WARNING: The first part of this chapter may be rated M. By chapter 50, I figure you all are in for the long haul and deserve it. If you find it offensive, skip over it. If you find bad, corny writing offensive, skip over it.
"Tristan," Kayleigh whispered, untangling his hands from her hair. Taking a step back, she wrapped her arms around her torso, suddenly cold despite the warm flush on her face.
He took a soft step toward her. "Kayleigh," he said reassuringly, smoothing her hair from her eyes. Tristan held her face, cradled gently between his calloused hands. "I will never hurt you. Never," he said with such tenderness it melted the icy fear from her heart.
A lump formed in her throat and she swallowed, trying to dislodge it unsuccessfully. His stoic mask fell away and she gazed into his eyes. The intensity of his desire struck her almost as unexpectedly as his kiss. But it wasn't a brutal desire that she had experienced as a slave. It was a longing to be with her, not just physically, not just for tonight.
The warmth that had thawed her heart raged through her like a fire burning all doubt and uncertainty away until all was left was an urgent hunger.
"If you don't—"
Kayleigh kissed him, silencing his words. She showed him with lips and tongue what she could not tell him in words.
I trust you. I want you.
They fell together on her makeshift bed under the stars. All the pent up passion and frustration over the past few months seethed to the surface before exploding with a final shuddering breath of ecstasy.
Afterward, Kayleigh undressed Tristan, relieved to find his body as marred with scars as hers. And she let him peel the sweaty tunic from her back, her breeches long since discarded. He traced her scars with gentle fingers, his rough skin barely touching hers. When his trail of kisses stopped at the last scar, the slave brand on her left thigh, she almost wished she had more so he would never stop.
Tristan drew himself up atop her and she welcomed him with a sigh. His braids curtaining their faces as he kissed her, moving slowly to luxuriate in the sensations of pleasure. In the end, they fell into exhausted sleep, a tangle of sweaty limbs underneath Tristan's jacket.
Kayleigh awoke to Tristan stirring beneath her and smiled, running a hand across his bare chest, his hair soft under her fingers. Grabbing her hand, he laughed softly, turning it over to kiss her palm. "We are in the middle of nowhere," he reminded her, "with about a hundred other people around us."
She rose an eyebrow. "That didn't stop us last night."
"No," he replied, looking up at the sky. It was still dark with spots of starlight shining between blots of black cloud. They had slept a couple hours, at best, but felt as refreshed as if they had slept longer. "I need to get out there before I lose the cover of darkness."
"Coming?" he asked standing up and holding out his hand.
She grabbed his jacket. "I'm naked!" she hissed.
"I know," he said, grinning. "It's a bit too late for modesty."
Kayleigh smiled despite herself and threw his jacket at his face before scrambling for her own scattered clothing.
They worked together in efficient silence preparing the horses, packing what little they had unpacked last night, and checking supplies. Tristan conferred quickly with Bors, who was keeping watch on the southernmost outskirts of camp. Bors nodded and Tristan turned to mount his horse, Kayleigh following suit. Then they took off down the road in the direction they had come the day before.
"What exactly are we doing out here?" Kayleigh asked as they rode side by side.
"Hunting," he said, throwing her a grin. Obviously, his mood had improved as much as hers had since yesterday.
Kayleigh blushed, memories of last night swimming in her head. All these years, that was what it was supposed to feel like. It was the complete opposite of what had been engrained into her as a slave. It had been amazingly beautiful.
It had been so long since she felt the emotion, it took her a few moments to realize it was joy. Joy that felt like bursting from her chest and lighting the dark world with a million blazing stars.
The thought made her laugh lightly and Tristan turned to look at her questioningly. She just shook her head in disbelief.
Ayn circled above them then swooped to land on a nearby branch with a flutter. She chattered quietly, caulking her head at Tristan and Kayliegh, then took flight like a bow from an arrow into the wood.
"Let's go!" Tristan called over his shoulder already galloping after the hawk on a small deer trail. Kayleigh put heels to Fury and raced after them. Moments later, Tristan halted sharply, Kayleigh barely stopping in time to prevent a collision. He held his hand up to draw her attention and pointed to his ear.
The snow had begun to fall lightly again and the only sound in the dark of the forest was the occasional snap of frozen branch and resulting fall of snow in the distance. Kayleigh shook her head. She didn't hear any animals.
