The Bargain

Chapter 15

When Eira opened her eyes, Gwaine was gone. She was still on her side of the bed. She reminded herself that his absence was a good thing. He, of course, had not bothered to adjust the blanket so that it would cover her. She clenched her jaws together in irritation, and then sighed. She stood up slowly and tried to stretch her arms, but winced when the pain in the wound on her leg returned. She went to the mirror and washed her face. The chill of the water felt refreshing, but it did nothing to numb her feelings. She heard the door open and looked at Gwaine as he entered. Where had he been? She didn’t try to say anything. He didn’t either. He suddenly walked towards her with such speed that she was surprised when he stopped abruptly. She tried to look away so she wouldn’t be tempted to touch him.

″Eira,″ he started. She looked up and became aware of how close to her he was standing. She missed his warmth. No she didn’t. What did he want? She met his brown, confused eyes. She didn’t recognize them at all.

″You need to explain.″ There was a serious tone in his voice.

″Only if you would listen,″ she replied and smiled sarcastically.

″You went behind my back with another man. You lied about everything. I trusted you. We did things I never would have done if I hadn’t trusted you. You betrayed your own words. You betrayed me. Us. Camelot. Everything we had. Percival knows more than me! Did you have a ‘passionate moment’ with him too? But you know what? You betrayed yourself more than anyone else!″ He drew a breath of air and his eyes flared up. The volume in his voice increased but she would never let him see that it scared her. She had never seen him like this except when he had confronted her in Camelot. More accusations flew out of his mouth like it was a fiery catapult and he did nothing to stop them. She knew that he couldn’t listen, and that now was not the time to explain everything. Instead, she just nodded. ″Yes!″ she said loudly and looked right into his eyes. The point she wanted to make definitely came across when she saw surprise spring into his eyes. Then he just stood there, waiting for her to deny him and explain everything. She didn’t. Why should she? He didn’t listen when she needed him to, so why should she explain when he wanted her to? He searched her eyes, but she didn’t even give him a look to tell him how wrong he was. She was standing right in the open fire of accusation. And she wasn’t denying it.

Eira met his gaze again and it was different in a way that she couldn’t clarify.

This time, there was no self-control. Suddenly, his lips were on hers, growing more passionate with each second. His hands ran over her body and down her arms and he grabbed her and pushed her up against the wall in a way that was so gentle that she couldn’t understand and she couldn’t breathe and she didn’t know what was happening. Her skin was on fire and along with the wave of confusion that crashed into her came desire and she had no idea why they were so close but she couldn’t stop.

Gwaine had no idea what was happening. He couldn’t control himself but he felt like he hadn’t ever felt the touch of her skin. His lips couldn’t get enough of her and he shivered when he felt her fingers sliding down his chest. She pushed him off and away from her just to pull him even closer the next second and he tried to control his hands but it was impossible. Her hands grasped his hair and pulled him closer and he couldn’t understand how he felt so far away from her.

The heat she felt inside of her was spreading through her entire body and she didn’t know what to do because her skin was so hot she was on fire. He suddenly pulled away and quickly backed up until he had pushed himself against the opposite wall. He looked at her, confused and bewildered, like he couldn’t understand what had just happened but all she could feel and pay attention to was the absence of his hands on her back and his lips that were no longer on hers. ″What the hell? I can’t even think!″ he said and she could see his chest heaving as he fought to control himself. Her heart was racing and there were a million thoughts in her head but the one she hated the most was of him. She battled with her thoughts, fighting the urge to run back into his arms. He suddenly walked towards her and she didn’t know what she was expecting him to do but she knew exactly what she wanted him to do. Her body screamed for his touch and he came so close she almost fainted and her legs weakened and she drowned in his scent.

″I don’t understand. I don’t even think I could forgive you if you tried to explain. You have hurt me so much,″ he whispered, but even the quietness in his voice couldn’t hide the anger and confusion inside of him.

″I hate you! I can’t stand you! You haven’t even given me a chance to explain anything!″ she shouted. She wanted him to back away. She wanted to run away from everything that had seemed like safety, but had proven itself to be the complete opposite. She wanted to be alone. She wanted to have control over herself but as long as he was there she knew she couldn’t.

