I wasn’t woken by my mother, nor by a crowing rooster or a singing bird and that bothered me.
I opened my eyes and wasn’t pleased with the view. At all. I was lying in a nice bed and in a nice room, but it wasn’t MY room, as a matter of fact I had no idea where I was. And another thing that bothered me: I was naked. Naked as a wee babby. And I never sleep naked.
I looked at the room. It was nice and small, with only a table and a chair, a wooden closet, a little bedside table, a mirror and the bed I was lying in. It reminded me of my own bedroom. At home.
I quickly left the warm bed and put on the dress, as well as my shoes. I walked over to the window, and gasped when I saw the view. I had never seen anything like this. There were green fields and hills everywhere I looked. The ground was so far away, it felt like I was flying.
Suddenly, I remembered everything. How I left my home, and rode for so long. And how I met the kind, fair-haired knight with the bright, green eyes and the bearded face. How he insisted I came with him, how we stayed at the inn with the grumpy innkeeper, and continued our long journey. But above all, I remembered my rudeness towards him. And he was so polite and patient. He gave me a place to sleep and the care I needed, and I treated him like dirt. Why was causing trouble the only thing I ever did? I needed to find him and apologize.
I walked over to the door, but hesitated. I’d probably get lost in this castle. And I had no idea what time it was. What if everyone was still sleeping? I decided to stay and explore my room.
My satchel was lying on the table. My bow and arrows were in it, but my favourite dress was gone. I anxiously swung open the doors of the closet. Luckily, my dress was hanging in it, along with some other beautiful dresses. I closed the closet and walked over to the table. There was a hair brush on top of my satchel. I decided to lick my hair into shape. I liked it when it was a little messy, but I felt like I had to look a little formal today.
I suddenly heard the door opening behind me. I turned around, and saw a timid-looking maid. ‘Oh...eh...you’re awake,’ she stuttered. ‘I am,’ I said and faked a smile. ‘Do you want to have breakfast, milady?’ she asked. ‘Yes, I’m starving!’ I regretted it as soon as I said it, but the maid didn’t seem to care. ‘Walk with me, please,’ she said softly.
I followed her through the gorgeous castle. I tried to remember everything, but it was hopeless. There were way too many doors, stairs and corridors. She led me to two gigantic wooden doors, and opened them for me. I saw a lot of men sitting around a big, round table, all looking towards me.
‘Good morning,’ I said awkwardly, and I bowed. Then I saw Gawain, grinning at me, and I quickly walked over to him. ‘Good morning. Are you alright?’ he asked. ‘Yes, why?’ I sat down on a chair next to his. ‘Well, last night you fainted from fatigue, don’t you remember?’ ‘I honestly don’t,’ I said. ‘But I’m doing great.’
I wanted to apologise to him, but for some reason, I didn’t dare. All sorts of food were standing on the table, but I only grabbed a few slices of bread and an apple, because mother’s words were echoing in my head. ‘A princess does not stuff her gob!’ And with all these people watching me, I felt like I had to act a little princessy.
‘Merida, I’d like to introduce you to King Arthur,’ Gawain said formally, pointing at a formally dressed man with an earnest look on his face. I nodded like my mother taught me, not knowing anything to say. ‘King Arthur,’ he repeated. ‘Yes, I heard you,’ I said.
Arthur exchanged glances with Gawain, and he shrugged his shoulders. I had no idea what was going on, so I politely said to Arthur: ‘Thanks for giving me shelter and care. I owe my life to you and Gawain. ‘It’s nothing,’ King Arthur said. ‘It’s what my knights are for.’ His voice was deep and strong. It reminded me of my dad’s voice, but more serious.
‘So,’ Gawain said, breaking the awkward silence, ‘What do you want to do today?’ ‘Well, I think it’s a good idea to search for a place to sleep and maybe a place where I can work and earn some money,’ I said. ‘But you don’t have to leave,’ he said. ‘You can stay here for as long as you want.
I saw Arthur glancing at us, and he didn’t seem very happy, so I quickly turned my head to Gawain and said: ‘It’s a really friendly offer, but I can’t take it. I don’t want to be a burden on anyone here.’ And I knew that if I stayed, I would fuck it up somehow, like I always did. He opened his mouth to protest, but he changed his mind and nodded. ‘All right, let’s go then.’
It felt like it had been ages since I had ridden Angus. Normally, I couldn’t be happier if we were cantering trough the hills, but something was holding me back. Maybe it was because Gawain was riding next to me, maybe because I actually didn’t know him at all, and maybe because I was feeling a little homesick. But there was no way back, and that actually was a relief in a way. But the feeling I had was weird. I didn’t feel like myself.
Gawain interrupted my thoughts. ‘It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?’ ‘It is,’ I said absently. I felt him looking at me, but I decided not to look back. ‘Do you know what you want to do?’ he said. I looked at him questioningly. ‘I mean, you said, I thought...’ I raised my eyebrows. I had no idea what he was trying to say. He sighed. ‘I mean, you told me you wanted to go look for a job or something, but do you have any idea what kind of work you want to do. Do you have, like, skills or something?’
I looked at him indignantly. ‘You think I don’t have skills?’ ‘Well, no, I mean, you know...’ I smiled vaguely. ‘I am not a terrible archer and I’m not bad with swords either,’ I said. He looked at me like I just told him that I secretly was a man. I hated it when people thought I was lying when I told them about my love for archery and sword fighting, but I didn’t feel like arguing. ‘So I thought I maybe could ask the blacksmith if he needs an assistant.’
