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I didn't even think about leaving my room until noon the next day. I was very comfortable in Tristan's arms however, and starvation didn't sound too horrible. My head was on his chest, and I could feel my body rising and falling with his breathing. I was saved from having to get up when I heard a knock on the door. Too lazy to even bother pulling the thick blanket over our bodies, I smiled lightly.
"Come in." I called out. Nimue's face turned red at the sight of Tristan and me and I guessed she had not seen her first Beltane rites. She set the two bowls she was carrying down on the floor near the bed and scurried out. I snickered and reached for the food. I was just out of my reach…Tristan suddenly rolled over on top of me and held out his slightly longer arm. He pulled the bowl piled with food onto the bed, leaving the bowl filled with cider on the floor. I resisted the urge to snatch it out of his hands and eat it all myself. Tristan sat up and leaned against the wall my bed was positioned against. I pulled my own self up using his arm. I propped myself up against his shoulder to have more access to the bowl of food in his lap. There was a thick, steaming porridge at the bottom of the bowl. The top of it was covered with a large cut of bread, a chunk of whitish cheese, and a few pieces of roasted boar. My mouth watered. I made a hungry sound, and Tristan kissed my forehead.
"Tristan." I said somberly. "I love you. But I'm going to eat most of the food."
He snorted as if he'd like to see me try. He grabbed the wooden spoon, leaving me with my bare hands. I shrugged and began to eat.
Several minutes later I was scraping the last of the porridge off the bottom of the bowl with the last bite of bread. I popped it into my mouth and closed my eyes with delight.
"Who's getting the cider?" I asked burrowing my head into him.
"Eh." He said poking his shoulder out so that I was shoved forward. I rolled forward and returned with the bowl of cider. I lifted the edge to my lips and drank deeply. Tristan took it from me and drained the rest. I sat there pressed against his chest and realized I had never been more contented. I fell sideways onto the furs and sprawled out. Tristan laid down beside in more dignified manner and propped his head on his hand to look at me.
"You have to take a bath before you kiss me again." I ordered quietly. As if to challenge me, he leaned down to kiss me. His lips met the hand that was guarding my mouth jealously. I shook my head and grinned wickedly under my hand. He collapsed on top of me and began to pry my hands away. We struggled like that for a few moments before I felt my arms start to tire. Recognizing defeat, I went still and let him have his kiss.
"I missed you." Tristan said suddenly. I rested a hand on his neck and looked at him. I didn't need to say I missed him too. It went unspoken.
"We should get married soon if we want the wedding before the baby comes." I said lazily. "Either that, or you can sleep in your own bed until you want to get married."
I refused to take any more herbs. It would be tempting fate.
"Can they marry us here?" He asked laying his head on my collarbone. I ran my fingers through his hair against the way it grew. I felt all his muscles relax slowly as he melted into me. I smiled and drummed my fingers against his face. I felt around until I found the scar that ran from his ear to the back of his head from the battle at Badon.
"What do you want to name the first child?" He asked looking at my stomach.
"I thought you wanted to name your son after your brother." Came my reply. "And you make it sound like we're having more than one."
He gave me a look of unadulterated male pride, and I pulled a braid. He remained perfectly still until I let go and then his look became contemplative.
"The name belonged to Alessand." He said simply and I understood. There was no need to name our son after him. Tristan had his memory of his brother and that was enough.
"Well I haven't thought about it." I said thoughtfully. "We could always follow Bors' example. One…two…"
"Three…Four…Five…" He continued. I gave him a dangerous look.
"After the first two, I'm done. Then you can start having them." I said daring him to argue. His lip curled in distaste.
"When will you know?" He asked after a moment.
"A few weeks. Could be months though." I said. Another smug look crossed his face.
"Shouldn't last night have been enough?" He asked. I was not an expert on childbearing obviously. I shrugged.
"When will we leave?." I asked minutes later. I wanted to drag the day on for as long as possible.
"Tomorrow." He said, and I suddenly thought of Yseult. It still hurt to think of him with her. His arms wrapped around her…Her auburn hair fluttering around his shoulders as she kiss him… It was enough to make me feel ill. Tristan must have seen something on my face for he pulled me a little closer. I wanted to ask Tristan what he had said to Yseult and how she had acted, but I knew I shouldn't. I didn't want to dwell on any of it. Whatever had been between the two of them was gone. I kissed him brutally for a few moments. He raised his eyebrows at my forcefulness, but I didn't explain. He was mine, and I had no reason to complain.
"What has happened since the battle?" I asked suddenly. If there was a war, I wanted to be in it.
