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XxX

'Order! Order! The Trails are commencing!' The court announcer called. The court, which had been noisy and alive a few minutes ago, was now quiet as death.

Merlin shhed us as we snuck up next to Arthur, who was now dressed in full armor. Harry stood next to Merlin and I stood next to Harry, ignoring a certain pair of eyes I felt on me. I knew they belonged to the smirking prince, but I wouldn't give him the enjoyment of my noticing him.

'First case!' The King called, gesturing two fingers at the person to step forward.

I zoned out as the person started to talk about someone stealing his strawberries, and being convinced it wasn't the birds but a little boy down the way.

I looked around at all the faces. There were some beautiful women here. I dropped my gaze and chewed on my lip, I really needed to stop comparing myself but, it was just really hard not too.

'Who is that?' I heard a voice hiss in a whisper. I instantly assumed it was me and I looked down, letting my hair fall like a curtain in front of my embarrassed blush.

'Her name is Hermione, she's a guest of Merlin's.' I heard Arthur whisper back.

I felt the cold glare of the women, she must be scrutinizing me, 'She doesn't look like much.'

'Morgana, she's just a guest of Merlin. No need to be jealous.' The prince jest at the girl.

'Watch yourself, Arthur.' She snipped and then they grew quiet. I chanced a look at the women. Thankfully she was looking at the man explaining himself in front of the King.

She was the picture of beauty, Aphrodite couldn't compare to the dark beauty of the women.

Her dark, raven hair fell in beautiful waves down her back and her striking feline grey eyes were aware of everything around her, she probably knew I was staring at her. A small smile tugged at her red-rose lips, almost like she was playing a game with me. Her heart-shaped face turned towards me, her eyes looking down at me as she smiled.

I quickly turned away, biting down on my lower lip.

An hour past, and then another. I was just about to collapse from the pain in my feet when court was called to a close for the day. 

I sighed, finally relaxing my stiff stance that I hadn't know I had taken. 

'So, is there anywhere you two would like to go today?' Merlin asked, turning to Harry and I.

'Well, I wanted to go explore the market.' I smiled. Harry looked downcast, apparently he didn't. 

'I sort of wanted to go on my own though, if that is alright with you two?' I said. Harry's smile lit up and I smiled in response.

Merlin looked at me, his eyes a bit wary, 'Oh...ok, just...just be careful, alright? There are some...ruff spots in Camelot.'

I nodded and gave a slight wave before starting towards the door.

Smirking, I walked through the door and filed out with the rest of the crowd. What Harry and Merlin didn't know was that I had stashed my wand in my shirt's sleeve when no one was paying attention—it was a...well, a just in case measure.

I got lost a few times trying to find my way but eventually I found the market. It was so lively now, people were everywhere!

Bartering, gossiping, enjoying the day. I couldn't help but smile along with them.

And then I caught sight of her. Well dressed ladies walked all around the striking women from court. Morgana was her name, I had heard Arthur call her that, but I kept thinking Medusa when I saw her. I pictured snakes hiding in her raven hair and her eyes turning people to stone, I shuttered at the thought.

I quickly turned to a stall, not knowing what was in it, and pretended to look interested.

'Hermione? Is it?'

I cringed at the purr her voice held, like that of a cat, but I forced a smile and turned around, more for Harry's sake then mine, 'Yes, and you must be Med—Morgana?'

She looked down at her nose at me, reminding me I was beneath her.

'So you are a...friend...of Merlin's? Hum?' She asked, waving her ladies away so we could talk.

I swallowed. This couldn't be good. I gave a nod to her question.

'Well, Hermione,' She purred. I held back the shutter that threatened to make me look weak—I couldn't help but think I was a mouse in her game, 'It is a pleasure to meet you.'

She held out her hand, I stared at it before figuring I should take it. I did and gave a slight curtsy—well, I tried my best to curtsy.

Morgana let out a slight gasp and snatched her hand back from me. I stood, too shocked to say anything. She looked at me with pure hate, her eyes narrowed and mouth tight as if she was done playing and going in for the kill.

And then the look was gone, she smiled and softened her eyes.

'Well, I best be going.' She smiled and I gave a quick nod. The ladies gathered around her once more and the center figure turned to look at me once more, 'Oh, and dear Hermione?'

I grimaced a bit, 'Yes?'

She smiled, knowing I was less confident now, 'Arthur is mine.' And that was all she said before walking off, followed by her servants.

I let out a breath and leaned back against the post of the booth. The merchant let out a snort of laughter. 

I turned to look at him, curious and slightly annoyed. His once-white shirt was covered in mud as were his pants and shoes. He wore a small cap on his thinning black hair, but the smile hidden in his thick beard and ruff face was kind.

'Aye, no one messes with Princess Morgana, she's King Uther's ward. A very manipulative thing, powerful, but then again, isn't the whole family? So are you going to buy that thing?' He said, continuing to clean the glass in his hand.

I looked down to see I had a small cuff in hand. It was made of three silver threads twisted together with a small blue sapphire, shaped as a heart, in the middle.

It was beautiful, and coincidentally my birthstone, but I had no money.

I looked at him and gave a sad smile, 'It's beautiful but sorry, I have no money. I'm sorry for wasting your time.' I handed back the small treasure and smiled, which he returned.

'Oh, no trouble at all.' He sighed, placing it along side its brothers and sisters—the same cuff with different birthstones, 'Feel free to look around though. The company is nice.' He smiled and continued on with his work.

