Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin or its characters.
Alas, that was not to be for Wynne. She didn’t even make it to the main course before she was in trouble once more. The servants had brought in trays of fruits and vegetables, platters of freshly-baked breads and tureens of soup. Everything was delicious, but Wynne, being more tired than hungry, only picked at the offerings. This seemed to please Lady Magdalen, who tried to impress upon her charges that a proper lady had a dainty appetite and ate little in the presence of others, especially eligible gentlemen. Although she didn’t say so aloud, Wynne thought that was silly, and she always ate her fill, much to Lady Magdalen’s displeasure.
After sampling a few strawberries and a handful of grapes and spooning up a few bites of her soup, Wynne sat half-heartedly listening to the conversations of the other young ladies around her. She wasn’t seated near Anora, her one friend among the ladies, so she had no one to talk to. As usual, Lavinia and Bronwyn, who sat closest to Wynne, discussed the dresses the various ladies were wearing this evening, and Lady Magdalen sat at the head of the table chatting with Lady Gertrude, who was visiting her daughter Caitlyn at Camelot.
After listening to Lavinia and Bronwyn go on for twenty minutes about the queen’s newest gown, Wynne rolled her eyes and turned her attention across the room to the knights’ tables. As always, they seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. Gwaine was in his usual form, having recovered from his surprise at seeing Wynne dressed so beautifully with her hair in an attractive feminine style. He was animatedly telling a story while the squires listened with rapt expressions. Percival and Elyan exchanged occasional smirks behind Gwaine’s back, and Wynne fervently wished she were there listening to him instead of at the ladies’ table. Unable to hide her boredom, Wynne entertained herself by watching Gwaine’s lips and trying to make out what he said.
The Great Hall was quite warm, and Wynne soon found her eyelids growing heavier and heavier. Glancing over quickly to be sure Lady Magdalen was still engrossed in conversation, she laid her napkin aside, leaned her elbow on the table, and propped her chin on her hand to close her eyes for just a moment before the main course came in. Before Wynne knew it, she was lulled to sleep by the pleasant sounds around her. She slumped forward heavily on her arm, and her long hair toppled off her shoulder and landed with a plop into her unfinished soup. Her mouth drooped open slightly, and soft snores could be heard.
Anora, at the other end of the table, noticed Wynne’s predicament, but was too far away to do anything without calling unwanted attention to her friend. To Wynne’s misfortune, Bronwyn’s sister Bernice noticed the direction of Anora’s gaze and saw what had happened. She began giggling and nudged Rosalynde. Rosalynde looked and then clapped her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud and leaned over to whisper to Caitlyn, “Look at Wynifrog.”
Caitlyn’s eyes drifted across the table to Wynne, and she quickly covered her mouth with her napkin. After making sure her mother wasn’t looking, she motioned to Lavinia and Bronwyn, who also began laughing at Wynne’s predicament. Lavinia began stuffing blueberries in Wynne’s mouth to see how many would fit. Soon all the young ladies, save Anora, were either giggling at Wynne or urging Lavinia to balance another blueberry in Wynne’s mouth.
Suddenly, Lady Gertrude noticed Wynne asleep with her hair in her soup and blueberries drooling out of her mouth. She gasped aloud, a scandalized expression on her face, and Lady Magdalen followed her gaze across the table to Wynne. Her jaw dropped, and her eyes bugged at the scene just a few seats away. Of course, all the other ladies feigned innocence, acting as though they hadn’t noticed. Lady Magdalen brought her hand down hard on the table, rattling all the dishes, and snapped, “Wynifred!”
Startled awake, Wynne jumped, and her arm came down on the table, upending her soup bowl and knocking over her goblet. She spat countless blueberries out of her mouth, wondering how they got there, since she despised them. Lavinia and Priscilla, on either side of Wynne, squealed and tried, too late, to shove their chairs out of the way; the three of them ended up covered in wine and soup.
“Oh dear!” Lady Gertrude exclaimed, getting up quickly and motioning to a servant. As she and Lady Magdalen began dabbing at the spills with their napkins, she asked, “My goodness, Magdalen, are feasts at Camelot always so…eventful?”
“When young Wynifred is present,” Lady Magdalen said icily, “anything is….oh my!” Lady Magdalen’s comment was interrupted as she looked across at the knights’ table and saw Gwaine and Percival scuffling angrily. Lucky for Wynne, at that moment every eye in the Great Hall was on the two knights who seemed to be engaged in a fight to the death.
