The sinking sun cast a red light across the throne room. Arthur leaned over the stone table, letting out a deep sigh.
“It’s been quiet,” he said slowly, staring at the map of Camelot before him. “Too quiet.”
“My liege, perhaps Morgana has given up,” Gwaine suggested, twirling a knife between his fingers casually.
It almost slipped from his fingers, and Arthur grimaced. He shot the knight a warning look before regaining his composure.
“She never gives up,” he replied. “She lies in wait… like a serpent in the grass… waiting for one misstep to strike with her… deadly poison.”
He said the last two words with a look of disgust on his face, as if they left a rotten taste on his tongue. His eyes twitched, like he was trying not to roll them.
“When she strikes, we’ll be ready,” Lancelot supplied eagerly. “If she is a serpent, we are large birds of prey, search-hunting for her.”
Arthur’s eye twitched again. He took a long pause, as if waiting to be interrupted at any moment.
“I’ve no doubt you are a good hunter,” he said finally. “Especially when the target is a woman.”
Lancelot’s face flushed, and the other knights shifted uncomfortably.
“Instead of worrying about her, my liege,” Percival suggested. “Maybe we should focus on the grand banquet your queen is preparing for tomorrow night.”
“Tonight,” Arthur corrected.
Arthur rolled his eyes and looked directly at the camera.
Colin pulled the robe from his shoulders and let it slink to the floor. He stepped over it and walked off the faux stone onto concrete.
“Um, Colin, it’s usually the director who calls cut,” a man near the camera pointed out wryly.
“Well, this scene was dying, and you didn’t make the call,” Colin retorted. “Someone had to. Seriously, how many mistakes did we have to make before you’d call it?”
“It can be edited later.”
“It wouldn’t need to be edited if everyone remembered his own lines,” Colin retorted. “Or if we had a halfway-decent script.”
He ran a hand through his blond curls and made his way towards the snack table. A sweaty, red-faced man was waiting for him, using one hand to eat a donut and the other to scroll through his phone while whimpering. The man was tall and thin and looked like a rejected draft of a Tim Burton character… not that Colin would ever tell him that.
“I thought your doctor told you to stop eating sugar,” Colin remarked, reaching around the man for a coffee.
“He also told me to stay away from stressful situations,” the man replied with a nervous laugh. “But here I am!”
“Lucky me,” Colin retorted.
“You’re on three, now four, sites,” the man responded, wiping his brow with the wrist of his donut hand.
“No publicity is bad publicity, right?” Colin joked, smacking him lightly on the shoulder. “Lighten up, Rob.”
“I will not,” Rob replied, stuffing the last of the donut into his mouth. “Look at this!”
He shoved his phone at Colin. Colin shook his head and skimmed the heading posted above a picture of a disheveled-looking man leaving a club. Titles like “TV King Parades London Streets” and “Camelot’s New Bad Boy?” made Colin’s breakfast climb his esophagus. He wondered if the people who made headlines were trying to audition as writers for the show. If the screenwriters saw these, they’d probably steal some for episode titles.
“So what?” he asked with a shrug. “I went to a club, had some drinks, and, like a proper adult, had a designated driver take me home.”
“And who’s the girl?”
“That’s a good question actually,” Colin replied, handing Rob his phone back. “Does it say that in the article? ‘Cause I can’t quite remember her name.”
“You’re going to give me a heart attack one day,” Rob moaned. “We’ve talked about this. You have a reputation already.”
“Yeah, celebrity playboy,” Colin said with a shrug. “What’s wrong with that?”
“This is a young adult’s show,” Rob said. “If you have this kind of reputation off-screen, what do you think the network will do to you?”
“My character literally chased three women at the same time,” Colin said. “And then settled for the woman who had cheated on him with his best friend. I’m pretty sure I’m a saint compared to who I’m supposed to be.”
“That’s fiction,” Rob pointed out, grabbing another donut. “No one cares too much about that on-screen.”
“It contributes to the development of the character,” a woman from across the table said in a snippy voice.
Colin recognized her as one of the screenwriters, but he couldn’t remember which one.
“I guess you could say that this is also contributing to the development of my character,” he said, nodding at the woman.
“Oh, I’m not on your side,” the woman retorted. “I’m just saying don’t drag my characters into it.”
“Arthur is practically my life,” Colin replied. “It’s impossible for me to be in a conversation without him.”
He gestured to his costume to prove his point.
Colin let out a deep sigh when he heard the booming, self-assured voice.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, taking a long sip of his coffee.
“Hi, Mr. Thomson,” Rob said quickly, dropping his donut on the table and wiping his fingers quickly. “What brings you here today?”
“Two things, Bobbie,” Mr. Thomson said brusquely. “The ratings are plummeting and rumors about my son are soaring.”
“Weird coincidence,” Colin said.
“Is that how you’d explain it?” Mr. Thomson asked with a raised brow.
“I’d say ratings are dropping as a result of the script more than the actors,” Colin said, suddenly feeling the glare of the screenwriter on him. “And the publicity is from an army of paparazzi following my every move.”
