Title: Just Her Luck
Fandom: Merlin BBC TV
Rating: G, 3,334 words
Warnings: An original female character but one I hope you will enjoy!
Summary: A young woman troubled with bad luck travels to Camelot looking for work and a new start in life. She ends up becoming part of the legend. The myth was never like this.
Click here to read chapter one on LiveJournal...
Journey to Camelot
The villagers didn’t throw Elaine out after her grandmother died, per se, but they weren’t exactly subtle with their opinion that she should leave either. They were willing to allow Elaine to stay with her grandmother while the woman was alive and tending to the cuts and bruises daily life imparted upon a person but they were less thrilled with the young woman staying by herself. Elaine wasn’t viewed in a very gracious light by the villagers and she knew how unpredictable their attitudes could be. Their opinion of the young woman often ranged from indifference, when she was ignored, to outright anger, when Elaine often had to make herself scarce. So, Elaine packed up a small pull-cart with her possessions and supplies for travel and left the place she’d lived her whole life.
They did see her off, those village people that she had helped tend through sickness and health alongside her grandmother for years. They wished her well and gave her a few coins and some fresh bread from the ovens and an extra heavy blanket from the tavern that sometimes rented rooms, although it was early spring and fine weather. Their mood was good, coupled with sympathy for the death of her only relative and the promise of being rid of her. Elaine supposed they felt a little bad for sending her off, just not bad enough to risk her staying. They couldn’t quite shake the old superstitions of years long gone. So they suggested Elaine travel to Camelot and waved goodbye as she disappeared down the road, no hugs and no handshakes of farewell. They didn’t want to risk touching her.
Elaine wasn’t bitter about being sent away. Maybe a bit disappointed that the work alongside her grandmother hadn’t earned her a place in the village after twenty years. But it could have been worse. Elaine was very aware that it could have been a great deal worse. She’d been treated well, all things considered. It had been the only life she’d ever known. Dusk was falling at the end of the first day of travel and Elaine yanked her little pull-cart from the road and into the trees. A fire was not necessary, especially with the heavy blanket she’d been given, and would only draw unwanted attention. So, Elaine ate a little of the bread and a strip of dried meat while the light faded around her and then forced herself to sleep.
Camelot was always in need of workers, the villagers had told Elaine. The young woman would find a position as a kitchen servant or, if she had any good luck at all (doubtful), helping some healer with their work. It wouldn’t be that different from when Elaine lived with her grandmother. It would just be a different location she was doing it in. Camelot, with the tall towers of the castle rising over the outer walls, was a chaotic place Elaine realized. The city had spilled over the original surrounding walls and new dwellings had popped up on what had been green space between the city wall and the thick forest around it. The young woman had joined the flow of people moving along the road, which just by themselves were more people than Elaine had ever seen in one place her whole life. Elaine kept her eyes down and resolutely moved toward the city with everyone else, telling herself that she’d just have to get used to it. There were several guards stationed at the gates into the city and a young man, a scraggily fuzz on his chin, asked Elaine what business she had inside the city.
“I’m looking for work,” answered Elaine, pulling her little cart that held her whole life closer to allow a horse drawn wagon past. “Any type will do,” the young woman added, feeling the need to specify how useful she could be.
“You and everybody else,” muttered the guard with a sigh.
“Oh.” Elaine felt her spirits drop. Of course everyone would be drawn to the prosperous Camelot. The young woman glanced back up the road, clogged with people, and thought perhaps she should travel back to the smaller towns and villages she’d passed by and see if they needed another pair of hands. “Thank you very much,” Elaine told the guard, forcing her little cart to turn awkwardly back toward the road.
“Hey, wait!” Elaine looked up, trying to keep her footing so she and her cart didn’t slide into the ditch. “I didn’t mean you had to…” The guard huffed, some irritation creeping into his voice. “Head up to the castle and around to the eastern doors. You’ll find the kitchen there and you can ask if they need any help.”
