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Growing Up

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Feasts, Arthur thought, were the worst kinds of celebrations. Primarily because he had to be present, he had to be well-mannered, and he had to sit between his father and someone else who would no doubt be equally uninterested in him. All the adults did was drink wine, eat food, and talk about things that were either hard to understand, or just really very boring. There were no other children in the Court, save Morgana, but she was, well, Morgana. Besides which, she always sat on Uther's other side, making it very difficult to talk to her. Not that he'd want to, or anything.

As soon as they were all present, and his father had given the requisite speech, the room grew suddenly loud. Men were all but shouting across the room to one another, and at the servants. Arthur rolled his eyes. The only good thing about feasts was the food.

He leaned back and poked his head around the back of his father's chair. Morgana's pretty face was visible - an easy target. Her hair was pulled back and up and over in some ridiculously complicated way, fastened with silver, and her dress freshly-washed (or possibly new - she always seemed to 'require' new dresses). Perfect, he thought. He looked again at his father, shouting something over the noise at a man several paces away. Uther was red-faced and, more importantly, distracted. He smiled to himself. He picked his spoon up, placed a small amount of food in it, leaned back, and took aim. It hit its target perfectly. Morgana's cheek was now blotted with a reddish-brown kind of colour.

He knew he should best hide back behind his father, but his desire to see her reaction was too great. She looked livid. Her eyes shone with anger as he laughed himself to tears. He put his hand to his face to wipe them away, but when he looked again at Morgana, he was horrified to see that she had become perfectly calm. She pulled out a kerchief and gracefully wiped her cheek as Arthur stared in confusion. She smiled at him.

Oops.

He was done for.

--

 

The first time Arthur drank too much, Morgana was at his side. They were hidden in a corner of his chambers, drinking wine that they had stolen from some of the knights. It hadn't been difficult - the Prince and the King's ward could go wherever they chose, unquestioned, and the knights of Camelot were useless after a week's journey and and too much drink upon return. That would change, Arthur thought, when he took over.

It had been a combined effort, although if anyone asked (not that anyone would), they would both deny it completely. He was never sure why they did that, really, only knew that they always had. It wasn't strictly competition, because, as they'd both been reminded for many years, they held such separate paths that there was simply nothing for which to compete. Except, perhaps, Uther's withheld affections. It was a competitiveness that was strictly between them, and strictly unreasonable.

It wasn't like they didn't enjoy it. There was a camaraderie in it, he thought. Morgana was the closest thing he had to a friend, really. There were other boys around, of course, but they treated him differently. They treated him like a prince. Morgana, on the other hand, treated him like a person (or occasionally like an irritating itch that you can't get rid of). She knew him better, he thought, than anyone. They were left alone so often that it only made sense.

They now sat opposite one another, talking nonsense about the members of the Court - dissecting rumours, laughing at Gaius' most recent hairstyle. His head felt light as he laughed, his fingers slightly uncoordinated as he jabbed a finger at Morgana.

"One day I will be Crown Prince, and I shall have to stop discussing rumours like a maidservant," Arthur announced with a haughty grin. Morgana laughed quietly, but they both knew that there was truth in it. One day, they knew, there would not be time for such frivolity. For such moments as this. The mood was suddenly darker in their little corner, frowns on both faces. Arthur took a large gulp of wine, the taste still a little bitter and unfamiliar on his tongue. He wondered if he'd ever get used to the taste. It felt childish to not be used to it. This all felt childish, he felt childish. And it was no longer the wine that made him feel that way, but the idea of the responsibility he would have as an adult. A responsibility which terrified him as much as it excited him.

"Perhaps you shall," Morgana agreed finally, breaking his train of thought and taking the wine from him. A small smile crossed her features. "But you have more seasons than I think you're even capable of counting before then."

Arthur pulled a sarcastic face at the insult, and yanked the wine from her hands playfully, spilling a little on his bare foot. He briefly considered wiping it off on Morgana's dress. "You're right," he assented, and she laughed. "No! Not about the counting - I can count, Morgana - I don't, I mean, you know what I mean! What I mean is that I will not ruin this moment by thinking about unpleasant things."