"Arthur is trying to decide friend from foe before he attacks." Tristan said in his richly accented voice. There was no need to mention Caradoc and Turquine by name.
"When will there be fighting?" I asked languidly, glancing at my sword. I saw the corners of his lips twitch. Once again I was reminded why he was the man for me.
"Soon." His voice murmured in my ear. I turned my head to give him access to my mouth, something he immediately showed his appreciation for.
"Do you want me to return you to your mother?" I asked somberly as I kneeled next to Mordred. Tristan was already on his horse ready to leave. Scosin stood by my side as he pawed the ground impatiently. Mordred let his hand fall from my tunic and shook his head.
"Last offer." I said touching his cheek.
"She'll come for me soon." He said and I smiled lightly. I hoped my child had as much faith in me as Mordred had in Modron.
"You haven't even seen your new home?" I asked. Mordred shook his head.
"Uriens said he will take me hunting when I return. I will not enjoy it as much as when you took me though." He said twirling his fingers through his dark hair. I pulled him to me and hugged him one last time. It was good that Uriens liked Mordred. He would make a good father. I stood up and nodded good bye to the small crowd that had come to see us off. I liked Aballava. I hoped to return before many years had passed. Nimue raised a hand in goodbye as I mounted Scosin. I gave them one last look before turning my horse in the opposite direction. It was time to head south towards Caerleon.
It took us a fortnight to get to Caerleon. I was eager to see everyone, but I couldn't help wish that it had taken a bit longer to get there. It had just been Tristan and I the whole trip. We avoided settlements and villages, stopping only at farmsteads to barter for food. Life had seemed simple for the first time in years.
"Isolde!" Galahad cried as he trotted out to greet us. My handsome friend had a huge smile on his face. Jols smiled at me in welcome as he took Scosin. I allowed Galahad to pull me into a fierce hug. Lancelot looked at Tristan and gave him a wicked look as Galahad kissed me. Tristan's face remained as stoic as ever but I suspected a scathing comment would come later. Galehault appeared at Lancelot's side and hailed me politely. I was on the receiving end of many embraces for a few minutes. March gave me a chaste hug and quickly stepped back while giving the older scout a wary look. Arthur held me close for a few moments I took the time to notice how tired he seemed. I doubted very much that it was all from recently becoming a father. Speaking of which…
"Where's Guinevere? How's the baby?" I asked my king. He smiled tiredly.
"She's lying down in our room with the baby." He said. "It was a hard birth."
I nodded to Tristan and hefted my bag over my arm. I made my way to Guinevere's rooms and opened the door quietly.
"Guinevere." I said pleasantly. She looked much healthier with rosy cheeks and a few added pounds. She held out a hand, and I took it.
"We all thought you were going to die." Guinevere said plainly.
"I'm not that easy to get rid of." I yawned. I looked around suddenly for the infant.
"Go get him." Guinevere said nodded in the direction of a plain wooden cradle. I walked over and picked the two month old infant up. A boy…Arthur had another son now. I suddenly found myself looking at the potential rival for Mordred. His eyes were still the dark blue of infancy and his hair was a feathery brown fluff. He was staring at me with interest as his shiny wet lips smacked together.
"What did you name him?" I asked touching one of his cherry red cheeks. At the question, Guinevere's face darkened.
"Arthur named him Constantine." She said as if it were an abomination. Of course. Arthur.
"Didn't you have any say?" I asked lazily. She shrugged.
"Next one." She said I heard her voice crack. I looked up at her sharply. Something was wrong. I watched her as she clenched her jaw and gathered her strength. "It was a hard birth. And with the months spent in Marius's dungeon and then with the Saxons…The midwives say I won't give birth to another child."
I digested this knowledge for a moment. Poor Guinevere. I walked back over and stood near her.
"And what does Merlin say?" I asked quietly. She shook her head.
"My father…He is sorry for my loss, but he says Arthur needs no other heirs." She said and I could tell she was confused by this. If a king had only one child, and that child died, the kingdom had no heir. It was then that I began to suspect that Merlin knew of Mordred's parentage. I suddenly felt my head cloud and my stomach turn. I shoved the baby in his mother's arms and dove for a clay chamber pot. I spent several agonizing moments emptying my stomach of that morning's breakfast. I sat back and wiped at my mouth. Guinevere laid the baby in his crib and quickly fetched me a damp cloth. She held it to my forehead while giving me a worried look.
"Happened yesterday too…" I said calmly. I made a face at the vile taste that now swam in my mouth. The corner of the young woman's mouth twisted into a smirk.
"Would I be correct in saying that this is all the fault of Arthur's scout?" She asked slyly. I stretched out on the floor and looked up at Guinevere with a small smile of my own.
