Disclaimer: I don’t own Merlin or its characters.
Despite a restless night’s sleep, Wynne was in good spirits the following morning for two reasons. First and foremost, she still carried in her heart the memory of the conversation and the playful scuffle she’d had with Gwaine the previous afternoon, a memory that was both strong enough and pleasant enough to shove to the back of her mind the all-too-realistic dreams that had disturbed her slumber. The other reason was that Lady Retta had offered her a reprieve from that morning’s singing lessons. Lady Retta truly liked Wynne, and she couldn’t bear to put her through another hour of humiliation. Since Lady Magdalen would once more be busy with the queen and Berte, she would be none the wiser.
Wynne looked forward to spending a pleasant morning with Gaius and Merlin grinding herbs and mixing tinctures, something she was becoming quite good at. She was so light-hearted that she fairly skipped as she made her way down the back staircase and along the passageway to Gaius’ chamber. So happy was she that she unconsciously began singing the song they had danced to yesterday, making up lyrics about Gwaine to match the tune. She winced as she heard her voice echoing back to her. Oh my, she thought to herself, a little less light-hearted than before. I truly cannot sing. She stubbornly shoved the unpleasant thought to the back of her mind as she knocked on Gaius’ door.
Almost immediately, Merlin yanked the door open. Forcing a serious expression, he said, “I’m sorry, Wynne, but Gwaine isn’t here.”
Wynne’s face flushed scarlet as she gaped at him, unable to believe he’d just said that in front of Gaius. Merlin laughed as she shoved him and hissed, “You clotpole, you promised you wouldn’t say anything.”
As Gaius bustled around the small room gathering supplies, he chuckled to himself and pretended not to hear their exchange. As he took in the mortified indignation in Wynne’s eyes, he thought how lucky Merlin was that she didn’t have magic, or else he might have found himself in a heap on the floor.
A quarter hour later, Wynne was seated at a table with a mortar and pestle and a large basket of dried yarrow in front of her. As she ground the herbs and measured them into clay jars, she smiled to herself as she happily thought of the singing lesson she was missing.
~. ~. ~. ~. ~. ~
In the sunny solarium, Lady Retta had finished warming up with scales and was teaching the young ladies a courtly love song. Suddenly, the door opened, and in came Lady Magdalen. Lady Retta’s heart leapt into her throat. What would she say when she discovered that Wynne was not participating in the lesson? She swallowed hard and pasted a smile on her face. “Good morning, Lady Magdalen. What a…pleasant surprise,” she greeted haltingly.
Lady Magdalen smiled warmly in return and replied, “Good morning, Lady Retta, young ladies. The queen was detained by some unexpected business, so I wished to see how you were faring with singing lessons.”
“Oh,” Lady Retta said nervously. “Fine. Everything is just fine. We were just working on one of the songs you taught me when I was in finishing school.” She tried to stand in such a way that she hid the fact that Wynne was missing.
Unaware of Lady Retta’s tension, Lady Magdalen nodded with satisfaction. “Marvelous! Might I hear a bit of what they have learned?”
“Of course,” Lady Retta responded tensely, her cheeks flushing. She turned to the young ladies, trembling slightly.
Lady Magdalen clasped her hands, eager to hear the ladies sing. However, just as Lady Retta was about to have them begin, Lady Magdalen held up her hand. “Wait a minute,” she commanded. Her sharp eyes had noticed what Lady Retta had hoped to hide. “Where is Wynifred?”
A couple of the ladies tittered; others, including Anora, looked anxiously at Lady Retta, wondering what she would tell Lady Magdalen. After a moment’s hesitation, she instructed her class, “Ladies, please practice the chorus we just learned while I have a word with Lady Magdalen.”
As the two women walked a few feet away, the young ladies began to sing, though they did so softly so that they could overhear the conversation. Lady Magdalen turned to Lady Retta and asked coldly, “Why isn’t Wynifred here? Is she ill, or is there some other reason?” Her tone suggested that she already knew that Wynne wasn’t ill.
