Lady Magdalen clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention. “You have done well this morning, ladies,” she said, although her sour expression suggested otherwise. “You may all be excused until midday when we will resume your lessons. I strongly advise you to use your time wisely, perhaps practicing your needlework or some other quiet pursuit.” She spoke to all the ladies, but her cold eyes fixed on Wynne.
Wynne sighed and watched as the other young ladies walked demurely off to collect their needlework, or to practice singing or some other proper pursuit. She had had quite enough of being a proper lady for the time being, so she quickly ducked outside into the bright sunshine.
Out in the courtyard, she threw back her head and breathed deeply, filling her lungs with the fresh spring air and enjoying the warm sunshine on her face. Even in the winter, Wynne hated being confined to the castle, instead preferring to be out in the village seeing what everyone was doing or out in the woods watching the animals. Opening her eyes, she looked around her, trying to decide where to go to forget about her lessons for awhile. She finally decided to go walking just outside the city gates. Maybe she could pick some of the wildflowers that grew close to the moat; even Lady Magdalen couldn’t find fault with that.
She walked slowly through the gates, looking around her as though she expected to see someone. Finally sighing heavily, she picked up her pace. Although many people were coming and going, she didn’t see the person she had been hoping to see. She had hoped to “accidentally” run into Gwaine. Even though she had heard Queen Guinevere and a number of other ladies say that Gwaine was a shameless flirt, she couldn’t help feeling giddy whenever he smiled at her or spoke to her. He was, at least in her eyes, the handsomest of the knights of Camelot. He didn’t treat her as a child the way some of the other knights did, nor did he raise his eyebrows in disapproval when he caught her engaging in swordplay with one of the boys. Wynne smiled to herself as she recalled the first time Gwaine had come upon her practicing sword fighting with her cousin Boris.
Boris had been unable to find another boy to practice with, and since he knew Wynne quickly tired of her lessons in being a lady, he had sought her out and persuaded her to join him in the practice fields. As they danced around each other, their swords clashing loudly, all of a sudden a shadow had fallen across them and Gwaine stepped in to snatch Wynne’s sword from her. “Wynne, I’m surprised at you,” he said sternly. Thinking he was about to chastise her for behavior that was inappropriate for a lady, she had lowered her head and waited for him to continue. “As often as you have watched the squires practicing with swords, you should know better than to hold your sword like that. Hold it up in front of you like so.” He showed Wynne how to hold the sword properly and then handed it back to her.
Wynne took the sword from him, gazing up into his brown eyes a moment longer than she needed to. Her hands shook as she raised her sword again to face Boris. Gwaine stepped in and put his hands over Wynne’s and adjusted her stance to show her how to attack more effectively. When he stepped back to let them spar, Wynne had gone after Boris more zealously than before. They danced around each other, swinging and striking. Boris was bigger, stronger, and far more experienced with the sword, but Wynne was determined to best him to impress Gwaine.
Wynne could hear Gwaine shouting instructions both to her and to Boris as each tried to best the other. Wynne’s arms began to ache, and with every hit of Boris’ sword they became weaker, and her sword became heavier and harder to wield. Finally, Boris struck so hard that Wynne’s sword flew from her hands and she fell backwards, hard, landing on her back in the grass. Suddenly, Boris loomed over her, his face contorted with bloodlust. He raised his sword high above her as though he’d run her through. She raised her hands to cover her face and screamed tearfully. Suddenly Gwaine came between them, shouting, “Hold!”
Wynne lowered her arms and stared up at them. The malicious look was gone from her cousin’s face, and he laughed down at her, “Some knight you are, cousin, screaming and crying like a girl.”
Feeling her face flame at Boris’ observation, Wynne lowered her eyes. So much for impressing Gwaine, she thought to herself. She heard Gwaine laugh kindly and looked up to see him offering her his hand to help her up. “Boris, in case you haven’t noticed, your cousin is a girl.” He kissed her hand jauntily and said with a wide grin, “And a very pretty girl, too.”
Boris made a face of disgust at Gwaine’s comment, and Wynne stuck her tongue out at him. Gwaine looked at Wynne with admiration. “Wynne, I am impressed. You held him off much longer than I would have expected you to. You have the makings of a fine knight of Camelot.”
Wynne gazed up at him hopefully, almost more flattered by that statement than by his saying she was pretty. “Truly, Gwaine? You think so?” She felt her cheeks flaming again, this time with pleasure.
