Summary: Arthur explains Yule traditions to Morgana, who's still new to Camelot.
Word Count: 2944
Author's Notes: gilli_ann, I really hope you enjoy your fic! I tried to fit as many of your wishes as I could. :) And thanks to the mods for hosting the fest! It's my first time participating and I had a lot of fun.
Disclaimer:Merlin is owned by the BBC and Shine. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made. Don't send us to the dungeons.
Arthur knocked on Morgana’s door. His father had ordered him to accompany her to the Yule feast that night. He thought he was becoming too important for a duty like this—Morgana was just Morgana. At sixteen he was only a couple of years- at most -from achieving knighthood and becoming their leader. She was just fifteen, not even a proper Lady yet.
Morgana’s maid opened the door; he could never remember her name. It was Jen or something like that. “Sire,” she said, and bowed.
“Is Lady Morgana ready yet?” he asked, looking over the girl’s head.
“Yes, I’m ready,” Morgana replied. She stepped from behind the screen leading to her bedchamber.
His mouth opened in surprise. She looked completely different than she had earlier in the day. Her ebony hair was mostly piled on her head, with a few locks trailing downward. Her lips’ natural color was enhanced with something cherry red. And her sleeveless royal-blue dress was accented by a long, indigo shawl draping over her elbows.
He was startled back to awareness by a couple of giggles. The girls immediately covered their mouths and pretended not to have done anything. He frowned. “Let’s get going then. I don’t want Father yelling at me for being late.”
“Of course,” said Morgana. She’d had a few years to see how hard Uther was on his son. She and Arthur were good enough friends by now that she didn’t want to see him hurt on her account.
He held out his arm and she slipped her hand under and around it. “See you later, Gwen,” she told her maid and they left the room.
“I’m sorry,” she told him once they were a ways down the hall. “I mean, I don’t want Uther to yell at you later. It always makes you sad.”
He gave her a small smile. “Thank you. I guess you surprised me.”
“You look . . . really nice.”
She looked away, blushing a little. “Thank you.”
He glanced down at her and felt a wave of protectiveness wash over him. He knew what people said about her. The knights praised her beauty and often speculated what she’d be like underneath her clothes. That talk made him turn away. The other courtiers often wondered if Uther was going to marry Arthur and Morgana, taking bets on when it would happen. That talk made him a bit angry. Morgana was a person, not a commodity. And they should both be free to marry whom they liked. But that hadn’t stopped his imagination from wandering there anyway.
Her voice broke into his thoughts. “Tell me about Yule.”
He pretended to be annoyed. “Morgana, we go through this every year.”
She smirked. “I know. I just like to hear about it. You know we didn’t celebrate it in Cornwall like you do here.”
Arthur rolled his eyes. “All right. Yule is the midwinter celebration. There’s a big hunt to commemorate the one the gods go on. Every year a boar is caught for the Yule feast, which celebrates what the gods have given us and that we’ve made it this far through winter.”
“It’s interesting Uther still permits these celebrations of the Old Religion . . .”
“Moragna, shh!” He looked around and breathed a sigh of relief that no one was about. “My father would have a riot on his hands if he banned these traditions. That’s why he permits them.”
“And the trees?”
“A Roman custom. The evergreens symbolize eternal life and from them we get the Yule log.”
“That’s not connected to the bonfires in the lower town.”
“No, but it fits nicely, don’t you think?”
Just then they came to the dining hall, where large tables were set up around the room. The tables nearly groaned with the weight of the many dishes upon them—mostly meat, but there were preserved vegetables, fruits, and pastries there as well. The room was loud with laughter and conversation, but everyone looked up as the Prince and Lady entered the room. They smiled and raised their glasses.
The couple grinned too and went to take their seats. Just for this feast, Morgana sat next to Arthur. Gaius sat on the King’s other side, and the two young people were glad to see the physician getting his due. The seating arrangement allowed Arthur and Morgana to keep talking.
But just then the boar was brought into the room. The thing was so large it took four people to carry the platter and set it in front of the King, who laughed in delight. He stood up and gave a speech about how prosperous the year had been and his joy at the growth of the Kingdom. Then he called for the Yule candle. A drape was yanked off an object behind the King to reveal the candle.
The King was handed a long, lit match and walked toward the candle. Morgana leaned toward Arthur to ask, “And this candle?”
“It’s lit every night and put out every morning for twelve mornings. Only the King can do either. It’s believed to bless the household, and for him, that includes the Kingdom.” He fell silent and they joined the rest of the room in watching Uther light the huge candle.
Everyone cheered when the wick caught and Uther returned to his seat. “Bring the wassail and let’s eat!” More cheering sounded and Morgana rolled her eyes. Of course everyone wanted to get drunk.
