Title: Step By Step
Sequel to: Destiny Begun
Universe: Lost Princess Series
Characters: Chloe/Arthur, Knights, Merlin, Uther, Gaius, Lois, Lana
Disclaimer: Don't own
Summary: Step by step each chess piece begins to move into place for the real game to begin.
"Why couldn't we have just stop and spend the night in the village we passed a couple of miles back?" Chloe wanted to know, hating that she was whining, but in severe pain and felt no guilt at taking it out on Arthur.
"You wanted to spend the night in Ealdor?" Arthur made his nose up at the very suggestion, letting her know just what he'd thought of the little hamlet.
"Yes, in Ealdor." Chloe muttered, body aching from the days ride. She wasn't used to being on horseback, to the jostling and such, and her back and thighs were killing her. "They might've had an inn, with a nice bed, and a tub that could be filled with warm water." She glared at him heatedly. "Warm water would have relaxed my muscles and would have helped with the pain."
"Ealdor wouldn't have an inn." Arthur scoffed, face still scrunched. "They're lucky they even have hovels to sleep in. Cenred has no great love for the outlying provinces of his own kingdom." He sneered. "By contrast, the poorest village of Camelot is considered wealthy."
Chloe wanted to clobber him. Seriously. She wanted to know what turned him from this arrogant ass to the king she'd always admired and crushed on. Because he obviously hadn't always had the characteristics that'd made her fall for him in the legends.
While Arthur wasn't villainous, as she'd nearly painted him before, he was very much what one would call a diamond in the rough. And he was very much in the rough. At times she could see little displays that proved he could be that great king, but most of the time his abysmal attitude covered it all up and it seemed impossible for him to truly be the Prince (or King) Arthur she'd spent her childhood reading about. Chloe had spent these last couple of days traveling with him, away from the Royal Court, to really look at him and get a feel for the real him when his father wasn't bearing down on him.
Apparently his hatred for magic didn't run as deep as his father's, although he did seem to quite detest it. She'd asked one of the Knights, Leon, why. The young ma hadn't given her a straight answer, but had managed to say that magic had taken away two of the most important people in Arthur's life when he was quite young. And with that information, no matter how vague, Chloe was beginning to see the situation a little better, able to understand Arthur's negative feelings towards magic. It'd killed two very important people in his life, so he would obviously view it as a bad thing. And yes, it could be bad, but there was also good magic out there. Magic in itself truly wasn't good or evil, it was the people who used it who determined whether it'd be used for the light or darkness. While there were a lot of sorcerers or witches that would let the power take over their mind (like meteor freaks had let the meteor infection turn them insane) there were also wizards out there who would use their powers for good (like the meteor freaks who hadn't succumbed to the meteor psychosis).
Chloe wondered if, since this was her destiny and all, if she hadn't been sent to live in Smallville so that she could learn this and then help Arthur realize it.
It wasn't that she had this overly blown ego that made her think that Arthur would listen to her, it wasn't as if she was anyone in this timeline, but she'd been brought here for a reason and that reason was to heal Camelot and by proxy, Albion. And she was seeing more and more that if she was going to heal Camelot, she was going to have to heal both Uther and Arthur, its ruler and future ruler. But to do so she was going to need the help of this mysterious Emrys character. Chloe couldn't remember anyone in the Arthurian legends named Emrys, didn't even know if it was a girl or a boy, and that was a draw-back, but she knew he or she would appear and when the person did Chloe would have everything she needed to fulfill her destiny.
And maybe, when she did, she could go back home.
Her heart clenched.
She missed Lois, Lana, and Clark desperately.
But out of all of them she missed her cousin the most.
"Come closer to the fire, it'll warm you." Arthur didn't wait for her consent, instead pulling her up and moving her closer to the fire before depositing her down. "Won't be as good as a warm bath, but it will do."
"Oh, I'm so happy you feel so." She glared at him, slapping away his hands. "And the next time you put your hands on me without permission I'm going to cut them off."
"Many a damsel in court has begged to have my hands on her." Arthur huffed.