With an expression of mock fear, Gwaine ducked down and said, low, “Shh, lass, don’t let Lady Magdalen know I said that. She’ll thrust me through with my own sword if she finds I’ve been putting ideas in your head.” Then he laughed at his own joke. Wynne giggled too, as much at his comment as at the expression on his face. It was obvious that Gwaine thought as little of Lady Magdalen as Wynne did.
“She could never be a knight anyway; she’s training to be a laaaadyyyy,” Boris sneered, taunting his cousin again. “Although she isn’t much of a lady either.”
Enraged, Wynne snatched the sword from Boris’ unsuspecting hand and smacked him upside the head with the flat of the blade. “You won’t make much of a knight either if I cut your ugly head off,” she spat.
“See what I mean?” Boris laughed, rubbing his head. “She’s not a proper lady. She’s not a lady at all.”
Wynne dropped the sword and rushed at Boris, tackling him and pummeling him with her fists. Boris refused to fight back because Wynne was a girl, but only held his hands up to protect himself from her blows. Gwaine, laughing, stepped in to pull Wynne off of him. As he grabbed both her arms and hauled her up, she yelled, “Boris, you are nothing but a clotpole.”
“Wynifred,” Lady Magdalen’s voice called out. “Whatever do you think you’re doing?” Wynne stopped struggling, and Gwaine released her arms so she could stand up. She cowered against Gwaine as Lady Magdalen came storming across the courtyard. She cringed, wondering how much Lady Magdalen had seen of what just occurred.
Boris took off running at her approach, but Gwaine stepped in and bowed apologetically. “Lady Magdalen, I implore you, don’t be harsh with young Lady Wynifred. I accept full responsibility; I was teaching her how to wield a sword. And quite a fine swordswoman she is.”
“I am well aware of who is at fault here, Sir Gwaine,” Lady Magdalen hissed in an icy voice that would have stolen the fire from a dragon. “Lady Wynifred is headstrong and needs no help in finding ways to behave that are unbefitting a lady. I would appreciate it if you would refrain from encouraging her.”
Wynne rubbed her arm at the memory of Lady Magdalen grabbing her roughly and practically dragging her back to the castle in disgrace. She had cast one forlorn glance over her shoulder at Gwaine, who was standing there shaking his head in disgust. Wynne had felt terrible for getting Gwaine chastised by Lady Magdalen, but he had only laughed when she apologized to him later.
As she picked daisies, cornflowers and chicory, Wynne let her mind wander where it would. She smiled to herself as she plucked a daisy and tucked it in her hair, thinking about the day she had first laid eyes on Gwaine, when he had first come to Camelot. He had snatched a daisy from one of the girls selling flowers in the marketplace and presented it to Gwen as she walked by. He bowed and flirted with her, telling her she was the most beautiful princess he had ever seen; she had giggled and blushed and told him she was nothing but a servant. Wynne closed her eyes for a moment, remembering how she had wished—still wished—for Gwaine to look at her that way, to flirt with her that way. She sighed contentedly and resumed picking flowers, vowing to herself to concentrate more fully on becoming a proper lady. Maybe then Gwaine might ask to court her.
Wynne glanced down at the large bouquet she had gathered, breathing in their sweet scent, and was about to carry them inside for Berte the cook when a small, urgent voice caught her attention. “Wynnie! Wynnie, down here! Help us!”
She stepped closer to the edge of the moat and looked down. There, ankle deep in moat water, were Rhys and Madoc, two of the newest pages at Camelot. Rhys held a small basket that was dripping water from its bottom, and Madoc held a burlap sack that trailed down into the muddy water. Wynne stifled a giggle and called down, “What are you two doing?”
“We’re trying to catch the bullfrog, the big one,” Madoc answered, tugging his britches up in the back. “Will you help us?”
Wynne looked back at them doubtfully. She had actually managed two whole days without earning more than a disapproving sigh from Lady Magdalen; for her that was an accomplishment, and she didn’t want to ruin it. She also recalled the vow she had made not ten minutes past to try to act like a proper lady. She was sure that a proper lady wouldn’t go chasing bullfrogs in the moat. Still, she couldn’t bear to see their pouting faces, so she agreed reluctantly to help them.
She laid her flowers carefully on the bank and glanced quickly around to make sure no one was watching. Seeing no one, she climbed carefully down the bank, trying not to rumple her dress too much. Rhys and Madoc chortled, delighted that their friend was willing to help them complete their quest. “Where is the bullfrog?” Wynne whispered close to the boys’ ears.
Rhys pointed to a greenish-brown lump half submerged in the moat among the bulrushes. Wynne took the basket from Rhys and leaned close to whisper to Madoc. “I’m going to try to scoop him into the basket. You be ready with the sack when I bring him out of the water.”
