The Knight and the Not-Quite-Lady, Chapter 13

The next two days were a blur of activity, not only for Wynne, but for everyone at the castle. The servants were busy scrubbing and polishing and laundering till every floor, window, chandelier, curtain, tablecloth, and piece of silver was shining, sparkling, crisp and clean. The kitchen staff was busy planning menus and checking the storehouses and cellars to make sure they had everything they needed to prepare feasts befitting the guests who would soon grace Camelot’s tables. The knights had stepped up their training and were preparing to present themselves to the Northern kings and to perform in the tournaments.

The young ladies-in-training, too, were preparing for their parts. Anora, Bronwyn, and Rosalynde practiced their songs with Lady Retta till every note was perfect. Gaius prescribed them a tea rich with honey and spiced with lemon to keep their throats from getting raw. Bronwyn and Caitlyn practiced their harp tunes till their fingers blistered and had to be bandaged. Lavinia and Priscilla worked on new dances with Reginald and Chadwick, with Lady Retta and Gwaine giving instruction as their time allowed. Wynne and Theresa bustled around the kitchens with Berte and the servants, helping them plan menus and prepare food. Theresa was morose over being in the kitchens, fretting that she wouldn’t be able to present herself to the eligible knights and young princes who would be among the delegation. Wynne hardly heard her complaints, however, as she was consumed with her own thoughts.

Berte had put Wynne in charge of desserts, thinking to display her greatest strength. In any other circumstance, Wynne would have been delighted, but following last night’s awful dream, she was frantic with worry that it would come true. After a morning of stumbling uncharacteristically around the kitchen, bumping into people and knocking things over, Wynne lost her grip on a sack of flour and dropped it onto the floor. As it hit the floor, it burst open, covering the floor, Wynne, and two servant girls with a fine dusting of flour. As the servants hurried to clean up the mess, Wynne rushed to the storeroom, where she sat down against a barrel of pears, crying her eyes out, certain that her dream was coming true.

Meanwhile, Berte, hearing the commotion, came around the corner to see the servants sweeping up the spilled flour. A set of white footprints heading to the storeroom led her to a disconsolate Wynne huddled in the corner. Berte slid an empty crate over and sat down facing Wynne. “Wynne, child, what’s troubling you? You’re usually at home in the kitchens, but today you’re as skittish as Sir Leon’s horse on shoeing day. You’re not that nervous about the visiting delegation, are you?”

Wynne looked up at Berte, unable to speak at first. Of all the people she was afraid of disappointing, Berte was near the top of the list; only Gwaine and her father were higher on that list. As Berte held her gaze, Wynne saw the tender concern, so like her mother’s, and she knew she could tell the older woman anything. “Oh, Berte,” she wailed. “I’m so afraid. What if I tear my dress and get moat scum all over me and hurt everyone’s ears with my sining and hurt everyone’s toes with my dancing and make onion pies instead of apple pies and spill everything at the feast and break all the dishes and…what if I’m a disgrace to Camelot and my father…and my mother’s memory?” Tears began falling once more as she buried her face in her hands.

“Oh, my precious lass,” Berte exclaimed in confusion, gathering her into a hug. “What is all this? Where are all these ideas coming from?”

Wynne sat up after a moment and explained, “I had a horrible nightmare, Berte.” She quickly told Berte everything that had happened in her dream–well, everything except what happened with Gwaine. “What if it all comes true?”

Berte’s jolly laugh rang out through the storeroom. “Wynne, my precious, is that what has you so upset? Just a dream? You know bad dreams are naught but the result of a full belly and a full mind at bedtime.”

Hearing Berte’s explanation made Wynne feel a bit better, but she still wasn’t completely convinced. “But sometimes dreams come true,” she persisted. “Even bad ones.” When Berte gave her a doubtful look, she continued, “Everyone knows I’m clumsy, and I make a mess of everything. What if the entire delegation is so appalled by my clumsiness that they refuse to sign the treaty with King Arthur?”

“Oh, Wynifred!” Berte chided, laughing again. “I hope you’re not silly enough or vain enough to believe that the fate of this treaty rests upon your accomplishments as a young lady-in-training! The most you could possibly do is ruin your chances to marry well.” Wynne’s eyes widened with panic as though Berte had just predicted the end of the world. Seeing that Wynne didn’t realize she was only teasing, she amended, “Now, lass, I was only making a jest. No man would refuse to marry you just because you can’t sing or dance or embroider a hanky. And if he does, then he’s not worth a pile of pig dung.”

Wynne relaxed a bit and even managed a giggle. “That’s what Anora said too,” she recalled. “Except she said nothing of pig dung.”

“And a wise young lady she is,” Berte replied, patting Wynne’s cheek. “Wynne, lass, all you need to do is your best. Keep practicing those things you struggle with, but focus on the things you do well. Lady Magdalen is a hard taskmistress and is sparse with praise, but she does notice your successes. When the queen consulted her about planning a feast, your name was on her lips immediately because of your prowess in the kitchen. She said your desserts are pure magic.” She chuckled and leaned close to Wynne. “Of course, she didn’t mention that to the king.”

Wynne giggled, knowing how averse Arthur was to magic. “That’s good. I don’t need to be in trouble for something else.”

“Indeed,” Berte replied, gazing fondly at her charge. “Now, what do you say we put the bad dreams aside and get to creating desserts that will be the talk of the North Kingdoms?”

Encouraged by Berte’s kind, practical advice, Wynne returned to the kitchens with renewed confidence and energy. After taking stock of the bounteous resources, Wynne and a handful of servants made a dozen large, braided tarts stuffed with a tasty apple-raspberry-currant filling. Then they simmered a bushel of pears in spiced wine and mixed up a creamy cinnamon sauce to drizzle over them. Finally, they baked an assortment of pies and layer cakes, including an enormous buttery cake which Wynne topped by sprinkling sugar in the shape of Camelot’s crest.

The night before the delegation’s arrival, just as Wynne was putting the finishing touches on her masterpiece, Guinevere and Lady Magdalen came to the kitchens to make sure all was ready for the feast. They were well pleased with Theresa’s preparation of the roast venison, boars, chickens and ducks, and they were satisfied with the platters of fruits, vegetables and breads. Wynne held her breath nervously as they examined her desserts. Berte stood back proudly, waiting to see their reaction. They ooh’ed and ahh’ed over Wynne’s tarts and the pears, and they nodded with approval of her pies and cakes, but when they spied her masterpiece cake, their eyes almost popped out of their heads. “Wynifred!” Lady Magdalen exclaimed, grasping her chest. “This is…this is…magnificent! I knew you were talented, but I never dreamed you could create something so…exquisite!”

Guinevere was speechless at first, covering her mouth with her hand. With tears in her eyes, she murmured, “Oh, Wynne. I have never seen anything so beautiful. Please excuse me,” she said, turning to hurry from the kitchens. “I simply must bring Arthur to see this!”

Several minutes later, Guinevere came hurrying back, practically dragging Arthur by the hand, “saying over and over, “You must see this! It’s beautiful! I have never seen anything so wonderful!”

“For the love of Camelot, Gwen,” he exclaimed irritably. “I’m sure it is, but it is just a cake, after all!”

She stopped in front of Wynne’s magnificent cake and held out her hands. “Look at that, Arthur, and tell me that that is just a cake.”

Arthur pursed his lips and turned his eyes to the cake, expecting to see just a larger version of something they had for dessert every night at Camelot. When he saw the intricate sugar design on top of the cake, his eyes widened, and his jaw dropped incredulously. “Wynifred! You did this?”

Wynne bobbed a quick curtsy and replied modestly, “Yes, your majesty. But the servants did help me. I couldn’t have done it all myself.”

Berte rushed forward and curtsied as well. “Your majesty, Wynne is being very humble. Yes, the servants helped her with the baking, but Wynne herself decorated this wonderful cake. She is a wonder in the kitchen.”

Arthur turned to Wynne and smiled kindly. “She most certainly is. Well done, Wynifred. You have done yourself…and Camelot…proud. I simply cannot wait until the delegation sees what a talented young lady you are.” He turned to Guinevere with a glint in his eye and warned, “But we had better keep Gwaine out of the kitchens. You know that one cannot resist a good dessert any more than he can resist a tankard of mead.”

Wynne’s smiled dimmed a bit at the mention of Gwaine, but the praises she received from Berte, Arthur, Guinevere, and even Lady Magdalen pleased her so greatly that they would carry her through some very dark days.

The Knight and the Teddy Bear

Sir Gwaine raised his weary eyes to gaze blearily at the woods in front of him. The light was beginning to fade as evening approached, but the trees ahead seemed to be less dense, and he wondered if there might be a town or village up ahead. He hoped so. After a couple weeks of solitary questing, he could certainly go for a few tankards of mead, a hot meal that wasn’t a result of foraging in the forest, and a warm, comfortable bed.

The young knight snorted. A comfortable bed. What good was a comfortable bed when your slumber was broken by nightmares? Ever since Morgana’s latest attack on Camelot, during which he’d been captured and tortured for information–which, of course, he hadn’t given–Sir Gwaine had been tormented by hideous nightmares that jarred him awake in the wee hours of the morning, leaving him unable to go back to sleep. Gaius had given him sleeping draughts, but they had had no effect. Oh, of course, they had allowed him to fall asleep almost immediately after taking them, but the nightmares continued every night, leaving him so exhausted he could barely function the next day. Part of the reason he had gone on this quest was to get away from the castle and from Camelot to see if a change of scene would help his situation.

But it had not. Now he was on his way back to Camelot, his quest incomplete, and his sleep still tormented. He had no desire to face the taunts of his companions, no matter how good-natured, about his inability to complete even a simple quest. As his horse made its way out of the woods, he spied what he had hoped to see, a small town just up ahead. He let out a relieved breath, and even his horse perked up as though he knew that rest lay ahead. Sir Gwaine patted the animal’s broad neck and said wearily, “I see it too, Gringolet. We will rest well tonight.” At least you will, he thought darkly.

As he rode slowly into the town, many of the residents eyed him suspiciously, wondering if he came in peace and if he were alone. He nodded amicably, trying to reassure them, but most cowered into doorways or gathered their children close, hoping he would continue on his way. Suddenly a chubby little girl with straggling braids and a dirt-streaked face broke free from her mother’s grasp and ran to Sir Gwaine’s side. She tugged on his boot and then held something up to him and said sweetly, “You thleepy, you need teddy.”

Sir Gwaine smiled and took the thing the little girl offered. He looked at it curiously; it was the strangest thing he had ever seen. It resembled a bear, was made of burlap, and was soft like a pillow. He turned his eyes to the little girl and smiled before saying softly, “Yes, I am quite sleepy.” He held up the teddy and asked, “What is this?”

Just then, the girl’s mother rushed forward to snatch away the teddy and gather her child to her. She apologized to Sir Gwaine and chastised her daughter, “Now, Lydia, a knight of Camelot doesn’t need a teddy to help him sleep. Come away and don’t bother him.” She pulled her protesting daughter away from Sir Gwaine, afraid of offending him.

The Knight and the Not-Quite Lady, chapter 12

The beginning of a very difficult few weeks for Wynne began the next afternoon during dance lessons. She was still so upset over what she’d overheard that she could hardly watch Lady Retta and Gwaine leading the lesson. As a result, she missed much of the instruction and was even clumsier than usual. Lady Magdalen’s voice became raspy from having to correct Wynne at every turn, and it seemed that every eye in the room was focused on her. Even easy-going Theobold became irritable with her as she tramped on his toes repeatedly. Wynne could hardly wait for the lesson to be over so that she could escape into the solace of the woods.