"Did they have concussions at the time?" Chloe quipped with an air of faux innocence, flinching as her muscles hurt as she reached out to warm her hands by the fire.
"No, My Lady, I assure you they were all in their right mind." Arthur glared at her, although there was the impression that he found her insolence reluctantly amusing. "One would assume you were the one who has taken an absence of her mind."
"One would think the man who believes every woman should beg for him narcissistic and in need of a swift kick in the ass."
The knights who weren't on guard duty eyed them with utter fascination, as they'd been doing these last couple of days while they slowly travelled the Escetian terrain. Apparently something about Chloe's and Arthur's interaction intrigued them to no end, and they tried making their fascination and observance subtle, thought they failed terribly.
Chloe's gaze went to Sir Pellinore, who was the one in charge of the cooking. "Sir Pellinore?"
He looked up from where he was fumbling with the pots that's been saddled to his steed, along with the food supplies. "Milady?"
"I don't want you to be offended, it's not my intent at all," she cleared her throat, giving him a small smile. "But can I cook tonight?"
Despite his earnest efforts, Pellinore's food tasted terrible.
The knights looked horrified at her request.
"We could not ask of you-!"
"No Lady should-!"
"Absolutely not." Arthur snarled from where he'd returned with a blanket to wrap around her, laying it on her shoulders.
"And why not? No one's asking me, I want to cook!" Chloe snapped, glaring at him and the knights. "And it's not like it'd be the first time I have cooked food. I-I enjoy it. It relaxes me."
"You-you've done manual labor?" Arthur sounded horrified at this. "Were you a servant in your...kingdom?"
The knights didn't know of her true origins, and like the rest of the people, believed that she'd had blood ties to Queen Igraine of some sort, and had come from a far away kingdom to become King Uther's ward since there was a war in her homeland.
"No, but things are different there." Chloe glared at him, taking in a deep breath. "There I don't live in a castle, but in a two story house, and I live with my cousin. In my...kingdom...everyone has to work and do things to be able to afford to eat. When I come home from studying and working, I also have to work in the house, cleaning and cooking."
"You...you were living in abject poverty!" Arthur hissed, obviously very much offended by this. "How dare she-!"
Chloe blinked, not exactly sure with whom he was so pissed off. "It wasn't poverty. It was a good life, and I enjoyed it." She turned to Pellinore. "Please, sir Pellinore? Help a damsel in distress out. Aren't you supposed to save them? You'll be saving me from going insane with boredom. Please."
Pellinore looked overwhelmed with this compelling argument, and yet turned his gaze to Arthur. "My Prince?"
Arthur sighed, hand over his eyes. "Just humor her or we'll never hear the end of it."
Chloe turned Arthur, grinning, and hugged him tightly in thanks, forgetting about her sore muscles. "Thank you!" She pulled away and turned from him, missing the shocked expression on his face, as she got to work immediately. The blonde felt no shyness in ordering around the knights, sending out two to go hunt and skin something to eat (ordering them to make sure it wasn't something cute and cuddly like a rabbit) and going through Pellinore's saddlebags, decided for some potatoes, carrots, and onions. Returning with the pot and vegetables, she sent a couple of knights with a couple of pots to the stream nearby so that they could have one pot of water for her to wash the vegetables in, and the other so she could start the stew.
Once everything was around her, Chloe smiled and sat down, beginning to peel the potatoes with the knife Pellinore had given her. She hummed, losing herself to the work, but before long the silence reached her and she looked up, realizing that the knights and Arthur were all watching her in surprise.
Clearing her throat, a little unnerved by the attention, she gazed at 'Sir Owain The Baby-Faced' (as she silently referred to him). "Sir Owain, I have a riddle for you, are you up to the challenge?"
The young knight's eyes widened and he straightened, clearing his throat. "A knight of Camelot is always up for a challenge, milady."
"Good." Smiling, Chloe's gaze went back to the potatoes. "Three women were transformed into flowers which grew in the field, but one of them was allowed to be in her own home at night, then when day was drawing near she was forced to go back to her companions in the field and become a flower was more. She said to her husband, 'If you will come this afternoon and gather me, I shall be set free and henceforth stay with you'. He did as told." She gazed up once more at the knights before returning her attention to Sir Owain. "So my question is this. How did her husband know which was her if the flowers were exactly alike, and without any difference?"
