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    Merlin gapes as he looks at Gwen. She looks stunning in a purple gown with gold embroidery. With her hair let loose around her shoulders, face enhanced with a minimum of make up, Guinevere looks absolutely beautiful.

    Arthur elbows Merlin.

    Merlin turns towards Arthur, blushing at being caught.

    “What are you looking at?” Arthur asks, arching his brow.

    “Hmm … just admiring her beauty.”

    “Well, I hope you remember to whom she belongs,” Arthur says again. “She is my wife and your future queen, Merlin.”

    “Ha ha … I get the point, Arthur.”

    “Well, you both can stop talking as if I am not here,” Gwen says as she nears them. She lifts her gown and accepts Arthur’s hand as she climbs over some small rocks. “Is this a surprise treat for me?”

    “Yes. Do you like it?” Arthur asks.

    “I love it …”

    “Well, Merlin picked the place …” Arthur tells Gwen.

    “Wonderful choice, Merlin. I couldn’t have sought anywhere better. I have to confess, all my life I have never known such a beautiful place existed.”

    “Thank you, Gwen. Well, have fun then …” Merlin tells them both and leaves.

    Arthur waits until Merlin has left and turns towards Gwen, smiling. “You look absolutely beautiful, Guinevere. If it wasn’t for Merlin, I couldn’t have taken my eyes off you.”

    “Thank you, Arthur. You look dashing yourself,” Gwen says with a smile. She looks around, taking in the scene around her.

    “I’m happy you like what we’ve done for you. Come …” he says and takes Gwen’s hand and leads her to the area where the things are laid for them to have their picnic. “Be careful … the rocks aren’t friendly.”

    “Arthur … I grew up in the village, so I have likely been to more places like this than you have … I can take care of myself,” Gwen says, chuckling at him. “Anyway, thank you.”

    Arthur smiles and leads his wife to the picnic area.

    Katrina waits for Agravaine on the patio patiently. The moment the door opens, she walks towards him and slaps him hard on the face.

    “Owwww … what was that for?”

    “For being late and making me wait this long for you,” she tells him, turning on her heels and walking back to the window. “What took you so long?”

    “Look, this isn’t something easy, Sister. It’s not like blinking and saying your name. It requires patience and some time.”

    “I’m running out of both, Agravaine. They are getting closer as time ticks by and if I don’t stop them, I will not have my dream fulfilled.”

    “I understand, Katrina … but you have asked me to do something really risky this time and we are trusting outsiders with our plan. We need to make sure we have got the right people to handle the issue. So please be patient, my sister.”

    Katrina makes a sulky face and keeps on looking out of the window. “How many have you found?”

    “Three.”

    “Are they trustworthy?”

    “Yes … and I know them personally.”

    “You’re certain?” she asks.

    “Yes, but you don’t sound too happy about it.”

    “Because you said you know them personally and that worries me. Because they might end up like you: an idiot.”

    “Is this how you see me, Katrina? After all that I have done for you?” Agravaine is irked.

    “All you have ended up doing is spoiling my plans and my dream, Agravaine! If you had done what you were supposed to do before, I would be on that throne right now, not standing here arguing with you and worrying about some common village girl taking my throne!” Katrina shouts at Agravaine. “If only you had killed Arthur that day … all this would be unnecessary!”

    “Look, Katrina … I’m sorry things didn’t go as planned, but I promise you this time it will not be a waste, all this effort … I give you my word that I will not let you down.”

    “You better not, Agravaine, or you will be my next sacrificial lamb!”

    “Don’t worry … this time, she will not escape,” Agravaine gives his word. But Katrina doesn’t smile or nod, instead she looks out of the window, her heart filling with pain and anger.




    “This is really lovely, Arthur. Who made this pie?” Gwen asks as she finishes her piece and washes it down with wine.

    “Morgana.”

    “I have to say she is a wonderful cook.”

    “Just like her mother. Pity Merlin can’t cook like her.”

    “Merlin has other abilities, Arthur. You shouldn’t look down on him,” she tells him and reaches for the berries.

    “Ahh … here we go again. Bickering about Merlin,” Arthur tells her.