After a few seconds of serious silence, she said, "It is a miracle that you think at all, Arthur Pendragon."

He glared at her with wine in his blood and fondness in his heart.

--

 

One day, Morgana had the gall to challenge Arthur to a duel. She didn't go so far as to throw down a gauntlet, but instead snuck up on him one day while he was practicing and parried a thrust. There was an air of certainty and defiance on her face that Arthur knew too well.

"Morgana," he sighed. "What do you think you're doing?" His voice was all exasperation, but he couldn't help the little chill of excitement and trepidation he felt. Not only did he have a partner to practice with, but he got to topple Morgana from the pedestal she'd obviously put herself on. Topple might be too nice a word for it. But no, he couldn't. Of course he couldn't. If nothing else, how might this appear to any on-lookers? The Prince and the King's ward; Arthur Pendragon fighting a woman.

"If you don't know what I'm doing, then you will be a very poor knight," she retorted. "I should think it was perfectly obvious."

Arthur's eyes narrowed. She knew that it was only a matter of months before he could officially become a knight of Camelot, and she was using it to bait him. One of her favourite activities was provoking Arthur. Only she'd never provoked him to fight, before.

And maybe several years ago, Arthur wouldn't have hesitated; he'd have reveled in the idea of defeating and embarrassing Morgana. And he would certainly not have thought twice about Morgana's lack of appropriate attire (not only of chain-mail or armour, but of appropriate attire for the King's ward. Trousers, he was fairly certain, were not appropriate attire). But they were no longer children, Morgana certainly, evidently not, and this was inappropriate. Besides everything, she'd had the tenacity to challenge him out in the open.

And if he hurt her, he would never hear the end of it from Uther. It wouldn't matter that he were entirely blameless.

Morgana had obviously grown impatient, however, and swung her sword with surprising force. He parried her blow. For two minutes, this continued - Morgana swung, Arthur parried - until she realised that he was not going to reciprocate. She stopped her attack, pointed her sword at him, and lifted her chin.

"If you will not fight me fairly, Arthur, I shall be forced to think of you as a coward."

He knew that it was unreasonable and pure provocation, but it suddenly didn't seem to matter. She had insulted him, the cocky brat, and he would end this ridiculousness once and for all.

When he leapt forward, Morgana laughed - laughed - which only made him more indignant. He advanced on her, and she stepped back deliberately. She was, he admitted grudgingly to himself, much better than he'd expected. He knew she had learned a little, but she had never been allowed to train with him. He had never seen a girl look so natural wielding a sword. In fact, he thought, he had never seen a girl wield a sword. Not in combat, anyway, if you could call this combat.

Morgana spun gracefully, avoiding Arthur's blade by a fingernail's breadth and suddenly held the upper hand. Arthur, now, retreated as Morgana advanced, slowly but surely. She was beginning what looked like her final move, when a loud voice boomed across the grounds.

"Arthur!"

They both stopped immediately, a look of concern passing over their faces as they turned around. Uther looked, at the very least, unhappy. They lowered their swords almost in unison.

"What is the meaning of this?"

Arthur's first thought was simply to tell the truth - that Morgana had provoked him, had attacked him, and that his honour as a (future) knight had been questioned. However, upon further thought, he realised how ridiculous that sounded. Uther would never take his word for it, even if Morgana backed him up. All he managed was a dull,

"Um."

"I shall talk to you both inside. Immediately," he hissed.

As Uther turned away, Arthur glared at Morgana, but before he could open his mouth, she smiled.

"Sorry," she said, although she didn't to his ears sound at all repentant.

"'Sorry'? You're sorry?" he growled. "Do you -"

"I'm sorry that you lost," she interrupted, smirking. Arthur felt his face heat up and he gritted his teeth. The insolence! How dare she? He almost challenged her to a rematch, before he realised that this was Morgana to whom he was talking. He pointed his sword at her.

"You, Morgana, have not won anything. And nor shall you ever, not against me, and certainly not with a sword." As he stalked away, he could hear her snickering behind him.

He trained harder after that day than he ever had in his life.