There were murmurs as the knights all seemed curious an intrigued.
Sir Owain made a face, deep in thought.
Arthur looked between them and a secret little smile tilted his lips as he sat down next to Chloe, leaning back on his elbows.
"Maybe..." Sir Owain looked up, clearing his throat. "His love was so strong and true that he could see through any disguise?"
The knights snickered.
He glared at them, blushing slightly.
Chuckling, Chloe shook her head. "Well, while that's indeed romantic, Sir Owain, that isn't the answer." She raised an eyebrow at the snickering knights. "Does anyone else have an answer to the riddle?"
The snickers stopped.
"Come now men." Arthur cajoled from her side. "Surely one of you can defeat this challenge."
There was silence, and then Sir Leon, Arthur's second in command, cleared his throat. "No dew."
"Huh?" One of the other knights asked. "What are you going on about?"
Leon cleared his throat once more, speaking louder. "She was a human during the nights at her house and not in the field, so the dew wouldn't have fallen on her as it did on the others. She'd be the only flower without it, and by this her husband would know her."
"Bravo Sir Leon." Chloe grinned. "You are the champion of this round."
Sir Pellinore gave the grinning Sir Leon a congratulatory pat on his back.
The knights chuckled.
Arthur's grin grin slightly.
"There are four brothers in this world that were all born together. The first runs and never wearies. The second eats and is never full. The third drinks and is always thirsty. The fourth sings a song that is never good." Chloe continued on in her work. "Who are they?"
A couple of the knights began to repeat the riddle to themselves softly.
"Runs but never wearies...eats and is never full...drinks but is always thirsty...and sings a song that is never good." Sir Pellinore made up his face.
Sir Owain seemed quite desperate to reclaim his honor after having failing the previous one, but didn't seem to be able to come up with anything.
"I know the answer." Arthur announced smugly. "It's water, fire, earth and wind."
Chloe turned to grin at him. "Correct."
"Of course I have to save your honors." Arthur scoffed, though his voice was tinted with amusement, which was echoed in the eyes of his knights.
Chloe had to admit it, despite what an ass he could be, Arthur seemed fond of his knights and they of him.
"If you do not mind me asking, milady," one of the younger knights asked. "Where did you learn the riddles?"
"At the Daily Planet, they had a riddles column ever sunday and I..." She paused, looking up, realizing that they wouldn't get the reference. "Uhm...at my place of employment...there were a collection of these riddles and I enjoyed them."
Arthur frowned once more at the mention of a job.
"You...were employed...by transcribers?" One of the knights asked.
"What exactly was it that you did?" Another wanted to know.
"Well, I found stories of things that were happening around my...village...and wrote about them so that others would know." Chloe responded, describing journalism in the best way she could.
"So you were a bard." One of the knights exclaimed.
She smiled. "I guess you could say that."
"What tales do you know of?" One of the older ones asked.
"Please milady, beguile us with a tale." Another smiled.
Arthur looked around at his knights, surprised.
"Well..." Chloe pondered a moment, thinking of all the many incredible stories she herself had lived through, and wondered how to tell it in a way that entertained, and yet didn't arouse too many questions. "Once upon a time, in the kingdom of Krypton, there was a war so great, it destroyed everyone who ever lived there." She cleared her throat. "Days before its destruction, the King and Queen realized that the end was near, and to save their infant son, heir to the throne, they sent him away in a small boat in the river."
The knights quieted, listening intently.
"The small boat would have floated on the waters and the young prince would have perished if a kind farmer and his wife hadn't happened upon him and heard his cry." She continued with her work, a small smile on her face. "The farmer and his wife were childless, and had been praying to the gods for a baby of their own, so they considered the boy a gift from the gods and raised him as their own. For years the boy grew up on the farm, helping his parents, not knowing the truth about his heritage or that he was a prince and not a farmhand. Yet he was happy, and loved his parents dearly as they loved him."
