HOW TO SHARE THIS STORY: email, tweet, facebook or contact your friends any way you like. Tell them to sign up for my mailing list at www.mandematthews.com/subscribe and they will gain access to the story vault.
DON’T WANT TO READ ONLINE? Download as a PDF. You may share the PDF with friends and family as long as you don’t reproduce or post online. Keep the PDF intact with URL and credits and you may distribute via email at will.
CLICK TO DOWNLOAD PDF (right click and save as, or open in browser and file/save)
Tales of Lady Guinevere
A lady in waiting’s love for a king, her lady’s soon-to-be husband, forces her to choose between the desire of a king and the duty to her lady.
This short story takes place
near the end of Quest, the night Elibel spends with Arthur, and is told from Elibel’s point of view.
The heart wants what the heart wills no matter how honorably we reason.
– From the private musings of Elibel of the House of Anwyl,
First Lady to Guinevere, Queen of Camelot,
or as most would come to whisper behind her back, the King’s whore.
One touch can change destinies. No matter how sweet, how fleeting, how unexpected, one whisper of skin on skin, flesh on flesh, can threaten a kingdom.
It was that way for me with Arthur.
When I fled from Guinevere after seeing her in Lancelot’s embrace—my anger raging from either indignation, jealousy, or both—I ran blindly towards King Arthur’s chambers. But even as my feet pounded the cobble streets of Camelot, as the hem of my gown dragged the dirt, as my own heart plummeted into my stomach, I knew I would never inform on my cousin.
I would not. I could not. No matter how I threatened her. I loved her too much.
I would never tell the king of her indiscretion with his most trusted knight.
From the moment that I had been brought as Guinevere’s companion, when Uncle Leodegrance had led me to her chambers, and those mist-colored eyes haunted by her mother’s death had begged me for some kind of solace, my cousin had taken up residency in my very being. Hurting her would be like inflicting a wound upon myself.
No. I would never injure her.
At least, that’s what I told myself.
So as I approached Arthur’s rooms, my breath ragged from running, I floundered onward. Tears blurred my vision as I stumbled through the corridors, not knowing where I would go, but needing an escape from my tumultuous emotions, until I found myself in a grand hall.
Guinevere’s dowry, the Round Table, was assembled and sat in the center of the chamber. The masterpiece was everything that was Guinevere. Each divided slice represented fairness, and until the moment I had seen her with Lancelot, I had believed Guinevere was fairness incarnate.
I stopped short of the table. “So this is the king’s dream? A land where peace reigns supreme while his own house trembles with secrets and desire.” I whispered.
“Another piece of the Wooden Wisdoms appears.” A man’s voice echoed around me—one etched with time and intelligence, one I thought I recognized from earlier in the day. I hoped he wasn’t close enough to have heard me speak ill of Arthur’s dream. I turned in a circle trying to spot the source.
“Lady Elibel, is it?”
I swallowed. “I am. And who might I have the pleasure of speaking with?”
Again, I swung around. And again, I found no one in the room with me.
“A king centers the board, surrounded by his protectors, and then flanked again by twice the attacking forces.”
“I know how the game of Wooden Wisdoms is played.”
“Ah,” he said. “But do you know the game is real?”
“Show yourself, Sir,” I tried not to plead, keeping my voice pleasant, but my nerves started to prick a warning over my skin. “Come out of the shadow and speak to me directly so I may know who—”
“Already a knight and a queen have taken positions on the board, but now a lady in waiting emerges as well.” He laughed like an ancient dragon spitting fire, the sound bouncing off the walls, and in that moment, I recognized his tone from the onset of the quest.
“Merlin?” I asked. My tone quaked a bit, and for all my courtly training, I could not cover it.
Steam rose out of the floor in front of me, turning into a black-and-white spiral of smoke. I backed up, edging away.
“Which will you be?” Continued his voice, “Black or white? A force for, or a force against? How will you aid the task of the king? How will you impact the fate of the land and its people?”