‘I don’t think that’s going to happen. I mean, I think he should be happy with an assistant like you, but he’s not really an admirer of women. His wife left him and since then he’s not really nice to women, to put it mildly. Maybe you could try to work at the bakery?’ I laughed. ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea. I once baked a cake for my mom, and-’ and she turned into a bear. But I didn’t say that. Well, it wasn’t my cake, actually, but still. ‘And?’ he asked. ‘Oh, well, she was sick for a week.’
He smiled. ‘You could try at the inn, maybe?’ ‘That’s quite a good idea,’ I said. In the meantime, we had arrived in the village. It looked quite cosy, and I didn’t dislike the idea of living here. We passed numerous bakeries, and the smith’s working-place, but we couldn’t find an inn. Meanwhile, the blue skies were displaced by dark clouds, but we didn’t notice.
After a long time, we finally found an inn, but it was closed. I sighed. ‘Are there any other inns in this village?’ I asked Gawain. ‘I suppose there are, but I don’t know. We’ll have to keep looking. Suddenly, a droplet of rain spattered on my nose. I looked up, and immediately pulled my hood over my head. ‘Let’s go back!’ Gawain shouted. ‘Aye!’ I screamed back and I spurred Angus on. We quickly arrived at Camelot. ‘Made it,’ I sighed. ‘Let’s go inside.’
About half an hour later, I was sitting in front of the fireplace in the living room in a dry, warm dress, carving figures in my bow with a little knife I had gotten in the kitchen. Gawain was talking to King Arthur in the corridor, and even though they were whispering, I could hear them. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I suspected that they were talking about me.
I tried to ignore it and focus on the patterns I was carving. After a couple a minutes, Gawain came into the living room and sat down next to me. ‘Hi,’ he said. I said nothing. ‘I was talking to King Arthur,’ he said, ‘and he agreed that it would be better if you stay here. So you can stay at Camelot for as long as you want.’ ‘Really?’ I said. ‘Thank you so much!’ And then I gave him a hug. It just happened. I quickly released him and continued carving my bow like nothing had happened.
‘Well, well,’ we heard behind us. I turned around, and saw one of the knights. He had a cunning smirk on his pale face. ‘Young love. How endearing,’ he said. ‘Shut up, idiot,’ Gawain grinned. The man walked away laughing.
‘Who was that?’ I asked when he was gone. ‘It’s my half-brother. He might seem a little sly in the beginning, but he’s not that bad. He just likes to tease our guests.’ I nodded.
Should I make sure he knew there was nothing behind it? That I just couldn’t control my actions, as always? But I found it too awkward, so we just kept staring into the dancing flames.
‘Gawain?’ I said after a long time. ‘Hmm?’ he responded. ‘I wondered, well, at breakfast, you and King Arthur seemed a little surprised when you introduced me to him. And I don’t really know what was going on, but I hope I haven’t offended anyone.’
He smiled, and said: ‘You haven’t offended anyone. We were just surprised, because you didn’t seem to know him, and I had also told him you didn’t seem to know me.’ ‘But, I don’t understand. Why is it so weird that I don’t know him?’
‘Haven’t you heard the story of the famous King Arthur?’ ‘No, I have not. Tell me,’ I said. ‘Well, to keep a long story short, there was a sword stuck in a stone, and only the future king of Britain would be able to get it out. And Arthur got it out effortlessly. He became our king, defeated many enemies. When he married Guinevere, he received a round table as a wedding gift. At first, he thought it was a stupid gift, but then he realised it was very useful when he had a meeting with his knights, because when there’s no head side on a table, you can talk as equals.’ I nodded. ‘But it actually is not that weird you don’t know him. King Arthur is my uncle, but if he wasn’t, I don’t think I would’ve known him. I have never heard anyone in Orkney talk about King Arthur, except for my family.’
‘Wait,’ I said in disbelief, ‘You’re from Orkney?’ ‘Yes,’ he said with a smile, ‘King Lot is my father.’ ‘Ah, I think my mum has told me about him once in one of her lessons, but I usually preferred doodling over paying attention,’ I said a little ashamed.
‘You don’t sound Scottish at all.’ ‘I know,’ he said. I’ve been here for so long now; I don’t think I can speak Scottish properly anymore.’ I laughed. ‘And you? Where are you from?’ he asked. ‘I’m from the highlands. From the clan DunBroch.’
‘The clan DunBroch? So the brave Fergus of DunBroch is your King, isn’t he?’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘and my father. How do you know him?’ ‘Wait,’ he gasped. ‘King Fergus is your father?’ I nodded. ‘You are the princess of DunBroch?’ ‘Aye,’ I smiled. ‘Forgot to tell you, didn’t I?’
He laughed. ‘You did. Never thought I’d meet the Bear King’s daughter.’ I smiled awkwardly, not knowing what to say. ‘But how do you know him?’ I asked after a while. ‘My dad used to tell me and my little brothers stories every day, and my brothers really liked the story of the Bear King, so I’ve heard it a lot.’ Our conversation stopped when a maid entered the room. ‘Dinner is ready, sir Gawain,’ she said sweetly, ignoring me completely. He smirked at me, and said: ‘Let’s go, Bear Princess.’