    “I’m not arguing, I just feel you shouldn’t look down on him,” Gwen tells her husband as she wipes her mouth and looks around. “This is a lovely spot, I must say. I have to you and Merlin credit for choosing it. Even I wouldn’t have thought of such a lovely spot. I love it.”

    “Well, most of the credit should go to Merlin because he put in a lot of effort here. He found the place.”

    “Ahh … being humble are we?” Gwen teases Arthur.

    “Ermmm …”

    “There’s no need to be shy about it, Arthur,” Gwen teases and pops a berry into her mouth. “After all, he is your best friend.”

    “Yes, he is. And you know that I never meant anything I said about him …”

    “Of course I do. I was just teasing you.”

    Arthur smiles.

    “Why?”

    “Why what?” Arthur is surprised.

    “Your smile … what was that for?” she asks again, eyeing him suspiciously.

    “Nothing.” Arthur says.

    “There is something isn’t it?” she asks again.

    “No …”

    “Oh, come on, Arthur … that smile of yours, I know what it means.”

    “Really?” Arthur asks and inches closer, closing the gap between them. “I would like to know what you think it means …”

    Gwen’s heart thumps. She knows where this is leading, and despite the fact that she likes it, she also fears it as well. She plays with her hair.

    “I like when you do that,” Arthur tells her. And when Gwen looks up at him, he points at her hair. “The way you play your hair … I love to see you do that.”

    “I do it when I am nervous.”

    “Are you nervous now?” he asks, smiling.

    She doesn’t answer him but she nods.

    “But why?”

    “I don’t know really … but I often am with you, I find,” she admits.

    “But I am your husband, Guinevere …” he reaches out and takes her hand in his.

    Gwen’s heart skips a beat.

    “There is nothing for you to fear. I’ve told you this many times. I just want you to be as you are. The same person I met on the day you chewed my head off.”

    Gwen smiles.

    Arthur clips her chin. “Don’t ever change for anyone, Guinevere. Not even for me. Your character defines you. I would hate to see you change yourself just to fit in. Even my father would agree with this. I understand things haven’t been easy on your side as you are still trying to find your place. But that does not mean you have to change who you are. Be yourself and let others adapt to your style.”

    “But I’m not sure others would agree with you, Arthur.”

    “You don’t have to think about the others, Guinevere.” He caresses her cheek. “It’s me you have to worry about and no one else. And I like you just as you are.”

    “Really? Even if I am not as … sophisticated as the other princesses?”

    Arthur’s brow arches. “And who gave you this idea?”

    “I’ve heard talk around the castle … they were mentioning how I am not like the other princesses and since I am from …”

    “Guinevere.” Arthur cuts in. Gwen looks at him. She likes the way his blue eyes warm up to her. It makes her smile. He smiles back. “Like I told you … do not pay any attention to them. I don’t care what say about you. If they step out of line, then I will deal with them as they should be dealt with. But as for me, I like you as you are. Don’t change. That is all I am asking you.”

    “All right, I won’t … but I have to warn you. I can be pretty nasty when I am angry,” Gwen tells Arthur and laughs.

    “Yes, I remember that very well. Remember our first meeting?”

    “I was very rude to you … my father didn’t like it one bit.”

    “I was raging like a madman. I kept thinking how to get even with you. I even contemplated kidnapping you,” Arthur tells her.

    “Arthur!”

    “Yes, I was thinking that, Guinevere. Because you humiliated me in the presence of my friends and I was completely berserk.”

    “But you didn’t … what changed your mind?”

    “I couldn’t … I simply could not bring myself to harm you,” he says, reaching to caress her cheek again.

    “Why?”

    “I’m not sure, really … maybe I just didn’t like the idea of hurting you, I suppose.”

    “And you barely knew me then, Arthur …”

    “Yes … and that’s what surprises me the most. I was wondering how a simple village girl with a defiant attitude and a bold character could change me to follow her steps instead. All my life, I have never followed anyone’s lead before … because I have a big ego.”

    “Yes, as big as the crown that sits on your father’s head.”
    Arthur laughs. “Yes … guess it comes with the reputation. But my ego is nothing when I’m in your presence, Guinevere. I mean, you make me look ordinary when I’m with you. I forget that I am the crowned prince and that one day I will be the king of Camelot. With you I forget that I am Prince Arthur. In your presence, I am just Arthur and you know what? I like that. No responsibility, no burden, and obviously no strain of answering everyone except my wife.”

