The castle staff and most of the city in general were in state of uproar. It was morning before Arthur’s birthday and along with final preparations for tomorrow’s celebration, they were preparing the guest chambers for the arrival of Lady Inis Averay, Anwen’s mother, her sister Cara and two other ladies of Solascoill’s court. Though latter three names were not familiar to citizens of Camelot, Inis Averay or de Bois was; at least to the older citizens.
“Merlin what’s wrong?” Anwen asked when she spotted her friend coming down the corridor with puzzled look on his face.
Some of the courtiers she passed by were still giving her strange looks even though it has been a week since Alined’s rather short visit. Honestly, she saved them all a lot of trouble by making Alined and that trickster servant of his, Trickler, paranoid.
Well…Merlin had to be congratulated too for causing Alined to croak during the meeting whilst Anwen was talking, making it impossible to accuse her of using magic. And poor Trickler at the end of the day looked like he saw death itself. That might have had something to do with the fact that Kyna was trying out the citadel wall acoustics with echoing spells. Or maybe it had something to do with Kyna having sudden inspiration to sing a song about a trickster that met his end after trying to instigate discord on his king’s court.
She knew Arthur was aware of this but said nothing because Alined did not complain. In fact, when he announced he was leaving just two days in his stay; he sounded most worried about Uther’s health and told Arthur that should he ever need his help, he was only to ask.
“Um…What? Oh, nothing is wrong, I was just thinking about your mother. It has been a long time since I saw her.” Merlin mused.
“Yes, I think she feels the same. She will be happy to see you again.”
“I know…Arthur seems to be a nervous wreck though.”
“He has never seen her before and when he found out that many of the older citizens still remember her…Well he feels slightly under pressure.”
“He will do fine…Mother always wanted to see him and she was always sad that she did not get to see him grow up.”
The sudden cry Shae let out from the sky above as she circled the citadel drew their attention.
“Well, Arthur can shove away his nervousness for later. Mother will be here in half an hour.”
“Do you mind if you go and tell him that? I had enough of cups and goblets flung my way for the entire next week.”
“Do not worry Merlin.” Anwen spoke teasingly as she placed a hand on his shoulder to make a mock solemn promise. “I will protect you from his royal pratness.”
“Thank you milady.” Merlin followed with mock bow, resulting in both of them laughing.
“Do go find Kyna and others, let them know my mother will arrive soon. I will handle Arthur.” Anwen got serious and with nods to each other, left in opposite directions.
When Merlin was right, he was right. Anwen found her cousin pacing his chambers nervously.
“How come you were not so nervous when Alined was here week ago?”
Her sudden question made him jump and glare at her.
“Merlin is bad influence on you.”
“What does Merlin have to do with me?”
“You didn’t knock.”
“I doubt you would have heard me, with all the pacing.” Anwen walked over to stop him. “Why are you nervous?”
Arthur did not immediately reply but chose to step away from her and lean on the window sill, staring at Shae probably because his eyes were looking up in the sky instead down on the ground.
“What if she doesn’t like me?”
Anwen blinked rapidly few times as the question registered in her mind before bursting into laughter despite the serious tone Arthur used in the question.
“I am pleased to know my worry amuses you.” Arthur remarked dryly.
“I am sorry Arthur.” Anwen stopped herself from laughing further. “Only this might be the most ridiculous question you have ever asked me. Of course my mother is going to like you. Whatever gave you the idea that she will not?”
“I do not know. Just a feeling I guess.” Arthur murmured honestly, shrugging.
“Honestly…You are more nervous than Lancelot and he does have a reason to be nervous, unlike you.”
“Lancelot?” Arthur asked confused and she shot him a look she generally gave to stupid people.
“Oh…right. Yes, I suppose he does have reason to be nervous.”
“I think I heard him tell Leon and Gwaine he is grateful my father is not coming as well.”
That finally lured out an honest smile and chuckle from the prince.
“What is it about men being scared of their intended’s fathers?”
“They fear they cannot meet the expectations the women’s fathers usually set.”
“Hmm…Why is Shae circling in the air above the citadel?”
“Oh yes, my real reason for coming here. Mother should be here in about ten minutes since we spent around twenty talking here.”
“Relax Arthur; I already had Merlin inform the others. All we have to do right now is make our way to the courtyard staircase.”
They met up with others on the staircase just in time to see four riders appear behind the corner. It was most certainly unusual sight but considering they knew quite a lot about women from Solascoill by now, no one was surprised to see four women in armour fitted for their figures with forest-green cloaks over it and hoods still on their heads.