Suddenly, Arthur crossed the room and with the help of Leon and Elyan forcibly separated them. “Enough!” he shouted, causing silence to descend on the hall. “Both of you into the Council Chamber, now!”
As Gwaine and Percival left the Great Hall, still glaring at each other, Wynne stood holding a sopping wet napkin, her mouth agape as she watched the two knights leave the room, followed by a furious Arthur.
“Wynifred!” Lady Magdalen snapped for the second time. “Attend to your mishap and stop gawking at those ruffians!” A servant gave her an apologetic smile as she took the wet napkin from her and handed her a dry cloth. Wynne and the servant wiped up the rest of the spill as Lavinia and Priscilla stood by looking devastated at the stains on their favorite gowns. As Lady Gertrude dabbed and fussed a over their gowns, Lady Magdalen gave them a look of sympathy before turning to Wynne again. “Wynifred, you are the most exasperating, disaster-prone young lady I have ever had under my tutelage. I won’t even ask what you thought you were doing.” Wynne was glad of that, because she had no idea what had happened. “Before you go to bed tonight, you will launder not only your gown, but also the tablecloths and Lavinia and Priscilla’s gowns as well. Now go to your chamber and wait till I send for you.”
By the devious look Lavinia and Priscilla exchanged, she knew they were behind whatever had just occurred. She said nothing, but glowered at them, wishing she could slap their faces. At that moment thought the satisfaction she would feel from doing so would almost be worth the extra trouble she would be in, but she restrained herself.
Meanwhile, in the Council Chamber, Gwaine and Percival stood at attention, casting angry sidelong glances at one another, as Arthur paced back and forth in front of them trying to reel in his temper before he addressed them. Finally he stopped and turned to face them. Two defiant splotches of red high on Gwaine’s cheeks and the bemused hurt on Percival’s face told Arthur that Gwaine was likely the one who had started the scuffle, but being a fair ruler, he would not pass judgment till he heard what each had to say. Holding his voice steady with some difficulty, he asked, “Would you two care to tell me what that display was all about?”
“Gwaine started it,” Percival blamed sulkily, turning to glare at his friend.
Gwaine shot him a guilt-laden scowl, and Arthur looked pointedly at him and asked, “Would you care to respond to that?”
Pursing his lips and looking down at the floor for a moment, Gwaine glanced apologetically at Percival. He hated apologizing, even when he was wrong, as he knew he was now. “Percival is correct. I started it. I…apologize, Percival.”
Percival gave the smaller knight an irritated shove that Gwaine knew was an acceptance of his apology. Still, he wanted an explanation. “What were you thinking, you clot-pole?”
Gwaine raised his chin proudly, although the deepening red patches on his cheeks told the other two men that he was embarrassed at his reason. Trying to smirk unabashedly, he replied, “I was protecting a lady’s honor.”
Arthur crossed his arms in front of him, and his lips twitched with amusement as he glanced at Percival, who had recovered from his hurt and was also trying not to laugh. “Were you protecting her from Percival?” Arthur joked. That was too much; he and Percival burst out laughing.
The smirk disappeared from Gwaine’s face, and he clenched and unclenched his fists. He didn’t want to tell them what he had witnessed at the ladies’ table, although he was certain all of Camelot would hear of it by morning. The muscle in his jaw tightened, and he ground out simply, “No.”
Some of Arthur’s amusement faded; he wanted an answer. “Then would you mind telling us…” Understanding dawned on his face, and he looked at Percival and chuckled, “What did Wynifred do this time? It must have been quite the mishap for you to create a diversion to draw attention away from her.”
Percival laughed good-naturedly and joked, “You can dress her up, but you can’t take her out.” He wasn’t saying that to be mean. He was fond of her, as were all the knights, but he couldn’t help being amused by her misadventures and by the way Gwaine always seemed to be the one who came to her rescue. Gwaine raised a fist and made a lunge at Percival, who stepped back and held up his hands in surrender. “I’m only kidding, Gwaine! Take it easy.”