    “That’s the way a life is led by us commoners.”

    “Yes, and I can see why all of you are so happy despite having to face the difficulties of everyday life. I didn’t understand that in the beginning, but I do now.”

    “That was because you never really saw us, Arthur. You chose to see what you wanted and that is how you described us. Which is why there was never any connection between you and us, despite the fact that we like your father. If I am to be honest, we never wanted you as our king.”

    “I am not surprised, Guinevere. I didn’t want the throne either. I never saw myself fit.” Arthur says.

    “But do you realize that you actually are?”

    “Really?” and then Arthur laughs loudly.

    “No, Arthur … seriously speaking, do you realize you are actually fit for the throne?” she asks again.

    He shakes his head.

    “You are. But you never believed in yourself … just as you never believed in anyone else. That is why you and the king never saw things eye to eye. You and he bickered over the simplest matters because you felt he was burdening you with responsibility. Did you never consider that he might have been just instilling belief in you so that you’d feel more confident?”

    “Come on, Guinevere …”

    “No, Arthur … let me finish. Your father has hopes for you and still believes in you even after all the trouble you made for yourself. There are many times he probably could have given up hope on you, but he didn’t because he has hope you will be the man he sees in you. He believes in you, Arthur, and you have to because if you don’t, I am afraid Camelot might fall into wrong hands. And certainly we do not wish for that to happen … not after all the work your father and your ancestors have put in.”

    “Hmm ….”

    “Arthur … I would not put my nose in if you were not my husband. I certainly do not know anything about running a kingdom, but I know that you do. I know you have all the knowledge to understand and accept this responsibility because you are a Pendragon. And the blood that runs in you is the same that runs in the family who has fought for and upheld this kingdom for many years … and that is what your father expects of you. You will not be doing this on your own Arthur. I am here, as your wife and as your support. I will be there to support you and cheer you all the way and if I have to lift a sword and behead a man for the good of this kingdom, I will do it. Because I believe in you, my husband, my king. And above all … I believe in our love.”

    Arthur watches her for a long time.

    “What?”

    “Nothing … I’m just … admiring your strength,” he tells her as he strokes her hand.

    “Arthur … please, you are making me uneasy.”

    “You shouldn’t be … you deserve all the credit for turning me into the man I am now,” Arthur says. Gwen shakes her head and starts to say something but Arthur gently covers her mouth with his hand. “No, Guinevere, don’t deny anything … you deserve the credit so accept it. I wouldn’t have learned anything if it wasn’t for you.”

    Gwen removes Arthur’s hand from her mouth. “I did what any woman would for her husband.”

    “Yes … and for that I have to thank you.”

    “Stop thanking me, Arthur … I told you that already, haven’t I?”

    “Well, in that case … then allow me to show my gratitude in another manner.” And with that he inches close, bends down and captures Gwen’s mouth, taking her by surprise.

    The kiss is intoxicating, sweet and terrifying at the same time. Gwen is surprised by his sudden approach yet she likes it. She leans closer to him, crushing her breasts against his chest and feels Arthur’s grip on her tightening. She trails her hand on his chest, brings it up and clasps around his neck. The other hand is still pressed against his chest.

    Arthur feels his heartbeat quicken. He is hungry and desperate, kissing her as though he is trying to absorb all her goodness. He isn’t clumsy but he isn’t patient either. He presses his hand against her back, bringing her closer to him while the other hand is caressing her slender waist.

    Arthur leaves Gwen’s lips and trails his lips down to her neck, as Gwen cranes her head back. He leaves no place untouched by his kisses as he impatiently savours every inch of her skin around her neck.

    Gwen gasps as she feels herself turning hot. She digs her nails into his skin, moaning as Arthur playfully bites her earlobes. “Arthur … please …”

    But he isn’t listening. He tickles her with his playfulness and trails his lips against her neck. His hands are now trailing up to capture her breasts, cupping them fully. He hears Gwen gasping as he squeezes her breast softly. “God, Guinevere …” is all he says as he slowly and gently lays her back on the blanket beneath him.

