The Lady of Shalott

A/N: Hmm. This is a MAMMOTH chapter. I am deadly tired. LOVE REVIEWERS!!!! hmm anything else? Oh yes! Please leave me a review, they give my happy fluffy feelings!!! hands candy to reviwers

Chapter III: To atone

"Arthur." Said Dagonet, his deep voice rumbling in his chest, edged with respect and admiration, and a gentleness that was in such contrast with his decidedly dark aspect. Arthur nodded to his faithful knight as he pulled himself inside the dim wagon.

"How is he?" he asked softly. As he took in the small boy who slept fitfully next to Dagonet.

"He burns." Said the tall knight, his words filled with tenderness and kindness. "Brave boy." Arthur felt a smile tug at his lips before he looked inside the wagon, he frowned at the empty space where the flame haired Woad had been put. But all thoughts of her fled as he looked down at the pitiful figure of the other Woad. She kept her face turned away but he could see the tear marks on her face as she sniffled pitiably. After a moment she glanced up at him, eyes filled with suspicion.

He took her hand and she stiffened, gently he unwrapped the bandages. He looked down at her twisted fingers.

"Some of your fingers are out of place." He said slowly and calmly, unsure how much of what he said she would understand. "I have to push them back." He saw in the spark of fear in her eyes that she understood perfectly. "If I don't do this, there's a chance you may never use them again." He added at the panicked look in her eye. Gently he covered her smaller hands with his own, as gently as he could he pressed her fingers back into place.

She breathed heavily before a muffled scream uttered from her mouth. But it too was softer and more pitiful than a true cry of agony. After a moment he turned away, his eyes flitting towards the empty blankets once more.

"He tortured me. With machines." He turned back, they were barely inches apart and he felt his heart hammering madly. "He made me tell him things I didn't know to begin with." Tears sparkled in her dark eyes. Bitter pain in her words as she slumped against him. "And then," she slowly pulled herself up too look him in the eye, her voice filled with wondrous amazement. "I heard your voice in the dark." She paused as he studied her, she was really very lovely beneath the grime and pain and starvation. "I'm Guinevere." The name swirled through his mind. It was a pretty name, he thought. That was stupid thing to think he then reprimanded himself.

"You're Arthur, of the knights from the great Wall." She said softly, as though what she said could not be quite true.

"I am." Was all he could think of to say as her dark eyes bored into his. Suddenly they were filled with passion that brought them truly to life.

"Famous Briton who kills his own people." She said softly as she stared at him, slowly she leant against him, her strength failing her as she slumped down...

"Arthur!" Tristan called, his vice held a mixture of worry and aggravation that made Arthur dread his news even before he turned his horse. The scout approached with a frown upon his face.

They pulled over too one side. "You asked me to find girl." Said Tristan shortly, and before he spoke Arthur knew the scout had not found her. "She is gone. So is Lancelot." Arthur jumped in his saddle, startling his horse.

"What?" he cried horror and anger mixing in his expression. "Where?" he demanded sharply, his eyes scanning the caravan, wishing in vain for the handsome young man to appear. The scout only shrugged. His eyes looking around at the brooding forests through which they were travelling.

"Something's not right." Was his only reply. Arthur joined his watching. The forests seemed strangely silent as the snow fell softly, they seemed like ghosts.

"What is it?" he asked softly. Tristan gave him an inscrutable look.

"The woman..." he began. "She was Inish." Arthur blinked and suddenly he remembered, all those years ago, the intricate tattoos, the brilliant green eyes, all the way across the battlefield.

"Oh god..." he breathed. He remembered the heartless general who he and his knights had tried to defeat for years, most of the time all they would see was the dead the woman left behind. Some of the knights, Dagonet in particular were deathly afraid of the supposed witch, he then thought of the young woman who had forgiven the priest in rags, the marks f torture clear upon her flesh.

The two images were incompatible, yet the same. He could not deny it was the same woman. He looked up at Tristan. "What do you think?" he asked without elaborating, it was unnecessary. Tristan gave him a look that hinted with at his sadness.

"I think Woad run, Lancelot follow." The scout shook his head. "Lancelot will catch up soon, or he is dead." Arthur shook his head.