Elaine smiled and yanked her cart back around, some people around her muttering in annoyance at her clumsiness. “Thank you!” she said brightly, passing under the gate as the guard waved her on with a slight grimacing frown. The streets inside the city were even more crowded. Stalls of food, cloth, and pottery huddled along the walls of the buildings and squatted in the muddy square. Elaine ignored the cries of the vendors and tried to slip between the press of people. It was awkward as she tried to avoid people but they bumped into her and the little pull-cart all the same. She wasn’t used to it and felt splinters prick her palms from the cart handle as her grip tightened with anxiety. The noise was deafening to the young woman. Elaine winced and ducked her head as some annoyed men glared at her for being in their way and stifled a slight yelp as someone trod on her foot. The walk to the castle was slow and Elaine was red faced as she struggled to make her way to the castle, which rose above the city like a beacon. She knew she’d have to find someplace to store her cart before somebody managed to fall over it or it overturned. Was Camelot always this busy and crowded or had Elaine just had her usual luck and come on a day when the city was in rare form?
The young woman did manage to make it to the castle eventually, feet sore and just as irritated by the crowd as everyone else. The gatehouse was manned by another four guards in red uniform but they paid Elaine no attention. She could see the large inner courtyard through the narrow passageway, the castle rising up around it, but turned to the side. Elaine went around the castle as the guard had instructed and found the wide low doors that led to the kitchen, in front of which was a small dirt ward. The area was teaming with people, all rushing about the little yard with purpose. “Excuse me, can…” Elaine said quickly to a young boy carrying a stack of wood. He didn’t even glance at her as he rushed by and disappeared into the kitchen. Elaine tried three more times to catch someone’s attention but they seemed too busy to even notice her. The young woman cursed softly under her breath and wondered if she was wasting her time.
Elaine pushed her cart into a corner of the yard, behind the wood pile, and covered it with her blanket. After that she steeled her nerves and plunged into the dim kitchen and the rushing flow of people. The huge ovens were lit and heat rolled across the kitchen roof. Elaine panted and almost stumbled over a dog lurking around the table where two men were carving meat. Flour floated in the air like fine snow and Elaine sneezed, earning several glares from the women kneading dough at another long table. The young woman tried again to get someone’s attention until a frazzled looking woman with an apron splattered with grease shoved a tray of drinks into her hands and ordered her to hand them out to the people upstairs. Elaine followed a line of other young women walking up the stairs with trays similar to hers, wondering if this meant she was hired.
Upstairs, where the floors were white stone and polished to a smooth surface, Elaine found out why Camelot was so chaotic. They were hosting visitors, and noble visitors at that. The wide hall in front of the throne room was crowded with people and Elaine was careful not to spill the tray as she handed drinks out to finely dressed lords and ladies that mostly ignored her. Being ignored suited the young woman just fine at that moment. Elaine copied the other girls and made sure she didn’t look anybody in the eyes. The young woman made three trips up and down the stairs from the kitchen with empty glasses and refills before one of the nobles barked at her to pick up a small casket by his feet. Elaine reluctantly did as ordered, lifting the heavy casket and following the line of less finely dressed men and woman, servants obviously, trooping after the family of nobles into the throne room.
The throne room was just as crowded and the person behind Elaine hissed at her and kicked her heels as the young woman faltered. The edge of the room was ringed with people, other court members dressed up in their velvet and silk clothing, standing under the tall windows like gems. Elaine hurried forward and stopped with everyone else, setting her casket on the floor as the nobleman who’d barked at her before stepped forward and greeted the people sitting at the front of the large room. The end of the room, under the flags and banners hanging from the ceiling, sat a throne with two lesser chairs on either side. Elaine stared as she caught sight of the man sitting in the center throne.
She had seen King Arthur before, a few years ago when the royal party had ridden through her village. But his face had been obscured by a helmet then and he’d been dressed in heavy chainmail atop his huge horse. Now the warrior king was wearing a tooled leather jerkin, a golden crown adorning his blond head. This was the man who had brought peace to all of Albion. The king was looking with calm blue eyes at the nobleman speaking before the throne, gesturing back to the chests and caskets that had been carried in behind him. A woman sat in the lesser chair immediately to his left, a smaller chair set on the platform below the king’s, with dark hair and green eyes dressed in a splendid gown of purple velvet. The second chair was currently empty.
