Guinevere's mother had died long before Gwen was old enough to learn how to sew. The teaching of that skill had fallen to a kind woman next door. She learned the basics quickly, huge stitches shrinking into barely visible ones.
She was no noble woman to sit around embroidering all day, but the woman taught her some simple patterns. Her favorites were the ones for good luck that the woman taught her how to sew in small hidden places where they couldn't be seen at all.
"If they're seen, they won't work," she warned.
A week later, she was accused of bewitching the miller's son and carted away.
Her father sat her down and explained to her that the woman had done something very bad, and Gwen wasn't going to see her anymore and she shouldn't talk about her either.
"She never did anything odd while you were there, did she?" he asked, worried.
Sewing patterns weren't odd. Gwen shook her head and slipped away to finish mending her father's torn shirt and to sneak the pattern into the place on the neck hidden by the collar. She did it with tiny stitches and white thread.
Her father never noticed, but he did comment on the increase in customers that had started coming his way.
Gwen did all the sewing, of course. Her father worked in the smithy, her brother learned from him, and she stretched small meals as far as they would go and mended their worn clothes time and time again.
She'd been mending Elyan's spare shirt when he had his fight with their father and left in the night. He took the shirt with him.
Gwen sighed, because wasn't that just like Elyan, to leave with a shirt half done when another night would have seen it finished?
It was a hard winter that saw her join the palace as a cleaning maid. Lady Morgana went through her personal maids at a prodigious rate, so Gwen was assigned to clean her room until a new one was found.
A ripped dress before a feast was saved by Gwen's quick hands and earned her the favor of Lady Morgana and a quick promotion to lady's maid.
Whenever Gwen took that dress to be washed, she always rubbed her finger over the good luck charm she'd sewn without thinking onto the hem.
Gwen sewed the charms automatically by now, but she knew better than to think that they actually worked. They were just a superstition, that was all.
She couldn't help but run her fingers over the tear that had so neatly ripped through the charm, over and over again, when Prince Arthur took her to see her father's body.
It would need to be mended, she thought wildly, and then she pressed her hand to her mouth to cover her sobs.
The first thing she did when she got Elyan home was sit him down for a meal in the house that finally seemed to lose the shadows of loneliness.
The second thing she did was make him take his shirt off so that she could mend all the little tears.
She gave him two charms this time. Better to be sure.
Gwen had been afraid at first when she saw Morgana using magic, but it turned to anger quickly.
It was angry tears that rolled down her face as she neatly ripped out the stitches to each and every good luck charm on Morgana's dresses, one by one.
No one was quite sure what to do with her once Morgana was gone, Elyan was a knight, and Arthur started kissing her in public.
She started spending a lot of time sewing. Any woman could sew, commoner, noble, or royal. What they sewed differed, admittedly, but it was a nice compromise.
Gwen sewed dresses for herself, did Arthur's mending for Merlin, and did Elyan's mending just like she always had.
Then she found Gwaine trying to fix a tear in his shirt, and he was hopeless, absolutely hopeless. She couldn't help but huff in exasperation and rip it from his hands.
From then on, he brought it to her with a hopeful smile and an offering of pilfered sweets from the kitchen.
Percival was the same, and he looked so sheepish she couldn't help but smile back and teach him. Leon had someone else do his normally, but she ended up with a tunic of his once somehow, and she caught herself adding the charm before she knew it.
She didn't do Lancelot's sewing. It would have felt different, somehow, than doing the others.
Merlin was capable of sewing surprisingly well - Gaius said something about the boy having more than enough practice the rate he ripped his clothes at - but he was busy enough running after Arthur that he'd taken her offer of mending Arthur's clothes gratefully. Sometimes when he found a minute, he would sit with her and help, talking a mile a minute and pausing in the work to wave his hands wildly until she had to set the needle down or stab herself from laughing.
She mended a neckerchief for him once. His fingers rubbed over it when he took it back, and he looked at her sharply.
She frowned at him. "Are you all right, Merlin?"
"Fine," he said, backing away. "Sorry, Gwen, got to go, dust bunnies need catching - "
He watched her more carefully for the next few weeks, and she felt something cold sneak into her as half remembered scenes from her childhood come back.
He finally asked her where she'd learned the pattern.
She bit her lip. "A neighbor taught me. It's a just a silly old superstition."