″Eira.″ He took a step closer and she could feel his desperate breaths against her face. ″I can’t stay away from you,″ he said so quietly she could barely hear and his voice trembled. She looked up and saw that there were tears in his soft, brown eyes and then she felt a river of uninvited tears streaming down her face and she couldn’t understand anything. She felt so incredibly surprised and confused and relieved when she felt the familiar touch of his lips on hers again and she didn’t understand how to stop. He opened his mouth and mumbled that he hated her but his words got lost in their embrace and she tried to back up and replay his words but they were already gone and had been replaced by his warm lips instead and she fumbled to hold on to reality. His lips started moving down her neck and as he kissed every single inch of her skin, his hands played with the fragile and dangerously loose buttons on her nightgown and if they came undone she didn’t know what she would do. The straps of her nightgown slipped down and her sense was drowning. She let her hands slide in under his shirt and he tore it over his head hastily and she moved around him and kissed his neck and shoulders avidly and tried to get loose from her own confusion. She felt like she was underwater with no sense of which way was up and she couldn’t breathe and she fought to cling onto something that felt like safety. All she could hear was his heavy breathing and she didn’t know what he was feeling. She didn’t know what she was feeling either. Suddenly she couldn’t take it anymore, she needed to regain control, to know what she was doing. She pulled away from his warmth and pushed away the powerful, burning urge to turn around and merely be tossed back into his arms. That was all she had to do and she would be back in a world of no control. She ran out of the room and adjusted the straps of her nightgown. She could still feel his lips on her neck and tried to take a deep breath to escape the heat wave that was encompassing her. As she hurried down the hallway to Ina’s chambers she fought to regain her memory that had been swept away as soon as she had been close to him. She was so vulnerable and she hated it. They had been arguing, how had they gotten so close to each other? She should have kept her distance and proved her point and maybe then she would have learned to control herself. She stormed down the hallway and stopped abruptly right before she touched the door. What was she doing? Her friend couldn’t help her in this situation. She didn’t know anyone who could. She turned a corner and pressed herself against the wall, wanting to become a part of it so that she could leave all of her feelings behind. She felt the energy in her legs leave her, and sank down to the cold, stone floor. Tears rolled down her cheeks and she surrendered her closed lips to the salty relief that she tasted when she opened her mouth to draw the breaths that her body was screaming for. She pulled her knees up to her chest and buried her fingers in her hair. She didn’t understand anything. She hated him, he didn’t want to listen to her and he wasn’t even giving her a chance to speak. Then why couldn’t she get enough of him? Why was her body aching for his touch, yearning for his lips to be close again?

Is this what it felt like to be insane?

She closed her eyes and tried to breathe deeply. She didn’t know who to talk to. She carefully stood up again, and turned to face the direction she had come in. She decided to go back to her chambers, unsure about what she would do if Gwaine was there. Or if he wasn’t. She walked slowly, feeling better with each step she took. She dried her tears and flipped back her hair. She opened the door and entered without turning around. When she did, she saw Gwaine seated on the edge of the bed, having recovered his shirt, his face buried in his hands. He looked up at her and looked surprised. She couldn’t tell at all what he was feeling.

She met his gentle gaze. ″Are you ready to speak?″ he asked and the quietness of his voice begged her to come closer. She didn’t.

″Are you ready to listen?″ she replied calmly.

He nodded. More unstoppable tears started running down her cheeks. She didn’t try to wipe them away. She wanted to cry away all her feelings until nothing remained but a cold, sore emptiness.

″I asked you if you would tell me if something was wrong. If something had happened. You lied,″ Gwaine said. He continued without waiting for her response. ″When I saw you in the tavern, with him. I thought it was real. I felt as if my heart had been ripped out of my chest. I couldn’t take it. Not again, Eira,″ he said and the tone in his voice and his hurt expression only caused her to cry harder. She paused. Desperation clinged to her throat as she tried to push it down.

″Gwaine. I could never betray you. I understand that the only thing on your mind right now is what I did with the leader of the bandits,″ she met his eyes. They were twisted in an odd expression of confusion and she got so lost in them that she had to look away. She told him about the kiss and what every one of the bandit’s words had meant. She told him about her dreams, and Ina. She told him what the consequences would have been if she had told anyone about the bandits. She told him about every single lie that had been pushed out of her mouth either by herself or someone else. She surprised herself with the amount of lies there was.

