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.