Disclaimer: I do not own the film King Arthur and its characters, but I do own all other original characters created for the purpose of this story.
Pairing: Ymma/Tristan, Guinevere/Arthur.
Summary: Ymma's a Saxon who was sold as a child to a stranger travelling through her land. Brought to England she lives a nomadic lifestyle until she helps a young woman trapped in a Roman's dungeon and her whole life changes.
There was an anxious moment as we waited in silence.
Then...there on the breeze was an answering call. A series of beautiful swooping vowel sounds melting together.
And then we were off once more, rushing down the mountainside, Tristan pulling me along as I stumbled after his long legged run. How we made it down the slopes without breaking our limbs I can only thank Frige, but Tristan barely seemed to notice the sharp descent, his whole being concentrated on running to the valley floor to meet his people.
As we drew closer and closer I realised we were running to meet someone- a woman. Her dark hair flowed out behind her as she raced towards us, nimbly crossing the scree and the rocks to greet us.
"Tristan!" She called out, lifting her hands high in greeting.
A woman, I realised as we neared each other, who was very beautiful. Beautiful in a way I couldn't even begin to compete with.
"Tristan!" She called again and he dropped my hand to catch her in his arms.
As he hugged her tightly, whirling her round in his embrace I had to look away. The joy on his face made me wince.
I'd never seen him look so happy.
After what seemed like forever, I felt him gently touch my arm. One arm was wrapped around the woman at his side, and they both wore the same contented looking expression.
This was it.
"Ymma, this is Saris."
I smiled, wondering if the smile looked as fake as it felt. This was Her. This was the woman he would marry.
I tried not to hate her.
"Saris is my sister."
And like a fool, I suddenly burst into tears.
"Are you all right?" Saris asked kindly, touching my hand. She glanced at her brother in concern, before putting a bracelet covered arm round my waist. I sagged against her in relief. "Perhaps you are over tired from your journey. Come, you can rest in my tent."
She motioned with her head to the large crowd of people who had now assembled at the foot of the mountain, their faces brimming with joy. "Tristan, there are people who want to speak with you."
Tristan touched my cheek gently. "Will you be alright?"
I wiped at my tears, and nodded, though I could barely speak, the lump in my throat choking my words.
"Go on." I waved him away with a hand. "Your sister's right, I'm just over tired. Go greet your family."
"If you're sure."
The concern on his face made my heart twinge. "Honestly I'm fine. Don't let me spoil your reunion."
He smiled and kissed my hair. My heart leapt a little but I squashed it down viciously. So Saris was his sister. There were still hundreds of women out there waiting to greet him, anyone of whom could be his future beloved.
"I'll see you later."
I nodded and watched him walk away from me.
Saris tugged gently on my waist. "Come, I will show you to my quarters."
Saris' room was a large wagon, covered in luxurious animal skins and wolf pelts and as soon as I lay down on the wagon floor I fell asleep. The exhaustion and emotional stress of the day had taken more of a toll on me than I'd thought and I slept deep and thankfully dreamlessly.
When I woke I realised someone had covered me with a blanket, and taken off my shoes. Curling myself up in a downy soft coverlet I crawled to the edge of the wagon and lifted the flap a little, peering out into the darkness.
It appeared I'd slept the day away.
Beginning to adjust to the night I began to make out voices to my left, and the faint light of a fire. I squinted, straining my eyes and just made out Tristan's, familiar tall wiry form, along with a small, slender woman beside him.
Tristan poked at the fire, and it spat at him, sparks flying up into the starlit sky. "How is she?"
"Still sleeping soundly." That was Saris; I recognised the soft cadences of her voice, and realised it must have been she who had pulled the blanket over me and taken off my footwear. I made a note to thank her for her kindness in the morning.
"Is she your wife?"
I blushed in the dark.
"But you woul-"
"Don't." There was something in his tone that made Saris stop and I shivered and pulled the blankets further over me.
"What are you going to do about Bruja?"
Tristan's voice was hard. "Enough, Saris. I'll deal with it in the morning."
"As you wish," she replied, though I could hear the doubt in her voice.
They turned to other topics and having little idea about who or what they were talking about, I gave up eavesdropping and inched my way back up the wagon. Curling up in a ball, I pillowed my head on my hands and soon fell back asleep.
But I was sure I felt lips against my temple as I drifted off.
It was noon before I woke. Stumbling out of the wagon bleary eyed, my hair sleep mussed and my clothing rumpled, I was suddenly confronted by an Amazon woman, her blonde hair swinging low down her back in hundreds of tiny braids.
"Look who's awake. We thought you'd sleep the day away." The words were joking but her tone was snarled with spite.
I had to crane my neck to look her in the eye, and casting a glance over her smooth shiny hair, her fresh complexion and her spotless tunic dress, I felt my irritation grow. It didn't help that she was looking at me with barely disguised loathing.
"Yes?" I snapped. "Do you have a reason for standing in my way, or do you just feel like being bothersome?"
The woman laughed at me and rested her hands on her hips. "Tristan was right. You are snarky."
I scowled. "Thanks for the assessment." I made to move past her but she merely stepped to the side and blocked my path again.
"Not so fast, little one."
The nickname, which on a child might have been endearing simply made me feel patronised.
"Yes, big one?" I volleyed back. "Or do you have a name?"
That made her stop smiling.
"Bruja, princess of the Roxolani."
I opened my mouth to give her my name but she had waved away my words before I'd even offered them.