The mist swamped the corner of the room, obscuring the tapestries that hung over the walls. Tendrils sprang from its edges, reaching for me. I turned to flee, but ran into what I thought was another wall. When I pulled back, I realized the obstruction was Merlin. A druid. An old one with such famed powers that I openly trembled as he blocked my escape.
“Oh, fear not, pretty one.” His gravelly voice did not settle me one bit.
I stared directly at the druid’s glass dangling at his chest, afraid to look up at him. The glass whirled with colors and blackness.
“It’s not me who will trouble you. Let’s hope, though, that Morgaine has not identified you on her Wooden Wisdoms board. She likes to believe Arthur’s future is wholly in her control.”
The colors of the orb dazzled me, drawing all my attention. I started to relax. His words turned to mush inside my head. A half-swoon swept me as if the room spun. Merlin placed his hands over the glass. Light shot through his fingers, and pulsed into his skin. Then he laid his hand on top of my head.
Energy jolted through me like little needles invading my skull. I nearly screamed at the shock, but he pushed a finger over my mouth. “Hush. We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves, do we?”
I reeled backwards as his fingers slid off my head. The sensation of wavering on the deck of a boat remained. “What have you done to me?”
I swept my gaze up to square him in the eye. Within the depth of his irises, scenes played out: a naked Guinevere in Lancelot’s embrace, Arthur leading battle after battle, Morgaine cackling with laughter, a young man in golden armor, and blood—blood everywhere.
“You are already a player on the board, girl. You’re set in motion, whether you know it or not. I have given you a moment’s reprieve from Morgaine, but it will not last forever. Once she spots you, be on guard. She will use you for her own gain or destroy you trying. I suspect, if your moves are not made with the utmost caution, your fate may be the latter. But you. You have something every king needs to become the man behind the name.”
I shook my head. “Me? What do I have? What about My Lady?”
Merlin stared. Glints of the future still played in his eyes. The wooziness in my stomach doubled at the continued sight of blood and battle, until streaks of red washed over Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere as well. Then the crimson river turned and came for me.
Footsteps sounded behind us, startling me out of Merlin’s hypnosis. I turned. Arthur entered the far side of the room. When I swiveled back, Merlin, along with his mist and his visions, had disappeared. I scurried to a curtain and hid before the king spotted me.
Blood rushed my head, pounding. What had Merlin meant? The words tumbled around in my brain. They made no sense. I had nothing to give a king. Nothing. And what? What, pray tell, would stop all that blood?
I peered from behind the drapery, being careful to remain out of sight. Arthur paced. His golden halo of curls bounced as he strutted. Finally, he thrust his fist on the table and collapsed to his knees.
“Oh, Jesu!” he pleaded, folding his hands into a prayer. “Why have you done this to me?” He lowered his head onto the table. “Any other woman would be pleased to marry me! King of Camelot! Slayer of Saxons! And she turns from me with disgust in her eyes, just like my own mother once did. I have battled. I have taken swords to my flesh. I have won alliances. And still, I am not worthy?”
His words ripped at me. Tears pricked the corners of my eyes. A guilty flush rose in my cheeks. I should not hear such confessions. I shuffled to the side, inching my way through the cascade of drapery to search for an exit—any retreat to give this man privacy. My shoe sounded on the stone floor as I moved.
Arthur started. “Who’s there?”
Though I remained hidden behind folds of fabric, I heard him stand. His boots clomped as he walked.
“I say, who’s there?” His voice rose angrily. His steps quickened.
I stood as still as I could, but my chest flitted with my breath. His footsteps closed in and the curtain swung wide, revealing me in my hiding place.
Arthur stood before me, drape in hand, sword in the other, ready to slice me clean through. His golden brows rose, turning the furrow into a look of surprise.
He dropped his sword to his side and bent at his waist, exhaling.
“I apologize, Sire. I never meant to eavesdrop. I was here, and you came in, and there was nowhere for me to go, so I—”
Then he laughed—a long round side-splitting merriment before he turned those azure colored eyes upon me.