    Gwen has never felt a heat like this consuming her. His kiss is maddening and yet she is enjoying every moment of it. She doesn’t want him to stop. And she wants more. She rakes his hair and gently tugs it as he thrust his tongue into her mouth, stroking the warm, moist interior. Gwen moans.

    Arthur’s hand leaves Gwen’s breast and trails it down towards Gwen’s hips. He lingers and then trails further down and slowly start to lift the hem of her gown.

    Gwen’s stomach churns and her heart is beating like a war drum. She feels the gown being lifted and her legs part reflexively for him. But just as she does so, she hears a growl behind the bushes. Her eyes snap open.

    Arthur’s head snaps up. He’s heard it, too. Gwen lifts herself up behind him, looking terrified. The growl comes again and the bushes on their left shakes.

    “Oh my god,” Gwen whispers, scared.

    “Stay here,” Arthur says and gets up on his feet.

    “Be careful.”
    
    “I will … stay here,” Arthur reminds Gwen and picks up his sword. Slowly he moves to the bush.

    Gwen adjusts her skirts and watches in horror as Arthur steps close to the bush, and, using his sword, he pushes the bush wide. Suddenly, out of blue a bear jumps out and attacks Arthur.

    Gwen screams.

    Arthur falls back, his sword skitters wide. The bear growls at Arthur and watches him angrily. Arthur slowly lifts himself up and eyes the bear. The sword is almost three feet away from him and the chances of nearing it is slim. The bear growls again. Arthur steps back slowly. He steps until he reaches the sword and taps it using his leg. The bear watches him with interest. Then suddenly, it turns around and looks at Gwen.

    Gwen’s face turns pale.

    ‘No!’ Arthur thinks to himself as the bear turns around, he bends down and pick up the sword. “Gwen, run!!!”

    Gwen didn’t know what to do. She gets up, lifts her gown and starts running but she trips over a root and falls down, bumping her forehead. She hears Arthur’s voice behind her but the fall causes her head to spin. She feels dizzy. She turns around and sees a huge figure looming over her. It was the bear. She can hear the growl. But she is unable to move. The bear is now almost over her. Gwen’s head feels heavy. Then she hears Arthur’s voice. She tries to lift herself but as the dizziness take its toll; she falls back and passes out.




    Gwen hears voices but her head is still throbbing. She reaches up and feels her forehead. There is a cloth on her forehead and as she touches it, she grimaces in pain. She removes her hand and tries to lift her head again. But the pain causes her to fall back. She grimaces again and turns to her left. A maid is attending to something that Gwen can’t see, but she hears splashes of water. Gwen clears her throat. The maid turns around. Gwen tries to smile but instead of smiling back, the maid dashes out. Gwen closes her eyes and sighs. Her head is throbbing like crazy and she tries to remember the events that unfolded yesterday, but the more she tries, the deeper her head throbs.


    A short time later, she hears voices and footsteps outside her chamber. She opens her eyes and notices Gaius beside her, tending to her forehead. They are alone but the voices grow louder and then the door of her chamber opens up and Arthur dashes in, followed by Uther. Behind them Tristan walks in, his face stoic. Gwen tries to sit up but Arthur immediately stops her by gently pushing her back onto the bed.

    “No, stay on the bed, Guinevere …” he says. He sits beside her, as close as he can.

    “Err … where am I … how?”

    “Shhhh … please, don’t strain yourself. Gaius says you need plenty of rest. So don’t ask anything,” Arthur tells her as he strokes her cheek.

    “But …”

    “My lady, what Arthur says is true. You shouldn’t strain yourself. You need rest,” Gaius chimes in, smiling at Gwen.

    Gwen sighs and looks at Gaius and behind him, at her father-in-law. Uther smiles at him.

    “Hello, Gwen.”

    “Father, she needs rest. I think we better leave her to get her rest,” Arthur suggests. But as he tries to stand up, Gwen reaches out and grabs his hand, pulling him down to her.

    “What happened to me, Arthur? Please tell …” and before she can finish her sentences, she grabs her forehead.

    “Sweetheart … you hit your head when you fell today and that’s why you need to rest,” Arthur tells her, cupping her cheek. “Please … you need to rest.”

