Title: The Knight's Handbook
Summary: Not everyone is enjoying the feast to celebrate Cenred's defeat.
Word Count:1674 (oooh, ooops!)
Prompt:156 - Intimidating
Author's Notes: This got long...also, I cheated just a little. Its a chopped up, abbreviated, rewritten, edited version of a much much longer rpg from a number of years ago with my friend MayGlenn (who can be found on AO3 and who gave me permission to rewwrite the living daylights out of it and try to make it postable. I hope I did it justice). Pre slash maybe, if you squint? Canon era.
The Knight's Handbook
Percival sighed as he surveyed the scene before him. He was surrounded by people, by noise, by laughter, but in all his life he had never felt so alone. He’d nearly backed out altogether at the entrance to the great hall. A hard shove in the back from Lancelet propelled him reluctantly through the open doorway into the throng. Feeling horribly out of place Percival gingerly made his way to the table, convinced he was going to trip over the red cloak at any moment.
Once seated he felt no better. He tried to fit in, picking at the strange food using the even stranger cutlery, taking care not to spill anything on the fine clothes he found himself wearing. He even attempted to join in the conversation, seeing the look of disdain cross the face of the man to his right – the Baron of something or other – when he realised Percival’s family lineage ran to pig farmers, horse breeders and seamstresses, rather than Earls or Dukes. Now they were talking about poetry for the love of God. Percival sighed again and tried not to fidget. He reached for yet another goblet of wine, more for something to do than because he actually wanted it.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Gwaine was having a lovely time, he really was. He’d liked Camelot and its pesky servant since he’d first set foot in it – and now he was in his element. A feast to celebrate their victory over Cenred and a chance for Arthur to introduce his new knights to the court. They were the centre of attention and Gwaine lapped it up. He was in love with life tonight and with everyone around him. He wanted to marry Merlin, kiss the wine-bearer and bend the serving girl over this very table and…
Okay, so it had been awhile! But the serving girl was enjoying his attentions and the night was still young. Just as he had set his aim on the flirty young maid, he caught sight of the knight Lancelot had come in with. If Gwaine remembered correctly, his name was Percival and he’d been damned useful to have alongside in a fight, but now the man sat in the midst of the celebrations looking absolutely abandoned. For a moment Gwaine was indignant – who was he to ruin a perfectly good feast with his moping – when he realised: of course. He was the one whose village had been burned wasn’t he? So Gwaine set himself a new task, cheering up the larger knight.
- - - - - - - - - - -
Percival managed a fake smile for Gwaine. He appreciated the effort the man was putting in to include him, his infectious grin lighting up those around him, but Percival couldn’t find it within him to join the celebration. These people had plenty to be happy about after all. Their kingdom had its king and castle back, but they weren’t Percival’s kingdom or castle, not really. He had a village, a small farmstead he called home, and a family – except now he didn’t. He had no idea what he was doing here, dressed in clothes that weren’t his, pretending to be something he was not.
He waited until Lancelot was busy dancing with Lady Guenevere and Gwaine was distracted by the serving girl, and quietly, carefully snuck out of the hall and into the night.
It was a thing of moments to collect his belongings from the quarters assigned to him. He changed out of his new clothes, folding them neatly before swapping them for his freshly laundered and patched old clothes and the rusty ill-fitting mail shirt. Then he headed for the stables. He only got lost three times on the way. This place was huge, and a maze.
Ned wasn’t exactly hard to spot. His bony old farm horse stood out like a sore thumb amongst the warsteeds and palfreys. Percival fed Ned a carrot taken from his plate as he breathed in the familiar sights and sounds of the stables. But somehow the familiarity only made the ache inside him worse. Better to do this quickly, not that he truly thought anyone would miss him. He ran his fingers through Ned’s mane, it felt silkier than it ever had. It was weird to think of someone else tending his horse.
“Come on Ned.” He whispered into the horse’s ear as he slipped the bridle over his head. “Its time for us to go…” And then it hit him. For the first time since it had happened, the first time he’d had time to actually truly realise the finality of it. He had no home. He had no where to go. Percival made a soft surprised sound as the pain hit as hard as any physical blow and he buried his face into Ned’s neck, his body starting to shake.