Wynne’s hasty departure gave Reginald and Lavinia the freedom to enact their heartless plan. After the others had dispersed, the two schemers went outside into the courtyard to wait for Gwaine. Reginald pulled out Wynne’s comical drawing, to which he had added some dialog that poked fun at the dark-haired knight. Above the pursuing tavern owner, he had written the words, Come back here and pay what you owe, you freeloader. Above Lady Magdalen, he had written, Stay out of the kitchens and away from my young ladies, you insolent cur. Above Gwaine, he had written, Stop throwing apples. You’re mussing my perfect hair. Beneath the whole scene, he had scrawled, Sir Gwaine, a not-so-gallant knight. “This should stir up a bit of enmity between them, don’t you think?” Reginald asked.

Lavinia quickly read over Reginald’s additions and laughed with wicked glee. “Oh, you’ve captured the lout so well. I can’t wait to see his reaction.”

A moment later, Gwaine came out of the castle, heading towards the training grounds. They waited till he was close enough to hear their conversation; then, pretending they hadn’t seen him, Lavinia said, “I can’t believe Wynne would do such a thing. I thought she and Gwaine were friends.”

Reginald clucked his tongue and replied, “I fear that Wynne isn’t as loyal a friend as he believes her to be.”

Of course, Gwaine heard his name mentioned, as well as Wynne’s, so he approached them to investigate. It occurred to him that Lavinia and Reginald seemed to be an unlikely pair, but curiosity over hearing his name mentioned won out over his suspicion. “What’s this about Wynne not being a loyal friend?”

Reginald and Lavinia both pretended to be startled and shuffled the drawing back and forth between them before Reginald hid it ineffectively behind his back. Exchanging a guilty look with Lavinia, he stammered, “Oh, nothing…nothing…at all…truly…”

Gwaine narrowed his eyes at them. Either they were up to something, or they were truly hiding something. He cocked his head, trying to see what was on the sheet of paper that was still visible behind Reginald’s back. “What have you got there?” he asked, taking a step towards the squire and reaching for the paper.

Reginald thrust it at Lavinia, who thrust it back at him. “It’s…just some scribbling…” He and Lavinia continued scuffling with the paper until Gwaine intercepted it.

“If it’s nothing, then you won’t mind if I have a look, hmm?” Gwaine said irritably, eyeing them warily as he unfolded the paper. He studied it for a moment, and his features darkened. Reginald and Lavinia struggled to hide their smirks; Gwaine was falling for it, just as they’d known he would. “What is this?” he demanded. “Who drew this?”

Lavinia lowered her eyes demurely and responded hesitantly, “Wynne…left her sketchbook open…and I saw that she had…drawn this. I confess…I stole it.”

“Lavinia mentioned it to me during dance lessons this morning. I could hardly believe it myself,” Reginald added. “We were trying to decide how to break it to you.”

Gwaine’s expression was a mixture of anger and hurt pride. “I can’t believe she would do something like this,” he muttered, but then he recalled the way she’d acted during dance lessons this afternoon. She had avoided his gaze as much as possible, and the few times he did catch her eye, her eyes were cold and hard, and she’d looked away immediately. His mouth became a hard line as he folded the drawing, nodded curtly to Lavinia and Reginald, and stalked off, not noticing their triumphant smiles.

A couple hours later. Gwaine was at the tavern with Arthur, Merlin, and some of the other knights. If anyone noticed that the usually gregarious Gwaine was unusually quiet, no one said anything, at least not until Arthur, Elyan and Percival were engaged in dice games across the room. Gwaine, Leon and Merlin remained at their table with their tankards of ale. Merlin and Leon were chatting and laughing, and they suddenly became aware that Gwaine wasn’t joining in. They regarded him for a moment and then exchanged a look; Gwaine was staring into his tankard with a pensive expression unfamiliar to the young knight. “Gwaine, are you all right?” Merlin ventured.

Gwaine started and looked up at his friends as though he had quite forgotten they were there. He shrugged noncommittally and replied, “Just thinking.”

His companions exchanged another look before Leon took a swallow of his ale and joked, “You’re not used to that kind of thinking. You’d better be careful, or you’ll hurt yourself.”

If he expected a laugh or a jovial response, he was disappointed. Gwaine grunted and barely glanced at his friend. Leon shook his head with concern and caught Merlin’s eye. Merlin tried again. “Gwaine, what is it? Maybe it would help to talk about it.”

Gwaine heaved a sigh, pushed his ale away and looked at his friends for a long moment. Then he reached inside his chain mail to pull out a folded piece of paper. His features darkened as he leaned back in his chair and tossed the paper on the table between Leon and Merlin. The two men looked at each other, and Merlin motioned for Leon to look at it first, which he did. As he perused the drawing, his lips began twitching. He covered his mouth and forced a laugh into a cough as he passed the paper to Merlin. A wide grin split his face as he saw the drawing for the first time. When he read the words Reginald had penned, he suddenly sputtered and burst out laughing, and Leon immediately followed suit.

Gwaine angrily snatched the paper back, cheeks flaming, and growled, “I’m glad you boys find it so amusing that this is what…someone I considered a friend thinks of me.”

The two men struggled to rein in their laughter, and Leon glanced over at the others, who were still engaged in games of chance, and asked, “Gwaine, who are you referring to?”

“Not any of them,” he replied irritably, glancing around to be sure no one was listening. He pursed his lips as though he were loath to tell them, and then ground out, “Wynne drew this.”

“Wynne?” Leon exclaimed, grabbing the drawing once more and looking more closely at it. “I can’t believe she would do this.”

Merlin slid closer to look over Leon’s shoulder, also examining the drawing more closely. He reluctantly admitted, “He may be right. Wynne has quite a knack for drawing plants and landscapes, but I never realized she could draw people too.” He couldn’t resist joking, “Although you have to admit, Gwaine; she’s got you pegged.”

Leon chuckled and nodded appreciatively, acknowledging the artist’s skill, but he remained skeptical. “If you don’t mind my asking, how did you come to be in possession of this, and how do you know Wynne drew it?”

Gwaine drained his tankard and raised hardened eyes to Leon’s. “I came across Lavinia and Reginald with it this evening. Lavinia said she’d stolen it from Wynne’s sketchbook. They were both questioning Wynne’s loyalty if she’d draw something like this.”

Leon and Merlin looked at each other in disbelief. “Lavinia and Reginald?” Merlin exclaimed, leaning forward to fix his eyes on Gwaine. “I can’t think of two people I would trust less to know anything about Wynne. How do you even know they’re telling the truth?”

Gwaine threw his hands up in frustration. “Merlin, you said yourself that Wynne is accomplished at drawing, and even as unkind as this is…it is quite well drawn.” His eyes darkened as he continued, “Besides, she was quite distant with me during dance lessons this afternoon, and she’s hardly spoken with me for days.”

Leon clapped him on the shoulder and reassured, “Maybe you inadvertently upset her, and this is just her way of working through her hurt feelings.” He was thinking of the incident of the previous day, when he suspected that Wynne had seen Gwaine and Lady Retta together. “I’m certain she never meant for anyone, least of all Lavinia and Reginald, to see this. You should talk to Wynne.”

“Maybe so,” Gwaine replied, not convinced. He stood and said to Leon and Merlin, “I’m going to head back to the castle. I’m really not in the mood to be here tonight.”

His two companions exchanged a look of mixed amusement and concern that he was so bothered over a drawing. It was very unlike the fun-loving knight to become this upset over something this minute, and it just confirmed their suspicions that Gwaine was harboring more than friendship for Wynne but had not admitted it to himself yet. They were even more taken aback when Gwaine stopped on his way out the door and walked over to the barkeeper and paid his entire tab, leaving even the barkeeper staring after him in open-mouthed shock.

Back at the castle, Wynne, too, was having a less-than-pleasant night. She lay in her bed, staring out at the stars and waiting for sleep to come. The events of the past few days played over and over in her mind, making her more and more distraught. Against her better judgment, Anora had agreed to keep Wynne’s confidence, not even telling Boris the details of the conversation Wynne had overheard. She had tried to convince Wynne to confront one or the other either to find out why they’d said such things or to clear up a possible misunderstanding, but if she did that, she would have had to admit to eavesdropping. Besides, she just couldn’t bear to face Gwaine, knowing that he knew how she felt and didn’t feel the same. And if he were courting Lady Retta, well, she couldn’t bear to face her either.

It was with all these things in her mind that she finally fell into a fitful sleep full of disturbing dreams. In her dreams, her mother was still alive, and she and Wynne’s father had come with the North kings to Camelot to assess her progress in her finishing lessons. As she feared she would in real life, in her dreams, she failed miserably at everything she tried to do.

The first thing her mother did was to berate her for her appearance; her dress was stained and torn from catching frogs in the moat, and her hair was dripping with algae. Next, she attempted to embroider a tablecloth for the feast, but her needlework was such a mess of knots that her fingers became entangled in the threads, leaving the tablecloth attached to her hands. Then at dinner, she spilled everything that was set in front of her and managed to break several of Arthur’s heirloom platters. Lady Retta made her sing for the North kings, making everyone in the Great Hall howl and cover their ears in protest. During the dancing, she tripped and stumbled and stepped on the toes of everyone she danced with.

Even the things she usually did well turned into disasters. Her sketchbook was filled with childish scribbles and scrawls, except for the beautiful drawing of Gwaine which was hung in a prominent place in the Great Hall, with “Wynne loves Gwaine” scrawled across the top; everyone who saw it pointed at laughed at her folly. Next, Gaius and Merlin yelled at her for gathering poison ivy instead of lavender; everyone they had treated that day broke out in an itchy rash. She burned all the food she’d cooked and put onions instead of apples in all her pies.

Worst of all, everyone was angry and disappointed in her. Lady Magdalen told her she’d never seen a more incompetent failure. Lady Retta told her she was a complete disappointment in dancing and singing. Berte told her that even the youngest stable hand could cook better than she could. Her parents told her she was a disgrace as a daughter, and she was no longer welcome to come home. Gwaine tore down the picture of himself and ripped it to shreds, laughing cruelly at her for thinking her could love an unladylike, clumsy ox like her. Then he and Lady Retta walked away arm in arm, laughing at her as she sobbed and held her arms out to Gwaine.

Wynne awoke early the next morning, tearful and in a panic. She tried to tell herself it was only a dream, but she couldn’t help worrying. What if she failed so miserably in her duties that she shamed herself and Camelot, and what if the visiting delegation was so appalled by her ineptitude that they refused to make an alliance with King Arthur? And what if Gwaine really did laugh at her? Wynne sat bolt upright in bed and pushed herself against the wall. She drew the covers up to her chin and stared unblinking out at the predawn sky, waiting for the sun to come up.

The Knight and the Not-Quite Lady, Chapter 11

Directly after the evening meal, Lady Magdalen gathered the young ladies in the solarium to discuss the visit by the North kings that was only days away. “I am certain that I needn’t remind you that only a few months hence, you will all…” She cast a doubtful glance in Wynne’s direction. “You will all be presented as eligible young ladies. This feast will be an opportunity for each of you to display your skills and demonstrate your suitability and your readiness for marriage. The queen, Berte, Lady Retta and I have arranged for each of you to demonstrate your strongest skills for the marriageable gentlemen who will be present.”

Wynne leaned close to Anora and whispered, “I know what skills I won’t be demonstrating.”

Anora stifled  giggle as Lady Magdalen pulled out a sheet of paper and continued, “Anora, Bronwyn and Rosalynde, you have excelled in your singing lessons, so you will sing for the delegation after the feast.”

Bronwyn and Rosalynde exchanged a panicked glance, while Anora flushed pink with pleasure but was otherwise unflustered. Wynne beamed at her friend, excited that she would have the chance to show off her angelic voice.