"I know who you are, Ymma. I welcome you as a guest to our tribe." She smiled and I glared, crossing my arms. There was something vindictive in the way she emphasised guest, as though I was a transient thing, passing through and never returning. Like a fly through the doors of a mud hut. Annoying but easily dismissed.
"Thank you," I managed to say through gritted teeth. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to find somewhere to bathe."
I brushed past her, and fortunately she let me go without further comment.
It only took me a few minutes to find a small stream to wash in, but the meeting still rankled with me even as I tried to wipe away the previous week's worth of journeying. Now I knew who Saris was speaking of last night, but what she had to do with Tristan I had no idea, except the horrible one that whispered of marriage, which I boxed in a corner of my mind and firmly closed the lid on. Tristan could never be interested in Bruja. She wasn't conventionally beautiful, but she was striking and statuesque... the ideal match for a warrior I supposed. But still...
I splashed myself with water and washed my hair, trying to ignore the princess problem for the moment. I glanced down at my attire, frowning. There was little I could do with my clothes, travel stained and dusty as they were. I pursed my lips and wondered if Saris would sell me enough cloth to make myself a new dress. At least that way I could attempt to clean my other clothes.
I had just made it back to Saris' wagon without bumping into anyone else, when Saris herself greeted me, carrying a bowl of stew and a thick slice of bread.
"Lunch," she said thrusting the bowl at me, her words softened by a smile. "Or breakfast in your case."
I took it thankfully and sat on the wagon steps. "It smells wonderful."
"It should do, I made it freshly this morning."
I thanked her through a mouthful of food for the use of her wagon. She smiled graciously. "Think nothing of it. You are my brother's treasured companion and I would not dream of doing anything less."
I warmed a little at her words, Bruja's comments receding to the back of my mind.
"But where did you sleep?"
"With my husband and my children in our new wagon. My husband had just finished building it." She climbed inside the wagon and began rummaging in some of the boxes in there. "This one was getting too small. With three growing boys there was suddenly not a lot of space." There was the sound of a box lid being shut and she poked her head back out of the wagon door. "You may stay in it whilst you live with us."
I beamed at her easy generosity. "Thank you. That's very kind of you."
"And…" she brought her hands out from her back. "I have found a dress for you. It might be too big- I wore it when I was pregnant with my last one, but with a couple of stitches here and there, I can take it in and it'll fit like new."
Unsure if she would appreciate being hugged, I wrapped my arms around myself instead. "Thank you."
Tristan popped his head through the wagon flaps some time later. "Sorry, I didn't realise you were busy."
"It doesn't matter. I'm finished now," said Saris as she fixed the last stitch. "There, good as new." She tied a knot, snapped the thread and smirked. "What do you think, brother?"
I held my arms out and twirled, the cornflower blue cotton fabric swirling round my legs.
He was silent for several moments as he gazed at me.
"Well?" asked Saris impatiently.
His eyes grew dark. "Beautiful as always."
I snorted at the smooth compliment, dispelling the moment. "What do you want?"
"Walk with me?" He held out his hand.
I glanced at Saris who rolled her eyes and pushed me out of the doors. "Go on, don't let me stop you. I should be getting dinner ready anyway."
"Are you sure you don't need any help?"
"And deprive my brother of your company? He's brooding enough as it is; I don't want to make it any worse." She winked in Tristan's direction as she shooed me down the steps. "Go, I'll be fine."
I tucked my hands into the pockets of the dress in the rapidly cooling evening. "Where are we going?" I asked as we walked down by the riverside that ran the length of the valley floor.
"Nowhere, I simply missed your company."
I laughed softly. "Tristan, we saw each other yesterday."
"Yes, but I've been used to being with you every day on our journey. It feels odd to not walk with you, or talk with you." He paused. "Or to sleep with you by my side at night."
"I thought you might be happy for a bit of space." I looked away. "Just out of interest, where did you sleep last night?"
"On the floor of my grandfather's wagon."
"Oh." I cleared my throat and avoided eye contact. "Well, you could always sleep in my wagon...if you wanted to. If no-one in your tribe objected. Not that there would be anything to object to as we're just sleeping." I flushed red. "Sleeping as in going to sleep rather than with anyone or-"
"Ymma." He pressed a finger to my lips and smiled softly. "You're babbling."
He kissed me softly, and then slid his fingers into mine. "Come, we should return. Saris will be burning the dinner if we're not back in time."
We'd walked further than I thought, and by the time we re-arrived at the camp Tristan's immediate family were already sat, eating their evening meal. As we walked closer, an older silver bearded man hailed us and room was made for us around the fire.
"Tristan! Come and sit down my lad. Come and sit down."
"Boklod," Tristan murmured in my ear as we squeezed in beside Saris, her husband Kildarr and their three young boys. "My grandfather."
"Our oldest relative," said Saris in my other ear. "Since our parents died, all he's wanted to do is see Tristan again, and now he's back he can finally die happy."
"He's not going to, is he?" I whispered back, startled.
"No, he's too preserved in mead to die," Saris grinned. "He'll probably live forever, pickled like eggs." She stood up, the joints of her knees cracking. "Let me get you some dinner."
"Why didn't you sit over here? Taking your young lady all over there." Boklod sighed heavily. "Honestly lad. Keeping her all to yourself."
Saris grinned at me as she handed me a dish. "Let them alone, grandfather," she said, refilling his bowl with more dumplings. "They're young and don't want to sit through your inquisition. Eat your food."