They stopped only few feet away from the staircase and the leading rider reached up, pushing down the hood to reveal her face. It was without a doubt in Arthur’s mind that he was looking at his aunt, Lady Inis. While there was age written on her face and in her eyes, she still had quite the youthful appearance and the golden-blonde hair was doing in her favour as well. It was almost as if he was looking at his mother’s spirit again, they were so much alike.
Snapped out of his momentary stupor, he officially greeted the ladies to the court of Camelot and came down the stairs to help his aunt off the horse. However, before he reached her, she easily jumped down and commanded other three ladies to reveal their faces. Although she did show it, Anwen was secretly pleased to see the awed stares the knights were gracing her sister and two of her close friends with.
“Welcome to Camelot, princess Inis.” Arthur greeted his aunt once again but now standing face to face with her.
“Thank you, your highness. And do call me Inis. I may be of youthful appearance but I am far from being young. You can call my daughters princess if you would like.” Inis spoke kindly, her smooth and slightly deep voice making him shiver a bit as to how warm and motherly it sounded.
Then she caught him by surprise by placing her hand on his cheek in motherly fashion and stared in his eyes, as if she was looking for something.
“You look so much like Ygraine. The eyes…they speak so much of a person. Ygraine has always been an open book to me. You are just the same.” Inis all but whispered as her words were intended for his ears alone.
“I am hoping that you will tell me more about my mother in the coming few days.”
“Of course I will.” Inis stated lightly but it sounded more like solemn promise.
“Now…Might I introduce you to my younger daughter, princess Cara and two close friends of the court, ladies Ena and Innogen.” Inis made a motion with her hand and three ladies approached them.
The youngest of the group was obviously Cara. Though she Inis’ eye colour and facial features, her wavy hair was dark brown like her father’s Arthur presumed. Innogen looked closer to his aunt’s age, perhaps couple of years younger whilst Ena appeared to be his contemporary, he did remotely remember Anwen telling him that Ena was year older than them.
“Your guest chambers are ready and as per Anwen’s instructions, I did not assign you servants though the maids will still be coming in to clean the chambers every day.” Arthur stated, offering his hand to Inis as they made their way up in the citadel.
“Thank you. If you will excuse us, we are going to retreat to our guest chambers to change before supper.”
“Merlin, if you could kindly show the…”
“There is no need for Merlin to show us the way, I remember it very well my dear. Assuming that the guest chambers have not been moved from the west wing.”
“No, they have not been moved.”
“In that case we will be on our way.” Inis motioned with her head for the three armour clad ladies to move and she stopped in front of Merlin, giving him that same warm, motherly look and whispered something that made him smile after which he politely acknowledged her.
Inis calling out his name surprised everyone present in the entrance hall including Anwen and Kyna because the knights haven’t been introduced fully to the visiting ladies yet and two friends shared a confused look before looking at Inis again.
“Yes my lady?”
His absolutely courteous tone and stance was even more surprising. Make no mistake, for all his flirtatious nature and habit of visiting the tavern, Gwaine was always kind and polite to people and was respectful to most of the knights of Camelot.
“Walk with me. I wish to speak with you in private.”
Gwaine mutely gazed at Anwen and Kyna to explain him why would Inis want to speak with him but they merely shrugged, unable to explain and gave him apologetic looks before he followed after Inis down the corridor.
“What was that?” Arthur asked once Inis disappeared after climbing the Griffin staircase.
“I honestly don’t know. Guessing what is on my mother’s mind is like trying to master the art of animal magic. Which is impossible.”
“Almost impossible.” Kyna corrected her.
“Either way, I have no idea what my mother wants of Gwaine.”
“I have a distinct feeling we will all know soon enough.” Elyan commented.
“True.” Everyone agreed, Gwaine was never one to hold his tongue for long.
At least that is what they thought. Merlin and Anwen on the other hand knew it was different. If there was something Gwaine did not want to talk about unless he was so drunk he could not differ day from night, he would not say a word.
Although they did not say anything to each other, two friends suspected it might have something to do with Gwaine’s past that was still pretty much a mystery to everyone. Anwen just hoped that whatever her mother might say won’t upset Gwaine. They all had the chance to see upset Gwaine and it was not nice.
She sighed with a shake of her head and walked off towards Cara’s guest chambers, intending to finally sit down and talk to her sister she has not seen in four years.