"Oh god."

Lancelot was asleep. Deeply asleep. He tried to fight it, the image of a black cloaked and veiled figure in the stones... Elaine... Stone circle. Suddenly he was awake, his eyes blinked open and he tried desperately to make sense of the jumble of images in his mind, he stumbled to his feet, he felt the snow fell from his legs. Gods, how long had he been asleep? Shaking away the last of his sleep, he remembered the old woman. He frowned and stumbled towards the stone circle and stopped, his breath stopping in his lungs.

Her heart-shaped face with its enormous green eyes turned on him. Brilliant flame hair was still damp, pulled up and backwards apart from soft tendrils that snaked around her face, across her back was strapped a long-sword, two shorter swords were strapped to her hips, along with an impressive number of small throwing blades. Across her back was slung a small double headed cross bow with two small quarrels upon it. He stared from it to the scanty braided leather that covered her crest in bands, allowing the full extent of her tattooing to be visible. No paint had been applied and her skin gleamed white in the soft light apart from a slight purpling across one side of her ribs, and the silvery scars that criss-crossed her skin. Her short leather skirt revealed her long sender legs, and the tattoos that marked her all the way down to the leather sandals strapped to her feet, with leather ties that strapped up her calves to her knees, with slender scabbards upon them.

He looked back up to her face in amazement, the split lip and bruising n her brow were still their, but they seemed faded next to the incredible machine of death arrayed before him.

She gave him a sad little smile, and he saw she had been crying. He started into the circle and paused, there was a strange sensation in the air. And she turned fully towards him. He long legs swiftly closed the distance between; she laid a hand on his shoulder.

"I would be proud to fight with you Lancelot, If you would fight by my side." He shook his head and gestured at her-

"How-?" he asked breathlessly. The sad little smile lit her face again. She shook her head and her hand moved, stealing over his lips to hush him.

"Do not disturb the magic with questions." Her words were soft and reverent. Slowly he backed from the circle with her matching him step for step. Slowly he turned around at her instruction and stared, his mouth agape and the beautiful creature that stood beside his own horse. It was a great horse, a stallion it seemed, with great blue eyes that fairly gleamed with intelligence. He had a simplistic saddle and basic bridle only, these too held weapons, spears and a large bow strapped to his saddle. The great animal was at least twenty hands at the withers, nearly a foot taller than his own mount.

She stepped up beside him. She turned her head. "What I have done this day, I do in payment," slowly he turned to look him full in the face. "For the lives of knights that I have taken, for those who have died because of me, I give myself, my life to you and yours. I will serve Arthur as faithfully as you yourself do." She said, and he saw behind her words was a terrible sadness.

"I... I don't understand." She nodded.

"I know." She turned away moment, as if gathering herself. "When I was thirteen Merlin and my father took me to a place like this, an old holy site, and their I was put to sleep by olde magic." He frowned, his mind struggling to comprehend her words." She turned back to him. "There they marked me with these," she brushed her fingers across the intricate tattoos. "Binding me to this land, for you see I do not belong to this land, my magic is of another place, and they needed to ensure my loyalty," her words were bitter, suddenly he understood the pity he remembered in her eyes all those years ago. "My mother was of Ireland, and I was her child in every way, from looks to allegiance, and faith in the spirit magic's. She taught me to cherish life and seek healing and love for all beings." He raised an eyebrow and she gave him a smile.

"I see you understand. The branding, it was to change me, and it did. I was still the same in most ways, my abilities in battle were always there, I was always the fastest and strongest, the quickest of wit, but also one of the sweetest of temperament." She paused. "But they changed me. And soon after my mother was killed, I tried to save her but..." She turned away. "Whenever my better judgement took hold, the Wyrd or Merlin or my father was there to bring me back, to keep me their faithful slave." Her bitterness was overwhelming. "And for their schemes I have lost everyone I truly loved." She waved a hand at the woods. "The other woman you found... Her name is Guinevere, she is my cousin." She turned to face him. "She calls me traitor for I will not kill boy's too young to be from their mothers home, and men dragged half-way around the world to fight for a land they despise." She shook her head.

