Also, I do realise that jousting probably wasn't around at the time this is supposedly set but neither were those 15th century castle interiors they have, and Morgana calls Arthur 'such a jouster' in the first episode so in this world it clearly exists.
Title: The Price Of Pride (1/5)
Characters: Arthur, Morgana, Merlin, Gaius, Gwen, Uther
Pairing: Arthur/Merlin friendship, Arthur/Morgana, some Merlin/Gwen (so basically like the show)
Warnings: Jousting could be a bit nasty at times, that’s all I’m saying.
Spoilers: Minor for 1x02
Summary: Arthur simply cannot resist a chance to prove his mettle. Unfortunately, in the joust, arrogance can become a dangerous failing.
Morgana had been quite put off the idea of tournaments ever since the one with Valiant had so nearly gone awry. In her opinion they were filled with nothing but stupid men finding the stupidest ways to lose their lives. At least half the knights competing probably had families depending upon them, and she considered it quite ludicrous that they would risk leaving widows and fatherless children for the sake of their own glory. Not to mention Arthur, she reasoned who should know better with all his responsibilities and yet had so nearly left Camelot without an heir. How on earth had he deemed his reputation as a warrior more important than his kingdom or his life? No, she’d concluded, tournaments were the domain of those who had more pride than sense.
Which was why she didn’t exactly take great joy in Uther’s announcement of a new type of tournament coming to Camelot. The sport of jousting was quite a recent invention but, as far as she understood it, was still based upon the skills of battle like any other event. This was the first she would ever have seen though that was mounted on horseback and whilst it did indeed sound like an exciting spectacle, it also sounded highly dangerous. Still, Uther was planning a lavish gathering, a display of his wealth and power no doubt, and as the king’s ward she would be expected to attend. Since she couldn’t really feign a headache every day it was on without causing serious concern, she would have to smile and forebear the idiocy of it all.
A large arena, apparently called the list in official tournament parlance, was prepared outside the castle walls and on the opening morning of the event she took her seat on the royal dais to the right of Uther, with Gwen accompanying her as usual. Many people had come to watch this new and apparently thrilling form of entertainment, every seat taken by nobles and every standing spot filled by peasants.
The entry field was large and apparently it would take at least a day to even finish the first round of competition. It seemed the knights of Camelot were falling over themselves to prove that they were the champion of this new event. One noticeable absence was Arthur who had not yet officially announced whether he would be taking part. She suspected it would only be a matter of time however. It wouldn’t be like him to miss an opportunity such as this. She spotted him now, standing with two of the competing knights, the group laughing and joking and apparently greatly enjoying themselves. He certainly did seem to thrive in these kinds of situation.
“You’re looking at him again,” Gwen said, leaning across to her with a knowing smile.
“I am not,” Morgana flatly denied. “He just happened to be in my line of sight.”
As was poor Merlin, she mused, who didn’t at all seem to be having the fine that time that his master was. He stood around waiting, arms full of Arthur’s armour in case the prince decided on a whim to compete that day. He also looked rather nervous and she suspected that may have something to do with the number of horses surrounding him. She seemed to remember him once saying that he didn’t like the animals very much.
A fanfare sounded and Uther made his way to his grand chair, the participating knights hurrying to line themselves up in front of the king. He welcomed them all formally, wishing them a successful and nobly fought contest before he declared the tournament had begun to a thunderous round of applause from the crowd. He thankfully didn’t notice that her clapping wasn’t as enthusiastic as others.
She had to admit, the sight of two men riding at full charge towards one another was indeed impressive and the contests somewhat exciting. That didn’t stop her wincing however when the injuries inevitably came. Mail was fine protection against swords and arrows but little use against blunt blows and whilst each knight carried a shield to defend himself, accidents were bound to occur when they competed with such speed and ferocity. One rider was unseated by a blow that glanced off his shield and hit his shoulder. From the cheers she gathered that to knock a man down was in fact a great thing in this sport, but she doubted the man lying on the floor, clutching his likely broken arm, would agree. Another unfortunate soul staggered from his horse after a strike to the face, removing his helmet to reveal his nose bleeding profusely and looking horribly battered. The crowd gasped in disgust, several of the noble ladies vacating their seats.
Uther turned to her after that particularly injury. “You may leave if you wish.”
But she shook her head, refusing to show such weakness.
