her own eyes did the same. Merlin’s eyes closed and he stood completely still. Ina’s eyes were also completely closed, and Eira gripped her hand harder. He stood there for a few moments, and Eira almost reached out and touched him to make sure that he was still there.

Merlin suddenly gasped and opened his eyes. He removed his hand.

″What did you see?″ Eira asked Merlin nervously.

″I only saw a face. First a pair of eyes, deep blue,’’ he started. Eira panicked. Blue. Ina looked at Eira anxiously and Eira squeezed Ina’s hand so hard that she was surprised it didn’t disappear. She suddenly let go, realizing that she wasn’t helping her nervous friend.

’’Then I saw his whole face. It was Isaac,″ Merlin said, surprised. Ina breathed out as if she had been holding her breath for too long, which she had, and Eira sighed, relieved. Ina got up and hugged Merlin tightly, and then Eira. They both thanked Merlin and he smiled, glad to be of help, but probably more happy because he could use his magic. ‘’I wish you luck with your baby,’’ he said and sent a smile towards Ina. She smiled back fully, and Eira hadn’t seen her smile like she did before. ‘’We need to tell Isaac,’’ Eira said and Merlin nodded. ‘’I promise I won’t tell anyone unless you want me to,’’ he replied and they smiled gratefully. Eira couldn’t resist hugging him again, and he looked slightly surprised, but happy that he had been able to help them. He then said goodbye and left.

Ina smiled gratefully again at Eira, almost crying with relief that the baby’s father was Isaac. ″So how do you think Isaac will handle it?″ Eira asked her.

″I haven’t thought about that yet. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you or Gwaine that I’m with him. We’re still quite young, but I think that he’ll be happy to settle down with me,’’ she said. ’’I hope,″ she said uncertainly, new anxiety finding its place in her voice and her eyes looking up at Eira.

″It will be fine, I’ll be right behind you when you tell him. And after you tell him, Gwaine and the others are going to find out,″ Eira said. She had never thought about Gwaine’s reaction to his sister being pregnant. Then she thought about their mother.

″Have you told your mother?″ Eira asked her slowly.

″I found her yesterday, and I told her. She knows that I’m with Isaac, but I didn’t exactly do anything to make her think that he wasn’t the father. I didn’t know then. For some reason, my mother is very close to the Queen, and she will be at the banquet. She doesn’t know that Gwaine is here, I was hoping to surprise her!″ Ina explained. Eira felt happy for her, but couldn’t help feeling left out. She had no family left. But she had friends. And most importantly, Gwaine.

″Thank you Eira, for everything,″ Ina said.

″Go tell Isaac now, I’m going to go and get ready for the banquet. And remember what we agreed on. If the bandits tell you any more information, tell me. I’ll see you,″ she said smiling, and left Ina’s chambers.

Gwaine, Percival, Merlin and the other knights were still discussing what they would say at the banquet when Eira entered, almost prancing into the room and lifting her skirts as she skipped. She told them that they had about two hours until they had to be in the main hall for the banquet. Eira then turned to Gwaine and put her hands on her hips. Gwaine followed her movements as she did and raised his eyebrow flirtatiously. She gave him a disapproving look.

″We should go as well,″ she said.

″Two hours? That’s more than enough time to brush you hair!″ he protested and he sounded completely bewildered.

″It takes a long time to get ready, trust me,″ she said obstinately. She took his hand, sent a grateful and secret look to Merlin to thank him once again, and nodded at Percival and the other knights. She pulled and dragged Gwaine to the door and he sent a defeated look to his friends as they tried to stop themselves from laughing. Sir Helyas put his hand by his throat and made a cutting motion and the other knights and Merlin laughed amusedly.

Gwaine gave up trying to fight and just held Eira’s hand as they walked back to their chambers.

″So what was that business with Merlin all about? He looked awfully happy when he came back,″ Gwaine asked, amused.

″You’ll find out soon,″ Eira said mysteriously and smiled at his expression.

″And also, Ina told me that your mother is going to be at the banquet. She has no idea that you are going to be there,″ Eira said excitedly and Gwaine smiled. He hadn’t seen his mother in a long while, eight years like Ina, and he hoped that she would be happy to see him.