“I am sorry to have startled you, Lady Elibel. But I dare say; you are quite the refreshing intruder.”
I bowed my head. A slow burn edged into my cheeks. We sat there in silence for long moments.
Finally, he cleared his throat and lowered his voice. “How much did you hear?”
“I swear to you, Sire. I will not speak to My Lady of your confession.”
Arthur nodded. He shifted, placing the tip of Excalibur against the floor and leaned on the hilt of his instrument.
“To tell you the truth,” he said, “it’s a relief.”
“That someone besides God hears me.”
I smiled tentatively.
“Because for the most part, God doesn’t answer. Unless… You’re his answer?”
Heat flushed my neck and face again, and I thought I must resemble a tomato.
He gestured with his head for us to sit at the Round Table. “Indeed, you may be the very person I need to speak with.”
I followed his lead. He pulled over a chair and seated me, then hopped up and sat on the tabletop within alarming proximity. Had I reached out my hand, I could have touched his thigh.
“You must know your lady well.”
I nodded. “She is not a difficult woman to understand.”
“Oh, on the contrary! I find her baffling.”
“Her heart is generous, Sire. She seeks love, fairness, and understanding. This is all you need to comprehend her motives.”
“Ah. A true heart. And yet…”
He paused. “Do you know that Merlin warned me?”
A knot formed in my throat at the mention of the druid, remembering all his archaic warnings and visions. “Warned you of what?”
“That Guinevere, no matter what I did, would never love me. And if a queen with the blood of the old ones marries without love, the land will suffer for it. That if I choose to marry for the right to High King, there will be a price. And I will not like the repayment required.”
“But you marry to ensure all Britons safety. Surely, that is honorable enough without needing love,” I said.
“Ah, so you agree.”
“That Guinevere does not love me.”
“She hasn’t had time to know you. She could come around, Sire.”
“Will you stop calling me that?”
“I feel like I’m holding court.”
“As you command. How about Your Majesty?” I teased.
He cocked his head, examining me. “You jest.”
“Your Highness?” I asked.
He shook his head.
“Or Holy Lordship?”
He shook his head once more.
“Hmm…” I tapped my finger on my lips. “I know! What about Britannia’s Shining Golden God and Savior of All?”
“Yes,” said Arthur. “I prefer that one.”
Then we both laughed. Until Arthur sighed. “Life is full of irony, is it not?”
Arthur knotted a mock-angry brow at me.
“Oh!” I replied. “My apologies. I meant Britannia’s Shining Golden God and Savior of All!”
“That’s better,” he agreed. “I dare say; I might need to employ you to bolster my confidence.” He grinned before the ghost of his prior thought returned.
“What of life?” I prodded.
He paused, considering. “It seems rather fitting that I shall marry a woman who will never love me.”
“Why would such a cold arrangement ever befit a king?” I replied, indignation creeping into my tone. I found myself angry at Guinevere once more, and I pushed the feeling down. I cleared my throat and reminded myself to keep my lady-like demeanor intact, though I did not realize at the time any decorum would soon abandon me all together.
“You’ve heard the stories of my birth, yes?”
I nodded. The tale was well-told by bards, court gossipers, and commoners alike.
He restated the facts anyway. “Merlin called forth a black magic on the night of my birth. One that would cloak my father. One that would trick my mother. One that would forge my entire future.”
“Yes,” I said. “I know each word of the tale. Tailsen’s version, of course.”
“Indulge me,” Arthur said.
“Oh, I dare not!” I nearly squealed back at him.
He smiled. “No, do tell! I like to hear how others sing it.”
“I assure you. I’m no Lady Guinevere when it comes to bardic recitations.”
He cocked his head and studied me for a long moment as if tracing every angle. “The face of an angel and the voice of a toad?” he chided.
Face of an angel? I could hardly repress my smile, or the jitters invading my stomach. My wits normally remained in the face of flattery, but with Arthur, the praise ran over me like a rainstorm after a long drought. “My voice is more like mewling kittens. Or perhaps dying cats. I assure both your ears and your heart will fare better without my song.”