Boklod harrumphed, but did as his granddaughter bid, and we soon settled down to our meal, as Kildarr and some of Tristan's other relatives debated whether it was worth travelling tomorrow, or pitching the wagons in the valley floor and letting the cattle graze. As the evening drew on it felt natural to lean my head against Tristan's shoulder, and he drew his arm round my shoulders as I stifled a yawn. He smirked at me.
"I think it's time for bed."
I blushed. "You deliberately made that sound like an invitation."
"And if it was?"
I shoved him playfully and swallowed. "Swine."
He raised his eyebrows, mockingly shocked. "Ge ac eower ádeliht muð."
"Ge ac eower ádeliht gehygd," I retorted, poking him in the chest pointedly.
"What are you two muttering to each other over there?" Interrupted Boklod, curling his beard around his fingers. "Speak so we can all understand."
I blushed and glared at Tristan. "You explain," I muttered.
"Nothing, grandfather," he said loudly. "Ymma is feeling tired and wishes to be excused."
Boklod nodded and waved his hand. "Yes, off you go, off you go."
As I stood up there was sudden movement from the shadows at the edge of the circle of figures around the campfire, and a young man stepped forward. I didn't recognise his face, but he soon identified himself as a messenger from one of the other campfires.
"Bruja wishes to see you Tristan."
There was silence from those round the campfire. Everyone looked to the man seated beside me, and I noticed Boklod's face was particularly grave.
I touched his shoulder gently. "Tristan?"
His reassuring gaze did not quell the worry at the sound of Bruja's name and his entwined together, but nobody seemed willing to offer an explanation of what was going on.
"It's nothing." He met my concerned expression and attempted a smile. "I'll see you later." Something must have shown in my face, because he kissed my temple and then pushed me towards the wagons.
"Go on. I'll be back later."
"Gouden avend. Goodnight," I murmured and turned away from the group, heading towards the wagon, feeling Tristan's eyes on my back the whole way there. Once inside, exhausted and confused I barely managed to pull myself beneath the covers before I was asleep.
I wasn't sure how long I'd been slumbering when Tristan slipping into bed beside me woke me. I turned and watched as he pulled his tunic over his head so he was merely clad in his trousers. I was glad it was dark so I couldn't see much; otherwise I knew my cheeks would have been aflame. As it was, I was glad that I hadn't decided to strip to my undergarments myself and had remained fully clothed. The temptation was bad enough as it was, without throwing us both being half naked into the mix.
"Well what happened?"
He grunted, returning to the uncommunicative man I had known when we had first met.
I frowned. "Tristan, what is going on with you and Bruja?"
He slipped an arm around my waist and nuzzled my neck. "Nothing. Go to sleep, Ymma."
Choosing to keep silent and bite my tongue, for once I did as he asked. If he didn't want to talk now that was fine.
I'd confront him in the morning instead.
I woke up deliciously buried in Tristan's chest, one leg sandwiched in between his. Momentarily contented I luxuriated in the feeling of being this close to him, where no one could interfere, where no woman claiming the rings I had seen on Tristan's fingers could suddenly appear.
There was a violent rapping on the wagon frame.
Tristan instantly woke beside me, his hand automatically reaching for the sword on the other side of him, warrior instincts still as alert as ever. I stuck my head out of the flaps. Bruja's smirking face greeted me.
I scowled at her. "What do you want?"
"Good morning to you to," she replied sweetly. "I was looking for Tristan, and was told I might find him here."
I pulled my head back inside.
"Tristan, what is going on?"
"Nothing," he muttered, shrugging his top on and buckling on his sword. He opened the wagon flaps. "Stay in here."
I snorted and went after him, toeing on my shoes. "Since when do I follow your orders? Tell me what's going on?"
Bruja watched us both with an amused smile.
"You mean she doesn't know?"
"Bruja," Tristan warned.
"Told me what?" I gritted out.
"I'm his betrothed."
Stunned I felt myself sit back down on the wagon steps.
"You're engaged?" I glanced from one to the other, feeling my face drain of blood. The world swirled sickeningly, and I breathed in deeply before I fainted. I managed a glare at Tristan. "I asked you last night what was going on and you said 'nothing.'" My fingernails were making bloody grooves in my palms. "That's what you consider 'nothing'? She's practically your wife and you didn't think to mention it?"
His hands tightened on his sword, knuckles turning white, though his voice was soft and pained. "It wasn't officially decided until last night."
I scoffed. "You might have mentioned it when you came to bed." I felt a hysterical laugh begin to bubble at the back of my throat. "Or did you think, rightly I might add, that I'd kick you out if you told me the truth?"
"Ymma." He moved towards me but I shrank back on the steps.
Bruja laughed, and clucked her tongue mockingly. "Don't be mad at him Ymma. He's only doing his tribal duty."
I must have looked confused, because she deigned to take pity on me and explain, lovingly describing every detail.
"As princess it is my right to choose any man I wish for my husband." She flicked her eyes over his form. "I've chosen Tristan. He's everything I would wish for in a husband- an excellent warrior, strong, physically fit." She smirked. "And easy on the eyes."
A muscle ticked in my cheek, even as I sat there frozen. So this was it then. His wife. The rings would be hers, we would say goodbye, and one day, several years from now, we would meet again and I would save his life. But we would be nothing more than friends. Past acquaintances. It was how it was to be. I could almost see the Wyrd being written.