Eira and Gwaine reached their chambers. A maid was standing by the table, clothing items spread out all over the bed. Gwaine almost backed away. He had the easy part, he just had to wear a knight’s uniform along with some sort of badge and the crest of Camelot to show that he was important. Eira had to struggle with a tight corset and everything possible to make her look like she was following the latest trend and fashion. The servant helped her and Gwaine just stared at the impossible garments.

″Why do women bother with all this clothing? It just makes it harder for us men to undress them,″ Gwaine said and the servant giggled at his comment. She then put her hand over her mouth shyly and continued dressing Eira, not saying a word. Eira gave Gwaine a look and he smiled. At least some people found what he said funny. After a very long time, Eira finally stepped out from behind the screen the maid had brought with her. Gwaine’s jaw dropped. He raised his eyebrows and just stared at her. She looked amazing, especially now that she was finally wearing the purple dress for the first time. Jetta must have known some very skilled seamstresses. The dark, violet fabric sat tightly around her waist and the dress was sleeveless, leaving her neck, arms and shoulders bare. A light red chain-like band was tied loosely around her waist, matching the necklace she would wear. The dress gave the impression that the cloth was just wrapped around her, it left a temptingly thin slit which reached the floor to the side just below her hips, revealing a bit of the side of her leg. At the back, the connected fabric wrapped around, leaving another, however diagonal, thin slit going down her back which stopped almost unbearably low.

Gwaine could barely pay attention to Eira’s words. He kept looking at her as she sat down at the dressing table. The maid smiled when she saw Gwaine looking at Eira, her work had been successful. The maid brushed Eira’s hair fondly and put stones and jewels in it. She added a lipcolor which matched the light red Eira was wearing and stroked some sparkling, purple powder right by the sides of her eyes, balancing the colors.

When she was finished Gwaine managed to tear his eyes away from Eira and fasten the necklace he had given her around her neck. She thanked the maid as she left, and then kissed Gwaine’s cheek. Gwaine couldn’t stop looking at her. He tried to open his mouth and say something about how she looked, but he couldn’t find a word to describe her. She helped him with his final touches and as they exited their chambers, he took her arm. They walked down to the banquet hall together, and he could tell that Eira was nervous about meeting so many new people. He reminded her to think about the words that they had all agreed on so Queen Annis wouldn’t become suspicious of their real business in her kingdom.

Gwaine and Eira stood in the line right outside the dining hall, waiting to be let in. Gwaine could only catch glimpses of it. The banquet hall was huge, with a table shaped like a horseshoe. He realized that they were three, long connected tables and they were all filled with candles and fancy plates and cutlery and other tableware. There were chairs and nametags, and people standing almost everywhere. Gwaine saw Queen Annis proudly standing in the middle of the room, surrounded by eager guests.

They reached the front of the line, said their names, and entered as a person with a piece of parchment that reached the floor crossed their names off the long list. Gwaine nodded at Percival and Merlin to join him and Eira as they walked towards the Queen. Eira looked for Ina, but she hadn’t arrived yet. Heads turned as they walked up to Annis, and Gwaine knew that people were looking at Eira’s beautiful dress. Queen Annis looked at them and they greeted her formally. They introduced themselves and Annis smiled. ″Camelot. Arthur showed such courage when I last met him, his loss has affected me too,’’ she said and then saw Merlin. He was dressed differently than he usually was of course, but she seemed to recognize him. ‘’You,’’ she said, confused. ‘’I am Merlin. I was Arthur’s manservant. Your guards caught me and brought me to your tent the night Arthur asked for single combat instead of war,’’ he explained. She nodded and smiled. ‘’I could tell that you weren’t just anyone,’’ she replied mysteriously and her words slightly confused Gwaine. He snapped out of his thoughts when the queen’s words were directed towards Eira.

You must be Eira, the only girl on your long journey,″ she said and smiled warmly.