Madoc nodded solemnly and wrung out his sack while Wynne removed her shoes and tied up the hem of her dress as high as she thought was proper, hoping she didn’t get too wet.
Picking up the basket, Wynne whispered, “Ready?” When Madoc nodded again, she began stealthily walking along the bank towards the bulrushes. As she got closer, the bullfrog fidgeted. She froze and motioned for Madoc to freeze too. The frog settled in again, and Wynne crept to the water’s edge. She had to move slowly so she wouldn’t disturb the water too much and alert the frog to her presence. Ever so carefully, she waded out towards the frog, pausing several times when the frog seemed to sense her presence. She was almost close enough now; she got the basket ready and prepared to pounce. She felt her hem come loose and tumble into the water. Bother! Well, she couldn’t worry about that now. She turned to Madoc and mouthed, “Ready?”
Eyes aglow with excitement, Madoc nodded, grinning from ear to ear. Wynne slowly and carefully raised the basket, extending it out in front of her. Suddenly, she pounced, bringing the basket down over the frog with a splash. She knew she had the frog because she could feel it hopping against the overturned basket. “Madoc!” she cried. “Bring the sack now!”
Madoc rushed to her side, knocking her off balance in his haste. Wynne toppled sideways into the moat, squealing as she hit the cold moat water. Losing hold on one side of the basket, Wynne snatched the sack from Madoc and tried to prevent the frog from escaping. She made a frantic grasp as she saw the frog leap from the basket. “Wynnie, he’s getting away!” Madoc wailed.
“Not if I can help it,” Wynne exclaimed, diving after the frog. She plunged both hands into the moat in pursuit of the disappearing amphibian. She felt something large moving inside the sack, and she closed her hands around it. She lost her footing and slipped completely underwater. Refusing to let go of her quarry, she hugged the thrashing frog close to her body as she tried to stand up without using her arms. From the shore she could hear shouts—Rhys’ and someone else’s.
Suddenly, she was being hauled from the moat by the back of her dress. As her head came above water, she sputtered and took a gasp of air. Her eyes were covered with something dank-smelling and slimy; she was still clutching the frog to her chest, so she couldn’t wipe it away. She felt herself being dropped on the bank, and then a male voice asked, “Wynne, what the blazes were you doing?”
Oh no! Gwaine! He began plucking algae from her face and hair while she uselessly wiped her face against her wet shoulder and answered, still sputtering, “I was helping the boys catch a frog.” Feeling the frog still struggling against her, she added proudly, “And I got him! Look!”
She dropped the wriggling sack on the ground. Rhys and Madoc both wailed, “Oh, Wynnie, no!”
Gwaine doubled over with laughter and said, “I think you’d better look again, lass.”
Wynne raised herself onto one elbow and stared down at her catch. It wasn’t the bullfrog after all. She had caught, almost with her bare hands, a large fish. Her face fell as she realized she had failed. She watched dejectedly as the fish flopped its way back into the moat and disappeared with a splash. She sat up and looked down at herself. She was soaked from head to toe, muddy, and covered with algae. At least my shoes are still dry, she thought ruefully.
“Here, Wynnie,” Rhys said apologetically. She looked over to see Rhys holding her sopping wet shoes. “I’m sorry. I knocked them into the moat by accident.”
Taking them from him with a sad sigh, she responded, “It’s all right, Rhys. I’m sure they wouldn’t have stayed dry for long.” She looked down again at her ruined dress and then glanced up at Gwaine, wondering what he must be thinking of her.
There was no condemnation in his eyes, only amusement at her predicament. He joked, “Maybe you should have kept the fish to take to Berte. Your cousin spent the whole morning fishing and caught nothing.” Wynne turned her eyes away and said nothing. So much for acting like a proper lady, she thought miserably. Gwaine will never see me as a lady. She felt his hand on her arm, and she looked up at him again. “Come on, then,” he said softly. “Let’s get you back to the castle for some dry clothes.”
Gwaine helped her climb the bank, and they started towards the castle. As they passed the spot where she had only a little while earlier been picking wildflowers, she caught sight of her colorful bouquet. Her intentions had been so good, but once again she had failed. The realization of the trouble her impulsiveness was going to get her into—again—hit her hard, and silent tears began to course down her cheeks, mixing with the dank moat water.
As they neared the castle, she noticed to her chagrin that Boris and several other squires were gathered beneath a tree with Sir Leon and Sir Perceval, taking a break from their own lessons. Boris spotted them and cried out, “Beware! Gwaine has captured a moat monster!”