"Perhaps…" I drawled. Her smile widened. "I don't want to say anything until I'm sure though."
She nodded understandingly but the smile didn't leave her face.
"How is Ragnelle?" I asked standing back up. Constantine was already asleep in his crib. I waited patiently as Guinevere began to dress.
"Good. The baby was due a week or so ago, but her pains have not started yet." The youthful queen said as she finished sliding her shoes on. She picked up her son and we began to walk around.
"I wouldn't be surprised if she started having pains right now." Guinevere said as the spring sun caressed us. We were ambling along in the small garden that was in the back of the domus.
"Wonderful." I said rubbing my stomach. Birthing pains…It didn't sound enjoyable, but it couldn't be that bad. After all, women had been doing it for centuries.
A few more minutes passed in companionable silence.
"Guinevere, is Yseult still here?" I asked keeping my face guarded. I had not seen the girl so far.
"Yes." She answered and shifted Constantine in her arms. "I suppose she hurried back to her rooms when she heard of your arrival."
I was silent for a few moments.
"I had not even asked Tristan if he had settled things with her." I said glancing up at the white sky. The sun was hidden behind a few ripe looking clouds and we were suddenly in shadow. Guinevere smiled wryly as she bumped elbows with me.
"Obviously, you were busy with other pastimes besides talking." She said, and I didn't even have the decency to blush.
The afternoon passed slowly and suddenly it was time for dinner. Though it wasn't a feast, Arthur had welcomed anyone who wanted to join. I shook out a few wrinkles from my burgundy dress. I loved the dress…It was such a deep, warm color that reminded me of honey and wine all at the same time. It comforted me to think of Galina's creamy hands making it. I undid my normal braids and bound thick strands haphazardly with the flat copper rings. My gold neck plate completed the outfit. I pulled aside the thick curtain and threw open the wooden shutter. Music from the city wafted in through the window, and I smiled in the cool night air. I danced across the flagstone floor and swayed gaily. It made me feel young. I was young… Sometimes I forgot how young I was. The door opened and Tristan stepped in. My lover was attired in a nicer tunic that he normally wore. It was plain, dark blue tunic that suited him just fine in my opinion. He leaned against the wall and watched me dance for a moment. I stopped after a moment and tried to stand in a dignified manner. I couldn't get rid of the smile that covered my face though. Tristan's face was unreadable as he watched me, and I was reminded of the way he had unsettled me when I first met him. I walked over to him and stood close as he pressed his mouth against the mark on my neck. I had to stand on my tiptoes to put my mouth near his hair.
"I'm with child." I whispered through his chaotic hair. I felt him smile against my neck. I stepped away from him, opened the door and walked out into the hallway. Tristan's footsteps quickened as he caught up with me. We walked side by side to the room that housed the round table. I took a seat next to Galahad, and he kissed my cheek.
"Get your own woman." Tristan said tipping back his drink. Oooh. A game of wits.
"I already have." Galahad said grabbing my chair and scooting me closer to himself.
"Mine." Tristan said as if in reminder.
"The truth is, Isolde and I have been planning on running away together." Gawain said looking over at us.
"You're married!" Galahad protested.
"Actually, I love Isolde." Dagonet said and they all promptly stopped talking. Dagonet smirked lightly and continued on with his conversation with Bors. Lancelot and I began laughing, and soon the others joined it. How I had missed us all being together…I looked up to see Yseult next to Ealasaid on the other side of the table. She seemed to have made an extra effort to look nice. Indeed, she was wearing a vivid green gown and a thin gold torque around her neck. Her eyes kept shooting towards Tristan as if praying for a smile or even a glance from him. I was more than confident that he would not be tempted to rekindle a romance with her, and I felt sympathy for her. A few months ago we had sat in this room and things were very different. She was the one sitting by Tristan, and I was the lonely one on the other side of the room.
Arthur looked ready to say something to everyone when a servant girl burst into the room and headed straight for Gawain. She whispered something in his hear, and he stood up quickly, nearly knocking his chair over. He steadied himself for a moment while trying to regain his dignity. He took a large swig of ale and looked at us.
"Baby." He said at a loss for words. And with that he ran out of the room. There were cheers all around the room. Easy for them…They weren't the ones giving birth. I felt sorry for Ragnelle suddenly. She had come to this land knowing only Gawain. And now she was giving birth without a mother or sister there to help her along. I looked to Guinevere and we both stood up. The rest of the knights followed us as we made our way to Gawain and Ragnelle's chamber. The midwife was already there ordering around a middle aged woman and a girl. The servants were hurrying to do as she said. Ragnelle's bronze hair was clinging to her head in sweaty ropes. Guinevere and I quickly helped her out of her dress and set her on her bed with only a thin shift on. The servant girl was throwing another log into the fire. The room was soon stifling.