Lady Magdalen continued, “Bernice and Caitlyn, you will play the harp during the feast, and Lavinia and Priscilla, I would like you to lead the dancing after the feast.” She lowered her paper and looked at them gravely. “You will be paired with Reginald and Chadwick; I trust you can sort out who will dance with whom.” Wynne bit her lip hard to keep from laughing. Even Lady Magdalen knew that Reginald was not easily tolerated.

“I shall dance with Chadwick,” Priscilla said quickly, raising her chin and daring Lavinia to challenge her. The tension between the two that had been increasing over the past weeks was becoming obvious to all, including Lady Magdalen.

After a moment’s indignation, Lavinia suddenly recalled the plot against Wynne that the two of them had hatched, and she realized that this pairing would be advantageous. Not wanting to arouse suspicion, she narrowed her eyes at Priscilla and feigned disgust before tossing her head disdainfully and replying, “Fine. I shall dance with Reginald.”

Lady Magdalen smiled at Lavinia. “Thank you, Lavinia. That was very gracious of you.” Lavinia waited until Lady Magdalen looked away and then smirked at Priscilla, whose cheeks flushed angrily. “Now then, that leaves Theresa and Wynifred. Because you ladies are so adept in the kitchens, you will help plan and prepare the food for the feast.” That announcement drew titters from some of the other young ladies, but Wynne didn’t care. She wasn’t at all interested in showcasing her skills for possible suitors; she knew who she wanted, and she knew that the best way to hold Gwaine’s attention was with a perfect apple pie. While the others chattered, Wynne was already planning how to alter her apple pie recipe so she could make a fancy braided apple tart.

After Lady Magdalen dismissed the ladies, Anora, Bronwyn and Rosalynde huddled together, talking about what songs they would sing for the feast. Wynne decided to take a quick stroll around the grounds before the sun went down. She headed out into the courtyard and took the path into the woods, picking wildflowers and wild herbs as she went.

As Wynne came around to where the path split, the sound of conversation drew her attention over to the big oak tree by the moat, where she often liked to sit and draw. What she saw there made her stop dead in her tracks and let her flowers fall to the ground. There beneath the oak tree–her big oak tree–sat Gwaine and Lady Retta. Gwaine’s arms were wrapped tightly around Lady Retta, and Lady Retta had her head resting on Gwaine’s chest. As Wynne watched, Gwaine reached up and gently stroked Lady Retta’s face. Wynne suddenly felt sick to her stomach, and her chest tightened unbearably so that she could hardly breathe.

Wynne was torn between running back to the castle and staying there and watching. The decision was made when Gwaine threw his head back and laughed, and then pulled Lady Retta closer. She looked up at him and laughed too, before saying something to him. Wynne caught the words, “…terrible dancer,” and her jaw dropped. Were they talking about her? She had to find out.

Leaving her flowers where they had fallen, she stealthily followed the wooded path that ran parallel to the moat until she was only feet from the oak tree. She knew eavesdropping was wrong, but she couldn’t help herself; she had to hear what they were saying. Lady Retta’s voice floated on the breeze to Wynne’s ears. “…always was as clumsy as an ox.”

Gwaine laughed and responded, “She remains the worst dance partner I have ever had. My feet still ache whenever I think of dancing with her.”

Wynne had to bite down on her knuckle to keep from crying out. Clumsy as an ox? The worst dance partner Gwaine had ever had? They were certainly talking about her. She recalled Gwaine’s expression as they’d danced just days ago. She had thought it was a look of enjoyment, but now she saw that it had been a look of pain because of her clumsiness.

Wynne didn’t want to hear anymore, but she could not stop listening. Lady Retta’s next words made her heart leap into her throat. “…in love with you.” Oh no! How had Lady Retta found out? How would Gwaine respond?

Gwaine’s response drove a dagger deep into Wynne’s young, untried heart. “Ugh, it was so obvious…” What? Even he knew? “…sweet girl, but I could never love her like that. I would rather court you…”

That was enough. Wynne let out a strangled cry and dashed down the path towards the courtyard, not caring if they heard her. Her sobs made it hard for her to breathe as she ran, and her hot tears blinded her as she crashed through the underbrush.

In the courtyard, a small group of knights and squires was taking advantage of the warm evening to practice archery. Elyan, Leon, and Percival had teamed up against Boris, Reginald and Chadwick to see who could make the most bullseyes. A round of ale at the tavern was riding on Chadwick’s final shot.

Just as Chadwick was about to release his arrow, Wynne burst out of the woods, still sobbing, and dashed across the courtyard towards the castle. Boris leapt to his feet and called out, “Wynne? Wynne, what’s wrong?”

Leon and Percival, too, jumped to their feet and exchanged a look of concern. Percival asked, “Do you think something attacked her in the woods? Should we check it out?”

Leon nodded tersely and drew his sword. “Let’s go,” he said, heading purposefully into the woods, followed closely by Elyan and Percival.

“Do you think something frightened her?” Chadwick asked, his bow and arrow still in his hand.

Boris stood perplexed, his eyes darting between the woods and the solarium door.”I don’t know,” he responded doubtfully. “Not much frightens Wynne, certainly not snakes or many of the other animals she’d encounter in the woods.”

“I hope Wynne will be all right,” Reginald said in a voice laced with false concern.

Boris turned to glare at Reginald, knowing he didn’t mean a word of what he just said. “You know, if you hadn’t been here with us since the evening meal, I might think you had something to do with it.”

Reginald’s hand flew to his chest, and he feigned hurt. “Why, Boris, I’m insulted. Why would I want to make your cousin cry?”

Boris narrowed his eyes at Reginald, but before he could say anything, the knights emerged from the woods. Elyan announced, “We saw nothing in the woods that would have frightened her, and there are no signs of an intruder in Camelot.”

“Welll, obviously something upset the girl,” Percival replied, his brows knit with concern.

Just then, Gwaine and Lady Retta came strolling out of the woods a few yards from where they all stood. Leon saw them first and called out, “Gwaine! Have you seen Wynne in the past half hour?”

Gwaine and Lady Retta stopped and exchanged a worried glance and hurried over to the others. “No, I haven’t seen her since we left the dining hall,” Gwaine responded. “Has she gone missing?”

“No,” Leon said, scratching his head thoughtfully. “She just came charging out of the woods, crying her eyes out. We thought something had frightened her, but we found nothing.” Gwaine laid a hand on Lady Retta’s shoulder, and it suddenly occurred to Leon that Wynne must have seen the two of them together. “You didn’t…see or hear anything, did you?”

Gwaine and Lady Retta exchanged a concerned look, and then both shook their heads. “We were sitting by the big oak tree, talking,” Gwaine responded. “We heard nothing unusual.” He glanced at Lady Retta once more. “Perhaps I should go speak with the lass…”

“Gwaine, I don’t think…you should,” Leon faltered. Gwaine turned to look at him curiously, Leon continued, “I mean, perhaps Boris should ask Anora to speak to her.” He looked to Percival and Elyan for support.

The other two knights reached the same realization that Leon had, and both struggled to hide their smirks. Gwaine didn’t miss their amusement. “What’s going on? What’s so funny? Are you having me on?”

Elyan glanced at Percival and quickly replied, “Not at all, Gwaine. We were…simply imagining what would happen if you’d run into Lady Magdalen in the ladies’ quarters.” Gwaine’s expression suggested that he hadn’t thought of that. “I believe Leon is correct. Anora should speak with her.”

Gwaine nodded his agreement, and Boris hurried off to find Anora. Shortly after Boris headed into the castle, Reginald also left the little group. He had also made the connection between Gwaine and Lady Retta being together and Wynne being upset, and he had to tell Lavinia of this new development.

Half an hour later, Wynne lay curled up on her bed, her sobs spent, but silent tears still coursing down her cheeks and the occasional hiccough still shaking her body. Lying beside her was her sketchbook, opened to the drawing of Gwaine. She played his words, and Lady Retta’s, over and over in her mind, unable to believe he had said those things. Her mind swam with so many emotions. She was positively mortified that he had somehow found out that she loved him, and devastated that he’d said he could never love her. She was angry; he was supposed to be her friend, so why was he saying such things behind her back? And she loved him; heaven help her, she still loved him. Her tears began anew as she hugged the sketchbook to her.

Wynne heard a soft knock at her door. She jumped, wondering who it could be. “Wynne? Wynne, are you in there?” She relaxed and let out a breath; it was only Anora. Still, she didn’t feel like talking to anyone, so she did her best to silence her sobs. Maybe Anora would go away if she thought Wynne was asleep or not there. “Wynne, please talk to me. Let me help you.” You can’t help me, Wynne silently responded. Not unless you can make Gwaine love me and take away my clumsiness.

Anora waited for several minutes, knocking and pleading with Wynne to open the door. She considered trying the door to see if it was locked, but she didn’t want to intrude that way. She was just about to give up when she had a sudden inspiration. “Wynne, if you won’t talk to me, will you talk to Gwaine? Should I go find him?” She stifled a giggle as she heard a sudden scuffling in the room, followed by footsteps approaching the door. She managed to swallow her smile just before the door flew open.

“Don’t get Gwaine,” Wynne pleaded, grasping Anora’s hand, pulling her inside and slamming the door. “I can’t talk to him,” she sniffled. “I may never talk to him again.”

Anora’s eyes widened in shock as both girls sat down on Wynne’s bed. “What do you mean you may never talk to him again? What happened?”

Wynne took a deep breath and told Anora everything–how she had happened upon Gwaine and Lady Retta sitting together, their jokes about her inability to dance, and worst of all, that Gwaine knew of her love for him but did not feel the same. “How will I ever face him again, knowing that he knows how I feel…and can never feel the same?”

“Well, are you sure they were talking about you? They could have been discussing someone else,” Anora offered uncertainly. She cast a doubtful glance at Wynne, hoping she might take comfort in that.

Wynne wasn’t convinced. To her knowledge, Gwaine hadn’t danced with any of the other young ladies, and in any case, none of them was as clumsy as she was. “No, I’m certain they were talking about me. Everyone knows I’m as graceful as a horse up a tree.” Anora couldn’t help giggling. Even with a broken heart, Wynne’s wit shone through. Wynne looked at her friend and smiled a watery smile before her face fell once more. “Truly, I could bear knowing they’d said those things if I hadn’t seen them all…cuddled up together like…like lovers.” Tears began falling again.

Anora put her arm around Wynne’s shoulders, thinking. “I just can’t imagine Lady Retta and Gwaine together. She’s so proper, and he’s…” Wynne glanced up at Anora, wordlessly warning her not to criticize Gwaine. Anora smiled, understanding. “He’s just…not. They seem mismatched.”

“Well, opposites do attract, as they say,” Wynne mumbled, still seeing the two lovers embracing beneath the oak tree. She doubted she’d ever sit there to draw again.

Anora wouldn’t be dissuaded. “Yes, but birds of a feather flock together. I still can’t believe they’re courting; truly, they just don’t act as though they’re sweet on each other.”

While Wynne and Anora continued to discuss the likelihood of romance between Gwaine and Lady Retta, in another part of the castle, another unlikely pair was scheming. Reginald had tracked down Lavinia and was telling her what had occurred in the courtyard. “Wynne came barreling out of the woods only yards from where Gwaine and Lady Retta emerged minutes later. Judging by poor Wynnie’s distress, I would guess that she saw them together and knows that her beloved loves someone else.”

Lavinia put down her needlework and looked up at Reginald. “Why would Gwaine and Lady Retta be together? I know for certain that she is being courted by Lord Reuben.”