His eyes, usually piercing, softened as he watched me.
“I am well aware of my limitations,” I added for emphasis.
“As am I,” he said.
We stared at one another momentarily, and I sensed there was more to that statement than either of us admitted.
Arthur continued, “My father, as Merlin had warned him before calling forth the darkness, paid the ultimate price. My mother hated him for his trickery. While he lay with my mother, Father murdered her husband, his rival, all for lust of another man’s wife and chiefdom, both of which he took for his own. Eventually, my father paid with a Saxon sword wedged through his heart and all he had sacrificed was lost to him. I was the only lasting result.”
“Surely, though, a king’s birth is never easy. To be born for greatness one must come from unusual circumstance.”
“I am forged by blood and battle.” He said the words as if they tasted foul, and he wanted to spit them from his mouth.
I recalled Merlin’s visions. The sensation of thousands of spiders ran the length of my spine. “But it’s with that birth that you have taken up the quest for Britannia’s safety. It is honorable. It is valiant. It is courageous.”
“And yet, my mother died at the hands of murderous Saxons before I could prove to her that I was more than just an unfortunate trickery.”
“But your mother loved you.”
Arthur slumped his shoulders, bending his neck. The ringlets of gold sagged over his forehead. “Do you know what my signet stands for?” he asked.
I shook my head.
“My father’s signet was the dragon. After my birth, Mother swore off the old religion due to Merlin’s black magic and converted to the new God. The cross is her symbol. And the color red, I chose for her blood. Her death, that one day, I will avenge and prove to her that my birth was no ill fate.”
I shivered at his words.
“No, I just—”
However, Arthur hopped up and set to lighting torches. The shadows grew long in the grand hall as dusk threatened outside. Then Arthur pulled a drapery from the wall, strutted to me and whisked the fabric around me. He snuggled the material beneath my neck.
“There!” he said.
His hands lingered, holding the embroidered wool in place as if to cast away any chill. I reached up involuntarily to take the drapes into my own grasp, but instead of removing his hands, Arthur folded them over the top of mine. A spark of his energy slid through my fingertips and down into my hands, and furthermore, into deeper places within me.
And there it was. That one touch. That whisper of his skin on mine. The one connection that would threaten a kingdom. I didn’t realize that sweet and fleeting gesture would keep me from ever denying him, but it would. Though I was naive about a man’s caress, having only a few stolen kisses from a wandering bard followed some seasons later by more intense and mutual petting from a stable boy—both of whom were off-limits to my position—it wasn’t the touch alone that caused my wits to slide. It was Arthur’s touch. His, and his alone, which stirred an uncontrollable physical response. With any other man, I could have stopped up my desires and stuffed them back down underneath a proper lady’s facade. Push him away. But the moment the King of Camelot touched me, somewhere, deep down inside, I knew I would never settle for just an accidental brush of his fingers over mine again. I wanted more. Even if I could not fathom what “more” truly meant.
Arthur watched his hands cupping mine as if they worked independently of his thoughts. As if he was just as fascinated with their placement as I was. Then his eyes flashed to my own. He pulled back, breaking his connection with me and spoke. “I have no idea why I’m telling you all this. I am usually not so forth-coming.”
“My cousin,” and I avoided Guinevere’s name, “says I am easy to tell troubles to.”
He stared at me, those blue irises flicking back and forth between my own eyes. “Indeed.” Then he pulled himself away and strutted across the room. He grabbed another drapery from the wall, wrestling it from the iron pole. He smiled as he waltzed back to me, hopped on the table and reclined, bunching the drapery like a pillow underneath his head.
He lay there for a long moment without speaking until I interrupted. “I know of another tale.”
“What of?” asked Arthur, his eyes closing to half-mast as if we were the most comfortable of companions.
“It was the Saxon invasion of the House of Anwyl. A blood bath, really. I was eight. My brother and our meager troupes lined the parapet. Father called out orders, but we were a meager house, with little means, and too far from King Leodegrance to expect protection to arrive.”