Arthur took a step towards Gwaine and laid a hand on his shoulder to calm him. Looking at Percival, he said softly, “Percival, you are dismissed. You may return to the feast.” Percival gave Arthur a hasty bow before he clapped Gwaine on the back and headed towards the Great Hall, still chuckling. Despite Percival’s obvious amusement, Gwaine knew that he would say nothing about Wynne’s predicament to the others. Arthur watched the other knight leave before turning to Gwaine and joking, “Gwaine, Gwaine, Gwaine. What am I going to do with you?” When Gwaine’s eyes met his, he continued, “You don’t have to tell me what happened with Wynne, but you do know I cannot have one of my most trusted knights starting a rumble during a feast, especially when we have guests present. Couldn’t you have broken out in song instead?”
Gwaine’s mouth twitched; at least he knew Arthur wasn’t angry. Still, he knew he would face consequences for his actions. He swallowed hard and apologized for the second time that evening. “Forgive me, Sire. It was the first thing that came to mind, and I knew I didn’t have much time to react before everyone’s attention was drawn to her. Again.”
Arthur chuckled at the hot-headed impulsiveness that often got his friend in as much trouble as Wynne’s clumsy impulsiveness did her. “As much as I admire your chivalry, Gwaine, your judgment leaves something to be desired. You can help Merlin polish boots and armor after the feast tonight.”
Gwaine’s lip curled distastefully. This wasn’t the first time he had been relegated to that task. Still, he knew he was getting off easy, so he bowed curtly and replied, “Yes, Sire. Thank you.”
“You may return to the feast if you choose. I’m sure the main course has arrived by now,” Arthur said, starting back towards the Great Hall.
Returning to the feast was the last thing Gwaine felt like doing, but he wanted to see if Wynne was still there and if she was all right. He turned on his heel and followed Arthur out of the Council Chamber, putting on his typical carefree, self-assured expression just before they went through the door. However, he didn’t wear that expression for long when he noticed that the rest of the young ladies were seated at their table as though nothing had happened, but Wynne was nowhere to be seen.
Late that night, the rest of the castle was quiet, but Wynne was in the kitchen hunched over a tub of hot water and strong soap, scrubbing the stains out of the gowns and tablecoths. In what Wynne felt was an act of pure unfairness, Lady Magdalen had decided that because Wynne had made her look bad in front of Lady Gertrude, she would launder not only the cloth from the ladies’ table, but all the tablecloths from the feast. She had at least heard from Anora what had happened, and loyal Anora had stood at Wynne’s side to protest the unfairness of her punishment, until Lady Magdalen had warned her of the consequences for insolence. Not wanting her friend to suffer too, Wynne had meekly accepted her punishment. Now, as her arms and back ached not only from her afternoon sword fight but also from scrubbing and her hands burned from the harsh soap, the memory of her friend’s loyalty was all that kept her from crying.
It was past midnight when she finished scrubbing the last tablecloth and hung it to dry. The last task she had to do was to get the heavy washtub out the back door and empty the dirty water. Knowing she wouldn’t be able to carry it out the door, she went to one side, grabbed the handle and tried to drag the tub across the floor. Even though she was strong for her size, she could barely budge it. Just as she decided to begin the task of emptying the tub bucket by bucket, she heard footsteps coming down the passageway towards the kitchen. Thinking it might be Lady Magdalen coming to check on her progress, she squared her shoulders and prepared for whatever she might have to say. When she heard Merlin’s cheerful voice, she relaxed. He wasn’t likely to be walking the halls with Lady Magdalen.
The door to the kitchen swung open, and there in the lamplight, three sets of eyes exchanged surprised looks as Merlin entered the kitchen followed by Gwaine. Wynne’s mouth formed an “O,” and her face reddened as she realized what a sight she was in her oldest, shabbiest dress which was all but soaked down the front, her straggling hair tied back with a kerchief, and her hands wrinkly and red from being in the water for the past couple hours.
Gwaine’s sharp eyes took in the scene, and his eyebrows came together severely as he asked, “What are you doing? Why aren’t you in bed?”
Ashamed to tell him what had happened, Wynne bit her lip for a moment before countering, “I might ask you the same thing.”
Merlin laughed out loud and glanced sideways at Gwaine, saying jovially, “Yes, Gwaine. Tell Wynne why you aren’t in bed.”
Gwaine tried to glare at his friend, but ended up laughing too. With a gleam in his eye, he replied, “The princess sentenced me to polishing duty for livening up a boring feast.”