Reginald sneered and rolled his eyes. “It matters not if they really are courting, as long as Wynne believes it to be so. This would be the perfect time to sow a bit of discord in Gwaine’s corner by showing him what the little shrew drew, now, wouldn’t it?”

Lavinia smiled conspiratorially at Reginald. This was going to be fun, and just in time for the feast honoring the North kings’ visit.

The Knight and the Not-Quite Lady, ch. 10

Several days went by before either had a chance to formulate a plan, but one day, just after the ladies’ drawing lesson, Lavinia got her chance. It all began pleasantly enough as Wynne sat in the courtyard, sketching in her large sketchbook. Drawing was another of Wynne’s favorite lessons, since it was a skill that came quite naturally to her. The only downfall to drawing lessons, at least for Wynne, was that Lady Magdalen only taught them how to draw landscapes and still-lifes, which Wynne had mastered right away. So adept was Wynne at drawing plants that Gaius had set her to work making illustrations of herbs and medicinal plants for a book that he was compiling.

Still, bored and wanting more of a challenge, Wynne had set herself to learning how to draw people. She had a number of drawings of herself that she had done sitting in front of her mirror at night, as well as some quick sketches of Anora and Berte. But the drawing she had worked hardest on, and the one she was most proud of, was a portrait of Gwaine. She had drawn him with the expression she loved most, the half smile he gave her when he teased her. She had captured his essence so well that she got chills looking at it, and she smiled and kissed the picture every time she opened her sketchbook to that page.

On this particular afternoon, she sat in the bright courtyard by the solarium, putting some finishing touches on her portrait, when Lavinia came out the solarium door. She saw Wynne deep in concentration, smiling giddily as she sketched. Knowing by her expression that Wynne wasn’t drawing flowers and trees, Lavinia crept over to investigate. Wynne was completely unaware of Lavinia’s presence until a voice right next to her exclaimed, “Is that a picture of Sir Gwaine?”

Wynne gasped and tried to hide her drawing, but it was no use; Lavinia had already seen it. She attempted to make light of it, saying, “It’s nothing. It’s just…just a quick…sketch.”

Lavinia wrestled it from Wynne’s grasp and looked closely at it. Even though she did not like Wynne, and liked Gwaine even less, Wynne’s drawing was so well-done that it took her breath away. Suddenly, she recalled Reginald’s suggestion to cause a rift between them, and she had a sudden inspiration how she would do it. She raised her eyes to Wynne’s and laughed mockingly, “You’re in love with Sir Gwaine, aren’t you?”

Wynne’s eyes widened anxiously, and she began trembling. Her worst fears were being realized, and she was trapped. She knew that denying it was no use; her words would fall on deaf ears. Her chest heaving, she ground out, “Just give it back, Lavinia.”

“Not till you admit you love him,” Lavinia taunted, waving the sketchbook just out of Wynne’s reach. “Admit you love him, or say you don’t.”

Fighting back tears, and fighting the urge to punch Lavinia right in her turned up nose, Wynne growled, “I will not. Just. Give. It. Back.”

Holding the sketchbook behind her back and laughing, she sing-songed, “Wynne loves Gwaine, Wynne loves Gwaine.” Craning her neck to look behind Wynne, she said, “Is that Gwaine? Sir Gwaine, Sir Gwaine, look what Wynne drew. She l-o-v-e-s you!”

Wynne whirled around, afraid Gwaine was right behind her, not knowing what she’d say if he were. Thankfully, Lavinia was only bluffing; Gwaine was nowhere in sight. She whirled back around to face a laughing Lavinia. “That’s not funny, Lavinia. Give me my sketchbook!”

“Say it,” Lavinia sneered, inching closer to the solarium door. “Say you love him, or say you don’t.”

Wynne knew it didn’t matter what she said; Lavinia would twist it to suit whatever mean game she was playing. Still, she would never admit to her that she loved Gwaine. In a choked voice, she said, “I…I don’t love…Gwaine.” Saying the words that she knew weren’t true made her burn inside, and she knew she didn’t sound at all convincing.

Lavinia laughed and held up the picture of Gwaine. Making a kissy face, she retorted, “This picture says otherwise. How could you draw that face if you didn’t love him?”

“I don’t…love him,” Wynne insisted, sounding even less convincing than before. “I don’t.”

“Then prove it,” Lavinia hissed. “Prove you don’t love him.”

Wynne didn’t like where this was headed. If she refused to do whatever vile thing she asked, it would just be proof that she did love Gwaine. Finally, she stammered, “H-how?”

A slow, malicious smile spread across Lavinia’s face as she considered what Wynne would do. She glanced down at the drawing. She could tell Wynne to destroy it. That would hurt Wynne, but it would do nothing to cause a rift between her and Gwaine. A sudden inspiration struck her, and she smirked at Wynne and challenged, “Draw another picture of Gwaine, but this time, make it ugly. Make it mean. Draw a picture that proves you have no feelings for him.” She thrust the notebook at Wynne and commanded coldly, “Do it now.”

Wynne snatched her sketchbook back and glared at Lavinia. She considered making a run for it, but she was certain that if she didn’t do as Lavinia asked…”Do it now, or I’ll tell everyone you’re in love with Gwaine.”

Knowing she was trapped, Wynne sat down slowly and thought for a moment how she could portray Gwaine in a disparaging light. She couldn’t bear to be truly mean–like drawing him completely bald or wearing a dress–but maybe poking a bit of fun at him would be enough to satisfy Lavinia. Painfully conscious of Lavinia’s eyes on her, she racked her brain for an idea. At last, she came up with something and began quickly sketching a caricature of Gwaine stealing an apple pie from the kitchens and a large tankard of mead from the tavern. He was running from an angry Lady Magdalen, who was throwing apples at his head, as well as from a tavern keeper, who waved a piece of paper as he pursued Gwaine.

Lavinia watched with stunned fascination as Wynne rapidly sketched the scene in her book. The scene that unfolded was so humorous that Lavinia had to fight to keep from laughing, and much to her irritation, she found herself feeling guilty about her plan to use this clever drawing against Wynne.

When she finished, a steely-eyed Wynne held out the sketchbook so Lavinia could see it. Lavinia was so impressed with Wynne’s talent and imagination that she almost forgot to harass her. After a moment, she hardened her expression and handed the drawing back to Wynne. “Humorous, yes, but how does this prove you don’t love him?”

Wynne gulped. She had anticipated that question and had been thinking about how to answer it. She tried unsuccessfully to harden her expression as she answered, “Everyone knows Gwaine is…an insufferable mooch. He’s always sneaking into the kitchens for a snack. And he’s always at the tavern, but he seldom pays his tabs.” She slammed the book shut and glared at Lavinia. “Do you really think I’d say those things about him if I were in love with him?”

Lavinia returned Wynne’s look doubtfully. She knew Wynne would go no further in putting Gwaine down, but she wouldn’t let her off the hook that easily. “I’m still not convinced that you’re not in love with him, but I suppose it will do…for now.” She rose and stalked away, turning to give Wynne a condescending look. In her mind, she was trying to figure out how to get her hands on that drawing before Wynne destroyed it.

After Lavinia had gone, Wynne let her head sink into her hands and let out a shaky sigh. How could she have been so careless? She was certain that Lavinia would watch like a hawk to catch her talking to Gwaine, looking for proof that she loved him. She knew that her drawing had not convinced her that she didn’t love Gwaine, and she wondered what she might do next.

For the second time that afternoon, Wynne was so consumed by her thoughts that she didn’t hear someone approaching till a voice spoke right in her ear. “Wynne, are you all right?” Wynne gasped and snatched up her sketchbook before realizing it was only Anora. Anora sat down next to Wynne and laid her hand on her friend’s shoulder. Seeing the look on her face, Anora asked worriedly, “What happened? What’s wrong?”

Wynne drew a shaky breath that did nothing to stop the rising tears. Unable to speak for a moment, she picked up her sketchbook and slowly opened it to the picture of Gwaine–the good picture of Gwaine. “Lavinia saw this,” she sniffled, showing the drawing to Anora. “She said this drawing proves I’m in love with him, and she said she’d tell everyone unless I prove to her that I’m not.”

Anora took the sketchbook, and her eyes flew open wide when she saw the drawing. “I can see why she thought that,” she breathed in awe. When Wynne gasped aloud, she quickly said, “I’m sorry, Wynne. It’s just that…this is so beautiful, and so like him. You’ve captured so much detail…” Her brows came together curiously. “How did she want you to prove you didn’t love him?”

Wynne fumbled with the pages of her sketchbook before responding, “She wanted me to draw a mean, ugly picture of him.”

Anora looked down at the sketchbook. “Well, did you?”

“Sort of,” Wynne replied, flipping through the pages to the caricature. “I couldn’t bear to draw something truly awful.”

Anora looked at the picture and immediately began giggling. “I don’t mean to laugh, Wynne, but this is so funny,” she chortled. “You know Gwaine loves apple pie and ale, and I could just see Lady Magdalen throwing something at him.” Even Wynne couldn’t resist giggling for a moment. Then Anora turned serious again. “Was this enough to convince her?”

“I don’t think so, although she seemed to be satisfied, at least for now,” Wynne said, wiping a stray tear from her cheek.

Anora met her friend’s eyes and asked softly, “Wynne, do you? Love Gwaine, I mean?”

Wynne’s eyes widened for a moment, and she looked trapped. Finally she answered, “I’m sorry, Anora. I should have told you, but I was afraid you’d think I was silly. After all, he’s a knight, and I’m nothing but a girl. A silly, clumsy girl.”

Anora grabbed Wynne into a tight hug.”Wynne, I’m your friend. I don’t think you’re silly for falling in love with a knight.,” Anora assured her. “And you won’t be just a girl much longer. Soon you’ll…we’ll be ladies. It will be different then; you’ll see.”

The two friends soon headed into the castle to get ready for the evening meal. Wynne tossed her sketchbook onto her table, intending to destroy the Gwaine caricature later that evening. She hurriedly washed her tear-stained face and scrubbed the charcoal smudges off her hands before heading down to the main dining hall.

Had she known that Lavinia was lurking just around the corner, Wynne would have either destroyed the drawing right away or taken care to lock the sketchbook in her trunk. As soon as Wynne left, Lavinia crept into the room, found the drawing, and deftly removed it from the sketchbook. For just a moment, she considered taking the portrait of Gwaine as well, but her conscience stopped her. She made sure the hallway was clear before she left the room and quietly shut the door behind her.

Downstairs, Lavinia waited by the dining hall entrance until Reginald came hurrying down the passageway with Boris and a couple other squires. She caught his eye and smiled conspiratorially; he motioned for the others to go ahead while he spoke with Lavinia. Only Boris eyed them with suspicion, knowing the two weren’t particularly friendly, and wondered what they were up to.

When the two were alone, Lavinia pulled the caricature out of her skirt pocket and handed it to Reginald. “It turns out that Wynne is quite the talented artist.” She related how she had discovered Wynne sketching a beautiful portrait of Gwaine and taunted her about being in love with him, and then she explained her plan to make sure that Gwaine saw the picture and knew who had drawn it. “You know how vain he is,” Lavinia sneered. “I’m sure he won’t stand for being made light of, especially not by someone he considers a friend.”

Reginald glanced down at the drawing, and like Lavinia, was quite impressed by Wynne’s obvious talent. He recovered his unpleasant nature quickly and said to Lavinia, “Yes, this does show brave Sir Gwaine in quite an unflattering light, but I think it needs just a bit of…something.” After thinking for a moment, an evil smile spread across his face, and he continued, “And I know exactly what that something is. We simply need to wait for the right time, and we’ll plant the seeds of discord between Gwaine and this not-quite lady.” With that, he folded the drawing and tucked it inside his chain mail, and the two conspirators went into the dining hall.