Bruja looked me in the eye. "Unless anyone else lays claim to him?"
Her words heated my blood, and I set aside my anger at Tristan to focus on her. "He's not a piece of meat," I snapped. "He's a human being. You can't just treat him like some sort of slave."
Tristan's fingers closed round my wrist. I ignored the tingly sense of warmth that skittered across my skin and glared at him.
"Don't tell me you agree with her?"
His eyes bored into mine, mutely asking me to understand. "I have little choice Ymma. I'm bound by the rules of the tribe. We are matriarchal- woman led. Bruja can choose who she likes. She is princess here."
"But you're a knight."
"Of an empire I have no love for, in a land far from here." His thumb gently stroked the soft skin on the inside of my wrist. "And besides, a knight is lower than a princess anyway, and here she rules."
I pulled my hand away from his, stung. "And you're just going to let her do this?"
Tristan scowled. "It's how it's always been."
My fingers clenched and unclenched convulsively, as Bruja watched our little by-play amused.
I took a breath in. I had to let him go. I had to let Tristan get married to the princess. I had to.
I had to Let. It. Go.
She smirked at me.
"Ficken þes. I challenge you."
I felt Tristan's eyes on me but I was too focussed on Bruja to look anywhere else. Screw it. Tristan loved me, and I wasn't about to let a little thing like fate and a snotty warrior princess stand in my way.
Bruja's grin merely widened, and with a horrible sinking feeling, like swallowing a large stone, I realised I'd played directly into her hands. She grinned and clapped her hands together like a little girl, excited at the thought of her first Geola.
"I accept. I'll go and inform the tribal elders, but I expect we can begin, that is if you don't object, almost immediately." She flashed her teeth at me. "I suggest you choose your weapons."
As soon as she'd gone Tristan grabbed me by the arm and hauled me from the wagon steps into the air. My toes barely grazed the floor.
"What do you think you're doing?"
"Saving you," I snarled. "What does it look like?"
"Like a suicide mission! She could really hurt you."
"I can hold my own."
Tristan grabbed my upper arms and shook me. "You're not listening to me. She could kill you and it would be within her rights in the act."
"Oh." I bit my lip. "I'll try not to die then."
"It's not a joke, Ymma."
"I know!" I yelled at him, freeing one arm and hitting him in the chest. "I'm doing this for you. If you want to marry her, then tell me now so I don't have to bother."
All of a sudden he sagged and placed me softly back on the floor. He ran a hand over his face.
"You know I don't love her."
"Right," I said more gently. "So let me get on with this and stop making me worry."
It took an hour before the tribe were all assembled, the area we were to fight in established and the tribal elders all at hand to oversee the contest. Bruja had returned, wearing her horse hoof armoured wrist guards and leg greaves, but eschewing her other armour- her body plates, shield and helmet. Insulted, I realised she didn't consider me enough of a threat to wear the rest of it.
As to myself, I'd changed into my travelling tunic, familiar and comfortable in it. Saris had offered me her body armour, but I was too small, so I'd simply strapped up my wrists and relied on being nimble enough to dodge out of Bruja's way in order not to need the protective gear.
What seemed like most of the tribe had turned up to watch the contest. I spotted Saris watching in concern to my right, Kaldarr, their children and the irascible Boklod, along with several other faces from last night. But the reassuring ones I wanted most to see, my friends- Guinevere and the knights were miles away. In my mind's eye I saw them gather round the edges cheering me on, their figures suddenly so strong in my mind. Vanora's encouraging smile, Lancelot's wink, Gawain and Galahad's shouted insults about Bruja, Guinevere fingering her bow and scowling at my rival, Bors making smashing motions, Dagonet smiling kindly with Lucan beside him. Arthur's approving nod. My brother offering to fight for me.
I blinked and they vanished away, ghostlike. Instead when I opened my eyes there was Tristan, standing aloof, his face unreadable.
One of the tribal elders stepped forward, a thickset woman with ashen hair and a face ravaged by two thick scars running across her face, as though she'd been clawed by a bear.
"Bruja, are you ready?"
She smiled, and I realised she was really enjoying this. "Aye."
The elder turned towards me. "Challenger, are you ready?"
I muttered a prayer to the gods. "Look, I know we haven't always seen eye to eye, but I'm on your side. So Hretha, if you want me to make it out of this thing alive and thereby continue to worship and/or adore you I could really do with some protection now. Um. Please." I took a breath and nodded at the elder. "I'm ready."
I threw my hunting dagger on the ground, and drawing Ur and Ís out of my rune bag I threw them up in the air and let them land as they wished.
Bruja spat on the ground, her face one of disbelief. "That's it? A puny knife and two bits of wood?" She threw down her own glittering sword, as well as a long dagger strapped to her leg, with a smaller ankle knife.
I swallowed. This was getting worse and worse.
Seeing my face Bruja's smile widened. "Have you even killed a man before?"
I thought back to the fat roman I had rescued Lucan from. But Kaleb and Bruinen had savaged him so it didn't really count.
"No," I answered truthfully. "But I've battled a troll."
There was a ripple around the assembled crowd. Bruja's smile slipped ever so slightly and I resisted the urge to stick out my tongue like a child.
The voice of the scarred elder interrupted. "Claiming rites are always to third blood. Challenger do you agree or do you forfeit?"