She whispered to Arthur, “Is wassail symbolic too?”
The Prince rolled his eyes. “Of course. It means ‘good health’ and goes along with the carols. The drunker everyone gets the more incomprehensible they’ll get. In the lower town people go door to door singing them.”
“That sounds a bit more fun than this.”
“Well luckily we don’t have to stay the whole time. Drunk nobles are stupid nobles.”
“I didn’t know you felt like that.”
“Sixteen years at court and we’ll see how you feel. Just say the word and I’ll escort you out of here.”
“Thank you, Arthur.” She smiled at him and his world tilted a little. He had to look away for a bit or risk being lost in her jade eyes.
Fortunately there were plenty of distractions. Entertainment in the form of bards and musicians came into the hall. More and more food came from the kitchens to tempt palates. There was even dancing. Arthur and Morgana both had to tolerate partners of various levels of inebriation.
Arthur sat out a dance to watch Morgana. She really was coming into her own—he didn’t know why it was so hard for him to admit she was beautiful. Maybe the brother-sister-like relationship they’d developed over the last five years had done it. It had been rough before they’d formed that bond. She wasn’t like other ladies at Camelot. She’d grown up learning to ride and swordfight like a man and had seemed wilder for it. But he had to admit she was good at those things; they were part of the reason he liked her.
Wait. He liked her? He turned his focus outward again to watch her whirl and twirl artfully in whatever dance was being performed. Her dress not only highlighted her perfect porcelain skin but her unique eyes too. Her dress swirled just so around her legs . . . yikes, he was captivated. Just as he picked up a sprig of mistletoe and crammed it into his doublet, a servant came up to the King.
Arthur could hear him whispering in his ear, but not what was said. But a smile came over Uther’s face. Arthur heard his father say, “Well, bring it in then!” The servant nodded and ran out of the room. Uther stood and clapped his hands. The musicians, dancers and talking stopped. “The Yule log has arrived!”
More cheering and applause rang throughout the room. The servant who’d talked to Uther opened the door to the hall from the outside and held it open. Several men, bearing half an oak tree, stepped through the door and headed for the massive fireplace on one side of the hall. Everyone in the room watched their progress around the room.
Arthur’s eyes were drawn away when he saw Gaius hand his father a branch about torch-length. Once the log rested in the formerly empty fireplace, the King walked over to it and lit the branch from a nearby brazier. When it caught, he held the branch to the Yule log until it caught fire. He then laid the branch against the log and proclaimed, “It is done!” He returned to his throne.
Morgana leaned over again. “The branch—?”
“From last year’s tree.”
“And the decorations?”
“Evergreen clippings. To make it look pretty.”
She smirked at him. “We all love to make ourselves look pretty.”
Arthur just laughed. The music had started up again and Lady Something-or-other approached to ask for his hand. Morgana threw him a smile and waved as he was pulled away.
Several exhausting dances later, Arthur watched as Morgana’s drunken partner decided to take liberty. He let his hands drift down to her derriere. She immediately stopped and asked him- rather nicely, Arthur thought -to stop. The man refused and was met with a stinging slap to his face. Arthur winced but his sympathy lay with Morgana. No woman should have to put up with behavior like that if she didn’t welcome it.
When the dance finished, he immediately headed back toward his seat at the table. As he sat, she looked over at him. “I suppose you saw all that.”
“Yes. I got away as soon as I could, but you handled it well without me.”
“Well thank you. But I think I’m ready to leave now.”
“Oh good. I’m exhausted.”
She smiled at him, a twinkle in her eye. “What are you waiting for then?”
He got lost in her eyes for a moment before she giggled. He turned toward the King. “Father. Morgana wishes to retire for the night. I’ll escort her to her chambers.”
Uther nodded thoughtfully. “Of course. Will you return?”
“Probably not. I’m rather tired myself.”
“All right, Arthur. Good night.”
“Good night, Father.”
He turned back to Morgana. “We’re free.” She smiled and nodded. He stood and pulled out her chair so she could stand. She took his offered arm again and with a few waves to people they knew, they left.
“Did you really want to go back to your chambers?” he asked her as they walked down the corridor.
“Not really. I just want to get away from everyone for a little while.”
“Shall we go to our place?”
Morgana smiled. “Yes, let’s.” The place he was referring to was the east tower. Two years after she’d come to Camelot, he’d showed her the deserted tower and they often escaped there when one or both got into trouble. They didn’t need it so much for that now, but it was still a place of sanctuary. “Race you.”
“In those shoes?”
She paused to remove both shoes. “No,” she replied and took off running.
“Hey, no cheating!” But he laughed as he ran to catch up with her.
They ran down several corridors, turning here and there before barging through the nearly-unused door to the tower. He’d decided to let her win this time because she’d looked so put out after that knave accosted her.