The Knight and the Not-Quite Lady, Chapter 9

By the time the knights and the squires were seated in the dining hall, Leon and Percival had obviously shared the story of Gwaine’s impromptu dance lesson with Elyan and a couple other knights. All throughout the midday meal, Gwaine spent as much time defending himself from the taunts of his companions as he did eating. As the squires looked on curiously, not knowing who they were talking about, Gwaine kept his head bent closely over his bowl of stew, trying hard to ignore their jests.

After watching his friend gulp several mouthfuls of stew without even chewing, Percival clapped Gwaine on the back and commented, “Gwaine seems to have worked up the appetite of a bear this morning.”

Leon barely kept a straight face as he quipped, “A dancing bear.” As Elyan sputtered into his mead, Leon lost his own battle and laughed at his joke. “It’s too bad Gwaine isn’t as graceful with his sword as he is with a certain young lady.” While Leon was enjoying taunting his friend, he was careful not to speak Wynne’s name; he didn’t want to cause trouble for her.

Gwaine tore off a chunk of bread with more force than he intended and replied through gritted teeth, “I’ve already told you boys how it was. I was merely defending a damsel in distress from the dragon lady’s wrath.” He attempted to stare them down, but their smirks forced him to turn his attention to his stew once more.

“You’d better not let Lady Magdalen hear you call her that,” Leon warned, taking a swallow of mead. “She’d have your head for certain.”

Elyan leaned over to look at Gwaine. “You’d better not let her ladyship catch you dancing with that young lady either. You know she sees you as a bad influence on her young ladies.”

Gwaine’s eyes widened for the briefest moment, and he gulped; he had forgotten that the old hag had forbidden him to come near Wynne. Still, he found in Elyan’s warning a straw to grasp at. “Well, Lady Magdalen has nothing to fear. You all know I prefer the company of a tavern maiden to a sweet, innocent girl.” Ordinarily when he bragged of his conquests, the others either listened with envy or tried to hide their admiration of his prowess, but this day, his companions looked at him with ill-concealed doubt. He forced a smile and drained his goblet before continuing, “A buxom tavern maiden whose kisses flow as freely as mead, one who warms my bed by night and is gone before the morning; that’s what I like.” He brought his goblet down on the table with a thump before pushing himself to his feet. “Now if you boys will excuse me…”

As he left the dining hall, he paused ever so slightly to nod curtly to Wynne, wanting to give her a word of encouragement before her dreaded dance lesson, but conscious of his companions’ eyes on him. Sir Leon’s sharp eyes caught their brief exchange and he chuckled, low, “How long will it take him to admit he’s lost his heart to a certain charming but clumsy young lady?”

Percival snorted and replied, “Never! Gwaine will find a new wench the next tavern we visit and Wynne will be just another broken heart.” Gwaine and Percival were good friends, but Percival knew his companion’s reputation, and he didn’t see it changing anytime soon.

Elyan’s countenance darkened as he brought his fist down on the table and threatened, “He’ll have a broken neck if he breaks her heart.” Elyan was as fiercely protective of Wynne as he had once been of his sister. “The gods know Wynne is besotted with Gwaine, and she would be devastated to see him with another.”

“I fear it wouldn’t be an easy courtship,” Leon predicted. He lowered his voice and continued, “But mark my words, he’ll make his feelings for her known by the ladies’ Presentation Ball.” Percival and Elyan exchanged doubtful looks, but Leon grinned knowingly, as though he were certain how it would turn out.

What none of the knights noticed was that while most of the squires had long since lost interest in the conversation, one had been listening intently and had caught some key points of their discussion. So Wynne is besotted with Gwaine, is she? Reginald thought. And there is a chance that Gwaine may feel the same way. This definitely has possibilities.

Meanwhile, Wynne was seated next to Anora at the ladies’ table. Neither girl had eaten much, Anora still smiling inside and out after her blissful walk with Boris, and Wynne still floating on a cloud after dancing with Gwaine. As she pushed the stew around in her bowl, she tried to gaze inconspicuously at Gwaine across the way. She observed, though could not hear, the knights’ conversation, and she guessed by Gwaine’s uncomfortable demeanor that Leon and Percival had told the others what they had seen in the courtyard, and now they were ribbing him. Wynne felt guilty for being the cause of his discomfort, but at the same time, she was glad that none of the ladies had seen them. Gwaine and the other knights had the bond of friendship, so at least he knew their jests were not mean-spirited. That would not be the case if most of the ladies had seen them dancing.

She had just taken a bite of her sweet roll when Gwaine abruptly stood up to leave the dining hall. The determined expression on his face as he strode quickly towards the door told her that he was in a hurry to get out of the castle. Still, he paused to catch her eye, and then he gave her a smile and a quick nod before he headed out the door.

Anora wasn’t too lost in her own reverie to notice the brief but meaningful exchange, nor did she miss the way Wynne propped her head on her fist and gazed after him as he left the room. She wondered what, if anything, had happened between them after she and Boris had taken their leave before lunch, and she wondered if and when Wynne would confide her feelings.

Fortunately for Wynne, formal dance lessons that day weren’t as awful as they had been the previous afternoon. Lady Retta saw to it that Wynne and Reginald were not paired together. That made things easier for everyone but Lavinia, who had the displeasure of Reginald’s company for the afternoon. Seeing her scowl more than made up for Wynne having to dance with Theobold, a tall, lanky squire with shaggy red hair and sweaty palms. Theobold was nice enough, but he was so quiet that he made Sir Percival seem talkative, and he was such a rule-follower that he made Sir Leon seem undisciplined. At least he didn’t make a scene when Wynne stumbled or tramped on his toes, which she still did more often than the other ladies, but Lady Magdalen’s attention was not drawn to her as much as it was the previous afternoon.

Wynne noticed that Sir Percival was not as accomplished a dancer as Gwaine, but neither was he a clumsy lout, as Gwaine had suggested. He was less animated and less vocal than Gwaine, although he did his part and watched the squires–especially Reginald–like a hawk and called out advice when needed. Because she wasn’t as concerned with impressing Percival, Wynne wasn’t as afraid of making mistakes, so she wasn’t as tense. She smiled as she recalled the extra lesson she had just had with Gwaine, which had obviously helped her. Without thinking, she glanced up at Theobold and found him smiling hopefully down at her. Oh no, she thought, her cheeks flushing. I hope he didn’t think I was smiling at him. Not wanting to encourage him, she kept her eyes trained blankly over his shoulder and her expression dispassionate for the remainder of the lesson.

When the lesson was over, Wynne breathed a sigh of relief as Lady Magdalen hurried out of the room, obviously to meet with the queen and Berte one last time before the great feast. As the other young ladies and squires began to trickle out of the room, Wynne sat down on a bench to wait for Anora, who was standing close to Boris, smiling sweetly up at him and talking softly with him. Wynne propped her chin on her fists and stared at them enviously, wishing that Gwaine would speak with her that way. Suddenly a voice next to her startled her out of her musing. “Wynne, I thought you danced so much better today.”

Wynne looked up to see Lady Retta smiling encouragingly down at her. “Oh,” she replied. “Thank you, Lady Retta. It helped that I didn’t have to dance with Reginald.” She couldn’t help making an expression of distaste as she said his name.

Lady Retta laughed merrily and replied, low, “Yes, I had a feeling you and he were quite the mismatch yesterday.” She turned serious once more. “But it is quite obvious that you were practicing, and I am very pleased with your progress.”

Percival choked a laugh into a cough, and both ladies looked up at him, Lady Retta with curiosity, and Wynne with anxiety. He caught Wynne’s eye, and seeing her discomfort, he quickly fibbed, “Sorry. Just thinking about…Reginald being a clotpole…at practice today.”

Wynne knew that he was covering for her, and she smiled gratefully at him before looking away quickly. Suddenly seeing that Boris and Anora had parted, she excused herself and hurried to Anora’s side. Percival, too, hastily buckled on his sword and was prepared to leave when Lady Retta laid a hand on his arm. “Percival, you’re such a dear. Was it you who practiced with Wynne? She really did dance much better today.”

Percival’s eyes widened in surprise. Lady Retta thought he had been dancing with Wynne? Without thinking, he blurted out, “No, no, that was Gwaine. He…” Realizing he had unwittingly betrayed Wynne’s confidence, he stopped and looked pleadingly down at Lady Retta.

It was Lady Retta’s turn to stare in surprise. Her expression was indecipherable as she replied, “Gwaine? Gwaine took the time to practice with Wynne? How unlike him…”

Percival returned her look uncertainly. Was she upset with him? With Gwaine? “I…I’m sure he doesn’t want anyone else to know…”

Laughing out loud, Lady Retta responded, “I’m sure he doesn’t.” Seeing Percival’s discomfort, she reached up and touched his cheek. “I will say nothing,” she promised. “I was merely taken by surprise that Gwaine would offer to do something he so dislikes when there was nothing in it for him.”

As the two friends left the ballroom together, they didn’t notice another pair having an intense discussion. After the others had left following the lesson, Reginald had dashed after Lavinia and stopped her before she went through the door. “Lavinia, might I have a word?”

Bronwyn, who was walking with Lavinia, let out a huff and continued out the door as Lavinia rolled her eyes and responded disdainfully, “Really, Reginald, I’ve just spent the last hour dancing with you. What could you possibly need to say that couldn’t be said then”

Reginald grinned maliciously, glancing over towards Wynne, who was walking out the door with Anora. “I merely heard an interesting piece of news about a certain young lady who doesn’t know her place.”

Lavinia followed Reginald’s gaze and saw that he was looking at Wynne and Anora. Anora was about as sweet as anyone could possibly be, and she was quite proper and knew her place, so Lavinia knew he must have been talking about Wynne. A slow smile spread across her face as she asked, “What piece of news is that? It must be incriminating as well as interesting if it caught your attention.”

Reginald ignored the ill-concealed barb and crossed his arms to look down at her. “Oh, it is. It is definitely something she wants no one to know of. I doubt even Anora knows of it.” When Lavinia cocked her head in a silent challenge for him to prove it, he slowly stroked his stubbly attempt at a beard and continued, “It seems that Wynne is quite smitten with Sir Gwaine, and judging by the way he always comes to her rescue when she finds herself in trouble, the feeling may be mutual.”

“Ugh, she fancies that uncouth lout?” Lavinia exclaimed with a shudder of disgust, before tossing her head and continuing, “We’ll, that’s hardly surprising. She isn’t much of a lady, so her taste is hardly refined.” She narrowed her eyes at him and asked, “So why are you telling me this?”

Reginald narrowed his eyes back at her, thinking about the way Wynne had humiliated him in front of the other squires, and how Gwaine had taken her part and had also made sport of him, not once, but a number of times. “I merely thought that since neither of us is particularly friendly with either of them, it might be fun to cause a rift between them.”

A slow smile spread across Lavinia’s face. The very thought of stirring things up where Wynne was concerned was always pleasing to her. Nodding slowly, she replied, “What exactly did you have in mind?”

The Knight and the Not-Quite Lady, chapter 8

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.

The Knight and the Not-Quite Lady, later chapter

One warm afternoon, Wynne sat alone in the solarium working her needlepoint after lessons. Her stitches were still large and uneven, but at least she had improved to the point where her work wasn’t marred by large knots and tangles. She sighed, thinking miserably that at least that small gain had come of her failed attempt at running away and then her fight with Gwaine. As she glanced up to look out the window and give her eyes a break from the close work, she thought about how much she’d give to have things as they were before. She shook her head and sighed again; it was no use to dwell upon it. even if Gwaine and Lady Retta weren’t courting, she had ruined any chance she had ever had with him. Blinking back tears, she bent her head to her work once more.

