The sunrise gently brushed the roofs of the houses in Camelot. No one else was awake yet, and William wandered the streets alone, searching for a trace of Gwen. Weeks had passed since Agravaine had hidden her, and God only knew where she was now.
No one had seen her, or if they had, they were too afraid of Agravaine to tell him. If he asked too many questions he was greeted with a suspicious look and a hurried excuse, and they would all but run away from him. He was due to return to duty in a week and he couldn’t leave without Gwen.
Many would have given up, but not William. He knew she was somewhere here. He could feel it. Walls couldn’t hide her from him. He kept searching.
Across the other side of town, Arthur sat at the top of the stairs at the side of the shop, staring at the sunrise, but not really seeing it. He never saw anything anymore. His thoughts were only of Gwen – he couldn’t even think of Merlin. That was too painful. But Gwen was alive, and he could think of her. He was almost permanently in a dream-like state, completely detached from what he was doing.
After a while, a customer came up the steps, face hopeful, clutching a rusty sword to his chest. Arthur ushered him inside and sat him in the chair.
Gwen, beautiful and pale. He never stopped dreaming of her. Did she look the same? Was her face lined with grief and despair? Was she still as kind and benevolent?
He slashed the customer’s throat. Would he and Gwen ever meet again? Sometimes he thought not. His sweet Guinevere.
William climbed a ladder, peering into the window of the lower town jail. He would steal her away, once he found her. He would. It was all he could think about.
Arthur had almost come to terms with the idea that he would not see her again. If William took her away, so be it. She would probably be happier leaving the ghosts of her past behind. Goodbye, Gwen, he thought. You’re gone, but you’ll always be mine. I’m fine now. I’m fine. He pulled the lever, and the man’s body tumbled down the chute.
“Gwen…” William whispered. Nothing else mattered anymore.
Night fell. A huge, black plume of smoke rose from Mrs. Howden’s chimney. Inside the bakehouse, she tossed body parts into the huge oven, humming to herself.
The beggar man stumbled out of the alleyway next to the pie shop, coughing and spitting. He peered up at the chimney and crossed himself. “Smoke!” he cried loudly, in a rage. “Sign of the devil! The city’s on fire!” He tried to grab various passers-by, but they moved away, revolted. “Witch!” he shrieked, and spat at the bakehouse. “Smell it, sir! An evil smell! Every night! Smoke that comes from the mouth of hell itself! Mischief! Mischief…” He shuffled away, muttering to himself.
And so the days went on. William searched every house and every stable. Arthur showed another man into his room, and sat him down in the chair, making a show of cleaning the man’s sword for him. Even if I never hear your voice again, my beloved, I still have reason to rejoice. The way ahead is clear. He did some practice swings with the sword and muttered something about technique, his mind, of course, elsewhere. He thought about how, late at night, when the darkness started to close in around him, when he was blind with what he couldn’t forget, and his despair threatened to claim him, it was always morning in his mind. All he had to do was kill Agravaine, and then he would be at peace.
In the dark room she was imprisoned in, Gwen lay curled in the corner. “I’ll marry William on Sunday…William…Sunday…” she whispered to herself. It had become a mantra. It gave her hope. She had lost track of time, and had no way of knowing that Sunday was long gone. So she kept whispering.
Arthur cut the man’s throat. Gwen would stay the same as she always had been in his mind. His perfect, timeless version of her would be the one he remembered, and that made him happy. His memories of her would suffice.
He looked out the window as he cleaned the blood off his sword. It was dusk, and the first star was out. He remembered how he and Gwen would sit on the roof of the castle and look for shooting stars. He remembered how when he was on a quest, and he was a long way from home, he would look up at the stars and know that Gwen was looking at the same stars, and that brought her closer to him. He walked back to the chair and pulled the lever, sending the body to the bakehouse.
The beggar man returned every night, pointing at the chimney and shrieking. “There, there! Somebody look up there!” he would hiss at passers-by, always to no avail. “Smell that air! Quick miss, run and tell! Warn everyone of the witch! Can’t you smell the evil? Tell it to Drustan and the king! Tell them! Tell them! Help! Fiend!” Finally he would give up, curse feebly at the house, and shuffle away. “Alms…alms…”
Another customer entered Arthur’s room. Arthur looked at the wife and small child that accompanied him, and decided to spare this one. Some had to be let go to build up his reputation anyway. Arthur gave him a full sword fighting lesson, though his heart was hardly in it.
Though he would think of Gwen until the day he died, he realised, he would miss her less and less as every day went by. It would get easier. If angels would prevail, they would go back to the way they were, but that wasn’t to be. He wanted his old life back, not just Gwen. He wanted everything back or nothing. So he would be satisfied with revenge.
He looked out of the window again. It was morning. He hadn’t noticed the time passing. “Look, Merlin,” he whispered to himself. “Another bright red day.” He lay down to sleep. “Goodbye.” He wasn’t sure who he was talking to now.
William walked dejectedly down the street. He hadn’t searched this
part of town yet, but he was beginning to lose hope. Suddenly he whipped around.
He’d heard something, he was sure of it. He stood as still as he could, every
inch of him listening.
“I’ll marry William on Sunday...” Gwen! He was sure of it! Her voice was filtering down to him from a tall building at the end of the street, with high barred windows.
William ran to it, but the windows were too small to climb though, and too high on the building to reach. The door was chained shut.
“Gwen!” he shouted, overjoyed. “Guinevere!” There was no reply.
“You there!” he shouted to a man passing by. “What house is this?”
“That? That’s Mr. Seward’s house, sir,” the man replied, raising his eyebrows a little at William’s tone.
“Aye, sir. A jail, of sorts.”
“A jail? I thought criminals were kept in the dungeon, in the castle?”
“I said of sorts, didn’t I? They keep…things in there. Not people. Not any more. Those touched by the devil, sir. Deranged, screaming themselves hoarse.”
“A madhouse?” William cried.
“I’d keep away from there if I were you,” the man said, and hurried away. Gwen’s voice floated down again.
“Guinevere!” yelled William. He began beating wildly at the door. “Open! Open the door!”
Drustan swaggered round the corner, and recognising William, rolled his eyes.
“Now, now, friend,” he called, mock-amiably, “What’s all this hollering and shouting?”
William turned to him, eyes wild. “Please, sir,” he pleaded, “A woman, as sane as you or I, has been locked up in here!”
“Is that so? And what is her name?”
“Guinevere? That wouldn’t by any chance be King Agravaine’s ward?”
“Yes!” cried William, “He’s the devil himself for doing this!”
Drustan narrowed his eyes. “You watch your tongue, boy,” he snapped, “That woman’s as mad as a hatter. I brought her here myself. So hop it!”
William snarled, more angry than he had ever been before. “Is there no justice in this city?” he shouted. “Are the guards as vicious and corrupt as the king?” He went back to banging on the door desperately. “Guinevere! Guinevere!”
Drustan shrugged to himself. “Guards!” he called. Several men appeared seemingly out of nowhere and jumped on William.
William fought violently, breaking loose before they could subdue him. I’m coming back, he promised Gwen silently, and then he ran, Drustan’s shouted orders chasing him to the outskirts of the city.