“Is there a problem?” King Arthur’s voice cut across the room and Elaine glanced back at him to realize he was staring at her. The young woman started and looked around to find she had been left behind by the noble family and their servants, standing there like a dunce in the throne room while they walked out. Elaine turned bright red and then all the color drained from her face. “Are you okay?” asked the king.
Elaine bowed, her brown hair swinging down in front of her face. She spat out a strand so she could speak. “I’m sorry, your majesty. Forgive me!” Elaine squeaked. It would not be a good beginning to Elaine’s stay in Camelot if she spent her first night there in the stocks or the dungeon or wherever irritated kings sent people that annoyed them.
“Your family is leaving without you,” stated the lady sitting beside the king.
Elaine glanced up in surprise. “Oh, I’m not with them, my lady. I came here to…” She was babbling, a panicked reaction to having so many eyes on her. Both the dark haired lady and the king were staring at her and people around the throne room were beginning to mutter amongst themselves. Beheaded: they were going to behead her at this rate. Elaine dropped her face again and started to walk backwards. “I’m terribly sorry.” She yelped as she tripped over the casket that had been left behind her and titters of laughter filled the room. One of King’s Arthur’s eyebrows rose and Elaine fled the throne room with her head down, fearing a call for the guards echoing at her back.
The young woman made it out into the hall without being attacked by any guards and dragged off, although the hall was also filled with snickering people. Well, that was better than any alternative she could think of. Elaine kept her gaze firmly down and tried to hurry out of the hall back to the kitchen. Of course, this meant she collided hard with another person. There were two yelps as Elaine fell to the floor, quickly scrambling up onto her knees in the next second. She automatically lunged for some items falling past her face, catching something made of glass and a book. Elaine was skilled at catching falling items; it happened around her a lot. Some rolled up scrolls bounced on the floor. “I’m so sorry! I wasn’t looking where I was going! Please forgive me!”
The man she had bumped into had also fallen to the floor and Elaine went white when she got a good look at him. A noble, in a blue tunic edged with silver. Of course it was a noble; Elaine didn’t have the luck to have walked into another servant or someone who wouldn’t order her tossed out of Camelot. The man blinked blue eyes at Elaine, black hair mused, and she closed her eyes tightly and braced herself. The young woman had seen King Arthur riding through her village years ago and with him had been the Great Sorcerer of Camelot. She remembered the bright blue eyes of the man as he rode past her and his sharp, almost fey, features. He hadn’t been wearing a helmet like the knights he rode with and Elaine recognized the sorcerer Merlin easily. He was sitting on the floor in front of her.
Elaine wondered what it would be like to be a frog. Or would the sorcerer turn her into a fly or a flea? She didn’t want to be a bug. Bugs got swatted and squished. What did powerful sorcerers turn people that angered them into these days? The young woman hoped the sorcerer turned her into a frog. Would she remember being a human when she was a frog or could a frog only understand frog things? Did bugs taste good? Elaine hoped so.
There was a great deal of laughter and talking going on in the hall and Elaine peeked one eye open, feeling very unfrog-like. Merlin blinked back at her. “Impressive, Merlin,” drawled the king’s voice from behind her. Elaine closed her eye again. Maybe they’d just plain kill her now. It might be better than being turned into a frog.
“It’s not my fault,” snapped Merlin. Elaine heard cloth rustle and when the sorcerer next spoke it was from above her head. “It’s too crowded in the hallway, Arthur.”
“It’s a busy day,” retorted the king. “A lot of people about.”
Elaine heard cloth move next to her and felt the misplaced air of someone nearby. She peeked open an eye again. “Are you alright?” asked the dark haired woman from the throne room, bent down to speak to Elaine’s bowed face.