Arthur rolled his head to the side, opening his eyes to watch me intently.
“Arrows rained down upon our men. My brother fell with them.” Emotions welled inside me as I recalled that day, but I pushed them down like I had been taught. A woman must be stronger than the men she loves, my mother would say. She must have meant it, because I never saw her weep for my dead brother. “And soon, we were overrun. The women and elderly took up arms even though we knew we were no match for the onslaught to come. We watched as they raised ladders to our walls. Then, just as the leaders crossed over, I saw a banner on the horizon—one of a cross and a dragon, and the color of crimson for his fallen mother, followed by a sea of armored men. Arthur Pendragon, the fiercest warlord Britannia had ever seen, came to our rescue.”
“You didn’t have the helmet or the armor you have now. You galloped in on a black courser swinging Excalibur. You must have been around nineteen summers. You saved my family and what remained of the House of Anwyl from those invaders that day. Without you, I would be either dead, or an unwilling Saxon bride.”
“Is that how you saw it? Is that how you saw me?” he asked with an almost childlike disbelief.
“I saw a hero, not a babe born of black magic. I saw the man that will become the savior of Britannia. I saw you.”
I swear his eyes welled at that moment, but he shifted and smiled to cover his emotion. I could feel it though—simmering throughout the room like a sweltering summer day.
But in true Arthur fashion, he chided me. “Oh, if all little girls’ visions were as valiant I might be painted a Saint.”
“If all little girls saw what I saw, then your head would grow to the size of a mountain with the praise.” I smiled back at him.
“Oh, is that right?”
“Conceit is one of your, shall we say, larger qualities.”
“It is, is it?” And he grinned so wide and willingly that I gushed at the sight of him.
“And rightly so. Not just any man can be Britannia’s Shining Golden God and Savior of All.” I giggled.
Our merriment lingered as we flashed our eyes at one another until we settled into a calmer type of speech. I had no idea how long we talked after that—of my brother, of my family, of his sister and mother. The only light remaining was the flicker of torchlight burning against the stone walls. We exhausted ourselves with chatter. Arthur lay back and closed his eyes, and soon, his breath deepened.
I sat and watched him sleep for what seemed like forever. His eyes twitched; his hands tensed—clenching in and out of fists as he dreamed. I wondered if those dreams were sweet, but realized by his movements, they were not. I hoped they weren’t the nightmares Merlin had shown me.
And then Guinevere re-entered my mind. Tomorrow, Arthur and my dearest friend would wed. They would be united by the Bishop and sealed to one another in holy matrimony. An ache tightened my chest.
I took one last look before I inched out of my seat, slid the drape over the back of the chair and left.
My chamber was harder to find than I imagined. Only sentries lined the hallways. It must have been well into the wee hours of the night, and Camelot’s corridors curled like a maze. Once I arrived, I noticed a fire had been lit in the hearth, probably by a servant, which took the chill from my skin, but not from my heart. I undressed, slipped on a night shift, untied my braid and slipped underneath my covers, but I did not sleep. I stared at the quarter moon glowing outside my window. I wanted to pray, but I didn’t know what for. Guinevere and Arthur’s marriage? My own acceptance? The death of my feelings? My mother would scorn this night if she knew how I let go of my emotions.
I was just about to get up to make myself busy to distract my thoughts when the door creaked. I rolled to my side. The hearth still burned with coals, giving off just enough of a glow to make out shapes. The door swayed open. A figure blocked its width. For a moment, I feared Merlin had come back to haunt me, but I knew the man standing there was not the druid.
Arthur stepped over the threshold. Light caught the halo of his blonde hair, giving his ringlets a fire of their own. As he neared, he picked up speed. I could barely see his features, but as he approached, the light caught in his eyes, making the azure turn deep blue. Their intensity sought me. He didn’t speak a word, and neither did I.
No. This was beyond speech.