Wynne was so intent on her needlework that she didn’t hear the door opening and footsteps coming towards her. It wasn’t until the footsteps were a few feet away that her ears perked up. She looked up quickly to see Gwaine standing next to her, looking down at her seriously. “Hello, Wynne,” he said softly.

It took a moment for Wynne to find her tongue. She gulped and choked out, “Hullo, Gwaine,” before dropping her eyes to her lap.

Gwaine stepped closer and asked, “May I sit down?” When Wynne nodded, he sat down on the bench next to her. Her flesh quivered as she felt the heat of his body through her thin, summery dress. “Leon made sure I got the pie you baked. Thank you; it was delicious.” He longed to tease her about it needing improvement, but he thought the better of it.

“You’re welcome,” she replied simply. She didn’t miss the fact that he didn’t mention the pie needing more sugar or less cinnamon, and she took it to mean he was still angry with her. She swallowed hard, trying to force down the lump that had risen in her throat.

Gwaine nervously fiddled with the hilt of the dagger he carried in his belt as he searched for the words he needed to say. “Rumor has it that you think I hate you.”

Wynne’s eyes widened anxiously. She thought he’d make more small talk before getting to the point, but apparently he wanted to get it over with. So be it. “The thought had crossed my mind.” She cringed inwardly at the squeak in her voice.

“Wynne,” Gwaine sighed, and then waited for her to look at him. “I don’t hate you, lass. I never did.” He gave her a brief, tight-lipped smile. “I was angry. Quite angry, in fact.” Wynne looked away quickly, not wanting him to see the tears welling up in her eyes. “And I was worried sick.”

“Worried?” she asked, looking up at him hopefully. “About me?”

His eyebrows rose in disbelief. “Of course, you foolish girl!” he exploded, and then pinched the bridge of his nose. His voice softened. “Of course, I was worried. When I heard you’d run away, all I could think about was something horrible happening to you–Saxons, or Morgana. You were lucky that the worst thing to happen was falling in a hole.” Wynne fidgeted; she knew how lucky she’d been. Gwaine’s mouth scrunched up the way it always did when he didn’t want to say something. “Wynne, you mean the world to me. Besides Merlin, you’re my best friend at Camelot. If anything happened to you…” He didn’t finish his thought; instead, he gazed at her, his eyes bright with unspoken emotion. “I never hated you, even though I spoke so harshly.”

A small part of her heart soared. So he did care about her, even though he was courting Lady Retta. She smiled to herself as she suddenly realized that her father and brothers would have been just as harsh with her if she’d done such a thing. She cleared her throat and responded, “I’m sorry…again…for running away. I just couldn’t take it anymore–Lady Magdalen always finding fault, the others always taunting me, Anora and Boris always wanting to be alone together…” She glanced at him quickly, not wanting him to misunderstand. “I mean, I’m happy for them; I just feel so alone and left out.” Gwaine smiled and nodded understandingly. She poked at her needlework with her needle and blurted out, “And then seeing you and Lady Retta cuddled up all lovey-dovey together.” She cringed inwardly again; she hadn’t meant to say that. She hurried to cover herself. “I mean, that didn’t bother me (What a big lie!), at least not as much as hearing the things you two said about me behind my back.” She glared accusingly up at him.

Gwaine turned to her, his expression a mixture of confusion, amusement, and something he couldn’t quite decipher. His mouth worked wordlessly for a moment; there was so much wrong with what she had just said that he wasn’t sure where to begin. Finally, he blurted out, “What do you mean, ‘cuddled up all lovey-dovey?’ When was this?” He knew there had been times when he’d been drunk and done some things he couldn’t remember, but he doubted Lady Retta had ever been involved.

Wynne cocked her head, giving him a don’t-play-stupid-with-me look. “That day you two were sitting beneath the big oak tree, over by the moat. You had your arms around her, and she was lying against your chest.” Wynne recalled every detail of that day, from the weather, to what they were both wearing, to the awful things she’d overheard.

Gwaine looked away, searching his memory for whatever scene Wynne had witnessed. When he finally recalled something resembling what Wynne said she’d seen, he smacked his forehead and chuckled at her misinterpretation. “Wynne, lass, we were sitting beneath the oak tree, and it may have looked as though we were cuddling, but there was nothing lovey-dovey about it.”

Wynne stared at Gwaine, a mixture of irritation and confusion in her eyes. If sitting that close together wasn’t lovey-dovey cuddling, then what was it? “You mean…you’re not courting her?” she asked. She knew she had probably betrayed her affection for him, but she didn’t care; she needed to know.

“No, lass,” he replied, laughing. “We’re not courting, not even close.” His dark eyes sparkled as he searched her face. A part of him suddenly realized what his earlier indecipherable feeling had been. he had sense that Wynne was jealous over seeing him with Lady Retta, and to his surprise, that realization pleased him. He pushed that thought from his mind and continued, “Wynne, Retta and I grew up in the same village. Our parents were good friends, and so we became close friends as well.” He laughed shortly. “We had to suffer through formal dance lessons together, which is why we dance so well together; we’re each quite familiar with the way the other moves.”

That makes sense, Wynne thought, but it still didn’t answer the question that bothered her the most. “Then why were you…?”

Gwaine laid his arm easily across her shoulders and gave her a sad look. “Retta’s cousin Amelia…had died in childbirth a couple weeks before, and Retta had just gotten word of it that day. She was devastated to hear the news, and very upset that she had missed the funeral. We were sitting so closely together because I was comforting her.”

“Oh…” Wynne replied, feeling horrible not only for her misinterpretation of what she’d seen, but also for the unwarranted nasty thoughts she’d had towards both of them. Still, there was something that was yet bothering her, something that she couldn’t see how she’d misinterpreted. “Then why were you saying all those awful things about me? She said I’m clumsy as an ox, and you said you’ve never had such a horrible dance partner, and that your feet still hurt whenever you think of dancing with me…” As she listed the things she’d heard, she got angrier, and her voice grew louder until her chest heaved as she practically yelled, “It’s bad enough hearing those things from Lavinia and Reginald, but to hear them from someone I thought was a friend is…too much.”

Gwaine’s eyebrows came together, and his eyes widened as he sorted through her accusations. Suddenly, it clicked, and his shoulders began to shake with suppressed mirth, building up till he at last doubled over with laughter. When he straightened up, tears ran down his face as he looked at Wynne, whose eyes flashed with indignation. “Oh, Wynne,” he exclaimed, gathering her stiff body into his arms. “I can certainly understand how you thought that.” He drew back and kissed her forehead before explaining, “Those things we said weren’t about you at all, lass. We were reminiscing about Amelia. She took lessons with us, and she was a truly horrible dancer.” He couldn’t help chuckling at the memory. “Lass, you tell yourself what an awful dancer you are, but truly, next to Amelia, you are pure grace and elegance.”

Wynne couldn’t believe there was a worse dancer than she was. She smiled sheepishly and asked, “Really?”

“Really,” Gwaine replied softly, smiling tenderly at her. “Wynne, you remind Retta…and me…a great deal of Amelia. That’s part of the reason she’s taken such an interest in you as a pupil. For all your awkwardness and all the things you think are so unbearable about you, you have a good heart and such a sweetness about you that she and…others…can’t help but adore. Just like Amelia.”

Wynne looked away, blushing. If he and Retta knew half the things she’d thought about them throughout this whole misunderstanding, they certainly wouldn’t think of her as sweet.

The Knight and the Not-Quite Lady, ch. 7

I do not own Merlin or its characters.

Wynne dashed down the back staircase and through the passageway to Gaius and Merlin’s chambers. She knocked softly but urgently on the door, hoping to find at least one of them there. To her relief, Merlin opened the door almost immediately. Seeing her tear-filled eyes, he grasped her hand and pulled her inside, shutting the door tightly. “Wynne, what’s wrong? What’s happened?” he asked, concerned.

Bursting into sobs, she sputtered, “Oh, Merlin, it was awful, just awful!” He guided her to a chair and poured two mugs of cider. She cradled her mug in her hands as she told Merlin about that whole horrible day–the disastrous singing lessons (although Merlin found it humorous and had to cover his mouth to keep his chuckling at bay), learning of Anora’s love for Boris, Reginald’s cruel comments, and her failure at formal dancing. “What if Reginald is right, Merlin? What if I never learn to be a lady? What if Gwaine–and everyone else–rejects me and I end up an old maid?”

Merlin sighed, unsure of what to say to the self-conscious young lady sitting in front of him. He doubted it would help to remind her that his mother wasn’t a fine lady, but she had been adored by his father and all who knew her. He doubted it would help to remind her that Gwen had been just a servant, and now she was queen. He had his doubts that Wynne would ever perfect the finer points of etiquette and deportment that she was expected to learn, but he certainly wasn’t going to say that. He thought about telling her that he doubted Gwaine really cared about any of those things; the tavern girls he favored certainly lacked those qualities. No, he couldn’t say that either.

Before he could say anything, there was a loud knock at the door, and Gwaine called out, “Merlin? Are you there?”

“Oh no,” Wynne hissed, her eyes flying open wide as she bolted out of her seat. “I can’t talk to him, I can’t face him. Don’t tell him I’m here.”

“Just a minute, Gwaine,” Merlin called out, and then mouthed to Wynne, “What should I tell him?”

Wynne frantically glanced around for a place to hide. “Just tell him you haven’t seen me,” she whispered, and then dashed across the room to crouch behind a large trunk full of books near the door.

Merlin hurried over to the door and yanked it open. “Hello, Gwaine. We missed you at practice,” he said, a bit too cheerfully. “What can I do for you?”

Gwaine cocked an eyebrow at him and gave him a curious look. “Is everything…all right?” he asked, knowing there was something that wasn’t.

Merlin nodded emphatically and assured him that everything was fine. His eyes drifted to the side, making it obvious that he was hiding something…or someone.

Gwaine’s eyes followed Merlin’s gaze, and he caught a glimpse of Wynne’s dark hair behind the trunk. He fought to suppress a grin as he continued, “Poor Wynne had quite a time of it at dance lessons, and she seemed distressed when she left. I just wondered if you’d seen her.”

Merlin’s grin widened for a moment before he forced a concerned expression as he shook his head and answered loudly, “No, no, haven’t seen her all day, I’m afraid. Just got in myself…polishing armor, cleaning boots, gathering herbs…”

Gwaine fought even harder not to laugh at his friend as he glanced over Merlin’s shoulder and spotted two mugs of cider on the table. His grin finally won out, and he teased, “I see. Such hard work obviously made you quite thirsty.” Merlin suddenly looked trapped, as though he knew what Gwaine was looking at. “So thirsty you needed two mugs of cider. If it were something stronger, I’d have some myself.”

A barely audible gasp from behind the trunk, as well as Merlin’s guilty countenance, made Gwaine chuckle. Merlin sighed and then laughed sheepishly before saying to the trunk, “You might as well come out, Wynne. He’s onto us.”

After a moment, Wynne crept out from behind the trunk and stood up, barely able to raise her eyes to the two men standing by the door. Gwaine, still in his crisp white shirt, smiled his cocky but sweet smile, his eyes dancing merrily as he crossed his arms and gazed at her. Merlin’s face was kind and sympathetic, but his eyes were full of guilt. “I’m sorry, Wynne,” he said. “I’m a terrible liar.”

“That’s all right, Merlin,” she replied in a small, shaky voice. “I’m a terrible dancer. And an even worse singer.” Her voice quavered with tears once more as she sank down onto the trunk. “And a failure at being a proper lady.”