- - - - - - - - - -
As the serving girl made her rounds, Gwaine realised he had a horrible choice ahead of him, for Percival had disappeared. Normally, it would be no choice at all, but something about the large knight pulled on him and apparently his heart and feet weren’t listening to the anatomy inbetween as he found himself running into Merlin as he headed away from the feast.
“Hey, d’you see Percival, the big guy? Which way’d he go?”
“Um, outside?” Merlin shrugged. “Aren’t you staying for the dancing?”
“I’ll be back.” Gwaine said, before adding, just to see Merlin’s ears turn pink. “Unless I get lucky of course, then I won’t be back!”
Gwaine was apparently fantastic at stalking, although Percival wasn’t exactly hard to spot in a crowd, and there wasn’t even a crowd to spot him through, with most everybody busy having fun. Gwaine still wasn’t sure why his feet were insisting on following the man, who no doubt wanted to be alone. He followed silently, ducking behind the stable door as Percival headed along the stalls, petting the occasional enquiring nose, before stopping in front of the ugliest horse Gwaine had ever seen.
And now it was just awkward, Gwaine had no idea what to do. Percival talked to his horse apparently, which was both adorable and tragic at the same time, and no doubt the man wouldn’t appreciate his conversation with his horse being eavesdropped on, but Percival was also leaving and Gwaine didn’t want him to do that…but still he hesitated, unsure if he had any right to step in, the man obviously knew his own mind, and Gwaine wasn’t one for telling other people what to do.
Then, Percival let out a low moan, seeming to collapse in on himself. Gwaine had seen grief enough times to recognise it and had no doubt Percival wanted to be alone right now, but Gwaine also knew that alone wasn’t what he needed. Again his feet took over and the next thing he knew he had his hands around Percival’s shoulders as the man collapsed against him, as all the grief he’d no doubt bottled up for the days and weeks it had taken him to fulfil his quest and see Cenred dead, overflowed.
Gwaine had no idea what he was doing, and no words that he thought would help, so he lowered them both down to the ground and held Percival against his shoulder and held on. Suddenly Gwaine was no longer holding a large and fearsome knight, but a lonely farm boy who had lost everything he had known.
“I thought it would get better.” Percival managed eventually, his voice hoarse from sobbing. “I thought after Cenred was dead, it would get better.”
Gwaine sighed, and rubbed a soothing pattern over Percival’s back. He was the wrong person for this. Sure he was great with words, but sincere, heartfelt words, not so much… “It probably won’t ever be better.” He said eventually. “It’ll hurt less maybe, over time, and you’ll slowly make new friends and new memories to start to fill in some of the space, if you let them - but it’ll never be better.” He had no idea what he was saying, he was terrible at this, he should be comforting…this wasn’t comforting, but it was the truth. Gwaine had been alone and so much younger when his life had come crashing down, but maybe, if he could he here for Percival this man wouldn’t end up messed up like he was. Maybe he could help.
“So, you were planning on a ride?” He prodded gently.
Percival wouldn’t meet his eyes. “I was going to leave. I don’t belong here,” he said, before his voice dropped to a defeated whisper “but I don’t have anywhere to go.”
“So stay.” Gwaine reasoned. “Its not so terrible.”
“I don’t fit in. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how to be a knight.”
Gwaine laughed softly. “Who does? I know Elyan and Lancelot are making it up as they go along, and I know I certainly am.”
And there they were, Percival finally looked up, his blue eyes meeting Gwaine’s in surprise. “But you all know what to do!”
“Nah.” Gwaine shook his head. “I’m still figuring it out. Maybe,” he smiled at Percival, “Maybe we can work it out together.” He started to heave Percival to his feet. “I bet there’s a book. Leon would know ‘The Knight’s Handbook' or something. We can borrow it from the library, Lancelot told me there’s a library, and we can go through it together. Chapter One…I bet chapter one is all about how not to trip over your cloak.”
Percival managed a small smile, the first genuine one he’d managed in forever. “Chapter Two, which forks to use when eating weird food.”
“That’s the spirit!” Gwaine beamed at him, starting to lead the swaying Percival towards the stable doors and on to their rooms. Apparently the man had had more than a little to drink as he lurched unsteadily. Gwaine managed to keep him on track though. “Its going to be fun. We can see how many people we can scandalise as we figure it out together…”