"But as always," she whispered. "The Wyrd has found something I cannot sit by and watch to make me fight for her." He shook his head, with each moment his horror had mounted, he had always thought his indenture to Rome a horrifying thing but this was unbelievable...

"Don't do it." His voice was hoarse with emotion. "Whatever it is she has threatened you with, it doesn't matter, don't be her slave." She shook her head.

"It is me fighting or their lives, Lancelot." The bitterness in her voice made his chest contract painfully. "What kind of person lets others die when they may be able to prevent it." She smiled slightly. "I hardly think you would act thus?" she asked with an eyebrow raised. He nodded and found himself looking at her with fresh admiration and pride. He then turned his head to where her white mount proudly stood, seeming like a statue of marble. She lifted his cloak from around her shoulders.

"Here, I have my own now." She told him, he took the soft black cloak and pulled it around his cold armor. She pulled a thick dark grey cloak with a hood and shorter length of cloak over the top to keep her warm. The soft dove grey he knew would blend into the snowdrifts beneath trees and he could see

"Come Lancelot, your comrades will be worried for you have slept several hours." Chastened he moved to his horse. She followed him, pausing between the horses they smiled at each other, a strange bond seeming to hold them together in that moment.

"Do not fear for me Lancelot, the Wyrd won't allow me to die." Her cocky smile was not quite reassuring, for it quickly faded. He followed her great white stallion into the slowly darkening wood.

The Roman estates burned in the howling snow, the snow melting to rain and then vapor before it touched the bright flames. Cerdic wandered slowly through the camp. The small dark native strode behind him, hurrying to keep up with the taller Saxon.

"I found tracks coming from the south, but none going back." He informed the Saxon quickly, his words swift and smug. His people had called him slow and foolish. They had cast him aside in favour of a woman. Now they were going to pay. "Horsemen, traveling light and fast. Could be Roman cavalry. Could be knights." He added as an afterthought, and not a pleasant one. The hugs Saxon paused.

"They know we're after them." The huge man said with absolute certainty.

"They'll head east now. Through the mountains." said Wolth, his answer already prepared and waiting for the Saxons questions. A commotion caused the leader to start off again. They watched as several Monks were dragged from a strange door let into the wall of the estate. One of them was sobbing loudly.

"God's holy work!" He cried hysterically "They defiled- I am a servant of God-! The Witch! They, oh God the witch." he broke off as he was thrown to the ground before him. Cerdic tilted his head to one side.

"He says they walled him up in a building and took the family. Someone who goes by the name of Artulius..." the Saxon trailed off.

"It's him. It's Arthur." The scout warned. Cerdic looked from the scout to his son. His expression calculating, and icy cold.

"Take your men east. Hunt them down." He looked around at the rest of the army. "I'll take the main army to the Wall. Bring the family there." Wolth looked back at the monks.

"And the monks?" he asked.

"Put them back where you found them." He ordered.

"I am a servant of God!" shrieked the crazed Monk as he was dragged away. "I am a servant of God! I am-"

Cerdic turned away with a sigh.

"Burn it all." He said as he started off through the burning estate, his army marching after him, the drums and marching feet echoing horridly.

Arthur felt ill to his stomach as the minutes swiftly turned to an hour, two hours, and no sign of his closest friend appeared. Tristan's warning that 'Woad's are watching us.' Had made him feel almost for charging into the forest, or ordering a search for his friend. He cursed the day had agreed to take this quest.

But in a strange way he cursed his friend's following the girl more, if only Lancelot were not so rash and ht-tempered, if only he brooded less...

He turned his horse back towards where the other Woad woman rode in her wagon. Dagonet told him the other had left the wagon sometime before he had come to care for the girls fingers, the Woad women said she didn't know where the other was going when she left.

He pulled his horse in beside the carriage. She was riding on the front, a warm fur pulled around her against the driving wind and snow. She watched him with her dark passionate eyes.

"My father told me great tales of you." He was surprised when she spoke.

"Really." He replied after a moment "And what did you hear?" he asked, his eyes looking into the forests wondering if he could see those Tristan said were there.