Gaius, like herself, didn’t seem to be wholly impressed with this new form of supposedly civilised combat. He hurried on to the field to treat the man in question, shaking his head in dismay as he pressed cloths to the knight’s face and led him off.
Nearly a dozen contests had taken place by the time Arthur joined the spectators, Merlin still trailing behind him. The young prince half bounded onto the platform, apparently having the time of his life. He didn’t take his seat to his father’s left as expected though, instead looking meaningfully at Gwen who hurriedly nodded and vacated her chair for him. That annoyed Morgana a little but at least, she thought with a smile as she saw where her maidservant had headed, it gave the girl a chance to talk to Merlin. They really were so sweet together. She hoped that something would blossom between them rather than Gwen continuing to pine for the long gone Lancelot.
“Are you enjoying the contest?” Arthur asked, all buoyant enthusiasm, leaving no doubt about his opinion.
That somehow made her ensure her response was all the more disinterested. “It seems to be a lot of fussing for little action,” she said, feigning boredom, hoping it would annoy him. “I think there’s a better spectacle in traditional armed combat myself.”
Much to her frustration, that didn’t seem to bother him much after all. Instead he just settled more comfortably in the chair next to her.
“You just don’t understand all the elements yet,” he reasoned, patronisingly. “Allow me to explain.”
“I think you’ll find it’s simple enough,” she pointed out, making it quite clearly that it wasn’t beyond her. “The men gain points for striking their lance on their opponent. More if they unseat him.”
He nodded in something like approval at the attention she’d been paying.
“And I suppose if they manage to kill him then they’re given some sort of grand prize,” she finished sarcastically.
The look he gave her was a dry one, knowing she didn’t really believe that. “No. That would be barbaric. You in fact lose points if your opponent is at all injured.”
“And I’m sure that’s great comfort to any man left with his head half hanging off.”
Arthur rolled his eyes at her attitude.
Despite herself though, she had taken an interest in the ongoing competition and certain parts of it were still a mystery to her.
“Why do some men ride different horses than others?” she asked casually after a few moments of silence, trying to make it sound as if she were simply making polite conversation.
He smiled, not fooled by her manner and apparently pleased by her curiosity. “It’s a trade off between power and speed,” he explained. “The chargers are light and quick, allowing the knight to reach full pace along the list. The destriers are much slower but they carry more weight behind them for harder blows. A slower pace also allows you to aim your lance more accurately.”
She nodded taking that in.
Two new knights took to the field, preparing to compete. Before one donned his helmet though he rode his horse across to the crowd, saying something to one of the noble ladies there which Morgana didn’t catch. Giggling and blushing in equal measure, the lady stood and tied what appeared to be a scrap of material around the knight’s wrist. The man nodded graciously at her and returned to the field.
Morgana frowned in confusion and Arthur leaned closer to her, smiling knowingly. “He told her he will win this tournament in her honour,” he explained, “and she gives him a token of her favour in acceptance of that.”
“Well,” Morgana stated, still watching the obviously pleased young woman, acutely aware that Arthur was studying her reaction, “I hope she doesn’t find herself disappointed.”
“I’m afraid she might,” he replied with a false sigh, sitting back in his chair again. “I’m going to enter this afternoon.”
She tried not to show any flicker of emotion but he must have caught something in her features because he grinned at her.
“You’re not worried, are you?”
“Yes,” she said tartly. “About your horse.”
He actually laughed at that.
Much to her annoyance, but not really to her surprise, Arthur proved to be very good at jousting. He won all his contests that afternoon and spent the evening feast in an extremely merry mood indeed.
“Someone had better knock him off his horse before long,” Morgana said quietly to Gwen as the other woman handed her a goblet of wine, “or they won’t find armour big enough to contain his ever growing ego.”
Gwen laughed but her decorum wouldn’t allow her to say anything unkind about the prince.
The problem was, Morgana realised, Arthur’s confidence was turning rapidly to arrogance and that could be dangerous. Uther seemed to be delighted and proud that his son was doing so well and only encouraged him further. She wondered however if such self-assurance would only lead to carelessness on the prince’s part.
She couldn’t say she was pleased to be proved right.
Arthur looked down the list at his opponent, smiling broadly, confident of victory. Just one more strike would do it and the man had put up little resistance so far. That would take Arthur through to the quarter finals and, in his view, there was no man remaining in the competition to truly challenge him. The win would undoubtedly be his.