″Yes. Our journey was very long, and I am very grateful to be at one of your famous banquets,″ Eira replied and tried not to talk about their group too much. After talking for a while, Gwaine stepped away from Eira and decided to ask for his mother. Annis looked around and pointed to her. Gwaine immediately recognized the woman standing in a group of people on the right side of the room. He excused himself and left Eira, Percival and Merlin to greet her. He suddenly felt shy and insecure, and nearly stopped walking but forced himself to continue. His mother’s friends stepped out of the way when he walked up to her, sending him admiring looks. She looked at him, but he couldn’t tell if she had recognized him. She motioned to her friends that she would be right back and moved a few steps away from them. He followed her and she turned around and faced him. He wasn’t quite sure if she had become smaller, or if he was the one that had changed. He looked into her eyes and realized that he would never forget her brown, warm eyes that both he and his sister had as well. ″Gwaine.″ Her voice was soft. He tried to slightly nod, but she instantly put her arms around him. He embraced her and breathed in the scent that he had almost forgotten. When she let go and looked at him again, there were tears in her eyes.

″I thought I would never see you again,″ she said sadly and he nodded.

″Well, here I am. I can disappear if you want, and you can be right as usual,″ Gwaine said, remembering himself as a teenager, making mistakes that his mother had known he would make right before he blindly and carelessly made them. His mother smiled and stroked his hair. She looked down at his uniform, saw the crest of Camelot and gasped. ″You’re a knight of Camelot! And a main one, too,″ she said, a bit surprised, but mostly proud.

″I love it,″ Gwaine said and laughed.

″Just like your father,″ his mother replied, and smiled, drying her tears. Her words reminded Gwaine about the sword, and he carefully pulled it out. She gasped as she studied and ran her fingers along it. ‘’It’s from him,’’ she said and smiled. Gwaine nodded. Before he could ask her anything, he saw his mother focusing her gaze on something behind him, and Gwaine put his sword back in one of his scabbards, and turned around. Eira was walking towards them, smiling and looking irresistible. Gwaine had to fight the urge to run up and kiss her, so he tore his eyes away from her and looked at his mother. ″This is Eira,″ he introduced her as he put his arm around Eira’s waist and his mother smiled. ″Camelot was a good choice,″ Gwaine said. Eira laughed and took his hand. ″I think we’re supposed to sit down now,″ she said as they heard chairs being pulled out and less voices. Gwaine said goodbye to his mother as she went to join her friends. They admiringly looked at Gwaine and asked his mother who he was. He looked down and smiled.

They sat down, and their group got placed together closest to the Queen. Eira had Gwaine on her right and Ina sitting next to Isaac on Gwaine’s right, of course closest to Annis. She mouthed to her friend and asked her if she had told Isaac about their baby and Ina nodded. She smiled and Eira felt very happy. The advisor seemed to have taken it well. Now, Ina just had to tell Gwaine.

Gwaine nudged Eira and pointed to the advisor holding his sister’s hand. She nodded, ″They’re together,″ she said and smiled. Gwaine didn’t look very surprised, he just almost rolled his eyes.

″Then he’s taken, no more handsome advisors free,″ he said and they laughed.

″I’m also taken,″ Eira said and kissed him. He was about to continue when she remembered that everyone could be watching them and they stopped. Proper guests, right. Ina gave her a wink and she smiled, a bit embarrassed. Queen Annis stood up and as she tapped her spoon against her glass, everyone stopped talking and settled down. ″I want to thank you all, for being here. A special thanks to my friends from Camelot,″ Annis said and smiled at their group as heads turned to look at them, ″for making a long journey and stopping here for my banquet. And thank you, my friends that live near,″ she continued and listed the names of the other kingdoms that had come. Everything was silent, and Eira was amazed at the amount of respect everyone had for the queen. Her powerful voice stretched across the room, ″Caerleon welcomes you. Let the feast begin!″

Everyone applauded and Queen Annis sat down again. Plates were passed back and forth, and Eira just stared at half of the foods served elegantly in front of her.