Looking over and catching her eye, Ulrich, a tall, dark-haired squire laughed derisively and said, “That’s no moat monster. That’s your cousin, Wynne.”
“What’s the difference?” Boris retorted, laughing. Then he sang out, “She’s not a lady, and she can’t be a knight. She’s just Wynifred, and she looks like a fright.”
Sir Percival reached over and cuffed Boris while Sir Leon turned and chastised him. That should have made Wynne feel better, but the damage was already done. Her silent tears turned to ashamed whimpers and sniveling as sobs racked her body. Gwaine put his arm protectively around her shoulders and called sternly over to Boris and Ulrich, “You lads will never be knights either if you treat a young lady so. You should turn your attention back to your lessons.”
Thinking to avoid any other confrontations, Gwaine decided to sneak Wynne in through the kitchens. Treading carefully through the muddy spots where the servants had dumped their wash waters earlier, Gwaine and Wynne entered through the rear door. No sooner had they stepped into the kitchen than Berte caught sight of Wynne’s tear-stained, swollen face and her drenched, ruined dress. She bustled across the room and gathered Wynne into her ample chest. “Oh, my precious lass, what mischief have you gotten into this day?” She glanced gratefully at Gwaine and said, “Thank you for rescuing her again; you always seem to appear at the right time.”
Gwaine smiled sheepishly at Berte, then winked at Wynne and grabbed an apple, hoping to make a discreet exit before Lady Magdalen could appear and give him another what-for. Honestly, he had battled armies and fire-breathing dragons and even come face to face with dorocha, and none of those frightened him more than did Lady Magdalen.
Unfortunately for him, just as he reached for the door, Lady Magdalen came storming in. “Berte, the Queen requests…” She caught sight of Gwaine. “Oh, beg pardon, Sir Gwaine. I didn’t know you were here.” Her eyes found Berte and then caught sight of Wynne. “OH! Wynifred!” She whirled around to face Gwaine and blazed, “What is the meaning of this? What trouble have you brought to her this time?”
Despite the fear that Lady Magdalen inspired in him, Gwaine threw out his arms and sputtered indignantly through a mouthful of apple, “I got her in no trouble, Lady. I pulled her out of the bloody moat!”
Lady Magdalen’s eyes widened in horror, and Gwaine realized he had said too much. He tried to speak, but Lady Magdalen swung around to face Wynne again. “The moat? What business could a proper lady have in the moat?”
“Lady, if you please, she was…” Gwaine began, stepping towards her.
Lady Magdalen rounded on him again, pointing directly between his eyes. Gwaine had the sudden thought that if Lady Magdalen had had magic, he would either be dead or turned into some filthy creature at that moment. “You have done quite enough, Sir Gwaine! Every time you come near Wynifred, you cause her to come to some mischief. Begone, you miscreant! You keep yourself away from my young ladies, especially young Wynifred!”
Wynne saw the fury in his eyes, but she knew that Gwaine was too much of a gentleman to say what he thought of her because she was a lady. His eyes met Wynne’s, and they softened slightly as he gave her a look of encouragement. He took another large bite of his apple as he stormed out the door.
Lady Magdalen looked sharply at Wynne, and her eyes narrowed. She noticed the girl’s wistful expression as she gazed after the retreating knight. So that was it, she thought. Wynifred was smitten with Sir Gwaine. That was why she always got into such scrapes when he was nearby; she wanted to gain his attention. Well, this had to be nipped in the bud. No young lady in her care was going to seek the attention of a shameless flirt like Sir Gwaine, especially when she acted inappropriately to do so. “Wynifred,” she said sternly. “Get yourself to your chamber and change your clothes. Then fill a tub with hot water and wash your dress. When you’ve hung your dress to dry, come see me, and we will discuss your punishment.”
Wynne’s eyes widened in fear. Lady Magdalen usually doled out punishment right away. What did it mean that this time she was sending Wynne to complete a task first? She replied meekly, “Yes, Lady.” After a final hug from Berte, she quickly exited the kitchen.
Just as she walked through the doorway, she turned and caught a sympathetic glance from Berte. As she squished down the corridor, still trailing moat water, she overheard Lady Magdalen chastising Berte, “I do wish you wouldn’t coddle Wynifred. You do that child no favors by giving her sympathy when she brings shame to herself with her antics.” Wynne sighed miserably, realizing that she had gotten both Gwaine and Berte, her two favorite people in Camelot, into trouble by her impulsive, unladylike behavior. Would she never learn how to behave, she wondered.