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Chapter Sixteen


I woke the next morning before sunrise and prepared myself for the tournament. I had still not taken on a squire, not wanting to live in close quarters with anyone in my current condition, so I borrowed one of the stable boys who took care of Elith and also helped me into my armor. He left me to go and prepare Elith, and as I was adjusting my sword around my waist there came a knock on the door.

            “Come in,” I called, and the door opened, revealing Gawain, smiling brightly, already dressed in full armor.

            “Ready?” he asked.

            I took up a tankard and drank, thirsty, but too nervous to eat breakfast. “Well enough, I suppose. You?”

            He grinned and shrugged. “I always get the jitters, but, trust me, as soon as you actually get into the field and immerse yourself into the competition, you’ll forget all about that and just look to the end and victory. And no going out in the first round. You have to do me proud or everyone will think I’ve done a horrible job training you. I’ve got a reputation to hold, after all.”

            I laughed, but I really didn’t want to let Gawain down. Especially since he had put up with me in my foul moods for the past few months. He stepped forward and put a hand on my shoulder, bending down to look me straight in the eye.

            “Mordred, what’s wrong?” he asked meaningfully. “And don’t pretend nothing is. I know you try to do so, but you’ve been doing so for too long, and I’ll not let you go on like this.”

            “I’m not pretending that it’s nothing,” I told him, more harshly than I had wanted to. “But I’m afraid I cannot say what ails me.”

            He shook his head, folding his arms over his chest adamantly. “This is about your row with Arthur, isn’t it? Well, that was over a month ago, Mordred, I think it’s time to forgive and forget.”

            “It’s not that,” I whispered. “I told you, Gawain, I can’t tell you what it is.”

            He suddenly grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me. “Mordred, please just unburden yourself! I cannot stand to see you like this anymore, so internally tortured! You are like a brother to me, and whether you like it or not I feel protective of you. If something is wrong I hope that you would at least come to me to ask for advice.”

            “I would always do that, Gawain,” I told him firmly. “But this is one time I cannot. There is nothing you can do, and it would be best to keep things as they are and pretend they are normal. Please, I see you as a brother too, Gawain, and if you do truly love me as one, do not ask me again. I beg it.”

            He looked like he was going to protest, then he shook his head with a sigh, letting go of me. “Are you in some trouble, Mordred?”

            “No,” I said, hating myself for lying to him. “Please, just don’t.”

            “Fine,” he said sternly. “But if you ever need someone to talk to, you can always find me.”

            “I know,” I told him with a genuine smile. “Thank you.”

            “Good luck today,” he said as he made for the door.

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