Another afflicted shriek filled the air.
"Calm down girl." The midwife ordered Ragnelle who was gritting her teeth in agony. I suddenly felt nauseous. I looked at my own stomach and suddenly felt betrayed. Joys of motherhood? I lifted a cup to Ragnelle's lips. She balked at the strength of the alcohol and the bitterness of the herbs in it. Guinevere looked at me and nearly laughed.
"Go Isolde. Tell Gawain it might be a while." The queen said and I obeyed with relish. I nearly ran out of the door and into the hall where the exiled men had pulled a bench into. Gawain was sitting on the bench with his back pressed firmly into the wall. Galahad was pacing back and forth as if it were his own wife giving birth. I would have laughed if I were not so distressed. A distinctly female roar was issued from behind the closed door and Gawain lifted the flagon of ale to his lips and drank deeply. He stared at the wall like a man possessed.
"How is she?" Arthur asked.
"She's a small woman. It could be hours." I said and I refrained from looking at them all with disgust. Worried men. Ha! Oh yes…They were worried alright. But they didn't have to push a whole baby through-
"I can't take it anymore!" Galahad cried in a rather high pitched voice as he pulled at the neck of his tunic. "I never want a wife if it means this!"
Dagonet scrubbed at his face while Lancelot gave Galahad a warning look. It was best not to upset Gawain…The man looked ready to drink himself to death. Bors shrugged however.
"Vanora never had any trouble." He said as if he didn't understand what was taking so long. "'Course she's got rather nice wide hips-"
"Enough!" I cried and sat next to Gawain. I grabbed the flagon from his hand and treated my throat to a nice burning torrent of calmness. Arthur gave me a worried look. Tristan put a hand on my shoulder and I shrugged it off. His damn child might be giving me this much trouble in a few months. Why? Why did I want a child? Why had I gone and gotten pregnant? Tristan, who normally would not ever presume to keep me from drinking, pulled the flagon from my hands. No…It was the ambrosia of the gods! I needed it if I was to spend any more time listening to Ragnelle scream and curse.
"Not good." He said rubbing my stomach. I gave him my blackest look and he simple raised an eyebrow at me. I pulled him down next to me.
"Am I going to be like that?" I asked desperately even though I knew there was no way he could know the answer. Tristan looked a little nervous.
"No." He said simply. Stupid, braided scout. What did he know?
Another hour passed. And then another. Finally Guinevere appeared at the door.
"It's a boy." She said happily. Gawain jumped up from his stupor and ran into the room. We waited around for a few minutes until we all got to have a good look at the wrinkly, red thing. All that noise and pain for that? Of course, for reasons of personal safety, I refrained from saying anything out loud. Ragnelle was looking at the boy child as he was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen, and I doubted she would have taken my comments with much kindness. We left the new mother and father to themselves after that. Our rooms being in the same hall, I found it very odd when Tristan picked me and carried me into my room. He stood me back up and began trying to remove my gold neck plate.
"Soon you'll be too fat for me to carry you." He explained with a shrug. I wrinkled my nose at him.
"Your fault." I said fumbling around with his tunic. This time I wrapped my legs around him when he picked me up. Tristan laid us down on the bed and continued to work on getting my soft leather slippers off while I pulled his tunic over his head.
"Yeh." He said absentmindedly and ended our talking.
I had forgotten to pull the curtain shut. Through the tiny crack, the Romans were good architects, gods bless them, between the shutter and the stone wall I could see a dim rosy glow. Sunrise. I slid out of bed, rather pointless. I looked back and saw without much surprise that I had woken up Tristan. In the dim light I saw his eyes travel up and down my form. The strange light was making his face look soft and inviting. Shadows were enhanced and his face looked extremely handsome. I guessed the light was doing to same to my own body by the way he was looking at me. Face still expressionless, I began to dress silently. I wanted some time to myself before the entire city was awake. I avoided the kitchens with much sadness. I had resolved that for the next few weeks, I should eat sparingly in the mornings. I didn't enjoy seeing my breakfast a second time. Especially when I had eaten a large morning meal. I made my way to the courtyard and sat down on a stone bench. Being surrounded by walls, I could not see the horizon line, but the sky was beautiful nonetheless. It had brightened to an orangey pink when Lancelot came to sit next to me.
"I have seen Modron before." Lancelot said after a while. I kept perfectly still, resigned to the fact that Lancelot could have the knowledge that threatened Arthur's reign. I waited for him to continue. There would be no point in lying if I was asked the question. And I did not want to lie to my friend about an important matter.