He and Merlin laughed merrily, but Wynne didn’t find it funny. To her, it had looked as though he and Percival had really wanted to hurt each other. Tired and upset that what had promised to be a wonderful day had ended so badly, Wynne stamped her foot and snapped, “It’s not funny, Gwaine! Obviously you deserved your punishment, not like…” She stopped suddenly, realizing she had said more than she intended.
Both men ceased laughing abruptly and stared at her. “Oh, Wynne. This was a punishment?” Merlin asked in his soft, sweet voice. The kindness and sympathy she saw in his eyes brought tears to hers, and she hung her head so they wouldn’t see them fall. First Merlin and then Gwaine crossed the room; Merlin gathered her into his arms and looked helplessly at Gwaine, whose expression suggested he’d like to go upstairs, haul Lady Magdalen down to the kitchen, and soak her head in Wynne’s wash water.
Gwaine laid a hand on Wynne’s back, and she drew back from Merlin to look up at the knight. His dark eyes softened, and he smiled sweetly at her as he joked, “And here I thought my plan had succeeded.”
Wynne sniffled and looked up at him curiously. “What plan?”
He laughed and replied, “I noticed you were about to be the center of unwanted attention again, so I…” He glanced at Merlin, and his face broke into a wide grin. “…I created a diversion.”
Wynne simultaneously felt a rush of gratitude at Gwaine’s actions and a flood of mortification that he had seen her sitting with her blueberry-filled mouth hanging open and her hair floating in her soup. “Oh…” she muttered, lowering her head in shame.
Gwaine laughed indulgently and gathered her into a warm hug. He laid his head against hers and planted a brief, brotherly kiss into her hair before teasing, “You’re the only lass I know who can get into trouble while you’re fast asleep.”
Merlin crossed his arms and watched the two friends, laughing both at Wynne’s penchant for getting herself into trouble and at Gwaine’s easygoing acceptance of Wynne’s unladylike behavior. When Wynne drew back and gazed up at Gwaine, Merlin raised an eyebrow, noticing for the first time the way her eyes sparkled and her cheeks blushed pink when she looked at him. Wynne was smitten with Gwaine, if not more. He raised his eyes to Gwaine’s to see if his friend felt the same way about her. There was certainly fondness in his eyes, although all the knights felt so about Wynne. Gwaine’s eyes didn’t betray anything resembling blossoming love, but his actions tonight certainly suggested the possibility.
Gwaine suddenly noticed Merlin staring at him with that strange expression that he often got. Thinking he was still concerned over Wynne’s punishment, he said, “Well, I think this young lady has been punished more than enough, don’t you?” When Merlin started and then nodded his agreement, Gwaine looked down at Wynne and said, “You go on up to bed, lass. Merlin and I will take care of this heavy tub.” He smiled and winked, before bending down to pick up the tub with a grunt.
Wynne gazed after him as he stumbled to the back door with the heavy washtub. A small sigh involuntarily escaped her, and she heard Merlin chuckle. Her head snapped over to look at him, and she saw in his eyes that he knew her secret. Her eyes glassed over with panic as she tried to think of something to say. Merlin glanced up at Gwaine before he whispered, “How long have you felt this way about Gwaine?”
Wynne’s eyes looked at her feet. She knew it was no use denying it. “Since I first laid eyes on him,” she admitted in a whisper. Glancing up at him desperately, she whispered urgently, “You won’t tell him, will you? Please, Merlin, say you won’t tell him.”
Merlin looked down at her kindly and replied, “Your secret is safe with me, Wynne. Besides, I know how Lady Magdalen disapproves of him, so I don’t want to cause either of you any trouble.”
Hearing Gwaine dumping the tub out just outside the door, Wynne hurriedly asked, “Do you think…is there even a chance that he’ll ever…see me as a lady and maybe…feel the same?”
Merlin sighed and considered. He was certain she knew Gwaine’s reputation with the ladies, so it was possible that someday he would see her as more than a clumsy young girl. Still, he didn’t want to give her false hopes that he might fall in love with her as he knew she desired. He just laughed and replied, “He is definitely fond of you, Wynne, but who knows with him? I think any woman would come third to ale and apple pie.”
Wynne just giggled. She knew what Gwaine was like, but she was certain, as all young girls are, that if he would just look her way and see how she loved him, then he would change. She just hoped another young lady didn’t come along and capture his heart before she had her chance.