In which Arthur finds himself captive.
“Let me go! Let me go!” Arthur demanded, annoyed at how weak and feminine he sounded. He writhed and wiggled, but to little purpose. His ankles were bound together, and his wrists had been tied behind his back.
“You keep chirping,” Killmack said, “I’ll be forced to gag you.”
The thought of being gagged did not please Arthur, and so he paused and considered his situation. He’d found himself first carried some distance through the forest, thrown over the man’s shoulders like a sack of potatoes. It was another reminder for Arthur of how much smaller he was now as a woman. Then, he’d been tied to the back of a pony and brought to a shambles of a rustic cabin with a grass roof and weathered wood that looked like it had been hewn right out of the forest.
The man who’d captured Arthur now busied himself at a small stove, the crooked chimney pipe rising up through the ceiling. Initially, Arthur had been focused entirely on trying to free himself, but now that he’d accepted he could not escape his bonds, he was given time to think. He recalled what Guinevere had said to him, her warnings about the dangers particular to women travelling alone in the wilds.
Was that what this was all about? Was this man planning to have his way with Arthur?
The thought gave Arthur chills, the dangers of his new sex now manifestng ina very real manner. Arthur resolved that, should the man prov so dishonorable, so savage, then he would fight tooth and nail to preserve his maidenly virtue.
He decided to try new tactics.
“I can pay you,” Arthur said. “Gold. More than you’ve ever seen.”
“I have no need of gold,” the man said. “The forest provides all I need or care for.”
“Why have you taken me prisoner, then? For what purpose?”
The man, who’d put a crude pot onto the stove and had been stirring, stopped and looked at Arthur. “You’ll find out soon enough.” The man then stared at Arthur, a dark look in his eyes.
“What does that mean?” Arthur said. “Soon enough?” The man’s penetrating stare made Arthur’s skin crawl, and his womanly fears redoubled. “If you dare touch me, you will hang for it!”
“You’re pretty enough,” the man said. “Well shaped. But I am offended at even the suggestion. You nobles are all the same. You think commoners little more than animals.”
“What makes you think I a noble?” Arthur said, and then realizing his accent was giving him away, added, “Er, aye main, wha’evr gives ya such a thought as that, aye?”
Killmack burst out laughing. “Is that how I sound ta ya?”
Arthur looked away. “Sorry,” he said. “I guess it is obvious.”
“It is and at the same time it isn’t,” Killmack said. “You are clearly a lady, but this is the first time I have ever seen a lady out alone, and dressed as a boy. And, I might say, you aren’t the most graceful girl I’ve seen.”
This time it was Arthur’s turn to laugh. He felt the two were bonding, and he wanted to try and get the man to take his guard down. “It’s hard to be graceful all trussed up like this.”
“I suppose,” the man said. He came over, and Arthur’s hopes rose as he thought the man might untie him, but instead he just pulled Arthur off the floor and placed him in a sitting position. “I’ll feed you some soup, your majesty. You must be starving.”
“If you untie me, I can feed myself?” Arthur said, hopeful.
“And you could also throw this hot soup right in my face, couldn’t you?”
“But, I am just a girl, and a lady, as you have noted. Surely, you do not fear a woman?” Arthur smiled and batted his eyes. It’s worth a chance, he thought.
“You can eat my way, or you can starve. Which is it going to be?”
Arthur’s tummy was, indeed, grumbling. “Your way,” he said, dropping the smile and the pretense.
The soup turned out to be boiled greens– solid peasant food, which Arthur had not had in some years. It reminded him of his younger years, before the sword in the stone, before he became King, before Camelot. The taste of the traditional soup sent waves of nostalgia through Arthur, a balm of bitter-sweet memories and a simpler life from long ago. Some of the soup dribbled down Arthur’s chin, and Killmack wiped it with a rough cloth.
“Thank you,” Arthur said.
His belly full of food, the stress of his day began to take its toll, and Arthur’s eyes grew heavy, blinking, blinking shut as sleep over took him. His last sight was Killmack, sharpening his sword.
Arthur woke sometime in the night, initially panicking–where am I? What’s happened? Before the events of the day came back to him and he remembered being taken captive. The room was dark save for the orange light pouring from the embers still burning in the stove. The night was filled with the steady hum of insects, an owls hoot– and the sawing of Killmack’s snores.
Arthur saw a pair of beady little eyes across the room from him, orange in the firelight. What the devil? But then he realized it was just a rat, scrounging around looking for food. For a moment Arthur wondered if he might find a way to get some food onto his ropes, lure the rat into gnawing them off? But, when he tried to move, he realized as he slept Killmack had tied him to the base of the bed. “Here ratty rat,” he whispered, nevertheless. “Here little ratty.”
The rat paused to sniff the air, then went back to foraging.
I suppose if I were a girl I would be screaming right now, Arthur thought to himself. Women were such emotional creatures, and so easily frightened. H’d even amused himself as a boy by catching rats by the tail and running about, wagging the rat at the girls, who always shrieked and run away. I suppose those girls might have a laugh if they saw me now.
Girls. Screams. Maybe I can use this to once more show my capture what a frail and dainty lady I am? Arthur thought. If he could convince the man he was just another silly girl, perhaps he would let his guard down? He resolved to scream and play the maiden. “Here we go!”
Nothing came out. It shamed him, come right to it, to act like a girl. He was a man, and this was a man, and how could he let himself be a maiden? It was not honorable.
Come on now, Arthur, he thought to himself. Be a man and play the maiden.
He took a deep breath, and mustering all his will, he screamed!
“What? What is it?” Killmack shouted, torn from his slumbers. He rolled from the bed, grabbing his sword.
Arthur screamed again, and then whimpered, “Rat! There’s a rat! Help me!”
Killmack looked just in time to see the rat scurrying away.
“For the love of all that lives in the forest,” Killmark said, shaking his head. “He’s more scared of you than you are of him.”
To his surprise, Arthur found tears rolling down his cheeks. “He was going to bite me!” Arthur gasped through sobs.
“Women!” Killmark spat. “This is why I live alone now. Go back to sleep.”
“I was scared,” Arthur said, glad he was facing away from Killmark, as he was struggling not to smile, amused at his own acting.
“If you wake me again,” Killmack said. “Well, there will be, um, er, no breakfast! Now be quiet.”
No breakfast? Arthur sighed. Truly, he knew that men often treated women as children. And, though the whole thing had been an act, it made him just a bit cross to have Killmack dismiss his feelings so callously. Just like a man, Arthur thought, aware of the irony and loving it just a little. I go through all the trouble of drawing tears and he is scarcely moved!Still, Arthur felt, he had, indeed, conveyed what he’d intended. Killmack now thought him just another girl, and that could prove useful!