His face fell to a frown however when he saw his opponent wince as he tested his shoulder, apparently in some pain, and Arthur summoned his steward with a swift wave of his hand.
“Tell Sir Calvot that if he wishes to withdraw through injury there would be no shame in it,” he instructed, the steward nodding and hurriedly running off.
Arthur then turned to the selection of lances awaiting him, meaning to choose one in case the contest did go ahead, but Merlin interrupted his thought process.
“Don’t you think you’ve done enough today,” his servant suggested lightly, as though he was joking. Arthur knew him too well though. “I mean,” he continued when the prince declined to comment, “you don’t want to peak too soon, do you? Or tire yourself. Save the best for last and all that.”
“Merlin, do stop nagging,” Arthur replied with an exasperated sigh. “You sound like an old woman.”
“Hey, I’m just suggesting you don’t get yourself killed before the final,” Merlin replied flippantly, as though he really didn’t care what happened to the prince after all.
Arthur was saved from making yet another cutting remark as the steward returned.
“Sir Calvot says he is perfectly well enough to continue, sire.”
Arthur looked across at his opponent and nodded in respect, the knight bowing back in acknowledgment.
The prince then returned to choosing his lance, trying several before he found one he was happy with the weight and balance of. He handed the weapon over to Merlin, who was already juggling his helmet and shield and almost dropped them all, before mounting his horse. He waited impatiently for Merlin to sort himself out, rolling his eyes until the other man finally stopped his fumbling and handed over Arthur’s equipment in good order.
His horse stamped with equal impatience as it took his opponent a little longer than him to be prepared.
Whilst he waited, Arthur glanced across into the crowd. At his father, clearly enjoying the contest and more relaxed than the prince had seen him in a long time. Then at Morgana who seemed torn between the thrill of excitement that it invoked and pretending not to be impressed. Smiling to himself, a notion came to mind.
Throwing his lance back to Merlin, who again nearly dropped it, he trotted his horse over to the royal dais and stopped directly in front of the king’s ward.
“My lady,” he announced grandly so all around him could hear, “I declare that I shall win this tournament in your honour.”
Many a whisper went up through the stands, men grinning and ladies giggling. Morgana looked around her, suddenly uncomfortable at all the attention she was getting which was unusual because, as far as Arthur was concerned, she normally bathed in it. Amused by his slight victory, he raised an eyebrow at her, waiting for a response.
After a moment she stood gracefully and, to great cheers from the crowd, removed the blue lace ribbon that was decorating the end of her braided hair. She stepped forward and carefully tied it around his wrist.
“Although perhaps you’d like to explain later exactly why my honour will be improved by your victory,” she whispered through a false smile, showing him that this wasn’t necessarily a willing surrender.
His only response was to catch her hand before she withdrew it, bringing it to his lips and kissing it whilst he grinned, all confident impertinence as he toyed with her. The crowd roared their approval at such a gallant display and even Uther was laughing heartily and clapping.
Morgana looked skywards before she returned to her seat but Arthur was certain her cheeks were a little flushed.
He returned back to his end of the list, not bothering to hide the swaggering grin on his face. By the time he’d retrieved his weapon and armour, his opponent finally seemed ready.
Anticipation coursing through him, Arthur nodded in acknowledgement at the other man, donning his helmet, his thoughts now totally focused on the task at hand. Directing his horse the right way and steadying himself in the saddle, he tilted his lance and almost together both men began to charge, the crowd instantly roaring in excitement.
The helmet was a necessity of course, a blow to the head being potentially fatal otherwise. It did somewhat restrict his view however and he supposed he could blame his oversight on that but, if he was honest with himself, it was his own excessive confidence and pride that did him in. He was so focused on unseating his opponent, on winning in the most impressive way possible, that he didn’t see the other man struggling to hold his lance up, the injury he’d sustained making his arm weak. Arthur certainly didn’t realise that the other man’s weapon was aiming lower than he was guarding with his shield, leaving him vulnerable. Nor, it seemed, did the crowd because they continued to roar the combatants on.
One voice did seem to shout ‘stop!’ and he thought it had been Merlin’s, but he had no time to realise what the warning was about before the other man’s lance slammed into his thigh. A searing, tearing pain ripped through his leg and on instinct he tried to clutch at the wound, losing his grip on the reigns. He realised that was a mistake but had no time to correct it as he instantly slid sideways, bouncing off the centre fence before landing hard on the ground.