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chapter ten

knight

I tried to forget. I tried to immerse myself into my knightly training and forget the fact that I had been cursed, destined to kill Arthur in one way or another whether I wanted to or not, but it did not work. No matter what I did, it was always at the edge of my thoughts, and the darkness clouded over me at night, so that I hardly slept, afraid of the nightmares that would come should I let myself slip into slumber. I didn’t know what scared me the most about it: Killing Arthur against my will without being able to stop myself, or actually wanting to do so. I think I came to the conclusion that whatever circumstances could possibly have brought me to wish for his death scared me the most.

            Gawain got irritated with me. He could tell I was struggling with something, and I believe he thought it had to do with Lancelot escaping. On several occasions, I wished to tell him everything if only for someone to unburden myself on, but I didn’t know how he would take it. I had come to love Gawain as an older brother, and I thought he felt much the same about me, but there was also something about him that was so black and white, I didn’t want to force him into feeling like he should have to make a decision to pity me or serve Arthur so I kept my mouth shut.

            On the other hand, I was nearly positive that Merlin knew, or at least sensed something was wrong even if he weren’t sure of the particulars, but did I want to confide in him? I still wasn’t entirely sure about Merlin, and already knew that he would not hesitate to kill me should I look at Arthur the wrong way. I couldn’t blame him for that, but it scared me all the same.

            Finally, Gawain had had enough of me one day while we were in the lists, and he stabbed his sword down between the two of us.

            “Do you want this, Mordred? Do you want to be a knight? Because you’re going to have to work a lot harder if that’s what you want.”

            I was ashamed and vowed to indeed work harder. “I am sorry, Gawain, truly. I have not been sleeping well and I think it’s wearing on me.”

            He sighed and gripped my shoulders tightly. “I believe in you, Mordred, and what’s more, Arthur believes in you. He genuinely wants to see you become a knight worthy of his greatest. That’s why I’m mad at you. I just don’t feel you’re working hard enough. I want him to be proud of you too, and I couldn’t stand to see you disappointed in yourself either, as I know you will be if you don’t apply yourself and forget whatever is knocking around in that thick head of yours.”

            “I will work harder, Gawain. I promise.” And I did. I fought and fought every day with Gawain and the other knights until I was too exhausted to dream when I fell into bed. I forced the thoughts away, the only thing permeating my mind the coming knighting, and Arthur’s approval.

***

The day came so soon, I was hardly ready for it, but I stood looking at the shining new suit of armor that Gawain and I had picked up from the blacksmith the day before with apprehension as it stood in one corner of my room. Gawain, dressed in his best for the occasion, came in to help me ready myself, acting as my squire today. He gripped my shoulders and shook me slightly, grinning.

            “Don’t look so worried,” he said with a fond tug of my hair. “You have prepared and practiced so much I don’t think there’s any way Arthur will not knight you today.”

            “I know,” I told him, forcing a smile. I clapped a hand to his forearm. “I just want to thank you, Gawain, for all you have done for me since I arrived. You’ve been a brother to me where I never had one, and I will never forget your friendship to a frightened boy who hardly knew his way around a sword.”

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