The young woman very carefully set the glass thing she’d caught, an inkwell she saw, and the book down on the floor in front of Merlin. She then shifted back and folded herself in half, resting her forehead on the floor. “I’m very sorry, my lord,” Elaine croaked out, throat dry. “It was my fault for running into you. I humbly apologize. Please, forgive me, my lord.” The crowds in the hall laughed a little louder and Elaine hunched in on herself some more. Humiliation ran hot and cold all over the young woman’s skin. They were all looking at her and that made Elaine’s stomach flip. Nothing good ever happened when people looked at her.
“Be silent!” roared King Arthur, making everyone jump. The people in the hall fell silent as commanded, a nervous energy filling the air. Elaine pressed her forehead harder into the floor and wished it would open up and swallow her whole. She just wanted to go home but knew there was no home to go back to. Her nose began to hurt where it was smashed against the stone.
Someone gently touched her shoulder. “It’s alright. You haven’t done anything wrong,” said the sorcerer’s calm voice. “Come on, get up.” Hands tugged at her and Elaine stood as ordered, keeping her head bowed. From the corner of her eye, she saw Merlin pull away his hand and rub his fingers together, as if something was stuck to them. “Morgana?” the sorcerer muttered.
The dark haired woman also reached over and pressed a hand against Elaine’s arm, a grimace on her face as she rubbed at her fingers too. Elaine glanced at her clothing. It wasn’t that dirty in her opinion. “I’m sorry. I’ve been traveling and haven’t had time to wash up. I just arrived today. Forgive me.” Morgana, Merlin had called her. This meant that the dark haired woman was the Fae Queen from the Isle of the Blessed, allied with Camelot. Elaine felt shamed just standing there in her plain clothing.
“No, that’s not what we’re talking about,” said Merlin. There was some odd mix of sympathy and pity in the sorcerer’s voice, making Elaine glance up through her hair at him.
“What’s going on?” asked King Arthur. Elaine could see his boots come up around her side and stop next to the sorcerer. “You find something?” The people in the hall had regained their courage and where muttering among themselves again, shifting about like bored children.
“There is some sort of aura or mark around this young woman,” answered Morgana. Elaine closed her eyes and clutched at her skirt with white fingers at the dark haired woman’s words. Her stomach flipped in the other direction and Elaine swallowed back bile in her throat.
“She’s been bespelled?” asked Arthur tightly. There was some more shifting from the people in the hall, moving away from the little group. They obviously didn’t like that pronouncement.
“Not bespelled,” replied Merlin. “I don’t think anyone did this to her. It’s almost as if this slick film has attached itself to her.” He sounded very confused for the most powerful sorcerer in Albion.
Elaine thought she must be something really special if she confused Merlin. “It’s okay,” she said. The young woman lifted her head to look at them properly. The king was looking at her warily while Merlin and Morgana were merely puzzled. She dredged up a smile. “It’s just my bad luck.” There was some more general muttering from the people in the hall and Elaine saw several servants and workers make the sign against evil. Somewhere in the crowd Elaine heard someone spit. It was a familiar sound.
“Your bad luck,” echoed Arthur doubtfully. The king’s two dark haired companions glanced at each other.
“Yes. My bad luck. It’s okay, to my knowledge it doesn’t spread to other people.” Elaine kept her smile fixed on her face. “I’m sorry, my lords, it was foolish of me to come here. I’m very sorry for the inconvenience. Forgive me. I’ll be leaving now.” The young woman bowed to the three in front of her. “Your majesty, my lord, my lady.” Then Elaine turned stiffly and walked back down the hall. The crowd parted for her and she disappeared down the stairs to the kitchen.
Notes: Elaine is a name shared with many women in Arthurian legend. In Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur she is the maiden who shows the Holy Grail to Sir Lancelot. She is said to be the mother of Sir Galahad and ends up pining away for love of Sir Lancelot. Other legends have her being the sister of Morgan le Fay and Morgause and half-sister to King Arthur. Elaine is connected with several kings and several Knights of the Rounds table, being mother, wife, daughter, or lover.
I tried to do a cut on this but I gave up after the third try.