Fandom/original: Arthurian Legend (AU)
A/N: Wow, I am out of practice. This is a little fic inspired by my AU with the lovely psalm_onethirtyone, where Kay and not Gawain marries Ragnelle.
Lady Eleanor had a reputation for being difficult. She didn’t mind it – it was, after all, probably true enough. She was stubborn, but that was because she was generally right. She didn’t need to take the time to explain why she was right to every idiot who came along with the impression that they knew better. She couldn’t remember the last time she conceded to anyone but her father, and he was very occasionally right.
He had been, at least, before he’d gone off and gotten his idiot self killed.
The king didn’t try to order her to do much of anything. He had always treated her more like a niece than the daughter of his steward, and she suspected he saw her father in her face more than he saw her. It was well enough; it meant she attended the queen, and that she wasn’t sent away, once her father was killed. Eleanor had never had any home but Camelot, and she didn’t want another.
The feast was wearing at her, however. The hall was full, but not with anyone she much cared for that night; the knight seated to her was intensely boring in his attempts to win her favor, and Sir Bedivere, though seated nearby, was thoroughly distracted. As the pudding was being served she abruptly stood, muttered an “excuse me,” and dismissed herself.
The queen wouldn’t miss her, and she needed air.
As so many nights, she climbed the tower that looked out west, toward Inglewood. She sometimes imagined she could feel a slight tug that direction herself, like she’d swallowed a compass gone the wrong way round, but that might very well just be wishful thinking. The sun had only just set, and the sky in that direction was a deep purple as she emerged.
The guard wished her a good evening; he’d been one of the ones her father liked, and he pitied her now. She would take his pity, if it meant he left her alone on the rampart. The wind whipped at her hair, and she thought perhaps she should have stopped to fetch her cloak. It made no real matter.
Eleanor’s father had come up with her sometimes, while he was still alive. He wouldn’t try to talk to her, or offer her reassurances that would have skirted close to lies. They’d just stand, together, looking out at the fields and the forest beyond, the road trailing through them like a dusty brown strap.
He’d never speak of her mother then. He seldom spoke of her at all, though now and then he would answer a question if Eleanor asked. He had loved her very much, and he had been sure she loved them. “Sometimes,” he’d say in his gruff way, “things don’t work out the way anyone would like. And always things end.”
Eleanor wrapped her arms around herself and watched the blackening night engulf the forest. The king wanted her to marry, so she’d be taken care of. She could certainly make a fine marriage, if she wished; she inherited the lands her father had held, and she certainly had the king’s favor. She’d been trained as a maid-in-waiting to the queen. No man’s family could object to her save royalty. And she knew she couldn’t stay a maid-in-waiting forever. That was no more likely than her mother wandering back down the road.
No more likely than her father riding home, saying it had all been a misunderstanding. That he was well and alive and whole.
She wondered if she would feel any better if she was capable of weeping. She doubted it.
It was Bedivere who came and found her, an hour later – perhaps two. She didn’t count precisely. “My lady thorn,” he said, “thou didst break a heart tonight.”
“Fie,” she said, careless, “broke his hopes of my inheritance, you mean.”
“Gently,” he said, reflexively. He leaned on the wall beside her. “I’d offer mine own hand, but I’ve only the one.”
“Twas not a good jest the first time,” she informed him, tartly, but she didn’t order him away. He was one of the few she wouldn’t. “I thought you were amused enough for the evening.”
He laughed. “You have thy father’s honesty and thy mother’s wickedness, my lady. I was amused at supper, but I thought I would look for thee, after.”“You’d no need. I don’t wander far.”
“Nay,” he agreed, amiable. “But e’en so.” He watched too. It wasn’t at all the same, and he never spoke of it, but Eleanor knew she missed her father too. If she did run to Inglewood one day, she wondered if he’d run after her and fetch her back. (She wondered, still, why her father hadn’t done as much with her mother.)
“Art not with the queen tonight?” he asked, after a time, quiet.
“Nay, she said she’d no need of me.” The queen did so regularly enough that there was nothing odd, but Bedivere frowned at the news. “What?” she asked, impatient.
“Tis nothing,” he said, finally, “but tis passing cold. I’ll go in, my lady – wilt come?”
“Nay,” she said, turning away. “I’ll watch a while yet.”
“They’d not have you frozen, my lady,” he said, not unkindly. She suspected he didn’t mean the temperature, but she shrugged him off. With a sigh, he said, “As thou wilt. I’ll see thee tomorrow, fair one.” He took off his cloak, draped it around her shoulders (graceful, even with the one hand), and went down.
She had a premonition, as he left, that things were about to change. She could not imagine a way they’d change that would matter, though; her vigil was not one that would have an ending. She raised the cloak’s hood, and tilted up to watch the stars come out.
It would be easier, she thought, if she were a tree. Or a man. But she’d been left a lady, and that was the cruelest part of all.