Author: Guede Mazaka
“He’s sleeping. For once.” Guinevere kept her voice lowered, but spared no intensity with her warning tone.
Though outwardly unimpressed, Lancelot did take a bit more care with how he sat down in the grass besides him. He’d had the sense to rid himself of his clinking armor, and to come carrying his swords in his hand instead of on his back where they slapped and clanked. Those he carefully set aside but within quick reach as he settled down. “By the way, why is that? I wasn’t gone more than a few days.”
Of course, he would assume that it was purely his presence that mattered. The only reason Guinevere didn’t succumb to the more casual atmosphere and hit him was because he’d been intelligent enough to stay on the other side of Arthur.
At the moment, he was also ignoring her in favor of worriedly tracing the deepening lines and dark shadows that, even now, drew cracks of tension over Arthur’s otherwise peaceful face. His concern was as genuine as hers, and with a sigh, she gave up her irritation in favor of answering his question. “Some wandering missionary came in and started badgering him about no longer adhering to the Christian faith. We sent the priest off. Politely.”
Lancelot’s lip curled with about the same amount of derision as was flavoring Guinevere’s voice. He patted Arthur’s cheek, then curled around the other man’s head to finally pull her down into a warm welcome. “In Sarmatia, we used to run them out with whips. If we were being polite.”
And he could be rather charming, and when he wanted to, almost as clever with words as Arthur was. A little bit of grin showing, Guinevere half-lowered her eyelashes and nuzzled against his mocking expression. “Was that before or after you danced around the fire naked?”
“It depended on whether we had any convenient bonfires already lit.” Eyebrows dancing, eyes glinting—he was still mocking, though it was questionable as to what his target was. The sharp tone covered it up well, but often Lancelot was jeering as much at himself as at the rest of the world. He sometimes reminded Guinevere of a chipped glass bottle, apt to slash and cut effortlessly deep, but ready to shatter if certain pressures were applied. Arthur treated Lancelot with great care, but Guinevere had a feeling it wasn’t because he’d had a similar observation about the man.
“And I’m being remiss in my manners,” Guinevere said, sweet as honey. She darted a light lick at the corner of Lancelot’s mouth. “How was the trip? Did you accomplish anything constructive?”
His amusement turned into a grimace, and Lancelot pulled away to flop down, head on crossed arms and fingers stretching out to play whisper-like over the tips of Arthur’s hair. He cast a pained, challenging look back up at her. “Woman, don’t you ever let up?”
“Don’t call me ‘woman’—I’m queen at least. And of course I do. If I didn’t—”
Rolling his eyes, Lancelot plucked out a blade of grass and flicked it at her. “My queen, if you don’t, then I foresee two of you lying down looking like just-recovered fever victims. It’s bad enough that I have to worry about Arthur working himself to death.”
For a moment, Guinevere was speechless. Then she sat back and scrutinized him from head around the curve of his body to mud-caked boots, which hadn’t been cleaned in some days—he must have come straight from the stables. Her eyes swept back up to meet his sardonic half-flush.
The sky overhead was still blue and calm and where it should be, Guinevere noted. And the woods were green and rustling, the wind was fresh and she was still alive, as a quick pinch to her arm showed.
“It’s a practical consideration,” Lancelot said. Quite defensively.
“It’s kind of you,” Guinevere countered, more sincerely than she’d meant to. Damn him, he’d just discovered another way to throw her off-balance. “Though unnecessary, since I do appear to be lounging on the grass and doing nothing in particular, which I believe are the hallmarks of relaxation.”
He merely made a rude sound into the ground and wound himself a little more tightly around Arthur. But when Guinevere tucked her legs beneath her skirt and thus shifted her hip closer to his head, he lost no time in pillowing against its softness. “I did much, thank you,” Lancelot muttered. “Including determining for certain that you are in no position to cast stones against…my tribe’s religious practices.”
“Do you actually follow those now?” She bumped his head with her knee, but he simply grabbed her ankle and forced her to hold still. “What we do, we do in honor of Britain. Is that wrong?”
“Frankly, I haven’t had the time to think about such things, till recently. In war there’s no gods, only your sword and your enemy’s.” Lancelot twisted, glanced up at Guinevere and then returned to petting Arthur. He looked morose for a moment, but the sunlight flickered as a bird passed overhead and when it settled again, Lancelot was his old cynical self. “It never held as much meaning for me as it did for him. And considering how much of a sore spot it still is to him…”
There he stopped himself, but Guinevere could guess at a little of what he was thinking from the way his hand tightened white-skinned on Arthur’s shoulder and the slight tic in his jaw. Lancelot was circumspect enough to avoid arguments he couldn’t at least fight to a draw, and he and she both knew he had his own forms of blind faith that ruled him.
Guinevere had hers as well, and by now she’d received enough scars to treasure them safely away from such hurts. They had precious little enough to truly cleave to that doing otherwise seemed to be only inviting unneeded pain—and that was something she still didn’t understand about Arthur. He continually opened his eyes, even though that would blind him, and when his eyes had healed, he would not hesitate to do it again. Perhaps it reassured him to know that certain things could survive any trial, but it still seemed foolhardy to test himself when he didn’t have to.
Foolhardy and brave and determined. Sometimes she did have to smile, bitterness tucked into one corner of her mouth and happiness into the other, because she’d always thought she would know better than to follow a hero. She had wanted to survive, after all.
And somehow, they were not only surviving, but living as well. Guinevere rested on the sun-warmed grass and watched Lancelot’s eyes slowly flutter shut, his breathing slow. Then she laid one hand on his shoulder, the other on Arthur’s, and continued to keep watch. Someone would spell her when she grew tired.