"Fairy tales." He turned his head back up to Guinevere. She seemed to be looking into the distance, into memory. "The kind you hear of people so brave, so selfless that they can't be real." Her words were filled with a mixture of awe and bitterness. "Arthur and his knights." She said sharply. "A leader both Britain and Roman. " she continued, he found an anger rising within him, mixed with curiosity as to why she proceeded to attack and chastise him, to talk of his mother. "And yet you chose your allegiance to Rome. To those that take what does not belong to them." She added after a moment. He looked away into the green forests. "That same Rome that took your men from their homeland." He turned on her sharply then.

"Listen, Lady," he began. His anger pounding at the thought of what she was implying. "Do not pretend that you know anything about me or my men." He added more calmly, controlling his temper with difficulty. He hadn't realised how much Lancelot's disappearance was unnerving him, but it was.

"How many Britons have you killed?" she asked suddenly. He looked up at her once more, fighting back an urge to turn away and leave her there with her impertinent questions.

"As many as tried to kill me." Her eyes showed a flash of hate. "It's a natural state of any man to want to live." He replied to the unspoken accusation in her stare.

"Animals live." She said derisively. "It's the natural state of any man to want to live free," her words touched something inside him, his own hatred of what was done to his men, his sadness at the way the Roman Empire expanded. "In their own country." She finished a sad note in her voice.

"I belong to this land." She added after a moment. "Where do you belong, Arthur?" she asked. He turned away, his throat stuck shut for that moment. His thought's a jumble of conflicting feelings and emotions.

"How's your hand?" he finally asked softly.

"I'll live, I promise you." She returned swiftly, her voice edged with a sarcastic twist. He swallowed as he looked up at her. She was unusually beautiful. Dark and small, with features he knew were made harsher through lack off food and water for so long. "Is there nothing about my land that appeals to your heart?" he was startled by the whimsical note in her voice. She suddenly seemed much younger, much more childlike. "Your own father married a Briton." She added, her voice more serious. "Even he must have found something to his liking." He looked up at her with eyes filled with a strange expression.

"Lady, tell me. Who is the other we took from the dungeon?" her dark eyes suddenly looked away, her face darkening in anger.

"She is an outcast." He raised his eyebrows. She looked into the distance with angry eyes. "She deserted her people, she betrayed them when they needed her." He frowned, turning over her words in his mind.

"We recognise her." He said. He watched her as she looked at him with wide dark eyes.

"You recognise nothing. She's not a Woad anymore." He gave her a look of surprise. "She is a... healer." She said reluctantly.

"How?" he asked, his mind now in utter confusion, his memories of her ability with strategy, and the way she had wounded his knights, he remembered that figure, brilliantly tattooed standing over his knights.

"She changed, she swore never to kill again." The words were soft. He looked up; a tear was falling down Guinevere's pale cheek. "She's my cousin." She said when she saw his surprise at her emotion. "She abandoned her people when they needed her, she..." Guinevere trailed off into silence. He closed his eyes as relief flooded through him. "Did one of you knights really go after Elaine?" she asked suddenly. He looked up at her and nodded.

"Lancelot has disappeared along with her... Elaine." The name seemed so wrong for the figure he remembered, but for the girl cradled in Lancelot's arms, the incredibly forlorn but strong in some indefinable way as she moved slowly over to the strange monk. And forgave him. Suddenly for him her character suddenly came more clearly into focus. Someone brought up too hate and kill Romans turned away from hate, turned perhaps to her own character in an effort to... to ... perhaps to atone for what she had done.

Suddenly he heard his name shouted, he pulled the horse around and started back down the trail Tristan Bors and Dagonet were the trail guards.

He pulled his horse to a halt; far back down the valley through which they had climbed out of he saw something. A flash of white that Tristan did not need to point out, near it he noticed the flash of metal.

"Saxons?" he asked his flare of hope that Lancelot had been spotted dying with the repeated sign of white between the trees.

"Perhaps." Tristan seemed unsure. Suddenly he raised his hand and pointed to something else. "But I think they are the Saxons." He noticed something else, another rider or riders following the first group.

"They're on horseback?" he asked. Tristan shrugged.

"They could be. We know Woad's have some horses, so they could steal some." Bors spat.

"The bastards couldn't ride straight if they tried." But whether he reffered to Woad's or Saxns none knew, and none bothered to ask.

