All the king's horses and all the king's men came to help and here I am hiding. The longer I sat at the edge of the pond, the more I hoped that none of this was true. That my time with Alwyn, Tessa, and Merlin was only short-term. That I had a home to return. That I still had a family.
But no matter of time there could ever do what I needed. Especially with Merlin being eerily quiet, waiting for my answer.
My mother always told - used to always tell me everything would seem clearer after you slept on it. I never understood it and Merlin’s question made me think this was the only thing she ever got wrong. I had slept on it and I still didn’t know if I was going to talk to Arthur.
And Merlin ‘patiently’ waiting wasn’t making it any easier. He kept fiddling with his collar and cuffs. If he wasn’t doing that, he was tossing stones into the pond. And if he wasn’t doing those, he was opening his mouth to speak before remembering he promised not to explain anymore that Arthur wouldn’t push, he understood what I was going through.
How could he?
He didn’t know me. Didn’t know my people. My neighbors. My family.
The closest people to him didn’t burn to death. Didn’t have their farms and shops and homes taken away in the dark of night. Not blindsided by faceless, nameless people.
"Why don't we see if they have breakfast ready?" he interrupted, taking my hand.
"I guess," I mumbled, letting him pull me to my feet.
Fortunately, Tessa and Alwyn had breakfast started: *. I didn't need to talk nor did they. At least for a little longer.
"Have you decided?" Tessa asked, taking our empty dishes.
"What about Arthur scares you?"
What a stupid question. And I explained it as such. "Alwyn hates him. Merlin was nothing but annoyed with him. And you… you couldn't get me away from him fast enough. What was I supposed to think about him!"
They all sank in their chairs.
“Please don’t misunderstand us,” Merlin started.
Following the line around the table, Tessa continued, “We weren’t sure if you were ready for visitors.”
“We wanted to give you the choice.” He pushed himself away from the table and walked to the window. “And to do that you need to know the facts.”
“Arthur Pendragon,” Tessa said, “Knight of Camelot and heir to the throne.”
“And Alwyn didn't always get clenching red when he saw Arthur," Merlin laughed. "He used to live with my mother and us when we were young."
"Really?!" I mean living with an elf, a fairy, and a wizard was one thing but a prince was a different kind of special. "What happened?"
Merlin shifted his gaze up to the window. "That's a long story."
"I found out he is the son of the man who killed my mother," Alwyn drone to the window. "But… and trust me… he's not his father's son. Like you."
All of this was a horseshoe to the face. A knight. A prince. Roommates. Bring up my father like that. But it made their point. “I’ll talk with him. Only if you come with me, Merlin.”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way.” He grabbed my hand.
He held my hand the whole way to the knights’ campsite. None of them looked at me. Not even a sneak peek.
I wanted to turn right around. I don’t think I could have taken their condolences but a greeting would have been nice. The only thing keeping me moving forward was Merlin’s unmovable fingers knotted with mine.
We came upon the largest tent. A small ring of knights met in front. Someone was barking orders sending knights to different villages around mine.
When they dispersed, only Arthur remained.
"I'm glad to see you," he said, "let's take a seat inside." He spread his arm out towards the large tent.
I clenched harder to Merlin's hand. My feet wouldn't move.
Merlin squeezed my hand back then began walking.
I was not going to be dragged in front of a prince. He knew that. My feet knew that. And now I was moving.
Merlin lifted the flap up for me. I was met by a table and chairs.
How? How? How? echoed in my head. It made no sense.
And I hope I wasn't standing there too long thinking about it as Arthur pulled a chair out for me.
"Thank you," I said, pushing back some of my fly aways.
"Thank you for meeting with me." He pushed my chair in.
"Why don't we start somewhere simple," he continued as he and Merlin sat: him across from me and Merlin adjacent. "Do you know when the fire started?"
My head started shaking before I could think. "Some time during supper. The whole city was in flames by dusk."
His next question was shocking and definitely not simple. "Where were you?"
My gaze jumped to Merlin.
What Merlin did was the same. "She was with us the whole night."
Arthur went still. I could see the cogs moving. "Who was the first person you saw when you came back to the village?"
Finally, a simple question. "A stranger on horseback."
"Could you see him well? Was anything unique about him or his clothing."
I closed my eyes. The only thing I could see was a nightmare, a hellish black horse with fire in its eyes. "The horse was in the way."
"How about the next person?"
That brought up something strange. All I could see was Equuleus nuzzling his head into my basket. And then I heard a man. “I’ll get on that as soon as possible.”
“The man at the market,” I mumbled.
“Excuse me?” Arthur said.
“There was a stranger in town before the fire. He talked with her. He was in the fire?”
“No, no. Maybe. But he wasn’t the next guy. But the crest. They had the same cross and ribbons and feathers.”
“And a griffin?” Arthur asked.
I stared at him and I guess he got what I was saying. “A lion with wings.”
“Yes,” I sighed, “ the man in the market had two.”
“That sounds like the kingdom of Éadrom,” Merlin explained.
They continued to mumble but all I could do was stare at Arthur’s crest on his armor. “But the man in the fire,” I interrupted them, “he had dragons like you.”
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