Gwaine started to eat, ″We could be ambushed in a few days when we go after the stone, so eat now,″ he said as a joke. Eira didn’t take it as a joke. She tried to take a deep breath and pushed his unknowing comment aside. ″It’s hard to eat when you constantly have a corset strangling you. I can hardly breathe,″ she explained. Gwaine sighed. ″Well you can’t take it off now, can you, so just try to stuff some food in your dress to eat later,″ he said and laughed. Eira wasn’t sure if he was joking or not. Instead, she tried to get Ina’s attention. Ina looked at her, confused, and Eira mouthed to her to tell Gwaine that she was pregnant. Ina couldn’t understand a word, so Eira put her hands on her own stomach and motioned to Gwaine. Ina nodded, and Eira felt eyes on her so she looked up at Gwaine. He was looking at her with an utterly confused expression on his face. He looked down at her hands on her stomach, raised his eyebrows, and looked at her eyes again. ″Either you’re pregnant, or I am,″ Gwaine said and Eira laughed. Ina heard what he said, ″No, she’s not. At least I don’t think so. But I am,″ Ina said and looked into her brother’s eyes. His eyes widened and he looked surprised at first, as if he was in shock, but then his expression softened and he smiled at her. He questioningly looked at Isaac and back at her and she nodded. His eyes then turned to Eira. ″You knew?″ he asked her, and she nodded. ″I was one of the first to know,″ she said happily. ″A toast then?″ Isaac said and their group nodded. They made a toast and Eira wished them luck with their baby, even though there was still a while left until it would be born. Gwaine didn’t seem like he was in shock as much as Eira thought he would. If she would have been pregnant, it would have been a completely different thing.

Eira looked at the ostentatious decorations and the candles and the flowers and wondered if everything was always this fancy. She then realized that she had never been at a banquet before, one had never been held in Camelot since she had been there. Why should it? Arthur was dead.

She shook off her thoughts and listened as the group talked loudly as they ate, and when dessert came in on silver plates elegantly carried by servants, Eira felt like she wouldn’t need to eat again for an entire month. They watched the entertainment that Annis had organized. There were fake magicians that made coins appear out of thin air and then disappear again. A jester took Eira’s hand and invited her up to dance with him. ″You never know when you’ll have the chance to dance with such a beautiful lady again,″ he said loudly and the entire banquet hall turned to look at them. Despite her protests, he dramatically pulled her with him and they started dancing. Cheerful music played and Eira looked at the performers in the corner that she hadn’t even noticed before. The banquet had almost everything. Queen Annis laughed and motioned for Ina and Isaac to dance as well, so when they started dancing the entire kingdom was motivated. Eira guessed that the advisor was like some kind of second leader for the people, everyone liked and trusted him. Percival pulled a reluctant Gwaine from his food, so he danced with his sister and then saved Eira from her unique dance with the jester. He put his hand on her waist and took her other hand, and they danced, not tearing their eyes away from each other for a second. The jester tried to interrupt their dancing by getting in between them which caused them to laugh more than dance.

After a while they got tired and sat down, even though the upbeat music kept playing loudly. Gwaine wanted to talk to Isaac, so he switched spots with Ina. Eira talked to Ina for a while, until Ina suddenly rushed out of the banquet hall. A wave of fear hit Eira, something was clearly wrong. Gwaine and Isaac didn’t notice, they were busy talking about something that sounded like strategies and swords. When Ina returned a few minutes later, Eira noticed something different about her. She wasn’t wearing her crystal anymore. She looked at her friend’s alarmed and frightened expression and asked her what was wrong.

″I left because the bandits wanted to talk to me through the crystal. They’re going to attack tonight. They want me to lead your group to a tavern. They’re going to force you to hand the map and information about the Helix over to them. They don’t want to wait until you get it,″ Ina explained, scared and anxious about the choice that lay in her hands. Eira tried to take a deep breath, and she wasn’t sure if it was her corset or her feelings hindering her.

″You’ve ripped the crystal off, so they can’t hear or see you. The three bandits from this afternoon are still locked in, Annis has quite strict guard duties down in the dungeons. That means that you lead us to the tavern, and when they attack, we will ask the queen for backup and there will be more men there than they expected to fight them. We fight them, and Annis gets them,″ Eira said, determined to succeed, planning the only solution she could think of.

″Now we just have to convince Annis to help us with some men. I know exactly how,″ Ina said. She went back to her place next to Isaac and switched back with Gwaine.

″He sure is talkative,″ Gwaine said and Eira nodded absentmindedly, almost waving him away as she tried to see Ina convince Isaac to talk to Annis about borrowing some of her guards behind Gwaine.

Gwaine leaned over so that he was in front of her, nearly fell off his chair, and waved his hand in front of her face.

″What? Do you want a baby as well? You know you can’t get them by just looking, right?″ he asked jokingly with amusement.

She shook her head. ″No, I’m just-″ she said.

″Trying to get a better look at that one over there?″ Gwaine finished her sentence and motioned to a man that was sitting right behind Ina. The man must have thought that Eira was looking at him. Her eyes widened, and she quickly leaned back against the chair and breathed out.