Lady Retta fidgeted with the ribbons on her dress. She knew that Lady Magdalen wanted the truth, but she was certain that the older woman would not be convinced of Wynne’s lack of ability. The last thing she wanted was to get Wynne into trouble again; she knew how much the girl clashed with Lady Magdalen. At last she sighed and began. “Lady Magdalen, believe me when I say I tried, and so did Wynne…” Lady Magdalen cocked her head and raised her eyebrows, already not liking what she heard. Lady Retta cleared her throat and went on, “Lady, truly, she…cannot carry a tune. At all.”
“Nonsense,” Lady Magdalen interrupted. “Neither you nor I have ever encountered anyone who cannot be taught to sing at least passably, and I refuse to believe that Wynifred is the first.”
Lady Retta smiled grimly, recognizing the very words she had said to Wynne. She shook her head and argued, “I’m afraid I have met my match in Wynne. I even met with her privately, but she simply cannot follow a tune. She is…” Lady Retta hated to say the word. “…Unteachable.”
“The only reason Wynifred is unteachable is because she desires to be,” Lady Magdalen insisted. She raised her chin to look imperiously down at the younger woman and continued icily, “There is something you must understand about young Wynifred. She is extremely bright, maybe too bright for her own good, and is also quite stubborn. Wynifred’s aunt informed me that she is very good at finding ways around that which she does not want to do. Obviously, singing is one of the things she does not want to do.” She turned abruptly and dismissed Lady Retta. “I will put an end to this foolishness right now.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
In Gaius’ chamber, Wynne was watching the aged physician measure herbs into bottles to make some of the more common tinctures used at Camelot. “Now, Wynne,” he said, dropping large pinches of yarrow into a small bottle. “This herb, when combined with white sage, will prevent infection in all but the most grievous of wounds.”
His words were interrupted by a loud rap at the door. Wynne’s eyes widened as Merlin hurried across the room to open the door; she had a sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach who was there, and she knew it wasn’t a mere social call. Her feeling was proven correct as Merlin opened the door and Lady Magdalen’s piercing eyes immediately found Wynne. “Wynifred, why are you here instead of at singing lessons with the others? Your herbal lessons are not until tomorrow.”
Gaius stood and was about to make excuse for her, but Wynne stopped him. “No, Gaius, it’s all right.” She stood and brushed some stray yarrow from her gray dress before facing Lady Magdalen. “I begged Lady Retta to excuse me from singing lessons because…” she began. That statement wasn’t entirely true, but she did not want Lady Retta to get in trouble for her kindness. “…because I cannot sing. I’m a hopeless case.” She glanced at Merlin, her defiant eyes daring him to laugh at her again, but there was no amusement on his face this time.
Lady Magdalen raised her chin imperiously and glared down at the girl. “Nonsense, Wynifred,” she exclaimed. “You need only to apply yourself to your voice lessons as you obviously have to your kitchen skills and your herbal knowledge.” Wynne barely contained a gasp; was that almost a compliment? For her? From Lady Magdalen? “I cannot and will not have one of my young ladies shirking her lessons simply because she finds something difficult.”
Having no knowledge of what had occurred the previous day during singing lessons, Gaius took Lady Magdalen’s side. “Wynne, I believe Lady Magdalen is correct. We can continue this later. You run along to your voice lesson.”
Wynne’s eyes pleaded silently with Gaius to persuade Lady Magdalen to allow her to stay, but his mind was set. She cast a helpless glance to Merlin before Lady Magdalen ushered her out of the room; Merlin’s expression was just as helpless as he watched them leave. After the door had shut with a bang, Gaius turned to Merlin with a look of amusement. “Honestly, the girl acts as though she were headed for the gallows instead of the solarium.”
Merlin gave him an apprehensive look and replied grimly, “I believe Wynne feels as though she’s headed for the gallows.”
