And now QUEEN GUINEVERE herself tells a hitherto unsuspected episode in one of the most crucial relationships in the Arthurian legends...
SILENCE reigned over the court of Camelot, broken only by the sound of faint footsteps hurrying across the courtyard to the knights' barracks. Anyone watching might have assumed that the slender figure was one of the girls from the village, perhaps carrying a bundle of cakes in her arms, hurrying to keep her midnight tryst with a knight. But if they had continued to watch, they would have seen her turn and melt away into the shadows, pausing only once to look behind her and pull her hood further over her face.
It was not long after that a lone voice, that of a baby, was heard crying into the night sky, screaming to the bright stars for its mother and her warm body; a tender voice and comforting words. Men began to stir in their beds, grumbling about women and whining infants. Eventually, one knight got up, staggering with sleepiness and disorientation from such a rude awakening, and made his way to the door, treading on several prostrate figures as he did so.
The cold air of late winter blew past him, pulling at his woollen nightshirt, waking him from his stupor as he stared out across the empty courtyard.
"S'all right, lads, s'no-one there. You can go back to sleep," he mumbled to the room in general. He was answered by a couple of grunts. Then the baby's yell started up again at the sight of a strange person. The knight nearly trod on it in his surprise.
"Hey lads! Wake up! There's a baby!"
"Shut up, Cuthbert. You're waking everyone up."
"That was the general idea. Come on, who was careless at Beltane last year? Didn't your fathers teach you anything?"
"Cuthbert, what are you going on about? It's the middle of the night for Herne's sake. Go back to bed."
Cuthbert bent down and lifted the baby as if he was unsure which way was up. The baby readily demonstrated which was the business end.
"Oh blimey, it's gone and wee-ed all over me. Give us a hand, Gaheris. It's probably yours anyhow."
Gaheris dragged himself off the floor and opened an eye experimentally, as if the sight of a baby might be too harsh for his retina to take in at that time of night.
"Wrong hair colour. I'll wager it's Kay's," he said, swivelling on his heel, back in the direction of his bed.
"Better not let him hear you say that, or you'll be out on your ear. Hey, do you reckon its Lance's?" Cuthbert put out an arm and turned Gaheris back in his direction.
"No way. He's completely faithful to Guinevere. I mean... er... her faithful servant... um... you know what I mean. Wouldn't even look at another girl... um..."
"You're getting yourself further in it, Gaheris. I'd shut up if I were you, and get a rag to clear up this mess. We can't just put it back outside, and I doubt if it'll stop crying just so we can recover from last night's banquet."
"I bet it's Bors's. He was going on about that girl from Wossit whom he had a single night of passion with..."
"That was five years ago, idiot. And this one only looks... er... how do you tell?"
"Hold on, I'll get Merlin. He knows everything about everything. He'll be good at this."
Gaheris dashed off, anxious to be away from the squawking baby, desperately hoping that it wasn't his.
He was pleased to not that his presence silenced the room as he entered, despite the silly moons and stars that his apprentice had been sewing to his cloak. An air of sophistication wasn't quite the phrase he'd have used to describe it. By now, quite a crowd had gathered round the gurgling bundle, and a good few grown men who should have known better were wearing ridiculous expressions, designed to amuse the baby.
Merlin sighed. "Right, everyone back to bed. I'll take charge. No, not you two."
Gaheris and Cuthbert stayed back, Cuthbert looking quite pleased, Gaheris looking decidedly put out. Merlin reached down for the nearest bed sheet, and ripped out a good size square. With a deft flick of the wrist and the confidence of a man who knew what he was doing, he performed a series of impressive folds, and before the baby knew what was happening, it was well and truly trussed up.
"That, lads, is a nappy. Or at least, that's what it'll be called one day."
"How do you know?" asked Gaheris, looking sceptical.
Merlin fixed a beady eye on him, and raised an eyebrow. Asking Merlin about his magic arts was not the done thing.
"I don't think we need wake the girls over this one. We're all men here. I think we can cope just fine. No problem."
Just then, the sound of the after-effects of lentil soup hit the air, as did the smell.
"Er... lads, have we got any bed sheet left?"
Cuthbert took the baby in his arms, rather enjoying acting the daddy. This wasn't so hard after all!
"Merlin, what are we going to DO with it tomorrow?" asked Gaheris. "We've both got sword practice with Sir Ector, and Arthur wants you at his side for when the ambassador from Powys arrives."
"Then we had better find a father for him quick smart. Let's go and wake up the lads again."
When they arrived back in the barracks, Nimue stood by the door, waiting for them. Her hood was thrown back, revealing a mane of gold-red hair, a sight not wasted on the other knights.
"Ahh, I see you've found your son then, Merlin, my love," she said softly.
Every head turned to stare at him. Every jaw hit the floor.
Merlin swallowed and smiled weakly.