“I’d say it’s pretty easy finding pictures of you,” Mr. Thomson said. “Especially when you go parading around clubs and bars and announce your presence to the world.”
“Yeah, I wonder where I learned that kind of behavior from,” Colin remarked blandly.
“If you ask me, I’d say the ratings and your publicity are connected,” Mr. Thomson continued. “And the others seem to think so, too.”
“It’s free publicity for the show.”
“Not the kind we want, though.”
“You’re right. It’s a family friendly show,” Colin replied. “Oh, wait, aren’t there, what, two sex scenes coming up in this episode?”
He turned to the scriptwriter, who was still giving him a death glare.
“There might be a death scene coming up soon too,” she retorted.
“Killing off the main character?”
“If Doctor Who can get away with it, who says we couldn’t too?”
“Now, now,” Mr. Thomson said, holding up his hands. “Let’s not make any hasty decisions.”
His phone buzzed, and he immediately held it to his ear, walking away from the others. Colin rolled his eyes.
“You’re lucky your dad is protecting you,” the scriptwriter told him. “Otherwise, I’d have recast you ages ago.”
“Yeah, so lucky to be strapped to this mess of a show,” Colin retorted.
She stormed off, and Colin snapped his fingers.
“Patricia,” he told Rob.
“The scriptwriter’s name,” Colin said. “Or… was it the name of the girl from last night?” He sighed. “It was someone’s name.”
Rob shook his head.
“Sorry about that,” Mr. Thomson said, returning to the table. “What were we talking about?”
“Nothing,” Colin remarked. “Just you taking a sudden and brief interest in my personal life.”
“Your aunt says hi,” Mr. Thomson said, snapping his fingers. “Almost forgot to pass that along.”
“Oh, was it your sister?” Rob asked.
“Yeah, she’s apparently in the hospital or something,” Mr. Thomson replied with a shrug. “Something about a bad fall.”
“Oh no, wasn’t she living alone?” Rob asked. “I remember when she visited last winter she said she lived in Kera by herself.”
“Yeah,” Mr. Thomson replied. “She’s fine, though. I offered to pay her hospital bills, but she just wanted a chat or something.”
He shrugged, as if he had no idea what the word chat even meant. Rob looked from Mr. Thomson to Colin, and Colin felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. The last time Rob looked this thoughtful, Colin ended up having to make an appearance at a teen awards show.
“I have an idea,” Rob said.
“Please don’t,” Colin said.
“What if Colin goes to check up on your sister?” Rob continued, ignoring Colin. “He can get away from the press for a little while, until things cool down. Then, boom! A month later he shows up again, and it’s ‘somehow’ leaked that he took a break to take care of his poor aunt who lives alone on a small island.”
“It would be good press,” Mr. Thomson mused. “And I suppose Sophie would like it.”
“No thanks,” Colin retorted. “We’re in the middle of filming. And I’m fine here.”
“Kera doesn’t have any bars,” Mr. Thomson continued. “And the press probably wouldn’t find him there.”
“I’ve already said no.”
“I didn’t give you a choice, son,” Mr. Thomson said sternly. “A little time away from the limelight wouldn’t hurt, you know.”
“Says the guy who pushed me into the limelight in the first place.”
“Think of it as a vacation,” Rob suggested. “Just keep your head low for a little while and relax. Before you know it, you’ll be back here and can film more.”
“What about the rest of the cast?”
“Most of your scenes were finished anyway,” Rob pointed out. “They still have a lot to film for the Morgana sub-plot. And I’m sure the writers had a few minor character-centered episodes they’ve been pushing for.”
“It’s all settled,” Mr. Thomson said. “I’ll have my assistant discreetly book you a ticket, and we’ll leak that you’re across town tomorrow, so you can get away easily.”
“I can book them, sir,” Rob offered.
Mr. Thomson gave a bemused smile and shook his head.
“No, this has to be done right, Bob,” he replied. “No offense, but I’ll have someone on my side do the booking. More trustworthy that way, you know?”
He nodded at his own plan and walked away. Colin sighed and shot Rob a glare.
“You don’t even like this show anyway,” Rob said weakly, reaching for another donut.
“That doesn’t mean I like being forced out of it,” Colin retorted. “Bob.”
“He’s getting closer to my name. I used to be ‘manager.’”
“Oh yeah, loads better. Soon you’ll be coming ‘round for Christmas.”
“He’d probably like me more if I wasn’t always getting in trouble for his son’s escapades, you know.”
“You’re right. You should really work on your managerial skills.”
Rob glared at him and then shook his head.
“I’m going to miss this when you’re gone,” he said.
“All alone,” Rob continued.
“On a distant island.”
“I will end you.”
“With nothing but sheep for company,” Rob added.
“I hate you.”
“Hey, it could be fun.”
Colin didn’t bother responding. Nothing about this idea seemed fun to him. He hated traveling, not being in his own bed, and not being able to go out for the night. It sounded like this trip managed to wrap up the worst of everything into a package and thrust it into his hands.