    “What happened, Arthur? The bear … you? Are you all right? Did you get hurt?”

    “Gwen, please… calm yourself,” Gaius tells Gwen, cradling her hand in his.

    “No, I need to know what happened!”

    Arthur sighs and eyes Gaius, motioning the old man that it was all right. He turns back towards Gwen. “You fell when you try to run away from the bear. The fall hurt you bad and you suffered a concussion. I brought you here and Gaius said thankfully it isn’t something dreadfully serious. But you still need your rest.” He sits back down on the bed.

    “But you? What about you? Are you hurt?”

    “No Guinevere. I am good. I killed the bear if that’s what you are wondering about.” Arthur smiles at her.
    
    “You sure you are good, Arthur? You are not lying to me, are you?”

    “Of course not, dear … I am good. Trust me,” Arthur says, reassuring her.

    “Thank God,” she replies, sighing as Arthur strokes her hair.

    “You really need to have your rest, my lady …” Gaius advises Gwen.

    “And that’s exactly what she will be doing, Gaius,” Uther taps on Gaius’s shoulder and nods at Arthur.

    “Get your rest, dear, I will see you later,” Arthur tells Gwen, kisses her forehead and gets up to his feet. “I will see you when you wake up, all right?”

    “Don’t be late,” she tells him.

    “Never,” he smiles, nods at Gaius and leaves with his father.

    “He didn’t leave your side all the while you were being treated, Gwen,” Gaius informs as he replaces the cloth on Gwen’s forehead.

    “Gaius, Arthur isn’t hurt, is he?”

    “No, Gwen … he is fine. It’s you were worried about.”

    “I was worried for him.”

    “As he was for you.”

    “What happened?” Gwen asks.

    “Arthur tells me that your picnic was interrupted by a fierce bear. It attacked you and when you are fleeing from the creature, you tripped and fell, hurting your head. And after that you passed out. Arthur killed the bear, brought you home as quickly as he could and got me to tend to you. And he never left your side until just before now, when the maid came to fetch him.” The old man laughs. “You should have heard him swearing about the fact that you woke up when he was gone…”

    Gwen smiles weakly, picturing it pretty clearly. “I really cannot remember what happened, but all I know is that the bear was about to attack Arthur. And then it came after me.”

    “You hurt your head really bad, Gwen. You need not worry about this any more. Everything is settled. I will give you a draught to make you feel better and after that, it’s sleep, my lady,” Gaius says and uncorks a bottle. He gives it to Gwen and she drains it down and rests back, grimacing as her head hits the pillow.

    “I will come to see you in another half an hour,” Gaius informs as Gwen closes her eyes, drifting into sleep.





    The voices beside her bed stir Gwen from her sleep. The potion that Gaius gave her a while ago seems to be working its magic. Gwen can hardly lift her eyelids but the voices beside her bed seem to be unaware that they have just woken her up. Gwen swallows and listens.

    “I heard the prince is wounded as well,” one of the maids whispers.

    “Yes, the cut is deep. Gaius says if not well treated, then it can be dangerous for the prince’s life,” another adds.

    “Shhh …. Don’t be too loud, the princess might wake up.”

    “Yes, Gaius said the prince forbids anyone from mentioning this especially in the presence of his wife, so we better keep the tone down.”

    Gwen’s heart skips a beat. ‘Is Arthur injured?’]/i] she thinks. [i]‘But … Gaius said …’ Gwen’s mind goes berserk. Gaius wouldn’t have lied to her, would he? But what are they talking about? Arthur injured? But he seemed all right. Gwen thinks fast. Arthur has reputation of talking his way out of things. Did he lie to her? Is he seriously wounded? Gwen wants to see Arthur but she is so tired.

    “I passed the prince’s chamber a while ago and the door was ajar. I heard the king talking to Gaius. He was asking about the prince’s condition,” A maid says, folding sheets.

    Gwen raises herself up on her elbow and clears her throat. The maids turn around and are all extremely terrified to see her up. One of the maids drops the sheet she was holding.

    “Is it true Arthur is injured?”

    “My lady, please … you should be resting,” another maid urges and quickly swipes an annoyed look at the other two maids.