Arthur hesitated once he reached my bed, and I thought we would both regain our strength—apologize and turn away. Instead, I sat upright. The bed linen slid from my chest, exposing my night shift. I did not even take the appropriate action to pull the covers up and hide my womanhood. I knew my breasts peered from within the laced keyhole as Arthur’s gaze quickly swept downward, then back up to my eyes. How easy it was to be indiscreet with him so near.
He reached for me then. His hands cupped my face. His lips sought mine. Though our bodies remained separated, heat surged from him as palpable as my own. For every battle I’d fought to keep my thoughts away from wanting him, I surrendered as the flesh of our lips touched. Then pressed. Then forced. Despite my inexperience, I wanted him so badly I burned.
This was no ordinary man. This was my hero. My god. My savior. Or perhaps, as Merlin had hinted, my destroyer.
In that moment, with his lips and tongue exploring mine, his hands kneading my back, pressing me closer and closer, I didn’t care.
My breath quickened as if I could not catch it. I felt twinges in the private parts of my body that I had never known before. His mouth, moist and wet, feathered down my cheek and to my neck. I rolled my head backwards, sinking into his desire. His hands wound through my loose hair as he suckled the skin of my throat.
Pulling together any remaining threads of decency I had left, I managed to whisper, “We can’t.”
His breath laced his response. “I need you.”
“Guinevere,” I said, but I admit, my tone wavered—weak and ineffective. I didn’t even convince myself. I knew this battle had already been lost. I threw up the white flag as soon as my defenses had been breached with that one, seemingly innocent touch so many hours ago.
“Guinevere is for tomorrow. For duty. For kingdom. But you are for me. At least for tonight.”
Every bottled up desire, every denial of my wants broke loose. I thrust my head forward and nipped back at him. His hands, firm and strong, slid down to my rear. He lifted me as my legs wrapped his waist. My wetness pressed into his fine linen tunic as my night shift bunched around my belly—my legs, and what lay between, exposed, indecent, scandalous. I squeezed into him, hooking my ankles behind his back, pressing my soft parts into him, wishing for no barrier to his skin.
Arthur replied by nipping at my mouth, then licking, then thrusting his tongue in to meet my own. I had never before experienced such intimacy. Instead of pulling away, instead of feeling afraid, I struggled for his tunic, snatching it up at each side of his waist, but one hand came around from behind me and caught my wrist.
“Don’t,” he said.
Startled, I pulled back, seeking his face. “Don’t?” I asked, confused. I stiffened and stared, not understanding and for the first time a bit of fear leeched into my desire. After all of this, would he cast me aside? Call me a whore?
But Arthur hugged me harder. He moved my shift with his chin, exposing my collar bone and kissed me with a feathery lightness. His lips teased my flesh as he whispered. “I didn’t mean don’t do this.”
“Then don’t what?” I asked, almost angrily. My breath still came in uncontrolled waves, but I hesitated.
“Don’t look,” he said.
Arthur gently pulled down one side of his shirt by guiding my wrist.
I still held the other side, hefted high. Despite his plea, I glanced down. Beneath the tunic, barely visible in the dim light, I made out crisscrossing scars, long healed but fleshed over with pinkish white ridges.
“I just…” his eyes sought mine. For a moment, he looked like a wounded child. “They’re unbecoming marks left for the battlefield,” he said.
I let down his tunic. I smoothed the fabric, gently rubbing my hand over his ruined flesh but leaving the barrier of his shirt between us. I kissed him softly.
“Nothing about you could ever be unbecoming.” I cupped his face in my hands. “You hear me, Arthur Pendragon? Nothing. Not your birth. Not your scars. Not your soul. Every single bit of you is breathtaking.”
Arthur stared at me for a moment, then seized me with his mouth. This time, his explorations even more powerful—his want passionate, reckless, and just as consuming as my own.
I wrapped my arms around his neck, greedily sucking and biting. I tightened into him. My wetness increased as he strode to the door.
“Where?” I breathed.