A melancholy expression began to tint Arthur's face as he gazed into the flames.
"As the boy grew older, he fell in love with the niece of a woman who lived close by, but the young girl, beautiful beyond compare in the realm, didn't notice him. Her beauty was well known amongst the kingdom, and many courted and wooed her." Chloe smirked, thinking how Lana's story really did sound like a fairy tale now that she was telling it that way. "Finally, one of the knights of the realm won her hand, and they were...of an understanding." Her smirk grew at the thought of referring to Whitney as a knight. "Still it didn't stop the longing in the men's hearts in the kingdom, not even our little unknown heir. The other males continued to fight over her, despite her understanding with the knight, trying to sway her to their side or steal her from him."
"That's not very honorable." Sir Pellinore frowned deeply. "Even if she has stolen their hearts, if she has given her word to another, then the honorable thing would be to step aside and let her and the knight be."
The knights murmured their agreement.
"But you see, she was very beautiful." Chloe sighed.
"Her beauty sounds maddening." Leon murmured. "It sounds like a curse."
Chloe looked up at Sir Leon with a curious smile. "It probably was a curse in a sense."
"What happened next?" Sir Owain asked, looking very much like a boy right now.
"Well," Chloe finished with the potatoes, cutting them into cubes and placing them in the boiling water. "The young farmboy had two friends, one of another peasant boy like himself, and the other was a young maiden whose dream was to become a great bard one day."
Arthur frowned and sat up, eyeing her suspiciously.
"The young bard had started realizing something no one in her village did...that certain people were different from them...and they were causing a lot of trouble for the village, putting them in danger." Chloe wondered how exactly she was going to explain the Meteor Freaks.
"Witches." Sir Pellinore whispered to Sir Leon, who nodded his agreement.
She wanted to correct them, didn't want to make magic the villain of her stories...that would go against everything she needed to teach...but she realized that they, like Arthur, needed to slowly be taught that magic was neutral and it was the witches who were either good or evil...so she remained silent and let them assume what they wanted.
"Why was the bard the only one who realized that there were witches in the village?" Sir Owen wanted to know, eyes wide. "I would have thought it would be obvious to anyone when they saw the magic."
"Well, in her village they didn't believe magic existed, so they tried to explain the many odd things away as logically as possible...and those things they couldn't explain they didn't aknowlegde and refused to think of ever again." Chloe shrugged.
"Ignorant peasants." Sir Rochester snorted, shaking his head in disgust.
Her lips twitched in wry amusement. "The bard kept her discoveries to herself, writing them in...a journal she called...The Chronicles of the Weird...and didn't tell her two friends of what she'd discovered or what her theories were."
"She was unwise." Sir Thomas mumbled, disapproving. "She should have informed her friends, and the Magistrates, and had them deal with the vile witchcraft."
"The people didn't believe in magic. Why would she tell them?" Sir Boris wanted to know. "If she raised a ruckus and they didn't believe her, she would have exposed her knowledge of the witches to said creatures and they would have disposed of her to protect themselves."
"Surely there would be someone who believed her and would take his place as her champion and protector." Sir Thomas announced, chest puffed out. "The exiled prince for example."
At the reminder of the hero of her tale, the knights returned their attention to her.
Chloe bit back the smile her felt tugging at her lips at their enraptured attention. She opened her mouth to continue when suddenly two of the knights she'd sent out hunting returned, holding a struggling youth between them.
The knights by the fire, and Arthur, all suddenly stood, drawing their swords.
Chloe herself, feeling the tension, tightened her grip on the knife she was using to peel the potatoes.
"We found this runt skulking in the bushes." Sir Gilead announced, shoving the boy forwards.
The newcomer, in that awkward stage in his life in which he had yet to grow into his limbs, stumbled before catching himself. "I was not skulking! I'm from Elador and I'm making my way to Camelot. I was just looking for a place to camp the night when these two jumped out of nowhere, attacked me without provocation, and dragged me out here!"
"Mind your tone, peasant." Arthur narrowed his eyes. "Do you know who it is you're addressing?"
"Other than the fact that he's an utter arse?" The guy snarked, hands going to his hips. "No."