    “I want to know if my husband is injured …”

    “My lady … please …”

    “I want to know if Arthur is injured!” Gwen almost shouts and holds her head. “Arghhh …”

    The other two maid rushes towards Gwen and helps her down but Gwen pushes off their hands and steps off the bed.

    “My lady …”

    “I want to see Arthur now!” Gwen shouts at them and staggers to the door. The maids tries to hold her back but she pushes them off and sways to the door, pulls it open and leaves.

    “My lady … my lady …”

    “Arthur?” Gwen calls loudly as she struggles towards Arthur’s chamber. The maids run after Gwen, calling her. But Gwen is still adamant in reaching Arthur’s chamber and finally reaches it after struggling much of the way. She pulls the door open and steps inside.

    “Arthur!!” she shouts as she staggers inside but stops short as she watches Arthur sitting on the bed, shirtless but there is a bandage wrapped around his waist. Gaius is attending to him. Both men stops and stares at Gwen.

    “Arthur?”

    “Guinevere? What on earth are you doing here?” Arthur says in shock. “Gaius?”

    “Gwen …” Gaius rushes towards Gwen and wraps his hands around her shoulder. “What are you doing here? I thought I said you need to rest. Why are you out of the bed?”

    “Is he injured Gaius?” Gwen asks, looking at Gaius. “You lied to me?”

    “Guinevere,” Arthur pulls his tunic down and runs towards Gwen and Gaius. “What are you …?”

    “Are you injured, Arthur?” Gwen cuts him short.

    Gaius looks at Arthur.

    “Guinevere …”

    “Are you?” Gwen asks again.

    “Yes, but it is nothing … I am fine,”

    “Why didn’t you tell me, Arthur? Why did you lie to me?” Gwen asks, tears welling in her eyes. “I was worried for you, and you lied?”

    “I didn’t want you to be worried Guinevere. You are not in the condition to be stressed by anything else,” Arthur tells her. “Gaius, help me please.”

    “He is right, Gwen.”

    “You lied as well, Gaius. You could have told me, I would have understood.”

    “Gwen, I’m sorry … come now …” Gaius apologises and leads her to the bed. She follows him quietly. “Here, sit down … I will come back in a while. Please try to calm her down, Arthur,” Gaius says, turning to leave.

    When Gaius has left the chamber, Arthur sits down beside Gwen and clasps her hand. “Guinevere, I’m sorry. I didn’t want to lie to you but I was worried for you. And Gaius mentioned you shouldn’t be stressed. And that is why we decided it was best to keep this away from you at the moment. But don’t think I lied to you on a purpose.”

    “I heard from the maids about your condition and did you know how frightened I was. I understand you fought the bear but to find out you are hurt is … unbearable. I was so …” a tear streak down her cheek.

    Arthur reaches up and thumbs her tears away. “Guinevere, please …”

    “Is it bad?”

    “The injury? No, the bear just scratched that is all,” Arthur informs.

    “You are lying. Show me …”

    “Guinevere …”

    “I want to see the wound. If its just a scratch then you shouldn’t be afraid to show me,” She demands.

    Arthur lifts his tunic and allows her to insect the wound which is wrapped by bandage. Gwen touches the bandage and strokes it gently. Tears start to roll down her cheeks.

    “Guinevere … what is this?” Arthur drops his tunic, clips Gwen’s cheek and looks deeply into her eyes. “What is this? I am fine, aren’t I?”

    “I’m sorry … if I hadn’t fallen …”

    “We don’t know that for sure. I didn’t really pay attention to myself, Guinevere. It was you I was worried for and it was your safety that mattered most. And when you fell, lost your consciousness and with the bear almost over you, I felt as if my life was being taken away from me,” Arthur informs Gwen. “I don’t what would I do without you. I just don’t know how would I ever forgive myself should anything happen to you, Guinevere.”

    “And the same applies for me, Arthur. Please don’t lie to me again.”

    “I won’t, Guinevere, I promise,” Arthur says and kisses her forehead. “Now, we shall wait for Gaius, and when he gets you the draught, promise me that you will drink it and resume your rest. Will you do that?”

    “Sure,” Gwen says and leans against Arthur chest as he runs his fingers softly through her hair.