″No. Not him,″ she said with her eyes almost wide open and met Gwaine’s amused expression.

″Whatever you say,″ Gwaine said and pretended not to believe her.

″But you have me to look at,″ he said. She made a disgusted face at him and laughed at his offended expression. ″I’m just joking. You’re the most handsome man I’ve met,″ she said and kissed him. ″It’s hard to reach to kiss you when we’re sitting down,″ he said dramatically and she laughed. She took his hand when she felt someone’s eyes on them. She turned slightly and saw Gwaine’s mother at the other end of the table to Queen Annis’ left, smiling warmly.

Eira smiled back and realized that Gwaine was also looking. She wondered how much Gwaine had been able to talk to his mother, and if he would get a chance to see her again before they left.

The hours ticked by and the guests started to leave. Some of them would be leaving in carriages and on horseback that night, but some of them were lucky enough to have been given a room in the castle. Eira started getting tense and nervous. She knew that the bandits would attack soon. She felt insecure and knew that she was being led straight into a trap. Ina nodded at her unsurely, they would be forced to go to the tavern soon. Eira didn’t know what Ina had told Isaac, because they were the only two people who knew about the bandits. Isaac was talking to Queen Annis, and she was nodding. Eira sighed relievedly, it looked like they were getting help. Ina cleared her throat, ″How about we all head down to the tavern?″ she asked.

The knights looked at each other eagerly and Eira nodded. Gwaine looked at her. ″Since when were you so excited to go to the tavern?″ he asked Eira and she shrugged her shoulders. ″It was quite fun last time,″ she said and smiled. He raised his eyebrows and then gathered their group. Isaac came along as well and led them to the big tavern in the city a few minutes away, Ina by his side.

Eira suddenly realized what a dangerous game she was playing. Ina could turn on her without warning. Or even worse, the bandits could have even more reinforcement and outnumber them. Eira grabbed Gwaine’s hand without thinking and he smiled. ″We’re only going to the tavern. Nothing to worry about,″ he said and stroked her hand. She tried to calm down.

The group opened the heavy door and entered. At the sound of the door opening, men stared at them menacingly and Eira almost panicked. She begged for the men sitting at the tables to be regular citizens of Caerleon down at a tavern in the late evening, and that they wouldn’t attack them from behind. The man at the counter lit up when he saw them. ″Gwaine! Remember me?″ he asked cheerfully and Gwaine nodded, smiling. He took his arm and greeted him warmly. Eira realized that since Gwaine had spent some time in various parts of the kingdom and outside of it as well, he must have known a lot of the people here. But no one else stepped forward and greeted him, and Eira got a bad feeling about the tavern. She looked around the room, and didn’t see any women at all, just the men, staring at them with more than a glint of hostility in their eyes. Suddenly, the man behind the counter groaned and fell to the ground. Eira heard steps. She felt as if the entire room went black as the leader bandit stepped forward. They hadn’t waited long. The group backed towards the middle of the tavern, almost back to back in a circle. ″Come on, no tavern brawls now, it’s the night of Queen Annis’ banquet!″ Gwaine tried but before he could grab a jug of ale from the counter, the bandit Eira recognized all too well spoke. ″Oh, this isn’t a regular tavern brawl. We know that your little group is searching for the Helix. But we can’t wait any longer. Give us the information and the map, and no trouble,″ he said menacingly. Eira concentrated and blocked out his voice. She heard the door of the tavern shut and the lock click in place. She slowly and discreetly turned around, and studied the man who was now holding the key. Isaac’s guards couldn’t come and help them as long as the door was locked. It was a large, metal door that they wouldn’t be able to push through. They would be forced to fight until someone could open the door and call for help. That someone would probably be Eira.

No one in the group responded to the bandit’s gruff words. The bandit stepped forward as if he was going to attack them, but then stopped. Gwaine didn’t even flinch.