Gwaine nodded impatiently, wanting to hear the end so he could put together the pieces of the slightest trust that his accusations had shattered. Eira realized that it was about so much more than the bandits and her not being able to tell him. Every single move she had made had affected something, and eventually all those little things would come back, good or bad. Or neither. Every breath she took affected something. Every sound that crept from her lips like the sun emerging from behind a gray cloud left an influence.

He looked at her, and for the first time that day, he saw. He saw her standing there in front of him, an uninvited herd of tears stampeding down her face. He wanted to stand up. To apologize. But he wasn’t sure how. Gwaine opened his mouth, and then closed it. He realized something. That was the difference. Between the dream, and reality. In the dream that Eira had had, Gwaine had never gotten the chance to find out that Eira was with the bandits against her will. Now, in this moment, in reality, Eira had just proved to him that the bandits had forced her to do everything he had accused her of and she had confessed to. He had gotten the explanation. He had gotten what he hadn’t in the dream. He just hadn’t seen it. And now she was suffering. He looked into her eyes. ″Eira. You’re more confusing than life,″ he said and almost laughed. The absence of his laughter reminded him of how serious the situation was. ″In your dream, I didn’t get the chance that I get now. The chance to accept everything you said. The chance to continue loving you.″ He met her startled and confused eyes.

″My father once told me always to give the people I love a second chance, because first chances often lie,″ he continued.

″But you didn’t know your father,″ she replied.

″Does it matter?″ he asked.

Eira tried to smile through her tears. He felt a spark of light in his chest. ″I’m so sorry,″ she said again and he could tell that she didn’t know what else to say.

They just looked at each other for what felt like years and their eyes exchanged a thousand words that he didn’t know how to start to form if he had to say them.

He didn’t ever want to look away. He stood up and took her into his arms. ″I can’t stop crying,″ Eira said and almost laughed through the stream of tears flowing down her face. Then she burst out crying again and shook and shivered and buried her face in his shirt. He held her even closer to him, and she started to calm down. Gwaine knew that this was the first night that Eira didn’t need to worry about the bandits. She could close her eyes knowing that everything would be exactly as she left it when she opened them again. They stood there for almost another ten minutes, and it felt right to have her close to him again. He didn’t want to let go. She slowly pulled away and sat down at the table. She motioned to his ripped uniform and the badge that was still lying on the table.

″Your clothes are more tattered than mine,″ she commented. He nodded and shrugged his shoulders.

″There are probably lots of desperate seamstresses back home begging to be the one to mend it, just so that they can catch a glimpse of me when they return it,″ he said and she tried to laugh. He suddenly realized what he had said. Back home. Back home was Camelot. He realized how much he missed it. Eira probably did as well.

Eira felt like there was something that she needed to worry about but then realized that the entire bandit ordeal was over. She didn’t have to feel nervous about falling asleep or being afraid to blink because everything she loved could be gone.

Gwaine seemed to be thinking of the same thing.

″What are we going to do about the bandits now that they are locked up?″ he asked her. The ‘we’ in his sentence once again reminded Eira that she wasn’t alone any more.

″I guess we should just hand them over to the Queen,″ Eira said.

He nodded. ″Something kept me from killing him in the tavern,″ Gwaine replied.

″We can’t just say that we all happened to be there. I think we should say that the bandits were trying to attack Isaac. It makes more sense. He’s an advisor. We’ll ask him tomorrow,″ Eira replied. It seemed like something Annis would believe. They couldn’t let the queen find out what they were really there for.

″It’s pretty ironic,″ he said and she looked up at him again. ″How when I found out about Juliana and Percival, we agreed that there wouldn’t be any more secrets,″ he said and they both knew that he didn’t have to explain the rest. She realized how much had happened to her since she arrived in Camelot. She didn’t regret it.

It was nearly noon, and they would probably have to go and talk to the rest of the group about their departure. Eira wasn’t sure she wanted to go home. She didn’t want to face the knights again. Alone. Without Ina.

Gwaine went to pack some of his things so that she wouldn’t have to, and he looked particularly busy trying to figure out where everything was.

After a few minutes of silence Eira suddenly burst out laughing. Gwaine turned around from the closet and looked at her. ″What the hell are you laughing at?″

″I just thought of you when you fell,″ she said between breaths, still laughing,

″Eira, you can’t laugh at something that happened weeks ago,″ he said, and he struggled not to smile but then he too started laughing. She laughed even harder and she couldn’t even understand how she could be laughing after everything that had just happened. But it felt like a relief from everything going on.

