They’re in Ealdor when Morgana first realises – properly realises – just how much Gwen’s worth. She’s always appreciated her for her brightness and her kindness and her sweetness, of course, but never really as more than her darling servant. Gwen’s eagerness to help, when Morgana asked her (wide-eyed and persuasive as usual) to gather supplies for a trip, please, and to be a dear and find them some weapons, should have been a giveaway. But it’s not until they’re settled in Hunith’s house, and Arthur’s parading around being Arthur, that Morgana properly sees.
It’s not exactly going smoothly, having Arthur mingle with the common folk. Morgana’s grown up with Arthur, and for all that she teases him, she knows he has a good heart. But he also has a pumpkin-head, and although he can spout idealism and glory for all he’s worth, the gritty reality of the way these people live takes him a little while to come to terms with.
Morgana watches Arthur as he goes through the exaggerated motions of avoiding Hunith’s cooking, and barely avoids burying her face in her hands. Arthur leaves, and she turns towards Gwen, ready to share a grimace at the sheer childishness of it. But Gwen’s not looking at her – she’s glancing from Hunith to Arthur’s still-full bowl, and there are almost tears in her eyes.
“Hunith,” says Gwen, and Morgana’s impressed with the gentle way that she manages to talk to everyone. “Is it alright if I take this bowl out to Arthur? I won’t lose it, I promise, I just thought that – well, it looks as though he’s forgotten it, and he’ll need his strength, so -”
Hunith hushes Gwen and tells her that of course, it’s fine. And Gwen picks up the bowl, straightens her dress, gives Hunith an apologetic smile, and marches out the door without so much as a fare-thee-well for Morgana.
Morgana compliments Hunith on her pretty home, and answers her questions about Camelot as well as she can, making sure to throw in several comments about Arthur’s unfortunate insensitivity. It’s all she can do, she realises. Throwaway comments, bold words and dramatic actions, are her only way of connecting to the people. Whereas Gwen, apparently, knows what to do and isn’t afraid to do it. Morgana’s impressed, and a little jealous.
At length, Gwen and Arthur come back. Morgana’s pleased and impressed to note that Arthur eats a whole dish of the soup Hunith provides that evening, and thanks her sincerely for her hospitality. Gwen is prettily blushing (more than usual), and seems to be everywhere except where Morgana is – which is, inconventiently, everywhere except where Morgana wants her to be.
She watches Gwen all day, making sure to smile at her and to talk to her whenever she gets a chance. Arthur keeps on dancing around Gwen and paying her courteous attention, and it’s not fair in the slightest that ridiculous Arthur should be allowed to make Gwen laugh. They’re awkward. Gwen’s never awkward around Morgana.
In Gwen’s readiness to tell off Arthur, Morgana realises everything that she hadn’t really noticed before. Gwen’s steady pragmatism, her gentle humour, her steadfast ability to combat wrongdoing in the littlest and most difficult of ways. Morgana’s been resolved to fight for the people of Camelot for as long as she can remember. But her understanding has always been for the people as a vague collective. Gwen sees them as individuals.
“Gwen?” whispers Morgana that night, when they’re lying side by side under scratchy blankets and flickering shadows. “Do you ever – think you know someone, and then they do something different and suddenly you notice that they’re so much more than what you thought? That they’re the best of people, and you wonder why on earth you didn’t realise before?”
There’s a rustling sound as Gwen turns towards her. “I hope you’re not talking about Arthur,” she says quietly, and Morgana has to stifle a giggle.
“Do you know, Gwen, I think you’re better than all of us.”
There’s a pause, in which Morgana’s sincerity becomes scared.
“It’s because of you, milady,” Gwen says at length.
“Me?” says Morgana. She tries for her usual tone of playful flattery, wanting Gwen to hear the smile in the dark.
“You’re always so brave, and you always want to do right, and it makes me want to help you.” Gwen sounds matter-of-fact, but she drops the merriness from her tone and continues. “Everything I do is for you, Morgana.”
It’s like the sun coming out, or something equally sappy, she reflects later. How easy and how warm it was to fall in love with her maidservant, and just because of one little moment. And if she snuggles closer to Gwen, that night, and nestles against her until she can hear her breathing gently against her, and if she wakes up with Gwen’s arm warm across her shoulder – well, it was just for the sake of conserving heat; it was a chilly night. And after all, who’s to know?