She swept through the tower door an instant before he did and plopped herself on a bit of floor next to it. Arthur closed it behind him and sat on the other side of the door. They both laughed as they panted to catch their breath. “Admit it,” she said.
“That you feel better after all that.”
She laughed again, her eyes twinkling in the moonlight. That time the catch in his breath had nothing to do with their impromptu race. “It always feels good to get away from everything for a little while.”
“Yes, it does.” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “Is being a Prince hard?”
“Oh hell yes. What with the training, sitting in councils, being lectured at by Father and Gaius . . . I’ll bet being a Lady is much easier.”
She shook her head. “Oh, I don’t think so. I have to wear stuff like this,” she gestured to her dress, “every day, all made up. I have to sew, spin, gossip, and look pretty. I rarely get to do what I really want to do. You’re lucky to be male.”
“Yep, you’re right. Your life is definitely harder.” They looked at each other seriously before cracking up into laughter. When they eventually quieted he pulled a small, thin package from inside his doublet. “I have a gift for you.”
“’This’ is an old Roman tradition. During their Yuletide celebration they gave each other gifts. It’s not very common here yet, but I’d like it to be.” He handed her the package.
She took it from his outstretched hand and immediately took off the ribbon and paper. What she held was a small, wooden box. She looked at him as if to ask permission, and he nodded. Inside the box she found an intricate gold chain. Linked to it were several green stones, kind of like fringe. In awe, she touched it then picked it up so the stones dangled. “Arthur—”
“They’re emeralds and kind of remind me of your eyes. Need help to put it on?”
He scooted closer as she swept her hair from the back of her neck. She held it to the side while he looped the chain around her neck and fastened the clasp. “There.”
“Thank you. How does it look?” They both turned so they faced each other.
Arthur was nearly too stunned to speak. “Gorgeous.”
“It’s down here, silly.” She pushed his head downward so he looked at the necklace instead of her face.
“I was right. It does go with your eyes.” He wanted to reach out and touch it, but that wouldn’t be proper. His whole body tingled and he wanted to do something, but couldn’t think what.
“Aw, I don’t have anything for you,” Morgana broke into his thoughts.
Something about the way she said that struck a chord in him. His heart began beating rapidly. “I think I have something that might work.” He pulled the mistletoe out from his pocket.
“Is that . . ?”
“It is. Do I need to explain the tradition surrounding this?”
“No. It was well-known in Cornwall. But how . . ?”
Arthur stood. He searched the wall behind him and found a crack just above his head. Then he crammed the sprig of mistletoe into the crack and made sure it would stay. He looked down at Morgana and said, “I assume it’s clear now?”
She swallowed. “Yeah.”
He reached out a hand to pull her up. She took it and stood, just looking him in the eye. “So, um . . .”
She giggled nervously and reached a hand up to his face. “I’ve got this.” She raised herself on her tiptoes and pressed her lips to his.
A sensation kind of like relief and nervous bliss exploded in his chest. His hands reached down to hold her by the shoulders. Her other one cradled the side of his neck. After a really long moment or maybe several days, they broke apart. They stared each other in the eyes.
“That was . . .” he started.
“I know. Was it your first?”
He considered how to answer this, but decided to go with the truth. “Yes. You?”
“Oh yes. Do it again?”
He answered her by pressing his lips to hers. The same feeling, but less nervous, bloomed in his chest. Her hands rested on his chest and his slid down to rest on her waist. He broke briefly to reposition his head so their lips fit together more comfortably. That made her whimper softly and they broke as her knees failed and she went sliding to the floor. Fortunately he caught her and slid down with her.
“Are you all right?” he asked her, concerned.
“It helps . . . to breathe,” Morgana replied, smiling up at him.
“I just thought you were impressed by my kissing skill.”
She snorted but was still smiling. “Maybe it was a bit of both.”
He settled against the wall, legs open with Morgana tucked next to his body. “So what now?”
She looked up at him. “You’ve been thinking about this, haven’t you?”
He flushed a little. “Yeah.”
“A few hours.”
“That’s all?” She pretended to pout.
“Hey, be happy I realized it at all. I’m rubbish with feelings.”
She giggled and put a hand on his chest. “It’s all right. I can help.”
“You already have.” He leaned down to give her a quick kiss.
She sighed when it was over. “Mmm, so do you think your father would be angry if he knew about this?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I should ask him . . . hypothetically.”
“That could work.”
“And so . . .”
“We see where this goes. If it gets more serious or not.”
“This is all so . . .”
“I know. We could be good.”
“Or not. But we can enjoy it while it lasts.”
“That we can both agree on.”
But he stopped her with another kiss. And another. Neither left the tower until both were too tired to stay awake, then they went together, hand in hand.