Eira suddenly opened her eyes. The chambers were dark and she was in bed. Gwaine wasn’t next to her when she looked over, so she looked up. He was standing in front of her. She started to smile but quickly stopped when she saw that there was something wrong. ″Are you alright?″ she asked him. He didn’t nod. He didn’t reply at all. A wave of fear hit Eira. There was something seriously wrong. He stood completely still and it scared her. This wasn’t him. She slowly sat up in her bed and covered herself with the blanket. It felt different. Odd. She felt the strong smell of fire and smoke. She looked down at it. Instead of the comforting and soft material that the blanket was made out of, it was just hundreds of ripped badges sewn together, like the one Gwaine had worn on his uniform, crests of Camelot. She recognized the red background with the gold dragon on it. They were black from being burnt and the edges were ripped, destroyed and ruined. She didn’t understand how there could be so many of them, and saw that the blanket went on to the floor and covered half of the room. Eira horrifiedly looked back up at Gwaine. His expression was dark and betrayed. It scared her. He scared her. She moved the blanket away. She covered her shoulders with her hands and met his eyes carefully. Suddenly, he grabbed her wrists and pulled her from the bed. She felt her heart pounding and tried to get loose as he pushed her against the wall. This wasn’t Gwaine. He wouldn’t hurt her. He brought his face an inch from hers and forced her to look at him. ″Gwaine,″ she said and tried to calm him.

″Eira. Was what you said earlier the truth?″ he said slowly, but in a tone that was aggressive. She had never heard him like that. Unsure of what he wanted her to say, she attempted to nod. Suddenly, her head got stuck and it felt like there was a hand pressing against her neck, choking her. She desperately opened her mouth and to her surprise saw that the hands couldn’t be Gwaine’s because his hands were just by her sides, keeping her by the wall. She opened her mouth and tried to say yes and tell him that she had been telling the truth, but no words came out of her mouth. She tried to inhale and panicked when she couldn’t. The fingers against her throat wouldn’t move. ″Eira. Do you love me?″ he asked and now the light in his eyes had changed. There was a vulnerable, searching, almost frightened look in his eyes. She tried to nod but again her head was stopped and she felt the invisible hand turn her head to the right and then to the left, forcing her to shake her head. She didn’t understand what she was doing. He looked questioningly at her.

″You don’t love me?″ he asked, and in his eyes was a look that nearly made her faint. The hand forced her mouth to a no, and when she spoke it wasn’t her voice. She sounded so different and she felt dizzy and she couldn’t understand how Gwaine could believe her. No after no and lie after lie ran from her lips, false words seeping out from every movement she made. He looked so pained and hurt and she nearly cried. She wanted to scream that of course she loved him! She tried to touch him, to get his attention in any way she could but she couldn’t move. She panicked and tried to turn away from the invisible figure strangling her but suddenly the invisible figure was her and she was stuck in it and she couldn’t move. To her horror, Gwaine’s grip on her loosened and he sank to the ground, on his knees. She tried to move and help him up, but again the invisible arms held her by the cold, stone wall, pressed her against it and it hurt and she wanted everything to stop. He sank down even further and collapsed on the ground. He looked up at her again, desperately begging for her to say something and revive his silence, but she couldn’t. She screamed inside. What was happening? She couldn’t tear her eyes away from him, and suddenly the light in his eyes faded.

She sat up in her bed and opened her eyes, panicking. The room was dark. She quickly pulled away from the bed and looked around the room desperately. Tears blurred her vision and she couldn’t tell if anything was normal. She ran to the door, fumbled with the key and unlocked the door, and ran out into the hallway. She looked in one direction and could make out the faint outline of the stairs that led down into the main hall. She looked in the other direction. She saw a staircase that she didn’t recognize, slightly hidden by the curve in the wall. She ran towards them and as she turned a corner she ran straight into the arms of a guard. ″Is there something wrong?″ he asked her but she pulled away from him and ran up the stairs. She saw turn after turn, and step after step and her head was spinning and she didn’t know when the stairs would end. To her surprise the guard didn’t follow her. She saw the top of the stairs and accelerated her pace. When she leaped over the last step, she didn’t know what she was expecting but it was certainly not what she saw. There was just an open, empty space. Eira stepped into it and looked around. She looked to the left and saw that another, smaller space had been hidden by the wall. Hidden from sight. There was a mattress on the floor, and a small cushion. A brown, worn bag rested against the wall. There was also a small, silver tray on the floor that looked like it belonged to the kitchens. Eira didn’t see anyone. Suddenly dizziness and fatigue overwhelmed her and she sank down onto the floor. She was too scared to lay down on the mattress, so she rested her head on her arms and closed her eyes.