Somewhere in the distance she heard a voice- a voice speaking a familiar foreign tongue. They dismounted, tied the horses to a gray tree, and moved forward silently, flanking the men. There were four of them, the man foremost carrying a flaming torch aloft to light the way.
Once they were close enough, Tristan stooped, handing Kayleigh his bow and arrow while he pulled his sword silently from its sheath. He motioned his plan to her and she nodded understanding. He snuck off disappearing into the darkness. Kayleigh notched an arrow and waited, keeping a sharp eye on the group of Saxons moving ever closer to her hiding place.
A call went up from across the track sounding much like an owl. Kayleigh let the arrow fly. It hit its target and the Saxon with the torch fell with a thud to the ground, the wet snow gutting the flame instantly. The darkness blinded men scrambled for their weapons. The man nearest to Kayleigh shot a crossbow bolt in her general direction, missing by feet. Kayleigh returned fire, careful not to hit Tristan who was busy dispatching of the trailing Saxons from behind. The arrow landed in the hollow of the man's throat, just above the furry collar of his cloak. His mouth opened to cry out but all that escaped was a bloody gurgle before he fell face first into the snow.
She came out from the brush as Tristan wiped his blade off in the snow. She approached the dead man, nudging him with her boot to turn him over. Ripping the crossbow from his hand, she examined it in the lightening sky. Tristan pulled a bolt from his supply and joined her.
"We need to get back," he said, pulling Kayleigh along. She nearly had to jog to keep up with his long strides. "They must be warned."
"Fine," Kayleigh replied, ripping her arm from his grasp, "But I can walk on my own."
Tristan took the crossbow from her as she mounted, throwing it over his shoulder. He swung up in his own saddle, grasping the reigns tightly and kicked his horse into a gallop much too quick for the trail they were on. Kayleigh cursed and urged her horse to race after them. A branch cut across Kayleigh's cheek and she leaned in closer to Fury's neck, grumbling in annoyance.
"Tristan!" she called as they finally reached the road.
He slowed just enough for her to catch up but kept up the grueling pace. "We're out of time," he shouted over the rush of wind and thunder of hooves.
They reached camp moments later to find the watch posts abandoned. "What's happened?" Tristan called out to the man called Ganis.
"There was yelling, there," he pointed toward the cluster of wagons.
Tristan and Kayleigh made their way over in time to see Jols picking up the Roman's weapons.
"How many did ya kill?" Bors asked as they approached.
"Four," Tristan answered.
"Not a bad start to the day!" Bors exclaimed with a laugh.
Tristan threw the crossbow down at Arthur's feet. "Armor piercing," he reported urgently. "They're close. We have no time."
"You ride ahead," Arthur commanded and turned to get the people moving.
Tristan glanced at Kayleigh, noticing the trail of blood trickling down her face. "You're hurt?"
"It's nothing," Kayleigh replied. "Go. I will help here."
He nodded, turning his eyes south, searching. Ayn gave a cry overhead and he took off once more.
Kayleigh dismounted, taking in the scene. The Roman lord lay dead in the snow, a single arrow protruding from his chest. Dagonet was comforting the boy and checking his injuries simultaneously.
"Was he harmed?" Kayleigh asked.
Dagonet shook his head. "I knew those men where trouble. I shouldn't have taken my eyes off them."
"We all needed sleep," Kayleigh replied, then blushed.
Luckily, he didn't turn around to see it. "Will you check on the family?"
"If I must," she replied, dragging her feet all the way to the woman hunched over her husband and the boy standing nearby, completely devoid of emotion.
"Are you injured?" she asked, startling the woman.
"N-no," the woman replied, swiping her sleeve across her face. "I don't know why I cry, I hated the man." Kayleigh's eyebrows rose in surprise. "I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't say that. He's dead," she continued motioning toward the body. "I just… what am I supposed to do now?"
Kayleigh grasped her shoulders helping her to stand. "Get you and your boy into the wagon. We will figure it out on the way," she said, guiding the Roman away from her husband's body. Jols had already brought the horses and was helping the driver hitch them to the wagon.
"Need help?" Kayleigh asked once the family was inside.
Jols shook his head. "These are the last of them," he replied.