The entire group had vanished into a patch of thick wood off the path the wagons had been forced to take.

"The second horse is a bay with an armored rider with dark hair." Said Tristan. His voice quietly certain.

The other looked at him incredulously. "Ye' can't see that far!" said Bors, his words almost a bellow.

"That's Lancelot then." Said Dagonet, calmly taking out his sword. Bors gave him a dirty look but also drew his sword.

It was perhaps twenty minutes later when they heard the horses galloping up the trail before them. The first one to appear was magnificent white beast bearing a familiar figure. Her blue tattooing seemed to fairly leap from her pale flesh. Her head was turned back down the trail but then she looked ahead and saw them. Suddenly her horse pulled up short, it haunches skidding on the ground as it turned for her, neighing in surprise at it's riders change of course, a dark steed came racing around the corner and past the other before it could stop.

Arthur gave Lancelot a quick glance before turning his eyes back on the Woad woman. She was climbing to her feet, on the back of her horse which had now come around full circle, with her facing away on it's back! In her arms was a small crossbow from appearances. Ten feet behind her, halfway in between her and the corner around which the enemy would son come was Lancelot, his awe and amazement clear on his face as it was on the other's Knights' faces.

"Elaine!" he shouted as her horse began to walk up the hill calmly, and slowly so as not to jostle his rider, Arthur shok his head, not even drawing his sword, he had a feeling she wuldn't need any help... "Elaine!" came an echoing cry from behind Arthur, he turned to see the Woad Guinevere watching in horror a few feet away, her mouth wide open in shock. But the woman on horse back seemingly heard none of it, and a moment later three Saxons came around the corner, riding at breakneck speed.

She shot the two cross bows bolts and the first two riders went down, the third tried to rein in his horse and received a dagger in his throat, thrown by the slender flame haired warrior. Her crossbow now was on her hip and a normal bow was drawn, drawn by the wrong arm. She proceeded to notch an arrow to the string.

The next two Saxons didn't have a chance, one went down to the Woad's precise aim and the other took one of Tristan's knives to his torso and slowly tumbled from his horse.

Arthur had never been in such a short and utterly brutal combat before; the Woad's horse suddenly came to a stop before him and Dagonet, Lancelot pulling his in beside it. The woman turned and without seeming to care simply stepped off the huge stallion's back. She landed in a crouch; her green eyes fastened on his from between stray tendrils of flaming hair.

"Arthur..." said Lancelot. Suddenly their horses were pushed aside as a small dark haired figure shoved through them and pulled the red-haired warrior to her feet and into a crushing embrace. The knight's looked on in slight amazement and not a small amount of embarrassment as the two women spoke emotionally in their own tongue. Arthur understood some of what they said. As far as he could see Guinevere was both apologizing and remonstrating with her cousin over her clothing and fighting. And Elaine was soothing her with calm words.

Finally the taller woman disentangled herself from Guinevere and stepped closer to him. She crossed her arms across her chest, fists to either shoulder and bowed to him.

"Arthur Castas, I pledge myself to you and your knights for the duration of your passage through these lands, deeded to me by virtue of blood." She began. "And further to your journey to the wall, I swear to protect you, your knights, those whom you travel with, and..." She paused as though swallowing a bitter brew. "The Roman family you are protecting. If my life is the price that I must pay to have you live to leave this island alive, then so be it." She gave him a smile that was heartbreaking for it's bitterness edged with compassion.

"I will pay that price gladly to see you rid of your indenture." She glanced up at Lancelot, and Arthur saw in that glance something he saw in his own eyes when he looked at those he knew he was leading to possible doom. Her eyes then bored back into his own, bright with a strange fire that was all her own. He felt a rare smile curving his lips.

"If you will give your life to see to my men's freedom, then I will welcome you with gladness in my heart." He then gave her a more serious look. "Break that vow and nothing will save you." He warned her.

"Brake my vow, and my life is yours to have, Artorius. For I will not deserve life." She turned back to her cousin, who now watched her with wide eyes and an inquisitive tilt to her head.