I stared down, memorized by all the gems and their colors. Blissfully unaware of the noise of the markets around me.

'Are you trying to steal that?'

I jumped at the voice and the accusation, I turned on my heel—heart pounding and adrenaline high, 'How dare you—'

I stopped when my eyes locked on a familiar color of pompous blue and narrowed.

Prince Arthur smirked as he leaned against the post.

My lips pursed into a sneer as I turned back to the jewelry sharply, 'Can I help you?'

'Do you want that?' His chin gestured to the bracelet that I had picked up again without realizing it.

I looked down at the small cuff. It was beautiful, I wanted to say yes, but I knew better then too. The cards were in his hands now.

My eyes narrowed as I looked at him, 'What do you want?'

Arthur pushed off of the post, 'Just for you to answer my question.'

My eyebrows rose and I decided to go along with his game. For now.

'Yes. I do.' I said, holding the gem up so it caught the light just right, 'Its my birthstone and its beautiful.'

Before I knew what had happened Arthur pulled something glistening out of his pocket and handed it to the merchant, 'For the lady.'

I looked up, intensely at the prince, slightly surprised. 

The merchant looked between the two of us and then down at the coin, 'But, Prince Arthur, this is too much!'

Arthur didn't look at him, but me, as he answered the man, 'Keep it. Its worth it to see her smile.'

I stared curiously at him until I realized I was in fact smiling at the pig. Instantly I let my mouth drop and he smirked at me. He just won again.

He leaned forward, his breath tickling my ear, 'I believe that makes us even.'

My breath hitched but I moved back, hardening my eyes and setting a frown in place—making sure he knew my breath hadn't caught because of his proximity. Even though, if I was being totally honest with myself, it sort of had.

Arthur smiled, 'So are you going to put your cuff on? Or are you going to let the payment be for not?' He nodded towards the merchant, who still stared at us in amazement.

Part of me wanted to give it back, to show him that he wouldn't beat me. But part of me really loved the cuff, it was breathtaking—and, sad to say, that part was winning out.

I put it on grudgingly, even though I knew a small smile was in my eyes. It really was beautiful and I couldn't stop staring at it.

Arthur smirked, 'Care to walk with me?' He started walking away without letting me respond. I stayed where I was, my arms crossed. I knew how women could be dazzled by him now, and I wanted to make sure I would beat him at his own game the second time.

He stopped and looked at me, waiting for me to follow. And that was when the light caught the beautiful, and expensive, cuff.

I sighed, guilt washing over me, and begrudgingly followed after him. I caught up in time for him to shove his hands in his pockets and kick at a few pebbles.

'So, the mouse got away from the cat?' Arthur said with a knowing smirk, his eyes staying on the ground. 

I closed my eyes in annoyance, and slight embarrassment. Annoyed because I wasn't the only one that thought of myself as the mouse in the earlier situation and embarrassed because I didn't know just how many people had seen what occurred earlier.

'Well, well, little mouse,' He smiled, looking at me, 'What are we going to do with you?'

At first I glared, but then I smiled as a comment came to mind, 'So is it legal in Camelot to marry your sister?'

Arthur chocked on his own breath, stumbled a bit as well.

I smirked and looked down at the ground as I crossed my arms. Now we were even.

'What?' He asked, looking at me with wide eyes.

I smiled, 'Oh, that cat wanted to tell the mouse that the pig was off limits.' 

Arthur just looked at me as if I had grown a second head.

I rolled my eyes and continued to walk along the way, kicking a few pebbles, 'Morgana told me to stay away from you.' I explained in plain English.

His mouth fell into an O, but then his smirk grew, 'Morgana isn't my sister, she's my father's ward.'

Now it was my turn to chock on air. Apparently we weren't as even as I had assumed.

He smiled at his triumph. 

I regained my pride and narrowed my eyes, turning away with a huff.

He laughed and moved in front of me, walking backwards with easy grace, 'Don't be upset, little mouse.' I could see the mocking glint in his eyes.

'My name is Hermione!' I snipped, tired of his game. I was tired of him. Tired of this place.

He didn't look taken aback or anything, he just continued to walk backwards with that cocky smile, 'Are you coming to the dinner tonight Hermione?' 

He might have actually used my name, but that didn't make me any less calm, 'No, I'm eating with Merlin tonight.'

Arthur stopped and I practically ran into him, stopping just in time. He sincerely looked shocked, like he had never heard the word no in his life. His eyes darted around, as if trying to come up for a reason I would want to eat with a servant instead of the future-king. 

I smiled at my triumph but then frowned a bit. I might not actually have any respect for the pig but I at least had to pretend for Harry and Merlin's sake. I didn't want them getting into trouble over me.

I sighed, feeling the familiar tugs of not wanting to do what I know I needed too.

But he had one last comment to throw in. He looked up to me with jest in his royal-blue eyes and gave a closed-mouth smile, 'I bet there will be cheese.'

I was caught off guard. My mouth opened and then closed, repeating the movement a few times before my eyes narrowed on their target. A frown stretched across my lips and without another word I stormed off, fists balled at my sides and my feet hitting the dirt probably harder then they should have.

'Can I take that as a maybe?' I could hear the laughter in his tone, practically see the mocking glint of his eyes.

I huffed and mumbled to myself all the way to Merlin's. Once inside I ignored all the questions of what was wrong and where I got the cuff that Harry and Merlin threw my way.

I simply stormed into my room and threw the door shut before collapsing on my bed.

This vacation wasn't turning out to be as much fun as Harry said it would be.

XxX
 

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