"You must have been up early," Kayleigh commented.
"I couldn't sleep through all the noise you two were making."
Kayleigh gasped and punched him in the shoulder.
"Ouch!" he exclaimed, rubbing the sore spot. "I don't think anyone else heard you, except Toby who—"
"Toby!" Kayleigh had forgotten all about the mutt. "Where is he?"
Jols shrugged. "Picking scraps off the villagers most likely."
It didn't take much time to find him, she just followed the sound of squealing children. Once he spotted her, he abandoned whatever game he was playing and bounded toward her, ears flopping back with the wind.
"Hey, boy, where you been?" she asked as he jumped up on her, then laid down so she could rub his belly. The cold wetness of the snow seeped into his fur and he jumped up and shook his fur coat sending droplets flying.
Kayleigh laughed at his antics.
"He is good entertainment," a woman's voice cut through the air.
Kayleigh looked up to meet the Woad woman's dark eyes. "He also has a mean bite," Kayleigh warned.
"I've heard," the woman laughed softly. "I'm Guinevere," she added.
"I know who you are," Kayleigh replied, eyes narrowed.
"You don't trust me."
"I have no reason to."
Guinevere tilted her head, regarding her. "I'm not here to come between you and the knights."
"No," Kayleigh agreed. "Just between Arthur and the knights." Guinevere's silence confirmed Kayleigh's theory. "Come, Toby," she called over her shoulder as she walked away.
The caravan was under way in less time than Kayleigh expected. After the morning's events, everyone was eager to move forward. Rumor had spread among the people that the Saxon army was close on their trail setting speed to their feet.
Lancelot, Gawain, and Kayleigh rode to the front, Toby trotting alongside.
"I'm just saying I heard some strange noises last night," Gawain was saying when Arthur thundered forward placing himself directly in front of Kayleigh causing them all to halt.
"You knew!" he yelled at her accusingly.
"Knew?" Kayleigh asked, stumped.
"Pelagus!" he said through gritted teeth.
Kayleigh looked at Lancelot and Gawain for help. "Arthur, I don't understand," she confessed.
"Understand?" Arthur hissed. "He's dead!"
"Dead?" Kayleigh asked, connecting the dots in her head.
"Arthur," Lancelot interceded.
"No! Why must you always defend her?"
"Because you're always attacking her!"
"I've been here almost two years!" Kayleigh interrupted. "He was alive when I left Rome-very unpopular- but alive."
Arthur stared at her. "Unpopular how?"
Kayleigh shrugged. "I wasn't too involved in politics," she stated blatantly.
Arthur's eyes narrowed.
She sighed. "Everyone who owned slaves—which was just about everyone who wasn't a slave—thought him a nuisance and troublemaker. He had a long list of enemies, any one of them could have killed him."
"It was Germanius," Arthur whispered, still trying to process it all.
"The bishop back at the wall?" Gawain asked.
Kayleigh bit her lip nervously at the sound of his name.
"Do bishops normally go around killing people?" Gawain asked absentmindedly.
Arthur sat unhearing in his own world as the caravan moved slowly past.
Kayleigh rose a questioning eyebrow at Lancelot, who nodded gravely in return. "Come on, Gawain," she said, flicking the reins and steering her mount around the frozen commander.
"I hope you never have to wear that look," she told Gawain after a moment.
"That look he had on his face. That look that your world is turned upside down. That look when you realize truths were lies and facts were fiction." Kayleigh shook her head. "I've seen that look too many times, and nothing good ever comes of it."
They had regained their position at the front of the caravan just as Tristan returned. Just the sight of him put a foolish grin on Kayleigh's face. Tristan smiled back at her as he drew rein on his horse.
"Alright," Gawain's irritated voice popped up between them. "What happened with you two?"
"Tell me you have good news to report," Kayleigh said, ignoring Gawain.
"The path ends at a lake," he replied. "The ice may be strong enough for us to cross."
"Ice?" Kayleigh asked with a shiver, a cold finger of dread running down her spine.
Tristan nodded. "The lake is frozen. There's no way around."
Okay, lay it on me. It took awhile to post this chapter because I've never written a love scene and romance in general just makes me uncomfortable. Anyway, hopefully the next chapter will come quicker. Reviews ALWAYS help!