Chloe liked him.
She really really liked him.
Arthur, on the other hand, looked like he wanted to wring the guy's neck. "Listen here you impertinent buffoon. I'm-."
Chloe's eyes widened, remembering that Arthur and his men weren't supposed to be in Escetia...that their presence here alone could be an international incident (which was why they hid their emblems). This was why she shot to her feet and dropped her knife, reaching out and laying a hand on Arthur's shoulder before he could let his anger get the better. "Stand down, Sir Penn. It's alright."
The knights and Arthur both just turned to look at her in confusion.
All except for Sir Leon, who'd looked utterly horrified seconds ago when he'd realized Arthur was about to out them.
"I'm sorry for my men," Chloe smiled at the young Ealdorean, taking a step towards him. "We're headed towards Camelot as well, and my men are very protective of me."
The young male narrowed his eyes on Arthur before turning a shy smile on Chloe. "It's okay...I can understand."
"What business do you have in Camelot, boy?" Arthur narrowed his eyes.
Chloe found it hysterical that Arthur referred to the newcomer as 'boy' considering that Chloe was probably his age, and Arthur wasn't much older.
The stranger's red neckerchief bobbed as he gulped, eyes unconsciously going to the armed men, before returning to her with a slightly nervous smile. "My mother once studied under the Court Physician, and sends me to be his apprentice."
"What's your name?" Chloe asked curiously.
The guy cleared his throat. "Merlin, milady."
Chloe's eyes widened, her smile slipping from her lips as she just gazed at the young man in surprise.
This was Merlin?
But wasn't Merlin supposed to be some old dude?
She vaguely heard Merlin asking for her name, but with her heart racing and head spinning she couldn't think properly, couldn't concentrate...wasn't even sure what she'd told him. Things around her seemed to be spinning, her confusion mounting, and it was only Arthur's sword clanging to the ground as he dropped it that pulled her out of the near trance she'd been in.
"Arthur?" She turned to him, worried when she saw the ghastly expression on his face as he eyed her. "Arthur, are you alright?"
"Perhaps Sir Penn doesn't approve that you gave your name to a stranger, Lady Guinevere." Sir Leon stepped in, sending Arthur a confused look as well, obviously not understanding why the prince was acting this way.
But then Chloe's eyes widened in horror as she picked up on something Leon had said.
He'd called her Lady Guinevere.
Which meant that the name she'd given Merlin was Guinevere!
She wanted to slap herself in horror!
How could she have been so foolish?
Just because she happened to envy the future Queen for having two delicious morsels like Arthur and Lancelot at her beck and call did not make it alright for her to do something like this! It was almost as if she'd wanted to be Guinevere subconsciously! Chloe didn't care much for the Queen in mention, she wouldn't have had all the affaires with all the different men, knights, kings and lords that the woman had had (Lancelot and Arthur alone should be more than enough and somewhat hard to handle)...but she had to admit that after seeing both Arthur and Lancelot Chloe could understand the Queen's inability to choose between the two of them.
If she were the Queen, she didn't think she would be able to as well.
For that reason Chloe was grateful that that choice would never fall to her.
"Are you sure?" King Uther whispered, eyeing the two girls with the charred clothes resting in the Court Physician's chambers.
"Yes sire, this girl here bears the mark of a companion of the House of Leodegrance." Gaius lifted up the foot of the taller, statuesque brunette, showing the mark on the underside. "She can only be Lady Gertrude, daughter of Lord Vreichvras, companion of Princess Guinevere since early childhood. Her body, along with Guinevere's, was never identified in the massacre."
Uther frowned, gaze going to the other girl. "And her?"
Gaius hesitated, before moving the girl's hair to the side, baring the skin behind her ear, which would usually be hidden by her hair.
Confused as to why his Court Physician refused to speak, Uther stepped forwards and leaned down, before his eyes widened in horror at the small, familiar birthmark. He pulled away, horror on his paled face. "It cannot be! It is impossible!"
"No Sire." Gaius shook his head. "It is she."
Uther turned to the petite brunette, hand going to his heart. "Elaine