Eira opened her eyes. She looked up, confused at first as to where she was, but then she remembered. The dream had been a nightmare. She decided not to think about it and sat up instead. Her back was sore from lying on the cold floor but to her surprise she found that someone had covered her with a blanket. ″Hello?″ she called out softly. No one answered.

She heard steps coming from the stairs and stood up. She pressed herself against the cold wall. The steps came closer until they finally turned the corner. In front of her stood a young man, probably in his late teenage years. He was tall and he had light, fair hair and blue eyes. He looked surprised. She suddenly became self-conscious and realized that she was in her nightgown. She glanced at him, but he seemed to be more interested in her eyes than in what she was wearing.

″Who are you?″ Eira asked cautiously.

″Areisius Ryersen. Been living here for two weeks,″ he replied calmly. Eira was surprised at his ease to tell her his name.

He nodded at her questioningly.

″Eira,″ she said. They stared at each other for a while, and Eira wasn’t sure what to say, or how to treat him.

″So why are you up here?″ she asked carefully.

″Same reason as you.″ He continued when she didn’t reply. ″Hiding,″ he said and smiled mysteriously. She thought about her night and she wasn’t sure she could smile back.

He saw her startled expression and continued speaking, ″No one has noticed me here,″ he paused. ″No one noticed me before I came here either,″ he mumbled and looked down.

″Your parents?″ she asked.

He shrugged. ″I don’t know. Probably at a tavern somewhere,″ he said sadly and seemed to see his parents in the distance.

″What about you? Who are you?″ he continued suddenly and the curious, playful glint in his eyes returned.

″I guess I live in Camelot. I traveled here with my group to the banquet,″ she said.

″Was it good?″ he asked and met her eyes with an intense look.

Eira wasn’t sure what he meant, ″The banquet?″ she asked and continued after he nodded in confirmation. ″It was eventful.″ She suddenly remembered all of the small, vivid details, and couldn’t stop herself from describing them. She then stopped herself and realized how much she had said, chattered mindlessly. Areisius’ expression lingered in a fascinated but desirous and sorrowful look. Eira looked down.

″I used to enjoy them very much...when I was a child, the Queen would invite other step-mother happened to be close to her,″ he explained.
″Why didn’t you go to this one?″ Eira asked carefully.

″Things have changed. I was not invited this year. I could only sneak down to watch the candles and hear the precious music,″ he said and his eyes drifted, into the world of the banquet Eira supposed. Although there was something odd about him, she didn’t exactly know why she felt so intrigued by him. She should go.

He suddenly snapped out of his longing thoughts and looked at her.

″You’ll be leaving soon, right?″ he asked.

″I’m not sure. My group is leaving Caerleon in four days,″ she explained and he nodded.

″Back to Camelot?″ he asked and smiled. She almost forgot that she had told him.

″Yes, after a brief stop,″ she said and returned his smile. ‘Brief’ she thought ironically and almost snorted.

″Camelot,″ he mumbled and narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. ″There are very old archives in the castle there, right?″ he asked, now eagerly.

″Yes, I spend most of my time in the castle, so I’ve been in the library quite a lot. Reading helps clear the mind,″ she replied.

He picked up her words and bit his lip with a furrow in his brow. ″You’re not of nobility are you?″ he asked, almost alarmed. She shook her head.

″I spend my time with one of the main knights. I guess I’m quite close to the Queen,″ she explained and the thought of Gwaine caused the memory of her dream to reassemble. She shook it off and looked at him.

″You don’t think….you could take me to the archives do you? There’s a specific topic I’m very interested in reading about,″ he explained.

″They are not just any archives...there is a lot of information in there. I’m not sure you could have access to everything but I’m sure you could take out a few books,″ she said and smiled. She realized that he might be expecting a promise that she couldn’t keep.