"We had best keep moving, night will fall soon." She added, with a motion towards the disappeared Wagons. Gesturing for Guinevere to ride with her the young woman swung up onto her horse in as graceful a movement as Arthur had ever seen. He frowned as Guinevere struggled to join her, having to be helped to pull herself ungracefully to the horses back. Turning away he led their horses in a trot after the convoy.

"We'll sleep here. Take shelter in those trees." He motioned across the expanse f plain at a thick dark wood of strange evergreens. Tristan nodded and then lifted his hawk up.

"You want to go out again? Here-" the Hawk flew free in a sudden movement. Tristan paused a moment at his commanders side. "That, with the girl, good choice, she's formidable." Arthur found himself smiling again as the enigmatic scout disappeared down their back trail.

Nearby Lancelot was watching the white horse and its leather clad rider, in her soft grey cloak as she moved across the field. Arthur frowned, something had happened in those woods he sensed that neither one of them wanted to speak of. On the other side of Lancelot, Bors was gazing at the same woman with an expression that bespoke of more than mere hatred. Both Bors and Gawain seemed to distrust her, while Tristan and Lancelot obviously trusted her. It was illogical but true. The two she had wounded seemed to instinctively trust in her, while the others were more wary. Bors shot him a loook that said just what the big knight thought of his descison.

Arthur sighed, at least Dagonet and Galahad seemed not to care that much. So at least they weren't interfering in someway. The thought was childish but at that moment Arthur didn't particularly care. It seemed everything was on his head, and everywhere he turned someone either wanted him to do something, or explain to him why they believed he had made the wrong choice.

As he turned his horse again he saw Elaine just a few feet away. "They can't make you angry unless you let them." He frowned at her. She moved closer. He was surprised she had known his thoughts. Then again, the rumors of the Inish genral were nearly ten years old, and the woman before him could not be more than twenty-five. She mtioned with her head for him to ride beside her away from the wagons.

"There is a lake ahead." He looked up at her. She smiled at the dread in his expression. She held up a hand to seemingly calm him.

"It freezes in winter, But I don't' know how thick it will be, and no there is no going around." He cursed under his breath. And then stopped himself. He was swearing in front of a woman. She simply watched him; her eyes calm yet that strange glimmer was in them, that faint shimmer he had taken for arrogance when he had seen her scross a battlefield, but now saw was the spark of intelligence and he secretly admitted perhaps the tuch of magic that hung around her. "We have three days journey once we've passed the lake." She looked up around her. "You know this is actually a safer and quicker passage than the one I suspect you used." He grunted in agreement.

"Your people are good at keeping your secret ways." As soon as he spoke he cursed his own stupidity. Her face seemed to stiffen and she turned her horse slightly.

"Not my people Arthur. Not my people." Her words were emotionless and sadness. Without a word she turned away. Her horse moving without any sound, responding just to her slightest touch it seemed. He looked after her. He had seen the same reaction amongst his knights when they were called Romans.

Breathing deeply he whispered a prayer for patience, and mercy. "Oh most merciful and all seeing Father, I pray you will give me the patience and insight to get through this time, and I hope, that you, in your wisdom will keep my knights alive..." he paused a moment. "And I also pray that you will keep safe Guinevere and Elaine, they are pagans like my knight but they are I believe good hearted people and serve a higher cause that their own." He paused once more. "Amen."

"She what?" asked Guinevere, her viscous whisper echoing in their native language. Her dark eyes staring over shoulder in outraged astonishment.

"Hush." Her cousin responded. Turning her cousin's head away she used a soft wet cloth over her neck, washing away more of the grime and filth.

"She's really gone beyond the mark this time." growled Guinevere as her cousin gently wiped at her. They had been doing it ever since the refugees had stopped for the night. And finally Guinevere seemed more like what she had once been. Slowly they swapped places, Guinevere slipped the leather loops undone, and gently removed the armor has Elaine hissed in pain. She held up the armors skimpy top half and frowned. She examined the new additions to Elaine's armor and realised why they had been added, the flaps of leather fitted flawlessly into the armor's design yet also covered Elaine's fractured ribs. Guinevere brushed her fingers over them She let out anther hiss, writhing slightly at Guinevere's touch.