″No one wants to give the map willingly? Well then, I’ll have to ask for some help. Ina?″

Ina bravely looked up at the sound of her name. She stepped forward so quickly and freely that Eira feared for a second that her friend had abandoned their deal, and also their close friendship. But then she realized that Ina was just acting. The leader bandit handed her a sword and she immediately pointed it to Gwaine’s chest. He didn’t move. She tried to give her brother a sign that she was acting, but his eyes wouldn’t meet hers. Eira nudged him gently, hoping that her touch would tell him to look at his sister. He did. ″You’re one of the leaders of the group. Give us the map,″ Ina said harshly, and she sounded so real that Eira almost believed her. But the look in her eyes that only Eira and Gwaine could see contradicted her words. The leader bandit got tired of her words, and grabbed Eira, pulling her away from the group. He let his fingers slide down her body and smiled when she shivered. ″If it isn’t Jane Smith. We shared some...passionate moments in the forest,″ he said and laughed mockingly. Gwaine looked at her, confused, and she tried to look stable.

″What did you tell your dear knight? That your wound was because of a sharp rock? A snake? Pathetic,″ he said and Gwaine flinched when he recognized his words. They were the same as Eira’s desperate explanation. Eira saw him trying to make sense of the situation and she looked at Ina, begging her for help. Her friend nodded that on three she would toss her a sword. Eira focused all her energy on the sword that Ina was holding. Time suddenly seemed to slow down. Eira motioned for her friend to wait, because she had a better idea to try first. She looked into the bandit’s eyes, and smiled mysteriously. ″I actually enjoyed that moment in the forest,″ she forced herself to press the words out of her own mouth in a smooth tone. She couldn’t even imagine what Gwaine was feeling.

She looked down, and then at his lips. Instead of fighting him, she put her arms around him and rubbed his shoulders. She leaned even closer, trying not to pull away from his foul breath. She opened her mouth and let him feel her desperate breaths. She put her face closer, as if she was going to kiss him, and his grip on her loosened for a second. Ina yelled for Eira to catch it as the sword came hurling through the air and Eira caught it as she twisted out of the bandit’s grip. The bandits’ surprise gave her group a few seconds to draw their swords and to her relief she saw Gwaine pull two out of his scabbards, one that she didn’t recognize.

Percival and the other knights started fighting with the men around them that suddenly got up from the tables with weapons everywhere. Eira heard the metallic clash of weapons around her and dodged swords and knives that flew through the air. She quickly tried to make her way to the door so that she could unlock it, but a man about her height with a knife between his teeth growled at her. She grabbed onto the sword Ina had thrown to her and pulled it upwards. All of her energy was focused on the techniques that Gwaine had taught her, and she could almost feel his hands around her, steadily guiding her movements with the sword. The man she was in combat with was also holding the key, and she tried to grab it from his belt as they moved around in circles. To her relief the man suddenly stopped fighting and fell to the floor. She looked up and saw Ina smiling at her, emerging from behind the man in front of her. Eira quickly thanked her friend and made her way to the door as fast as she could. Ina covered her and fought the men that tried to stop Eira’s desperate, at first futile attempts to open the door. The seconds slowed down and after what felt like years she was successful, and the door swung open. She didn’t need to call anyone because Ina whistled loudly and within a few seconds countless guards rushed past them, into the tavern. Eira felt like she was being spun around by the sounds around her, loud battle cries and shouts. She pushed past her dizziness and searched the tavern for people from their group. None of them were dead. Yet. The leader bandit’s men started falling to the floor, either dead, wounded or unconscious. Eira looked for their leader and saw him strenuously fighting with Gwaine. Her heart lurched and she ran to help him. The leader bandit was skilled, and Eira could see that Gwaine was almost struggling. Gwaine desperately looked around the room for Eira, and the bandit used his distraction to stab his arm. Gwaine’s pained expression turned angry and he tried to strike the bandit. The bandit thrust towards Gwaine with his sword and had him up against the wall. Eira couldn’t move but just as she was about to help him Gwaine did something almost impossible. Before the bandit could do anything Gwaine had gone underneath his legs and tripped him. Gwaine pushed him down on his back and put his foot on the bandit’s chest, the harmless side of his sword pressing against the bandit’s neck. All he had to do was tilt it, and their biggest threat would be gone. Something kept Gwaine from killing him. Gwaine looked at Eira and the only thing she was able to distinguish in his intense eyes was confusion. The leader bandit took advantage of their looks and quickly stood up. Before he could move, Eira felt a surge of power flow through her and instinctively hit his head with the back of her sword. Hard. He was nearly knocked unconscious, but when she looked up, Gwaine’s eyes were different. She didn’t recognize him. He didn’t give Eira the look that she was expecting. The look that was surprised at her sudden force and success with a sword.