"We were at Hadrian's wall. Not near the fort though…We fought a battle with the woads. Balin was injured."
I closed my eyes for a moment. Balin. It had been years since I had seen his face but I could still picture him perfectly in my mind.
"We stayed at a village to let a healer help him. I knew he wouldn't survive." His voice became a little harder. "One night, I saw a young woman, barely more than a girl leave Arthur's room. She was a woad and I knew it. I rushed in Arthur's room to find him asleep with his clothes thrown on the floor. I did not know why Arthur had lain with a woad. I thought any woad would have killed him right then. It was strange…Unusual for Arthur. The ale had drove it from my mind the next night however, and I did not think about it again for over five years. Then I saw Modron and her son. A son just the right age to be the product of that night."
Lancelot looked to me with a carefully guarded face.
"Tell me it's not true Isolde. Tell me that boy is not the son of Arthur and a woad queen."
"I cannot tell you that and you know it." I said calmly. Lancelot nodded while gritting his teeth.
"Why didn't you tell me?" He asked and I didn't bother looking at him. The sky was obscenely beautiful compared to our talking.
"You didn't need me to." I said plainly.
"Will she tell all of Britain that Arthur's first born son is not the child sleeping in Guinevere's room right now? What will happen when everyone discovers that Arthur has another son? One who was raised as a woad? I have no doubt that Uriens will teach Mordred everything he knows about ruling and warfare." This time the handsome knight's voice was slightly accusing.
"Of course he will. Mordred stands to inherit Modron's title. And if she bears no other children, Mordred will inherit Uriens' lands as well." I said logically. I realized that Lancelot might be loyal to Constantine for Guinevere's sake alone.
"Arthur has a son in his chambers now. A son by his wife. Guinevere's son." He said fiercely. I turned to face him.
"Is this what this is about Lancelot? Guinevere?" I asked sharply. He looked away pointedly. "Tell me friend, have you acted on your feelings for Arthur's wife?"
I purposely used the word wife. I knew it would hurt him, but the sooner the truth sank in, the better.
"No." He said and clenched his fist. I put a hand on his shoulder.
"I know you love her." I said quietly. "And I'm sorry."
"Easy for you to say how sorry you are." He said looking away. "You can hold Tristan whenever you wish. You can kiss him and assure him that you love him. And Tristan does not have to look in the other direction while you carry another man's child. Perhaps it is different for women, but a man needs to know that the woman he loves is his. Tristan knows you are his. And you will never have to fear him taking another woman. All you have to do is watch the way he looks at you."
It occurred to me that Lancelot was jealous of Tristan and I. He took a deep breath and this time his voice was quieter.
"It's hard." Was all he said. He looked ready to go. "And I do not hate Modron or Mordred. I…"
He shook his head and squeezed my shoulder before leaving me there. I stood up after a few more minutes. I began making my way to my room. I stopped before turning around a corner as I heard Tristan's and Yseult's voices. I peeked around the corner to see them. Tristan was standing with a small loaf of bread and a piece of meat. Coming to force feed me no doubt. Yseult stood in front of him. Her back was straight and proud, but her shoulders looked defeated. Too proud to beg, but not ready to give up.
"Tristan." She said weakly. His face was totally blank as he looked at her.
"No." He said firmly. He backed away from her outstretched hand and moved around her. She stepped forward and laid a hand on his arm.
"You don't love me?" She asked with a touch of finality to her voice.
"No." He repeated. She dropped her hand and stood there. Tristan began to walked past her and in my direction. I was thankful for my years of tracking and scouting as I quietly jogged back the courtyard. I sat on a bench and waited for him to catch up. He sat next to me and put a large chunk of bread in my hand. I stared at it distastefully. If I threw up, I was going to make sure he received most of it. Seeing that I had no plans of eating the bread, he tore off a piece and gently put it in my mouth. I chewed resignedly and leaned against his shoulder. Tristan loved me. Something everyone else seemed to know and something he had proved several times. I was going to marry him and have his child before the year was out. That part of my life had turned out quite nicely. Sounds filled my ears as the city began waking and I couldn't help but feel that the past few years of my life were only the beginning of something.
Gasp! Don't worry, don't worry, I'll be throwing in a healthy dose of Tristan and Isolde into the next story. A few chapters will probably even be from Isolde's point of view. Review please. I really hoped you all liked it. It was sort of anticlimactic because I wanted to end things on a peaceful note. The next story is going to have a lot of heartbreak and such. Plus a lot of happy! You'll see! And don't worry, all those crazy loose ends will be tied up.