″Do you have a horse?″ she asked carefully. Areisius motioned to the brown, worn bag next to him, a bit ashamed and said, ″This is all I have.″

″I’m sure we could get a horse for you, and you can travel with us to Camelot,″ she said and smiled, happy that at least she was helping to make someone’s wishes come true.

″Are you going to return downstairs?″ he asked, mild concern in his voice.

″I think I’m going to stay up here for a while,″ she said and smiled fully.

Gwaine looked down at the large pot in front of him which was supposed to contain stew.

″That’s a confound expression on your face Gwaine,″ Ina teased and stuck her tongue out.

He scrunched up his nose and made an annoyed face at his sister. She laughed, ″Well I’m not helping you. We agreed to make dinner for mother, you can’t just give up.″ She was sat at the table in their mother’s house and was busy arranging flowers on it.

Gwaine sighed. ″Maybe if I knew what to do, I could do it!″ he raised his voice. Ina smiled satisfiedly, she had achieved her goal of annoying him. He took a few carrots, some cabbage, peeled potatoes and cut them into slices. He poured hot water from the stove into the pot and put the vegetables in. He glanced at Ina, wanting to see if what he was doing was right instead of asking her and getting a snarky reply. She pretended to look unimpressed, but he knew that he was good so far. After some searching, he took a wooden ladle and stirred around in the stew. The vegetables swirled round and round in the water endlessly, and Gwaine felt like they reflected his feelings. When he had woken up in the morning, Eira had been gone. He had suspected that she wanted to be alone and that she was alright, so he had gone to visit the other knights to discuss their departure from the castle. He had found that he was immediately bored by their plans, and felt like they were just plain words said to get them back to Camelot so that everyone could continue with their lives. No adventure. He had then gone to Ina’s chambers. There, they had discussed a plan to surprise their mother when she came home from the market, hoping that she would be happy with a simple dinner together as a family. With mixed feelings about everything going on, he had roamed around the castle until he and Ina had gone to their mother’s house, and they had been there since an hour. He was snapped out of his thoughts by Ina’s voice. ″Gwaine! You nearly spilled the entire stew!″ she quickly pushed him away from the stove using her hips and yanked the ladle from him. He raised his hands in the air, surrendering, and realized that as he had thought about the day, his stirring had become forceful and he had nearly caused the stew to spill. Ina gave him an irritated look. He apologized dully but then added, ″Your hips are sharp,″ as he rubbed his ‘sore’ leg just to tease her.

A while later, Ina and Gwaine heard the door unlock and rushed to sit down at the table. They smiled innocently when their mother opened the door, surprised at their presence. They both embraced her tightly and she smiled. Gwaine covered her eyes with his hands and carefully led her to the table. Ina set the stew down and adjusted everything so that it looked finished. Gwaine removed his hands and his mother gasped and smiled when she saw the prepared meal. ″You two,″ she said proudly and Gwaine felt a warmth inside of him that he hadn’t felt for a long time. His mother took his and his sister’s hands and smiled gratefully.

″Aren’t we going to start?″ he asked cheekily and his mother laughed as he eyed the food.

Gwaine entered his and Eira’s now dark chambers, expecting to find her there, but the room was empty. He had asked Ina, the knights, and Merlin, but none of them had seen her. He felt exhausted from all of his feelings, so he took his shirt off and lay down on the bed, staring up at the ceiling.

Eira slowly opened the door to hers and Gwaine’s chambers, being careful not to wake him.

Even though it was morning, she didn’t pull apart the curtains. She tipped across the room and stood by the side of the bed. She lightly poked him, surprised when he didn’t groan. She tapped his shoulder harder. She knew he didn’t sleep lightly, but he had never been like this before. Suddenly, his eyes sprung open and they were so different that she barely recognized them. His expression was struck in fear and he didn’t move his eyes at all. Then, his eyes suddenly closed and he lay there, motionless. When she touched his skin again, she discovered that it was completely ice cold. She backed away from his body, horrified, and then everything went black.

Eira opened her eyes. She was standing in the doorway of hers and Gwaine’s chambers. She looked around, confused, and realized that it was morning and that what she had just seen hadn’t been real. Still, she was afraid to approach him. She pinched herself, and tried to tell herself that she was not in a dream and that she was back in real life. But she couldn’t know for sure. She closed the door behind her and slowly walked towards the bed. She crawled into it and gently touched Gwaine. He mumbled something irritatedly, still asleep. Rivers of relief cascaded through Eira’s mind and she knew that she was back to reality. She crawled on top of him and hugged him, but all he did was move his head. She then leaned forward and gently nuzzled his cheek. He opened his eyes, surprised and realized that she was there.