I nodded determinedly, and the elder motioned for us to pick up our weapons. I left my runes where they were, and instead fingered my dagger, feeling its cool weight in my hand. The last time I'd used it had been five days ago to skin a rabbit. The irony now was that I was the one who suddenly felt like prey.
The elder thrust her hand downwards suddenly.
The fight had begun.
We circled each other warily, Bruja easily wielding her sword in her hand, the dagger at her side throwing sunlight from its jagged blade.
I began to murmur the words I needed to weave my spell. "Slǽp geswebban; declínian áwreccan ǽr ábannan."
"Chanting isn't going to help you now."
I ignored her and repeated the gruff words under my breath. If I could just hold her off long enough for the spell to take effect then…
Bruja struck out with her long dagger. I blocked instinctively, just as she swung her sword at my abdomen. I barely moved in time. Whirling backwards, trying to avoid the sharp edge I almost tripped but didn't stop chanting.
She chased out after me, bringing her sword high over my head. I blocked again, but the force of the blow left my wrist aching, and taking advantage of the weakness she lashed out.
The dagger tip caught my right arm. With a loud rip my sleeve tore and I hissed as a thin trickle of blood welled up at the surface.
The elder lifted up a finger from the sidelines where she was watching with calculating eyes. "Bruja takes first blood."
The warrior princess grinned and swung her sword lazily in her hand. "Looks like your pieces of wood aren't helping."
"They're runes," I spat, ignoring the wound as it began to sting fiercely. "Get it right."
Bruja shrugged and then swung wildly again.
I feinted to the right, then left.
I even managed to swing my sword at her so that she blocked it. I swung again, but she easily parried and thrust her sword directly back at me.
There was no time to block. No time to move from the awkward angle and the blade caught my stomach. A long jagged line sliced my tunic and across my belly. It wasn't deep, thank Hretha, but it hurt like Kvøllheimr. The blood welled up and began to spread staining my tunic.
"That's not going to come out," I muttered, put out.
But I had more pressing things to worry about than my laundry. Bruja, sensing victory was close at hand pressed her advantage. I was bleeding and I hadn't even had a decent swipe at her yet. Trying to regroup I attacked more forcefully, swinging my sword down heavily. It whistled over her head. One of her thin golden braids drifted to the floor, like a decapitated snake.
Enraged at the loss of a lock she swung hard. I stepped backwards, as the blade sang over my skull. I stumbled and she swung again. Arching backwards, my ankle gave way and I fell backwards to the floor, sword knocked from my hand. I scrambled for it but Bruja stepped on my already aching wrist, pressing down hard with her shoe.
I winced as the bones shifted beneath her weight. There was a sickening cracking sound. I cried out in agony as the bone shattered, and Bruja finally stepped off my useless wrist.
She knelt down beside me instead, smiling triumphantly, and brought the tip of her dagger to my throat, pressing it against my racing pulse.
"Bruja! Don't!" Tristan's voice called out from behind her. He almost sounded …frightened.
I swallowed hard, and the dagger dug into my skin, just below my jugular but not hard enough to draw third blood. Not yet anyway. I took a breath and squared up to my Wyrd, the pain in my wrist and the blood seeping into my clothes fading away as my death loomed suddenly in front of me.
I wished I could see Tristan's face. Instead all I could view was the cloudless sky and Bruja's face above my own.
I suddenly felt very sorry for her.
"You know he'll never love you."
Bruja looked at me coldly. "That won't matter when you're dead."
Her hand moved to slit my throat.
Then her eyes rolled back into her head and she collapsed onto me. The dagger slipped harmlessly from her hand to the ground beside me and I breathed a sigh of relief. Pushing the unconscious woman off me with my good hand, (the other cradled to my chest) I drew my own dagger and with my left hand clumsily nicked her skin three times on the flesh of her palm. Three drops of blood rose to the surface and I looked at the elder.
"I think I win."
The older woman nodded slowly. "Bruja is defeated and the Challenger triumphs. Thus ends the claiming rite."
There was a stunned silence and I hurried to explain away the comatose woman at my feet. "She's all right. It's just a sleeping spell. It takes a while to begin and to end, but in a couple of hours she'll wake up." I picked up my runes from the ground, and tucked my dagger in my waist belt. "She'll just have a rather nasty headache. Otherwise she's fine though."
Everyone began talking at once, and as some of the princess' bodyguards picked her up and began to take her away with them I escaped out of the circle of bodies and back towards the wagon, hoping to avoid…
The knight had suddenly appeared in front of me, his skills as the silent scout serving him well once again. His expression was at once both gentle and serious.
"Ymma. Thank you for what you did I-"
I pushed past him impatiently, and his face clouded. "No thanks are necessary. I did what I had to. And don't feel obligated to me or anything. I know what Bruja said, but as challenger I release my claim on you. You can marry anyone you choose."
"I can't be around you right now. I'm still mad at you for not telling me what was going on."
So I left him by the wagon and carried on blindly, unheeding where exactly I was going. As the adrenaline began to wear away and my triumph faded I found myself by the river. I slumped down on the ground forgetfully and cried out as I jarred my wounds, my cuts bleeding again, my wrist throbbing.
Fat tears began to roll down my cheeks and I brushed them away angrily. "Stupid Ymma," I berated myself, "stupid, stupid Ymma. Why do you always get yourself in these messes?" I sighed and shook my head despairingly. "You can never leave well alone."
Someone sat down beside me.
"Tristan," I began angrily. "I already said I had nothing more to say to you."
"I'm not Tristan."