~. ~. ~. ~. ~
Wynne swallowed hard as they reached the door to the solarium. A pleasant, upbeat melody came from inside, the song they had learned yesterday. To Wynne it sounded like a funeral dirge. She hesitated until Lady Magdalen cleared her throat meaningfully. Wynne glanced up at her and then tugged the door open and went inside, followed closely by Lady Magdalen.
The young ladies stopped singing, and Lady Retta turned abruptly to face them. She immediately took in the stony yet fearful expression on Wynne’s face and the hard, determined expression on Lady Magdalen’s face, and she knew that Wynne had been unsuccessful in convincing the older woman of her plight.
“Wynifred will rejoin the class now,” Lady Magdalen announced. A few of the ladies tittered and glanced at each other, and Bronwyn whispered something to Lavinia, making her choke a laugh into a cough. Wynne tried to ignore them, but Lady Magdalen fixed steely eyes on them as she continued, “I will stay to hear the ladies’ progress so far.” Wynne clearly heard what she did not say, that she would keep an eye on her as well. Her gaze shifted to Wynne, indicating that the girl was to take her place among the others.
Wynne trudged over to stand beside Anora, who squeezed Wynne’s hand and gave her a brief sympathetic glance before turning her attention back to Lady Retta. Lady Magdalen took a seat on a bench along the wall as Lady Retta turned to the ladies once more. Her eyes were glassy with anxiety, and her voice trembled as she asked, “Wynne, do you remember the song…we…sang at yesterday’s lesson?” More suppressed giggles from the other girls as Wynne nodded. Lady Retta nodded in return and then cleared her throat and raised her hand. “All right, ladies. One, two, three…”
The next hour was spent in unsuccessful attempts to get Wynne to sing something–anything–in a way that didn’t make everyone around her cringe and cover their ears. After an hour of humiliation, frustration, and irritation, the singing class was dismissed. While Lady Retta and Lady Magdalen huddled together to discuss what could be done about Wynne, Wynne and Anora escaped out a side door and into the courtyard. They sat down beneath a tree, and Wynne rested her head on her knees and groaned, “Could that have possibly gone any worse?”
Anora rested her hand on Wynne’s back and replied indignantly, “How could Lady Magdalen be so cruel, not only making you rejoin the class, but making you sing alone for her while she criticized everything?”
Wynne raised her head to look at Anora. She knew that speaking harshly against Lady Magdalen would be disrespectful and wouldn’t make her feel any better, so she simply said, “She doesn’t mean to be cruel; she just believes that if I practice and apply myself, I’ll be able to sing without sounding like…a lovesick frog.”
Anora couldn’t help it; she had to stifle a giggle. When Wynne turned miserable eyes to her, she bit the inside of her cheek and quickly apologized. “Sorry, Wynne. They call you Wynifrog…and you said you sing like a frog…sorry.” She looked away, feeling horrible for laughing at her friend.
Wynne sat up and smiled wanly. “It’s all right, Anora,” she said. “That’s why I made that joke. Laugh to keep from crying, right?”
“Oh, Wynne,” Anora sighed, her eyebrows coming together in frustration. “I just wish…”
A man’s voice interrupted her thought, and both girls leaned over to peer around the tree. By Anora’s reaction, Wynne didn’t need to look to know who the voice belonged to; it was Boris, and Anora immediately flushed pink and giggled excitedly. When Wynne heard a second voice, it was her turn to flush pink; Gwaine was with Boris.
Boris heard Anora’s giggle and turned his attention quickly to her. A wide grin split his face as it did every time he saw Anora, and his voice softened as he said, “Hello, Anora. All finished with singing lessons?”
Anora took the hand he offered and stood before responding, “Yes. All done with archery?”
He chuckled and nodded. “Shall we take a walk before lunch?”
“All right,” she giggled, before remembering her friend. She turned quickly, suddenly apologetically flustered. “Sorry, Wynne. I didn’t mean to…is it all right…?”
Wynne pasted on a smile and waved them away. “Of course, Anora. You two go on ahead.” To herself, she thought, I’m sure I’ll mess up dancing for you again, so enjoy some time together now. She plucked a weed and twirled it in her fingers as she enviously watched them walk away, hand in hand.