Merlin weighed that for a moment before relaxing for the first time in weeks. He stayed and helped, and it was just like it had been except -
"Funny how when you sew no one can see your eyes," he commented, apropos of nothing.
"Just be careful, all right, Gwen?"
She had no idea what he was talking about, but she worried her lip as he walked away and felt something anxious gnawing at her gut.
She didn't do Lancelot's sewing. He never asked, and it wouldn't have felt right.
"It's my fault," she whispered as they pushed the boat out onto the lake.
I didn't give him good luck.
It's a silly, superstitious thought, so she told Arthur a different truth when he looked at her.
"I made him promise."
Arthur held her close. She ran her fingers over his back, taking comfort from a set of raised threads hidden in the cloth.
The first time she was to be married, the palace seamstress sewed the dress.
The second time, she did it herself and hid tiny marks in invisible stitching everywhere she could.
Queens sewed, but they didn't sew knights' undershirts, even if one of the knights was their brother. They didn't sew neckerchiefs for a manservant either, or even things for their own husband. They didn't sew anything useful at all as far as Guinevere could see, just endless flowers and birds on small scraps of cloth.
Guinevere took to not sewing much and turned her attention instead to the other things claiming her attention.
It worried her sometimes that the charms would be ripped and not repaired properly, but, she always reminded herself, they weren't actual charms. It was just a silly superstition.
When the Dolma pulled her out of Morgana's charm and everything that had happened hit her, she was silent most of the way home. It was too much to take in all at once.
It was a while before Arthur left her alone for long after that, but the first opportunity she had, she snuck Arthur's cloak into an empty room and stitched a good luck charm in red thread right in front of the glaring golden dragon.
When Camlann came, Guinevere no longer cared what queens did or did not do, she was sewing. There was no room for good luck charms though.
Not when you were sewing skin back together.
Tiny, neat stitches were made with hands far too experienced with terror to shake. The voices around her babbled with pain, not with humor, and there were sobs instead of laughter, but it was the same action. In, out, in, out.
At some point she started shaking with sheer exhaustion as she toiled in the healing tent. The needle jabbed into her fingers, so she went and fetched more water and bandages until they were steady once more. Gaius's hands were too bent and arthritic to sew the men up, so it fell to her.
She could hardly sew a good luck charm into their skin, but it pulsed behind her lids every time she closed her eyes.
"Good luck isn't always enough," Merlin said when he came home. He was shaking.
She pressed a hand against her mouth.
There were rumors when she started mending her Chief Warlock's shirts, more when some of the servants remembered her old crush on him.
She ignored them all and asked her lady's maid to bring her something of Leon and Percival's.
The needle flashed while she sat on the throne and made her decisions, and if her lords looked at it askance, a look from Merlin kept them in line.
Merlin ran his fingers over the charms in his new shirt. "Still probably best not to tell them you're a witch, though."
She dropped her basket of mending.
"Er, Gwen? You did know you were a witch, right?"
"It's just a superstition!" she insisted, jabbing a finger at him.
Merlin's eyes flicked to the needle floating beside her, jabbing in time with her finger.
Gwen didn't speak to him for a week.
When they came back, clothes were a good deal less expensive and easier to come by, but the boys weren't any easier on them. Gwen bought herself a sewing kit and made Gwaine bring her chocolate.
"You know you don't have to," Arthur said, frowning. "We can just get new, or I could get you a machine - "
She broke him off with a kiss. "I like it," she told him, and that was good enough for him.
Those who hadn't been with them the first time were less understanding.
"Let them fix their own shirts," an agent said, disgusted. "Just because you're a woman doesn't mean you have to clean up after them. We've come a long way since the Dark Ages."
Gwen didn't doubt that they had, but the version of history they knew and Camelot didn't fit together as well as the historians would like.
"It's my way of fighting," she tried to explain.
"Learn to shoot a gun," the agent advised. "They'll take you seriously then."
Gwen already knew how to shoot, and Arthur had taken her seriously for her tendency to speak uncomfortable truths long before guns had been invented.
She could fight off monsters as well as anyone, but in the meantime, she sewed charm after charm into her family's clothes, so many the cloth would have to be completely shredded before something could break them all.
Merlin taught her others, runes for protection in battle, stealth, and fast healing, and she worked those in too, but she kept coming back to the sign for good luck. She kept it hidden, as she had been taught, and laughed at Merlin's stories as her needle flashed silver while her eyes shone gold.