″Eira! Where have you been?″ he asked, confused, with concern in his voice.

″You’ll find out,″ she whispered in his ear and smiled mysteriously. She stroked his cheek and let her hands brush against his. He looked cute and confused, and she couldn’t help but kiss him. She let her lips linger by his and then slowly drew away. She took his hand and dragged him out of bed, grabbed his shirt, and let him put it on. She opened the door and led a confused Gwaine out of the room. ″Eira, where are you taking me?″ he asked suspiciously but she didn’t turn around and reply. She led him the same way she had taken the previous night, after her nightmare. She led him up the stairs and into the hidden space, being careful to avoid the guard. Gwaine looked around the room, even more confused when he saw that the things on the floor weren’t hers. She sat down on the mattress and motioned for him to sit down next to her. She heard steps coming up the stairs and looked at Gwaine.

″There’s someone I’d like you to meet,″ she said and smiled as Areisius entered. He looked surprised when he saw Eira and Gwaine, but didn’t seem threatened. He cautiously sat down on the floor and assumed a tailor sitting position. Eira smiled, amused at his apparent openness to strangers. ″Gwaine, this is Areisius,″ she said and introduced the boy who was now studying Gwaine intensely, like he was observing his every action. Gwaine nodded, still confused.

″And exactly why am I sitting here, in a hidden place in the castle, early in the morning?″ Gwaine asked.

″Because we are going to be very busy today. I wanted you two to meet each other, and Gwaine I was hoping that you would allow Areisius to come with us to Camelot,″ Eira explained.

″Of course, but why is he here?″ he asked. Eira nodded to her friend to explain.

″I’ve lived here for two weeks. My biggest wish is to come to Camelot, Eira’s been telling me lots about it. This is the only safe place in the castle. No one exactly knows I’m here…,″ he said gently. Gwaine nodded slightly, still a bit insecure. Eira explained how she had found him, but she didn’t think it was the right time to mention her nightmare. She realized how quickly she had bonded with Areisius, and how her connection to him sort of felt like he was her brother. She wanted to help him, and she could see how helpless he was otherwise. He couldn’t live hidden in the castle forever. She also admired him for his ability to be independent, even though she understood it must be hard. Independence was something she knew she was struggling with.

″I’m seventeen. I’m hoping I can find work in Camelot,″ she heard Areisius say and snapped out of her thoughts. The two were already talking, and Eira took Gwaine’s hand and stroked it, showing that she was grateful for his effort.

″He could stay with Percival and Merlin until we depart, right? I don’t think they would mind and it’s better than staying here. He could be discovered,″ Gwaine said to Eira. Eira looked to see Areisius’ reaction to their plan, even though she knew he had no idea who Percival and Merlin were, but he seemed fine with it. She nodded happily.

″We should probably go and talk to the knights about our departure and things like that,″ Gwaine said.

″Will you be fine up here?″ Eira asked, and Areisius nodded surely.

Gwaine and Eira left and walked down the stairs. They turned the corner and saw the guard. Eira realized that he must have been there when she left in the morning and wondered why he hadn’t reported her or said anything. She shook it off as Gwaine put his arm around her waist and pulled her closer to him. ″You must really trust him to let him come with us,″ he said and Eira nodded. His words made her question herself for a moment, she hadn’t ever thought about doubting anything Areisius had said. ″I do trust him, even if I’ve only known him for a day. I’m not going to leave him here,″ she said determinedly.

″You sound like he’s your little brother,″ Gwaine said, amused at her attitude.

″I almost wish he was,″ she said and laughed.

They entered Percival and Merlin’s chambers, where they were sat with the other three knights at the table. It suddenly hit Eira that she hadn’t spoken to or seen them since the attack at the tavern. Her anxiety clouded her mind and she looked at Gwaine. He had probably spoken to them since the attack. She wondered what he had said about her. The knights and Merlin looked at them, and she saw a spark of surprise in their eyes when they noticed Gwaine’s arm around Eira’s waist. Eira wasn’t sure what to say, but Gwaine saved her.

″Yes, we’re together and not fighting. Say what you like,″ he said as he watched his friends intensely.