My head snapped to the right in surprise. Boklod was sat beside me, his eyes soft in his wrinkled face.
"That was a big sigh for a small girl," he observed thoughtfully. "Why so sad?"
"I'm hardly a girl. I'm twenty..." I paused. If I went back five years in my past did I have to add on five years or would I be the same age? I tried not to think about it. "I'm hardly a girl."
"That's right," said Boklod and I felt I'd trapped myself into a corner. "You're a woman. A fine young woman." He paused. "But you still haven't answered my question. You defeated your rival, won the man you obviously love, and yet you reject him, and run off down here. Anyone else would be happy."
"Anyone else would be dead," I pointed out. "My magik saved me. Rightfully, Bruja should have won, she was the better fighter."
"One fights with the tools one is best with," Boklod said sagely. "Magik is your weapon, blades are Bruja's. Don't dismiss your win through guilt. You both agreed to the rules of the combat. Bruja knew exactly what she was doing when she went into that fight."
I sighed and stared out over the water. What he said made perfect sense, and yet it wasn't that easy for me to accept. "Look, I'm angry with Tristan for not telling me the truth, I'm cross with myself for not seeing it from the start, I'm mad I almost died, mad I got myself into this mess in the first place. I miss my friends and my family and things are complicated with Tristan."
"Why?" Said Boklod, his eyes meeting mine, the same dark earthy colour as his grandson. "You love him don't you?"
"It's not that easy."
"Why? Seems that way to me."
"You don't understand. He has to marry someone else."
"Who told you that?"
"Nothing. I-" I gave up even beginning to attempt an explanation. "Let's just say I've seen his future and it's not me in it."
Boklod snorted. "We make our own futures and no man, god or beast can tell me otherwise." He placed his hand on my shoulder. "You make your own path, Ymma." He turned and got up from the river side, leaning on his staff. "I won't tell Tristan you're down here, but I'll let him know you're safe."
"Thanks Boklod. For everything."
He nodded and left me to my thoughts.
The sun was beginning to set by the time I made my way back to the camp. Tristan was waiting for me, seated on the steps of our wagon. At my approach he looked up at my and put the sword he was sharpening back in its scabbard.
In the stress of the day I seemed to have forgotten all about my wounds, but at Tristan's words the pain suddenly made itself well known again. Wordlessly I let myself be dispassionately stripped and cleaned, bandaged up, the wounds on my stomach and arm fortunately not needing stitches.
Only when his hands gently probed my wrist did I hiss.
"It's not a bad break," he said kindly and began to splint it, his sword roughened hands carefully strapping it up. He finished in silence and as he checked the other bandages finally to see that they were properly done he spoke quietly.
"Are you ever going to forgive me?"
His voice was so unassuming, so withdrawn that I finally found myself taking pity on him. "Only if you are very, very nice to me. And never hide something so important from me again." I shook my head. "Men. You're so stupid."
"I think you said something like that before to Arthur, though I believe 'irritating bastards' was the phrase you used at the time."
"Ah yes, when you tricked me into thinking you'd executed my brother. Good times."
He managed a chuckle, and I smiled as some of the tension began to dissipate, my humour obviously stripping him of some of his fear. One large warm hand splayed across the skin of my belly as he adjusted the bandage there slightly.
"I truly am sorry. And I promise to never ever conceal my forced betrothal to the princess of my tribe again." He sobered at my un-amused look. "No more secrets, I swear it."
I pursed my lips. "You're a knight and a scoundrel," I replied, as his hands began to slide up my stomach inch by delectable inch. "How do I know you can be trusted now?"
I gasped as his fingers found a particularly sensitive spot and he smirked at me, pressing his mouth to my ear. "Well, you could always make me an honest man by marrying me."
My heart thumped almost painfully in my chest as he brought out the rings I had seen him wearing the day he had been wounded, sat in the palm of his hand. The large gold one obviously made for a man and the delicate silver ring, its three twisting silver bands interlocking as one. "This ring belonged to my father and this to my mother. Saris kept them for me whilst I was away. She bid me take them as a reminder and as a gift to give my own bride one day."
He kissed my hair and then my temple and I clung to him, even as I knew I had to pull away. "I love you," he whispered, kissing the shell of my ear. "Marry me."
I opened my mouth and the words I thought I'd never say escaped. "I can't."
To his credit, he didn't let go, or crumble. His face didn't crack as though I'd broken his heart into tiny shreds. If anything it grew fiercer and more determined. The hand on my stomach wrapped round my back and pulled me closer as though he wouldn't dare let me go.
This was killing me but it had to be said. I curled his fingers over the rings. "I can't marry you Tristan. Somewhere out there you will meet a wonderful woman and you will marry her."
I shook my head. "Tristan, in the future when we meet again you're married. You will meet your wife."
"I already have," he protested. "It's you."
I shook my head, and backed away, but he snatched at my arms and wrapped me close to his chest. "Ymma, I marry you or no-one else."
I couldn't speak, the fierce love in his words snatching at my breath.
You make your own path
Boklod's words rumbled at the back of my mind.
If I said no, would I always regret this? If I said yes would I irrevocably change the future?
Was this what was supposed to happen after all?
"Ymma, do you understand?" Tristan's voice drew me from my musings. He drew his head close down to mine. "I love you and I'm never going to marry anyone else but you. Do you understand?"
I nodded slowly.
"Is that a yes?"
Struggling past the lump in my throat I found my voice. "Yes Tristan. I will marry you."
