Despite the time of year, a cool breeze billowed through the forests’ leafy canopies. Patchy fog hung low over the landscape. By morning, it would obscure everything. The patchwork clouds thickened and billowed smothering the stars overhead. Luna, in her waning crescent state, couldn’t offer much light to help wayward travelers.
In the darkening of night, an omen of things to come for sure…..
[Passage Outside of the Royal Bedchamber]
Mithian marched briskly down the granite hall. Her shoes’ hard soles echoed off of the stone underfoot. Unlike on the two previous days, her eyes did not wander toward the walls’ decorations. Her mind didn’t concern itself with being pretty and the attractive Princess from the kingdom next door for once on that visit.
No, she had a purpose on this night. Concern and Annoyance both pushed her out the door. Her mind burned with a question. What had she done? Had she done something to offend Arthur on that day? Perhaps her calling him a poor sport did something?
Arthur had cut her off for some reason. His eyes had remained averted from her. He’d barely said more than a dozen words to her since that point. At dinner, he’d contained his responses to a single word. He frowned and ate his soup mechanically.
Merlin, ever the compassionate manservant, attempted to compensate for his master’s shortcomings on that evening. He’d brought her the best portion of that night’s roasted pork. He constantly asked if she needed her goblet refilled. When she declined the last few times, he wanted to know if there was anything else he could do for her to make her feel better.
Arthur glared at the other man. Then he cleared his throat and excused himself. Finally he left abruptly.
At least Merlin was being nice about it. Why was Arthur being such a boorish prat? She turned the corner to make the final approach toward the King’s door. Perhaps my entreaty toward him this morning did make a difference?
Coming the other way, Merlin proceeded listlessly. His head bowed. His eyes remained downcast toward the floor. He paid little or no attention to the knights stationed along the passage. His mind seemed deeply troubled by something.
Now what? Don’t tell me Arthur upbraided him for dinner? Of all the….! She composed herself. “Good Evening, Merlin.”
For his part, Merlin’s mind stewed on the current situation. Arthur should be with Gwen. He knows that. So do I. So does everyone. The ring this morning was a sign. But what about Princess Mithian? She didn’t ask to be in this mess! He didn’t even break stride. He numbly kept going. His ears didn’t acknowledge her presence. He just wanted to get back to Gaius’ chambers as quickly as possible. The scene at breakfast would be awkward to say the least on the following morning.
Maybe there, Hope would inspire him. Perhaps Gaius might have some kind word or sage advice. Maybe he’d read from his grimoire for a while. Maybe Morpheus would allow him a pleasant dream to fall asleep with. He just needed a sign of some kind….
“Merlin?” She reached out and touched his arm. Her concerned fingertips made contact with his sleeve and the arm underneath.
He stopped abruptly. The sudden and unexpected touch jarred him from his reverie. “Oh! I…oh excuse me! Princess Mithian, I didn’t notice you.” He bowed clumsily. Somehow he managed to keep from tripping over himself. “Forgive me for not saying something sooner.”
“It’s all right. Thank you, Merlin.” Her eyes looked him over. Now she knew something was wrong. “Are you unwell?”
“No.” His eyes darted this way and that. They looked anywhere and everywhere…..
…anywhere and everywhere but at her….
“Merlin. Merlin, I’m right here.” She arched an eyebrow at him. “Is your master unwell?”
“N…no, Milady. King Arthur’s fine. He has state matters to consider,” Merlin replied half-truthfully. “I believe he’d wish to tell you in person.” He squirmed like a schoolboy at the end of a Principal’s lecture.
“Are you unwell then?” she queried expectantly. “What is troubling you? I’m sorry about the hunt and not respecting your feelings earlier.”
Merlin blinked in disbelief. His heart clenched knowing that he’d disrespected Mithian’s place actually. Even if the impending marriage was distasteful…even if it should have been Gwen at Arthur’s side, Mithian deserved far better than this. We’re about to destroy everything and she’s apologizing to me?? He cleared his throat. “You didn’t do anything, Princess. It’s me who more than likely offended you.” His mouth strangely felt dry. His heart skipped a beat for some reason. “And even so, you are very kind to apologize to me.”
She sighed recognizing a classic evasion when she saw one. “Merlin, I may be a Princess and you a servant. Yes you should respect my rank and me. Fine. But you’re still a person. I respect you. Whatever it is that is troubling you, I assure you that you can talk with me about it.”
“I appreciate that,” Merlin expressed. His eyes alighted on her purposeful ones. His frown lessened a little bit. “I wish I could.” His eyes motioned back down the hall.
She nodded. Her mind clearly grasped the meaning behind his words. “Well then. I will ask King Arthur myself. I would not see you in the stocks or worse for insubordination.” Not that you don’t have your moments already. Even if she wanted to push that point, Admiration prompted her to cease and desist. She’d already seen that Merlin had more layers than most servants. In this case, she sensed something was going on four or five layers beneath the surface of that ruffled dark hair.
“Forgive me, Princess. I don’t mean to answer the question. I….” Merlin started.
She put her hand up stopping his response. “I understand. Obviously it’s something that King Arthur doesn’t want spoken about outside of his confidence and chambers. Am I correct?”
Merlin conceded a nod. Relief prompted a smile.
“Now see? Now that wasn’t so hard. Now was it? Your loyalty is commendable, Merlin. Once we get to know each other better, you’ll see that I make it a point to reward such things,” she assured him. “Perhaps you might get some rest?”
“I’m heading there now, Milady.” He bowed again. This time, however, his back and legs cooperated a little better with his intent. “Good night. Thank you again for your kind thoughts.” He proceeded toward the stairs beyond with a bit more pep in his step perhaps.
“Good night, Merlin. Feel better,” she bade. She smiled for his benefit. Still, for some reason, his earnestness and loyalty stirred her feelings. That man is more than a mere servant. Arthur is luckier than he deserves. That’s for sure. Merlin cares more about things than most counselors! For some reason, her mind wandered. Her heart stirred in rather inappropriate directions. Stop! You’re betrothed to Arthur! That is your duty and how it must be. Besides Merlin is a servant. She glanced again toward the now-closed staircase door. He’s starting to accept me. At least I’ll have one friend here…I can hope. She set those thoughts aside for future consideration. At the moment, her purpose lay elsewhere.
As she reached the chambers, the two knights on guard sprang to attention.
“Good evening, Sir Knights. Might I have a word with the King?” she requested. Is everyone such stiff arses? Now I know something’s wrong!
The knight on the left nodded. He knocked on the door. “Sire?”
“Yes?” Arthur responded through the door.
“Princess Mithian is here,” the knight continued.
“Allow her in. Thank you, Sir Harold. Do so and resume your post,” Arthur bade.
Harold pushed the door open. “Apologies about making you wait, Princess.”
“No trouble, Sir Harold. I appreciate your devotion to detail and procedure. Thank you both.” She waited as he opened the door.
Something definitely needed to be said. Questions needed to be answered. That was for sure…..