She had forgotten about Gwaine standing there until he stepped around the tree and seated himself next to her in the shade. Noticing her expression and the direction of her gaze, he smiled and commented, “Young love, so sweet, so innocent, so sickening for everyone else.”
Wynne barely cracked a smile before looking down at her weed. “I suppose,” she mumbled, not even in the mood for Gwaine’s jokes.
Gwaine recalled that Wynne had just finished singing lessons and deduced that that was the reason for her ill humor. He had overheard part of the girls’ conversation, and he decided, perhaps unwisely, to tease Wynne. “Well, they say that in Spring, a young man’s heart turns to thoughts of love.” Wynne glanced at him, wondering why he was going on about young love. Did he have someone special too? Seeing that he had her attention now, he grinned mischievously and teased, “Now for me, springtime makes me think of the frogs in the moat. I fall asleep at night listening to the frogs singing to each other.”
Wynne’s face fell, and she threw down her weed, jumped up and shouted almost tearfully, “Not you too! Am I meant to be the butt of everyone’s jokes? I can’t help it if I sing like a frog!” She turned and stormed off towards the castle.
Gwaine realized at once that he had chosen a bad time and a bad subject to tease Wynne about. He jumped up and hurried after her. Getting in front of her, he grasped her arms and looked down at her apologetically. “Wynne, lass, I was only teasing you. I’ve never even heard you sing. It can’t be that bad, can it?” She glared up at him with tears in her eyes, and he saw that it was. “It is that bad, eh? Do you want to tell me about it?”
Wynne shook her head emphatically. No, if he didn’t already know about it, she didn’t want to tell him. “There’s nothing you can do anyway,” she muttered. “Even Lady Retta can’t teach me.” That was as much as she was going to tell him.
“Wynne, lass,” he sighed. “You’re putting far too much emphasis on one thing you can’t do well. No one in their right mind will look down on you for that.” He didn’t voice the thoughts he had about Lady Magdalen; he had his doubts whether the old hag was in her right mind.
“Well, I can’t dance either,” she sulked, recalling yesterday’s disastrous lesson. Her spirits fell further as she remembered that they would have dance lessons once more after lunch. A sudden ray of hope struck her, and she asked, “Will you be there again this afternoon?”
Gwaine’s smile dimmed a bit, and he responded apologetically, “No, lass, not today, I’m afraid. The Princess doesn’t want me to miss two days of training in a row.” He grinned broadly once more. “Percival has the honors today, even if he is just a big lout.”
“Oh,” Wynne replied, trying to hide her disappointment. Percival was nice, and he didn’t seem like the type who would be critical of her mistakes, but he just wasn’t Gwaine.
Shielding his eyes from the bright light, Gwaine looked at the sky to check the angle of the sun. Seeing there was still time before the midday meal, he gallantly held out his hand to her and asked, “Would you feel better if I led you in a bit of extra practice?”
Wynne’s eyes widened, and her pulse quickened as she stared at his outstretched hand. A slow smile spread across her face as she reached out and put her own small hand tentatively in his. Gwaine led her to a somewhat secluded section of the courtyard, where they weren’t likely to be seen.
The sound of bird songs filled Wynne’s ears as the two assumed the beginning position for the first dance they’d learned. Wynne was suddenly intensely aware of Gwaine’s closeness, of his hand clasping hers and his other hand resting gently yet firmly on her waist. Her breath caught, and her head spun so that she feared she would faint. In the next instant, she panicked as she realized she couldn’t recall even the steps to this simple dance. She glanced up at Gwaine, her eyes glassy and frantic; she wanted so much to dance well with him, to show him she wasn’t just a silly, clumsy oaf.