At the sight of Wynne’s tears, Merlin cast a helpless glance at Gwaine; Gwaine was much better at dealing with women than he was. Gwaine’s smile melted, and his brows furrowed with concern. He hadn’t realized she was feeling so defeated. He pushed past Merlin and sat down next to Wynne on the trunk, gathering her into his arms and holding her tight against his broad chest. “Wynne, lass, you’re not a failure,” he soothed, brushing a cobweb from her hair and laying his cheek against the top of her head. “Not at all.”

The warmth of Gwaine’s embrace and the scent of sweat and clean linen calmed her a bit, but she still couldn’t see past her ineptitude. “How can you say that?” she asked, pushing away and burying her face in her hands. “I’m nothing like the other ladies. I’m loud, I’m clumsy, I use harsh language, I like frogs and snakes and bugs, I’m always dropping something or spilling something or tripping over my dress…” Wynne didn’t notice first Gwaine and then Merlin begin to shake with suppressed laughter as she continued to catalog her shortcomings. “…I fell in the bloody moat; now they all call me Wyni-frog. I fell asleep at the table with my hair in my soup…”

Gwaine gave up trying to contain his mirth; he doubled over with laughter, and Merlin soon followed. After a stunned moment, Wynne got quickly to her feet to storm out. They thought she was a joke too. Seeing the mortification on her face, Gwaine grabbed her hand and spoke through tears of laughter. “Wynne, I’m sorry. Don’t go.” He looked up at her pleadingly as she tried to pull free. “Wynne, those things don’t mean you’re a failure, or that you’re not a lady.”

She reluctantly sat down on the edge of the trunk and wailed hopelessly, “But I can’t do the things a lady is supposed to do. I can’t sing beautifully like Anora can; in fact, I can’t sing at all.” Gwaine bit back a laugh; Lady Retta had mentioned her disastrous attempts and praised her perseverance. Wynne shot him an annoyed glance before continuing, “I can’t dance gracefully like Lady Retta, I can’t play the lyre like Priscilla and Bernice, my needlework is always in knots, and I just make a mess of everything.”

Gwaine’s expression was a mixture of disbelieving amusement and tenderness as he listened to Wynne berate herself. Wasn’t the girl aware of all the things she could do? He reached over to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear and then placed a finger under her chin to tip her face up to look at him. “Wynne, I never would have believed you’d be the type to measure your own worth by the things others can do.” His eyes gleamed mischievously as he teased, “Besides, I think it’s safe to say that you wield a sword better than all the other young ladies.”

Merlin laughed as she let her breath out in a huff. “But a lady isn’t supposed to wield a sword,” she argued, even though she truly loved sparring with her cousins or with the younger squires. She met Gwaine’s eyes once more and said, “Reginald says all the knights think I’m a joke because I don’t know my place and I don’t act like a lady.”

Merlin snorted with disgust, and Gwaine laughed humorlessly. “Why would you take to heart anything Reginald tells you?” His eyes hardened as he added grimly, “I’ll show that horse’s ass what it means to be a joke.” Suddenly remembering that he was in the presence of a young lady, he quickly apologized.

Wynne gave him a watery smile and met his eyes pleadingly. “So you don’t think it’s a joke that I handle a sword better than a sewing needle?”

Both men laughed at her joke, and Gwaine pulled Wynne close. “I wouldn’t want you to make a habit of it,” he warned good-naturedly. “But you’re far from being a joke. Wynne, you’re a breath of fresh air; I wouldn’t want you to be a stuffy, proper lady, even if it means you can’t sing or dance or embroider your name on a hankie.”

“If it makes you feel any better, Wynne,” Merlin interjected. “I heard Gaius telling Lady Magdalen that he’s quite impressed by your ability to identify herbs and know when to use them. He says you’re far ahead of the others,” he smiled sheepishly, “And he said he might trade me in on you if I’m not careful.”

Gwaine laughed at Merlin’s comment and gave Wynne an encouraging shake. “There now, you’re not such a failure then, are you?” Wynne smiled a little broader at his comment as some of the heaviness left her heart. He gave her hair a playful tug and whispered, “I hear you’re also quite the mistress of the kitchens.”

Merlin chuckled and added, “Berte tells me she’s learned a few things from you.”

Wynne giggled, blushing at the praise. She was certain Berte had only been teasing when she said that. She commented, “My mother used to tell me I was trying to cook before I could even reach the top of the oven.”

Gwaine laughed easily, happy to see the dark cloud had finally passed. He was truly fond of Wynne, and he knew that someday someone would appreciate her for the wonderful young woman she was. He suddenly felt a twinge of…was that envy?…as he thought of another man courting her when she came of age. He shook his head to rid him of that annoying thought, and then turned mischievous eyes to her and teased, “That may be true, but your apple pies could use a bit of improvement.”

Merlin stared at Gwaine, dumbfounded; why would he say something like that? Wynne, too, gaped at him for a moment before she realized he was teasing her. She gave him a shove and then began playfully pommeling his shoulder. He laughed and protested, holding up his hands to defend himself, and then reached over to tickle her. She giggled and squealed and grabbed his hands to make him stop.

It was this fun-filled scene that met Gaius’ eyes when he suddenly opened the door and walked in the room. He stopped dead in his tracks, surprise and confusion on his face. Merlin noticed him first and jumped to his feet. “Gaius!”

Gwaine and Wynne both looked up guiltily. Gwaine stood quickly, his expression immediately dispassionate. “Well, I suppose I should go see the Princess since I was forced to miss training this afternoon.” He hurried out the door as though nothing unusual had happened.

Wynne, too, stood up, although she wasn’t as skilled as Gwaine in hiding her emotions; her cheeks flushed rosily as she stammered, “I sh-should really…be getting ready…f-for dinner…” She ducked her head and darted out of the room.

Gaius turned to Merlin, a slight smile on his face. He hadn’t missed the fact that there had been something in Gwaine’s eyes as he tickled Wynne, something he had never seen there with any of the women he had wooed. Wynne’s feelings were far more obvious; apparently she had taken quite a liking to Gwaine. Gaius’ smile widened as he took in Merlin’s guilty expression. “I do believe we have a bit of secret admiration in our midst.” He walked over to the table and set down his medicine bag.

Merlin came to the table to help him replenish the herbs he had used. He grinned sheepishly as he confirmed, “Yes, Wynne is quite smitten with Gwaine, I’m afraid. She thinks no one knows, but I’m afraid it’s pretty obvious.”

Gaius chuckled. “Yes, it is. But unless I’m mistaken, I believe the feeling is mutual.” Merlin cocked his head questioningly, and Gaius nodded. “Gwaine will never admit to it, but Wynne has a place in his heart. I have a feeling that once Wynne is old enough to be honorably courted, Camelot’s playboy knight may just lose his title.”

The Knight and the Not-Quite Lady, ch. 6

Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin or its characters.

When Wynne and Anora reached the ballroom, they both stopped dead in their tracks with mouths agape. The other young ladies were already there, and to Wynne’s horror, so were the squires. Quickly realizing what was to happen, Wynne turned to Anora with bulging eyes and whispered, “The squires? We must learn to dance with the squires?”

Anora did not meet Wynne’s eyes, but she could see that her friend’s eyes bulged as well. However, instead of being glassy and anxious as Wynne’s were, Anora’s eyes sparkled with joy and excitement. Wynne followed the direction of Anora’s gaze and realized she was staring at two squires who were leaning casually against the wall. Wynne recognized her cousin Boris and her nemesis Reginald. Her lip curled involuntarily as she fervently wished her cousin had better taste in friends.

Suddenly, Boris noticed them standing in the doorway. A huge grin split his face as he left Reginald’s side and hurried over to them. Thinking he wished to speak to her, Wynne stepped forward to greet him. To her surprise, Boris walked right past her without even looking at her. He stopped inches in front of Anora and took her hands awkwardly in his as he smiled down at her. Anora’s cheeks grew rosy as she giggled and gazed up at him. “Hello, Boris,” she said softly.

“Hello, Anora,” he replied, a lock of dark hair falling forward into his eyes. Wynne had never seen him acting so…nice.

Realizing the two wanted to be alone, Wynne slowly walked towards the other side of the room to wait for Lady Magdalen. Anora and her cousin? She never would have guessed they had feelings for each other. While a part of her was jealous that her friend could be open about her feelings for Boris–not to mention the fact that he shared her feelings–another part of her was happy and excited for her friend, and for herself. After all, if they married, she and Anora would be cousins.

Wynne made her way to a bench by the window, where she sat watching Arthur and the knights as they practiced sword fighting. As the knights parried with each other in mock battle, Wynne silently critiqued their skills. Suddenly noticing that Gwaine seemed to be missing, she frowned in disappointment and turned her attention back to the ballroom, where the other ladies and the squires were enjoying each other’s company. Lavinia and Bronwyn, of course, each had two squires vying for their affections, and the others gathered in threes or fours, chatting amicably. Wynne glanced over to where Anora and Boris still stood holding hands and talking. Usually it didn’t bother her that she was by herself, but seeing her one close friend among the ladies paired off with someone suddenly made her feel sad and left out. She sighed and turned to look out the window once more.

“I’ll just bet you’d rather be out there with the knights,” a voice beside her sneered.

Startled, Wynne turned quickly and saw Reginald glaring down at her with his beady blue eyes. She narrowed her eyes at him and responded, “Maybe I would; maybe I wouldn’t. I can’t see why that concerns you.” Reginald’s mere presence made her wish she truly were by herself once more.

Reginald leaned down and brought his face close to Wynne’s, hissing, “It concerns me because when you forgot your place the other day during my training, you made a fool of me in front of the Knights of Camelot and my fellow squires.”

Wynne stood and met his eyes steadily; he was not going to intimidate her. “No, Reginald, I didn’t make a fool of you,” Wynne replied evenly. “You do that well enough yourself.”

Two red splotches appeared on the squire’s cheeks, and he clenched and unclenched his fists. “Make no mistake, Wyni-frog,” he growled low. “You may think your little performance impressed the knights, but you’re wrong; you’re nothing but a laughingstock. No one wants a lady who doesn’t know her place.” He looked down at her condescendingly. “Not that you’ll ever be much of a lady.”

Wynne pursed her lips, and her eyes flashed fire as her chest tightened till she could barely breathe. Unable to speak, she raised her hand to slap Reginald. However, before she could strike, Lady Magdalen swept into the room followed by Lady Retta and…Gwaine? Wynne let her hand drop and gave Reginald one final glare before shoving him from her mind and scurrying over to where the other young ladies had gathered. Gwaine was not wearing his chain mail, but was clad in his usual brown breeches and a crisp, clean white shirt that offset his dark hair and eyes and his tanned skin. She was drinking in his handsomeness so intently that for a moment she didn’t notice Anora had slipped in beside her.

Anora looked curiously at her friend’s odd expression–her rosy cheeks, her sparkling eyes, and the way she was nervously biting her lip. She followed Wynne’s gaze and realized who had captured her attention, and she smiled as a number of events from the past months suddenly made sense to her. Her best friend was obviously in love with Sir Gwaine. She glanced once more at the handsome, carefree knight, and she wondered if he knew Wynne’s feelings for him, and more importantly, if he shared those feelings. She hoped so; she wanted her friend to be as happy as she was with Boris.

Suddenly, Lady Magdalen clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention and then began, “Young ladies…and young gentlemen, today we will begin instruction in formal dancing.” Most of the ladies appeared to be pleased with this announcement, while most of the squires curled their lips and scowled in silent displeasure. “Formal dancing is an important part of courtly celebrations, as well as an indication of a well-bred lady or gentleman. Therefore, it is my sincere hope that you will all do your best to learn enough to make a good showing, not only at the Presentation Ball a few months hence, but also at any feast or celebration you may find yourself attending.” She turned to Lady Retta and Gwaine. “I have asked Lady Retta…” Here she paused to beam at her former prize pupil. “…and Sir Gwaine…” Her opinion of Gwaine was obvious in her expression of disapproval. “…to help me demonstrate some of the more common dances you will encounter.” Lady Retta gave them all a warm smile and a quick curtsy, and Gwaine gave them a curt bow and an even briefer tight-lipped smile, making it obvious that he would much rather be out in the courtyard wielding a sword.