And Tristan, a man not prone to extravagant displays of emotion picked me up, swung me round and kissed me fiercely.
I couldn't help but laugh in absolute joy.
It was several months later before we actually wed, but the day itself passed in a blur of people embracing me and slapping Tristan's back.
The whole tribe came to see us married, and even Bruja was gracious in defeat, kissing my cheeks and welcoming me formally as one of the Roxolani, without a bitter smile or cross word anywhere.
In another life perhaps we might even have been good friends.
The joy of my wedding day was only tempered by the fact that none of my family or my friends were there to see it. But Tristan's tribe soon made up for that. There was no such thing as a quiet Sarmation wedding.
The ceremony itself was quick and easy, a few murmured oaths of love and mutual worship before the gods and the tribe, Tristan placing his mother's ring on my finger where it sat warm and somehow familiar. And then it was over just like that and we were married, husband and wife, and the real party began.
The riotous dancing was still going on when Tristan pulled me over to a corner of the camp where the firelight didn't quite reach. I stumbled into him, too much mead fuddling my thoughts slightly and I giggled against his chest.
"I can't believe we finally did it."
His laugh, a sound I was still unfamiliar with rumbled pleasantly through his chest and vibrated against my skin, sending warm tingles down through me. I shivered and his breath was hot against my ear.
"Cold, my love?" His voice turned dark and knowing. "I know plenty of ways to warm you up again."
I laughed. "Really? And what ways would those be?"
"They require an area away from prying eyes and preferably you without clothes."
"That's not very fair," I pouted. "You have to remove your clothes too."
"Very well, if that is what you wish."
I kissed him fiercely, my lips slanting over his delicious mouth tasting the mead he'd drunk earlier, the wedding cake we'd eaten, the sinfully sweet taste of rich butter and fruit. I kissed down his throat, one hand sliding up his spine, the other slipping down his trousers.
"Wish it? I command it," I murmured in his ear as he hissed as my questing fingers found what I was looking for.
He nipped my lips with his sharp teeth. "You're a wicked woman." His own hands began to retaliate, one hand reaching under the hem of my intricately patterned dress and skirting up my leg.
I moaned as my hips rolled against his talented fingers. "Good thing I married a wicked man then."
There were sudden catcalls from the rest of the tribe and I realised we'd been discovered.
Tristan rested his head against mine. "I think it's time we took this somewhere more private."
"I thought you'd never ask."
That's when he took my hand and together we ran to our wagon.
And after that there were no more words.
Three years later…
It was a sign.
The ash fell in Constantinople, the warm afternoon suddenly disappearing as a white hot fireball suddenly bloomed in the sky and shamed the sun. A hot sulphurous wind blew, as though the gods had opened a doorway into Múspell and as the fine black dust rained down on us I turned to Tristan, as we sat watching from our wagon steps.
"It's time to go back."
I knew it was a wrench for him to leave his family again. In the time we had been with the Roxolani they had become like a second family to me, but both Tristan and I knew the consequences of what would happen if neither of us returned to Britannia.
Leaving our wagon behind and packing what possessions we had accrued between us that could be carried we left, the haunting blessing of the tribe following us as we departed, the farewell blessing song lifting high on the breeze as they sang.
"Blessed be your feet. May swift winds always direct your paths."
The trek back was fraught with a sense of urgency that hadn't been there before as the months passed and we travelled over miles of land. Tristan couldn't be late. He had to make it on time. He had to be in the right place so that past me would find him, would rescue him.
Which still made me worry. Nearly five years had passed and not once had Tristan been injured. There were no wounds to become infected, not even a slight scratch that might grow into something horrid. Which meant the threat to his life was drawing nearer and nearer.
And with that came an even bigger realisation. If Tristan had accompanied me on my trek then when he had woken up in the sick bed after I had cured him…he'd said goodbye to me only a few weeks ago.
Whilst I hadn't seen him for five years.
It was little wonder then that he had been so gentle with me when he saw me. I suddenly realised how hard it must have been for him to have me hate him, when in fact he knew we were married. How he must have been bursting to tell me the truth and couldn't.
The irony behind his words to me It's good to see you again.
At the channel's edge separating Britannia from Gaul, I kissed Tristan hard in goodbye. There hadn't been room on the ferry boat for both of us, so I was to take a later ship and watch and wait until my friends were transported by my spell into Loki's realm. Only then could I openly reveal myself to them upon their return.
There was a prickling feeling at the back of my neck. Something very important I had to do in order for this to all fit. I twisted my wedding ring anxiously with my thumb, and then realised.
Tristan's face grew grim when I slipped my wedding ring off and onto his little finger. He gripped my hand hard, as though he thought I was suddenly abandoning him.
"A reminder that I do love you whatever I do or say." I cupped his face reassuringly. "And a promise. I'll come back."
"I love you."
But there was no time to reply as the ferryman and his crew gave the final boarding call and reluctantly I let him go, his hand slipping from mine.
This time it was me watching him sail away into the mists of the water back to Britannia. I was the one being left behind.
The old ache rose up in my chest, and I felt my eyes begin to sting as he disappeared completely into the gloom. I sat down on the wooden jetty and began to wait for my own boat to be ready.
There was nothing else I could do.
"Join hands and whatever you do, whatever you see, don't let go."
It was rather odd watching myself throw the runes up in the air and shout the spell words:
The words shimmered in the air as the runes stopped in mid fall. There was a flash of darkness as if the sun had suddenly been swallowed and the group of men and women holding hands disappeared.