As if sensing her apprehension, Gwaine reminded her of the steps. “This dance is simple,” he instructed softly. “One long step, two short steps; one long step, two short steps.” He began moving, and as she had the day before, she stumbled along with her partner, either bumping into him or getting out of step and pulling in the opposite direction. Several times she accidentally stomped on his foot, making him grunt and chuckle. With each toe-tramping, Wynne became more flustered, which made her even more clumsy. This was nothing like she thought it would be; she had imagined gliding effortlessly across the floor with Gwaine, as if on a cloud. Instead she galumphed like a lame horse, stepping on his toes even more than she had on Reginald’s. Understanding that much of her clumsiness was due to her tenseness, Gwaine adjusted his hold slightly and soothed, “Relax, Wynne. Just relax and move with me. Let me lead.”
“How can I move with you if I don’t know which direction you’re going to move next?” Wynne wailed matter-of-factly. “I can’t read your mind, you know. Anyway, you try dancing backwards.”
Gwaine couldn’t help laughing. The girl certainly wasn’t afraid to say what she thought, was she? “I suppose you’re right,” he conceded. “I never thought of it that way.” Smiling warmly down at her, he advised, “If you can relax, you will begin to read my body, and you’ll be able to sense the direction I’m going to go. Try it.”
“All right,” Wynne sighed, unconvinced. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, determined to give it her all. Still watching her feet, she willed the tension out of her spine and began following Gwaine across the ground.
At first it made no difference, and she continued to stumble and stomp on Gwaine’s toes, but soon it felt less awkward. To help her more easily read his intended moves, Gwaine exaggerated his cues so she knew where he wanted to go. After a few smooth turns, he encouraged, “That’s much better. Can you feel the difference?”
Wynne smiled and raised her eyes to his face. “Yes,” she breathed, and then locked eyes with him. Suddenly, she felt herself falling helplessly into the depths of his deep brown eyes. She felt the way she had when she was submerged in the moat, but this was pleasant…wonderful…and she didn’t want to be rescued. She knew she should look away or risk betraying her feeling for him, but she couldn’t. And she didn’t want to.
Wynne needn’t have worried; Gwaine was oblivious to the emotion written on her face, but not because he was blind or didn’t care.. He was simply experiencing an unfamiliar feeling. As she had glanced up at him, something in her eyes caught his attention, and he was mesmerized. He noticed for the first time the deep blue of her eyes, and the tiny gold flecks that made her dark blue eyes look like a starry twilight sky. He knew he should look away; she was just a girl, after all, and she must think him a cad for staring so intensely. But he couldn’t look away; he didn’t want to. He wanted to go on dancing forever, lost in those beautiful eyes.
“Now isn’t this a precious sight?” a man’s voice said, close by. “Gwaine, are you giving private dance lessons on the side?”
At the sound of the voice, Wynne and Gwaine quickly jumped apart, startled out of their respective reveries. Gwaine was first to recover, and he turned towards the voice, which it turned out belonged to Sir Leon. He and Sir Percival had been on their way into the castle for the noon meal and saw them dancing. Now they stood with arms crossed, laughing. “Don’t be ridiculous,” Gwaine responded as nonchalantly as he could. “I was only reviewing yesterday’s lesson with Wynne. You heard how that clotpole Reginald treated her yesterday.” Seeing the unconvinced smirks on their faces, Gwaine’s eyes hardened, and he took a stab at Percival. “Besides, if Percival is assisting today, Wynne will need all the help she can get.”
“Hey,” Sir Percival growled with feigned anger.
Sir Leon just laughed and clapped him on the shoulder, “All right, boys,” he jokingly chastised. “No fighting in front of the young lady. Let’s go inside and get something to eat. I’m starving.”
Gwaine quickly agreed, and after a stiff bow and a quick, tight-lipped smile to Wynne, he joined his companions. Maybe some food would clear his mind of whatever strange experience had just befallen him.
As the men left, Wynne leaned against the wall and sank down to a sitting position, her knees suddenly too weak to hold her up any longer. Her heart fluttered as she recalled the lingering gaze and the heavenly, though clumsy, dance she had just shared with Gwaine. She was even more determined to work hard at her lessons so that he might someday see her as a fine lady.