“My chamber.” His hands kneaded my rear, sliding around and under my night shift to grasp my bare flesh—so near to my slickness that I involuntarily bucked against him. The linen of his tunic caressed me back with a coarse, hard rub.
“We’ll be seen.”
“Not at this hour.”
“But the guards—”
“I have already dispatched.”
Had he hoped for this moment? Did he plan for it? Of course he had. Though I should have been outraged at his presumption, a surge of excitement rushed me instead. He removed one hand from my bottom to open the door, leaving a cold breeze to catch my skin. Then he strode through the corridor, turned and headed through dark and narrow hallways until we arrived in his own chambers. And true to his word, no one saw us. All the while, I rode him, hanging tightly, nuzzling, nipping and needing what was to come next more, it seemed, than life itself.
The glare of sunlight woke me. As I peeled back my eyelids, I beheld the man, King Arthur, sleeping as peacefully as a swaddled babe next to me. His arms wrapped over me, his hand cupping my bare breast. I smiled.
Our night—a sweet dream, it seemed. But as morning’s fog lifted from my mind, more thoughts—thoughts of Guinevere, their marriage, a kingdom, Merlin’s visions—blurred with the memory of our lovemaking. A dread grew in the pit of my stomach.
What have I done?
A knot formed in my throat. Though I hesitated to leave him, I knew I had no choice. I removed his hand from my breast, snuck out from under it and replaced a pillow for my form. Arthur mumbled, smiled and turned, but did not wake.
Oh, Jesu! What have I done? He will be Guinevere’s husband today.
Tears leaked from my eyes. It took all my strength to pull away from him and stand. I wanted to sink to the floor and beg God for some kind of miracle. Some kind of change. Some kind of impossibility that would allow me to stay.
At least now I know what Guinevere must feel for Lancelot.
Though I doubted Guinevere could feel anywhere near what I was experiencing. I have loved Arthur since I was eight. Since he rode into my home and saved all that was dear to me. Guinevere… she’s still a child. A naive and innocent child. A child who will marry Arthur. A child Arthur will bed.
My knees weakened as I crept across the room. Straighten up, I told myself. Be strong. Stronger than the man you love, I heard myself echo my mother’s words.
I grabbed my night shift from the floor where Arthur had flung it after liberating my breasts, after suckling them, after he…
No. Do not think of it, I scolded myself.
But I couldn’t help it. I still felt the ghost of him inside me—a bittersweet soreness. An emptiness.
I slipped on my night shift and ran fingers through my unruly hair as I tiptoed toward the door. Do not look back. Do not.
But I turned anyway. I wished the moment would last a lifetime. Arthur lay with morning’s light shining down on him like a golden god. His lips turned upwards as if in a perpetual smile, even in sleep. The bed linens wrapped around his form, making his figure an enigma, yet the memory of his touch lingered and my skin tingled in response.
Then I spotted my blood stains on the bed linens. There would be no denying what we had done. What I gave. What I had so willingly and recklessly surrendered. And at what cost? To who? For what?
All my years of protection and guidance to Guinevere, who was no less than an adopted younger sister, all of her love and trust on my behalf, and I repay her with the worst sort of disloyalty the night before she weds. I had never imagined it possible to be at once so sweetly happy and so deeply frightened within the same moment.
With effort, I turned, crossed through the anteroom and exited Arthur’s chambers. I thought I would return to my rooms and never breathe a word of my treachery—suffer in silence the loss of a love that never belonged to me in the first place.
But as I entered the corridor, I heard her voice—Guinevere’s—calling my name.
“Elibel? What are you doing?”
My cousin’s gray-blue eyes scrunched. They flitted over me, over my unlaced night shift, and to the ornately carved door behind me. Arthur’s door.
I would never be able to disguise my actions, regardless of how I was at hiding my emotions. Guinevere knew the truth the second she spotted me. And in the same moment that I died inside, I felt as if at long last, my encounter with Arthur had finally, truly awakened me.
*** END OF SURRENDER, A QUEEN’S HONOR SHORT STORY ***