Taking my cue I slipped out from behind a tree and walked up to the cliff top where only moments ago we had all been standing.
There was a brilliant burst of light and suddenly the knights were spat back out on the ground, Arthur and Guinevere clutching their retrieved children to them. Disorientated they blinked and I offered my hand to help Dagonet up.
Bemused he let me hug him hard.
"I've missed you all so much!"
Dagonet blinked. "What?"
I shook my head and made my way round the group, embracing each of my friends enthusiastically, smiling inwardly at their confused looks.
Eventually of course, I reached the one man I had been missing the most.
"Tristan, gods, I love you."
He kissed me softly, his lips gently pressing against mine, his hands winding through my hair to massage the back of my head. I pulled him closer, tugging on his tunic so that his chest moulded against me.
Lancelot shoved his shoulder playfully. "Let the girl breathe! She's only been gone a few seconds."
We broke away and smiled at each other. "Feels like five years."
"I have something of yours." Tristan slipped the silver ring off his little finger and onto mine. "Now it's where it belongs."
"And I have something of yours too." I reached into the pocket of my dress and pulled out the sun pendant I'd given him once upon a time.
"But how? I threw it into the sea all those years ago."
I wiggled my fingers and smiled, tying it round his neck. "Magik."
"Wait a minute," interrupted Galahad, who seemed to have only just pieced things together. "You two are married?"
Suddenly there was a babble of confused voices, as each of the group tried to work out what on earth had happened.
"When did this happen?"
"Why weren't we invited to the wedding?"
"What was the price you had to pay?"
"Why do you look older?"
Bors scratched his head. "Is anyone else confused?"
"It's a very long story," I laughed. "But I think explanations can wait until later." I smiled at the children as they clutched tightly to their parent's hands. "For now I think we've got a celebration to have."
"Here, here!" Agreed Bors. "We killed the trolls, and beat ourselves a god. I think we deserve to get absolutely smashed."
"I'll drink to that," Lancelot laughed.
"By the way," I said, my head resting against Tristan's chest as we walked back to the tavern. "There is one question I never found an answer to. When we met you were dying. How were you hurt?"
Tristan frowned. "There was a fight about money for passage back. I'd agreed to pay half at the start and half at the end but the captain changed his mind and demanded more when we arrived. I refused, and ended up fighting him and half the crew. Needless to say I was wounded but escaped." He smiled and touched my cheek. "And then you found me." He pulled me closer to him. "I've missed you."
"I can tell."
Inside the tavern we all settled down as the serving girls brought out barrels of mead. Tristan pulled me into his lap as Bors set down a large glass in front of me.
I handed it back to him, shaking my head.
"Oh, I can't drink," I explained. "Expectant women aren't allowed."
There was a sudden silence and I grinned at Tristan's astonished expression.
I patted his hand kindly. "That means I'm pregnant, by the way."
"We're going to have a baby?" He placed a hand over my still flat stomach almost reverently and then was heartily slapped by the knights. As Tristan was drawn away by the men Guinevere hugged me, her face beaming.
"Congratulations!" She said sincerely. "I know you'll be wonderful parents."
"To Tristan!" Toasted Lancelot, standing on a chair and winking lewdly. "May he be as fertile as Bors!"
"To Ymma!" Guinevere rebutted sharply, pulling him down. "May she be as patient as Vanora."
Dagonet raised his glass. "To you both and your unborn baby."
Everyone drank and I beamed happily, before standing up and motioning for everyone to be quiet.
"If I could propose a toast?" I asked, Tristan's fingers intertwined with mine. "To Tristan, myself and our unborn babies," I corrected and leaned over to kiss my husband's cheek, my lips curving upwards in amusement at his stunned expression.
"I'm having twins."
So this is it. The end of the road. Six years and a whole bunch of words later my story is now complete.
It's a very odd feeling finishing a story like this. I've become so attached to it, it's rather like saying goodbye to a very old friend.
Please read and review. Let me know what you thought. And thank you to all my wonderful reviewers who've stuck with me all this time.
You've been fantastic.
Ge ac eower ádeliht muð: You and your filthy mouth
Ge ac eower ádeliht gehygd: You and your filthy mind
Gouden avend: Goodnight
Ficken þes: Roughly translates as 'F*** this'
Slǽp geswebban; declínian áwreccan ǽr ábannan: Sleep, put her to sleep. Do not awake until commanded.
Frige: Earth mother goddess
Wyrd: A concept in Anglo-Saxon culture roughly corresponding to fate or personal destiny.
Geola: Midwinter solstice. Survives as the modern Yule, and contained the most important festival Modranect, or Mothers' Night, and may have been associated with the birth of the god Ing. It was taken over wholesale by the Christian faith to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Hretha: Warrior goddess. March is named after her.
Ur: Represents the vitality of the life force. In magic it can be used to bring about strength and physical health beside it and
Is: In spell work, it can be used to bring activities of some kind to a complete halt, to ice it over.
Kvøllheimr: A place of punishment for the wicked. Within it is Nástrønd "corpse strand" a dwelling made of adders. Here the evil dead are sent to forever have burning poison drip down upon them.
In 472 AD, it's a historical fact that ash fell in Constantinople from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
Múspell a region of pure fire ruled by the ettin Surtr. Others like him inhabit the realm and are the closest thing to evil incarnate that can be found in Northern European mythology