Gwaine and Lady Retta stepped into a large open space before the group and faced each other, then looked to Lady Magdalen for instruction. “We will begin with one of the newer dances that is becoming quite popular throughout the southern kingdoms. This one is a simple, medium-tempo dance that you should all…” Her eyes sought out Wynne and fixed pointedly upon her. “…learn fairly easily.”

As Lady Magdalen began clapping out a rhythm, Gwaine and Lady Retta bowed and then came together, holding each other close, but still a proper distance apart. They glided together around the floor, one long step, two short steps, as Lady Magdalen hummed a tune and kept time by clapping. Every so often they would stop so Lady Retta could twirl out and back in again, and then they would dance gracefully around the floor once more. Their movements were so beautiful that Wynne couldn’t help swaying back and forth and humming as she imagined dancing through the ballroom–no, in the courtyard beneath a full moon–with Gwaine. Oh, how she yearned to excel at these lessons, especially if Gwaine were present. She still felt the sting of Reginald’s words, and she thought that if she could dance as beautifully as Lady Retta, she would prove Reginald wrong, and maybe Gwaine would dance with her at the ball.

When they finished, they bowed, first to each other and then to Lady Magdalen’s pupils. The young ladies applauded enthusiastically, while the squires rolled their eyes and clapped once or twice. Lady Magdalen applauded as well; as strongly as she disapproved of Gwaine’s laissez-faire attitude and his reputation with the ladies, he was without a doubt the most skilled of the knights when it came to courtly dance. “All right, ladies and gentlemen,” Lady Magdalen announced. “Please quickly find yourselves a partner, and we will guide you through the steps.”

The room suddenly came to life as the squires and the young ladies quickly paired off. Boris and Anora found each other, and there was a brief scuffle between Daffyd and Roderick over who would dance with Lavinia. Everyone else quickly found a partner, leaving Wynne glancing around in a panic. How humiliating it would be to be the only one without a dance partner! The only thing worse would be…

“I suppose I’m stuck with you, Wyni-frog,” said an all-too-familiar and irritating voice behind her. She could not hide her disgust as she turned to face Reginald. Honestly, she’d rather dance with her cousin, or even with one of the stable boys, than with Reginald. “Wipe that grimace off your face, you little troll,” he ground out, low. “I’m the one who should be disgusted. I’d rather dance with Lady Magdalen than with you.” A malicious smile spread across his face as he grabbed Wynne’s hand and pulled her roughly to him. “Actually, this might work to my advantage.”

Wynne struggled against him, but refused to show the sudden fear that gripped her at his words. She glanced helplessly in Anora’s direction, but she was gazing longingly at Boris and didn’t notice her predicament. A glance at Lady Magdalen’s stern face told her she would receive no help there; she stood ready to chastise Wynne for delaying the lesson by wrestling with Reginald. She swallowed hard, fixed her eyes over Reginald’s shoulder on a point on the opposite wall, and got into position, her spine as stiff as a board.

Lady Retta and Gwaine resumed their positions, and Lady Magdalen began, “The basic pattern of this dance is one long step followed by two quick short steps–one, two-three, one, two-three. We’ll worry about the twirling later. Now everyone try it.” She began clapping the beat as she hummed the song.

All the couples began moving at the same time, trying to emulate Lady Retta and Gwaine. A few seemed to pick up the rhythm right away, while the rest loped clumsily across the floor, though none so clumsy as Reginald and Wynne. Reginald was being intentionally rough with Wynne, and Wynne resisted his every attempt to lead. Lady Magdalen stormed over to them, still clapping the beat and humming. “Wynifred, you are a lady,” she sang to the tune she was humming. “You are supposed to let your partner lead.”

Wynifred opened her mouth to protest that Reginald wasn’t leading; he was bullying, but Lady Magdalen turned and walked over to guide another couple before she could say a word. She glared at Reginald and stopped pushing back against him, thinking that maybe he wouldn’t bully her so much if she allowed him control. Just as they turned and took a long step, Wynne accidentally tramped on his foot. “Ow, you clumsy oaf!” he cried, drawing everyone’s eyes.

“Beg pardon,” Wynne said, her cheeks flaming. She really wasn’t sorry at all, but she didn’t want everyone watching them. Having to dance with Reginald was bad enough; having everyone’s attention on them was more than she could bear.

As they turned again, she caught Gwaine’s eye over Reginald’s shoulder. His dark eyes sparkled with amusement as he winked at her. He knew she couldn’t stand Reginald, and he obviously thought her moment of clumsiness was deliberate. Wynne’s cheeks dimpled as she suppressed a smile; she didn’t care if he did think she did it on purpose. Unfortunately, because she wasn’t paying attention to her feet, she came down hard on Reginald’s toes once more, making him cry out again.

“Wynifred!” Lady Magdalen called from across the room, where she was showing Bronwyn how to turn daintily on her toes. “You must allow your partner to lead. If you are stepping on his toes, it is your fault!”

Wynne glanced up at Reginald, who was giving her a superior smirk. Obviously, he was using her clumsiness as a means to get her into trouble. She wanted nothing more than to slug the smirk right off his face, but she decided he wasn’t worth the additional trouble she would get in for doing it. In the next instant, Gwaine and Lady Retta danced in their direction. With a stern expression, Gwaine leaned in close to Reginald and instructed, “And if a lady does mistakenly step on your toes, it is in very poor taste to make a scene and draw attention to her.” As they danced away, Lady Retta gave Wynne a sympathetic glance of encouragement.

Wynne and Reginald did a number of turns without incident, and Wynne relaxed and allowed some of the stiffness to leave her spine. However, just when Wynne thought she might get the hang of dancing, she felt a foot hook around hers and give a quick jerk. Before she knew what was happening, Reginald let go of her, and she tumbled backwards, landing hard on her backside with a yelp of surprise and pain.

Amid the gasps and giggles of Wynne’s classmates, Lady  Magdalen, Lady Retta and Gwaine all descended on her and Reginald. “Wynifred, what is the meaning of this?” Lady Magdalen cried, horrified.

“Me?” Wynne sputtered, not caring if she spoke disrespectfully. “That clotpole tripped me! Deliberately!”

“Wynifred, you will mind your tongue!” Lady Magdalen chastised, before turning hawkish eyes to Reginald. “Young man, did you indeed trip Wynifred?”

Of course, all malice had fled from Reginald’s face, and he was the picture of innocence and hurt surprise as he gaped at her and shook his head. “N-no, milady. Why would I trip a young lady?”

Lady Magdalen put her hands on her hips and glared down at Wynne. “Shame on you, Wynifred, for blaming your clumsiness on your partner!”

Gwaine was not so easily fooled by Reginald’s act. Although he had not seen what had happened, he was familiar enough with Reginald’s behavior to know Wynne was telling the truth. His brown eyes blazed as he glared warningly at Reginald, and the squire knew that he would suffer the consequences at his next training. He didn’t care. It was worth it to see this little chit ripped to shreds by Lady Magdalen. Gwaine’s eyes softened as he looked down at Wynne and gave his hand to help her rise. He kept his voice stern, but he hoped Wynne understood his intentions when he growled, “Wynifred, perhaps you would do better with a partner who can keep you in line.” He bowed to Lady Retta and said, “With your leave, milady, I believe we should exchange partners.” Wynne indeed caught Gwaine’s intent, and for a moment, her heart soared.

Before Lady Retta could agree, Lady Magdalen stepped in. Recalling that Wynne was smitten with Gwaine, she misinterpreted not only Gwaine’s gesture, but also wrongly assumed an ulterior motive for Wynne’s clumsiness. “That will not be necessary, Sir Gwaine.” Lady Magdalen turned to the others and called out to the first couple she laid eyes on. “Boris, Anora, you will exchange partners. Boris, I am confident that you can keep your cousin in line.”

Boris and Anora exchanged a crestfallen glance before Boris bowed to her and replied, “Yes, Lady Magdalen.” His gaze lingered on Anora as they parted.

As Anora came to stand beside Reginald, Wynne caught her eye regretfully and whispered, “I’m sorry, Anora.” Anora gave her friend a tight-lipped smile in return. She knew Wynne was not at fault.

Boris took Wynne’s hand and got into position. His eyes were hard as he glared down at her. “Way to go, cousin. Why can’t you just do as you’re told for once?”

As the lesson resumed, and Wynne stumbled around the dance floor with her cousin, she watched Gwaine and Lady Retta gliding effortlessly around the dance floor. Tears filled her eyes and threatened to fall as she felt the disappointment of being denied a dance with Gwaine. She was certain that she wouldn’t be so ungainly with a skilled partner like him, but now she would likely never know. As she caught a glimpse of Anora and Reginald turning around the floor, the obvious misery on her dear friend’s face made her heart sink even lower, and she fervently wished for the lesson to be over.

Lady Magdalen taught them two more dances. Though Boris wasn’t as cruel as Reginald, he was still impatient and very critical whenever Wynne stumbled or stepped on his foot. Wynne tried her hardest to hold her tongue, knowing much of his ill humor came from being denied dancing with Anora, but after he’d snapped at her for what seemed like the hundredth time, she’d had enough. In the middle of the galliard, she pushed away from him and snapped back irritably, “I’ll bet you don’t criticize Anora like that!”

Boris threw his hands up in frustration and replied loudly, “I don’t have to; Anora doesn’t have two left feet!”

Wynne’s face grew hot as everyone else once again stopped to stare at her. She heard Bronwyn whisper loudly to her partner, “If you think she dances badly, you should hear her sing.” Wynne tried to act as though she didn’t hear as Bronwyn and her partner both laughed.

Lady Magdalen tapped her foot as she scowled in their direction. “If the two of you are finished, we will continue.”

Wynne suffered through the remainder of the lesson, keeping her jaw tightly clenched and her eyes unblinking so that the rising tears would not fall. When at last the lesson was over and Lady Magdalen dismissed them, Wynne pushed past Boris and darted out of the ballroom. Anora would have hurried after her, but Boris stopped her. Anora protested, “Oh, Boris, she is my friend, and your cousin. We should make sure she’s all right.”

“She’ll be fine, darling,” Boris insisted, pulling Anora close to stroke her cheek. “Wynne prefers to be alone when she’s upset. You can speak with her at dinner.”

Anora wavered, knowing she should follow her friend, but wanting to stay with Boris. “But she’s had such an awful day, first the singing lessons and now the dancing…” she argued weakly.

Boris sighed, “Poor Wynne never has been musically inclined. Or graceful.”

“And it was quite brash of you to point it out to everyone here.” Boris and Anora both jumped; they did not see Gwaine approaching. “Just because she is your cousin does not make it acceptable to be harsh with her or to make a fool of her. Reginald did enough of that, and I was under the impression you had a bit more character than he does.”

Boris hung his head in shame, knowing Gwaine was correct. Anora gave him a reproachful yet loving glance before taking his hand. “We should really go check on her.”

Gwaine grinned knowingly at her and replied with a wink, “I know you two young lovers want to be together. Why don’t I go check on her? I have a good idea where she may be hiding.”

As they watched the knight hurry out of the ballroom, Anora smiled to herself. Maybe Gwaine did know how Wynne felt about him, and maybe his concern for her was evidence that he felt the same way. She certainly hoped so.