They seemed to understand the message. Eira still didn’t want to open her mouth.

″We’ve met someone. He is seventeen and his name is Areisius. His biggest dream is to go to Camelot. I invited him to stay with us,″ Gwaine said firmly. Eira knew that she was the one that had met him, invited him. Him not mentioning her part was probably because the knights would accept more quickly if Eira wasn’t involved. She wasn’t sure if she was upset about their presumed trust. The knights nodded.

″Why Camelot?″ Percival asked curiously.

Eira wanted to defend Areisius, even if Percival’s words didn’t sound suspicious.

Everyone looked up when Eira spoke, ″Because there is something he wants to learn about. Something that is specifically in the archives of Camelot.″ She had herself never really stopped to think about what could drive her friend’s curiosity. She looked up.

″It would be, I guess, an honor for him if he could stay in your room,″ Eira continued and looked at Percival and Merlin. ″Merlin, I think you know the most about being completely new in a kingdom,″ she said and directed her gaze towards him, remembering the stories he had told her.

He met her eyes with excitement, ″I think it sounds like a good plan.″

Eira smiled when even Percival nodded in agreement.

A while later, she and Gwaine headed back to their own chambers. Eira glanced in the mirror when she entered, and realized that she was still wearing her nightgown. She felt embarrassed; all of the knights had seen her like this. She hadn’t changed since her nightmare. She laughed to herself. So much was going on, she couldn’t even keep track of what she was wearing. Gwaine saw her laughing, walked up behind her, and placed his arms around her. ″I should probably change,″ she said.

″I like you better like this,″ Gwaine said flirtatiously and let his hand trail down her arm. She rolled her eyes playfully. She placed her hands on his arms and leaned her head against his chest, looking up at him. ″I think you’re cute upside down,″ she said and smiled. She turned around and kissed his chin. ″Oh I’ll turn you upside down,″ he said and grinned cheekily. She laughed and he took her face in his hands and kissed her. She breathed in his comforting scent and let go of his lips and gently kissed the skin near his ear, where she knew he was sensitive. Her lips tickled him and he sighed and pulled her closer. Just then, there was a knock on the door. Gwaine sighed and pulled away from Eira. She could see that he was slightly irritated and so was she. She guessed that he wanted to spend as much time with her as possible because within the next few days, they would barely have a single moment alone. Gwaine opened the door and quite far from it, in the hallway, stood Areisius. ″Oh, so these are your chambers,″ he asked, surprised. Eira motioned for him to come in and she saw Gwaine almost rolling his eyes as he turned around and closed the door again.

″I just wanted to ask if you two had some food yet...Annis is going hunting and the kitchens are too busy...I can’t sneak in,″ he said insecurely.

Eira was once again reminded that he risked being caught every time he took food, and felt despair and pity take over her irritation. ″We haven’t eaten yet, but I’m sure Percival and Merlin are ready to eat,″ Eira said and nodded encouragingly. Areisius bit his lip a bit nervously and slightly nodded. ″I’m sure Gwaine could take you there,″ she said and smiled at him reassuringly. ″Couldn’t you Gwaine?″ she said and met Gwaine’s eyes with an almost pleading look. He raised an eyebrow, but then nodded.

″Come on then,″ Gwaine said as he patted Areisius’ shoulder and Eira could tell that he was trying to cheer up. She smiled gratefully and closed the door after they left. She longed for a bath, so she went to ask for a maid. A few minutes later Eira sank down into the hot water and let it swarm over her. She took a deep breath and tried to relax. Everything was going to be fine. Of course it was. They would find the Helix, whatever it was, head back to Camelot, and bring Arthur back. She felt slightly surprised, so much had happened that she had barely thought about the original reason for their journey. She didn’t want to imagine the dangers they could face, but she didn’t want to close her eyes either. The maid was only a few steps away, but Eira realized that she still couldn’t face being completely vulnerable and alone. What if this was her last bath? Two more days and then they would leave. What about Ina? When would they get to see each other again? She thought about the people she would be traveling with. She almost didn’t want the knights to come, she wanted to face her problems alone and go back to Camelot without risking anyone’s life. What about Areisius? Whose responsibility was he now? Hers? What if something happened to him? Would he have been better off somewhere else? Questions consumed her mind and she shook her head, trying to get rid of her worries. Like that would help.

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