The look that she knew.

She motioned to the guards not to kill the leader, so they grabbed him and started to drag him out of the tavern along with several other bandits. Eira was just about to scream in triumph when she remembered the rest of their group. Percival was making his way towards them along with Merlin. None of them seemed hurt. Ina came limping along with Isaac, and both of them had several cuts and bruises. Eira’s gaze traveled to her friend’s stomach, but there were no wounds on it. The other three knights walked towards them, Sir Helyas limping. The bandits had been tough fighters. Eira remembered Gwaine’s arm wound and turned to look at him. He had small cuts on his face, and half of his arm was soaked in blood. He didn’t even seem to notice it.

Eira pointed to it when he met her eyes. He shook his head and motioned to her that it was nothing, and looked at his sister instead. She was holding her leg, and Isaac was trying to support her. Eira put her hand on her stomach and made sure that there weren’t any serious wounds her eyes had missed that could harm the baby. Percival turned to the two girls. ″You two have got some serious explaining to do,″ he said and crossed his arms. His words meant that no one was in desperate need of a physician and Eira could almost breathe out. She looked at Ina and she nodded at Eira to explain. The words got stuck in her throat and it felt so dry that she had to swallow several times before she could speak.

″That night...when you found me in the woods...that’s when it all started. I didn’t fall on a sharp rock. The same bandits attacked me. They wanted information about the Helix, but I wouldn’t give it to them. They threatened me and said that they would return, and that if I had told anyone what had happened, they would kill one of you,″ she started.

Merlin nodded. Percival watched her intensely. The rest of the group was silent.

Eira then explained the rest of what had happened: the note, the bird, and Ina’s involvement. ‘’Is this what you couldn’t tell me when we talked?’’ Percival asked her and she nodded in confirmation. Percival’s words seemed to encourage the rest of the group to believe her slightly more. The truth was absurd and the rest of the group seemed to understand, but she only cared about what Gwaine thought. The rest of them could call her a traitor for the rest of her life, she just needed to know that Gwaine understood the truth. She looked into his distant and shocked eyes, ″I’m sorry.″

Eira was seated at the table in their chambers with Gwaine. He was blankly staring out in front of him. He had gotten his wound treated, and then all of the other members of the group had almost wordlessly and numbly gone to their chambers after getting their wounds looked at by Annis’ skilled physicians.

It was the middle of the night. Gwaine and Eira had just sat there for about ten minutes, not speaking a word. Eira understood him, there was a lot to take in. She didn’t even know if she had taken in everything.

She suddenly couldn’t wait a minute longer. She had had enough. She got up and didn’t look his way at all when she walked over to the screen. She looked down at her dress. It was dirty and the slit at the back was ripped. She winced as she lifted the hem off of the ground to look at it and saw that she had scraped up the wound on her leg. She tried to ignore the pain and unbuttoned her dress. It was nearly impossible but she was definitely not about to ask Gwaine for help. She stepped out from behind the screen, still wearing her corset and undergarments and went to find something sharp so she could undo the corset fastening quickly. Gwaine suddenly stood up and walked out of the room, not turning back to look at her. Good, she thought. She found a sharp needle and used the mirror to carefully undo her corset. She was successful, and as the corset loosened she could almost breathe again. She still felt like there was another corset inside of her, cutting off all of her air. She couldn’t breathe out. Walking to the silver bowl filled with water that stood on the dressing table, she soaked a cloth in it and covered her face with it, breathing in the icy feeling. When she removed it and opened her eyes again, she saw Gwaine’s reflection in the mirror. He looked at her, his expression empty. Then he suddenly turned away and tiredly walked over to the bed. He took off his shirt with a sigh that he didn’t try to hide and threw himself on the bed. He was still facing her. She stared at him until he turned around and only then undressed further. She locked the door with stiff fingers and blew out the candles except for one that was standing on a table on her side of the bed. She crawled into the bed and lay down as far away from Gwaine as possible and turned around so she wasn’t facing him. She looked into the candle. What was happening? She hated him for not wanting to listen. She didn’t want him next to her. She looked into the candle. She could hear Gwaine’s uneven breaths next to her. He wasn’t sleeping either. The candle flickered and then slowly started to fade.

It was burning out.

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