"Sorry." She said quickly. She reached for some cold clean clothes; she brushed it over the bruising and broken skin. "I should bind these." Elaine shook her head. "No. I am invincible remember, the Saxons know who The Inish General is, Or they should, I've killed enough of them, and the sight of bandages ruins my reputation for being untouchable." She finished on a lighter note. Guinevere remained silent as she reached back for a salve. Gently she smeared the sweet smelling ointment over her cousin's creamy skin.

Her cousin gasped slightly, turning her head to the side. Gritting her teeth as Guinevere put more ointment against her bruised skin.

Lancelot handed his horse over to Jols. He placed his saddle gear at the base of a tree and then looked up as a shadow flickered on the ground nearby, Two women were naked within a caravan. One of them was examining something as the other's face contorted with pain. He watched Elaine writhe when the other brushed her back; her eyes closed in pain as a snarl bared her teeth. She twisted her face away, if she opened her eyes she would see him. She would see him watching her. But for some reason he could not look away.

Her eyes opened and looked directly at him. Bright with suppressed pain and tears she just looked at him, surprise widening her eyes and opening her mouth in a silent oh. Then her companion applied something to her back and she tensed, he watched the firelight play on her muscles contracted beneath her velvety skin.

The warrior in him admired the muscles for their deadly strength and the man in him admired the curve of her breasts and the way her skin seemed to have an inner radiance all it's own, like her sparkling eyes...

He watched her for a moment more before turning away. His face heating as his blood pounded through every vein.

"Oh no." He whispered into the chilly night, as though someone could assure him it was not so. The he was not... not, well, attracted to a woman who could cut him down in her sleep probably. He cursed viscously.

The two women spoke softly in their native tongue.

"Did you see him?" asked Guinevere softly, her fingers brushing lightly over her cousin's lower back, seeking the knots of tension to massage away. The Woads were skilled in massage, they found nothing more relaxing and both Guinevere and Elaine both knew the value of relaxation before battle.

"I saw him." She replied as softly.

"You would give your life for them?" asked Guinevere, her voice reflective as she frowned out into the night. Elaine turned her face too look up at her younger cousin.

"I would." She replied. Guinevere looked at her through narrowed eyes.

"Just for the Wyrd? You've refused to do her bidding in the past, why change that now?" she asked.

"I have to atone." She turned her face away.

"Atone?" her voice was incredulous. "Elaine, you have nothing to atone for!" her cousin shook her head violently before she could continue.

"I have to atone," she turned to face her cousin. "for the lives I've taken simply because I could. Because it was all I knew." She was sad. "I never tried to see another way of life Guinevere, I never tried to because it was easier to be the 'Devil General', a ghost without a heart. It was so much easier." Guinevere gently lifted the leather armor.

She was silent as she helped her cousin into the garment; carefully she tied it so it would not injure Elaine unduly. Elaine gave her a small smile of thanks and moved to exit the wagon.

"Wait!" Guinevere called softly. Elaine looked up, Guinevere's bottom lip was between her teeth in an old habit from when she was a child. "I will not let any of them fall Elaine, If their lives matter so much t you, then to me as well, they will mean much." A smile slowly lit up Elaine's pale face, erasing the signs of tiredness and weakness that had been there just a moment before. She just nodded before turning away, her grey cloak she swung around her shoulders, it draped around her, its warmth comforting and settling in a strange way.

She brushed the silver brooch that fastened it. Another smile lifted the corners of her mouth as she traced the symbol of Shalott, a woman amidst swirling waters edged with a Celtic border. Her home was newer settlement founded by her father and his symbol was the Lady of the Lake, the spirit of the lake who had guarded him and his family for many years. A water spirit who was kind and sweet, and far more beautiful than any mortal woman. Though just as manipulative as the Wyrd in her own way. She had invited Elaine's father to settle on her island with his people when he brought home his Irish Princess, whose child was to be savoir of her people and who must be protected at all costs.

She could feel her guardian's gentle magic in the warmth of the cloak. In the way it seemed to both warm her and hold her close. She moved into the forest, her innate senses reaching out, seeking the perfect place.

Se found a small glen, the moon shone down between the trees, the slender birch and aspen provided little comfort against the night wind but in this small place there were several boulders, she paused on the edge, her head turning ever so slightly. She smiled. And moved into the clearing.

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