Yay, I finally made it to the end! *sighs with relief, then sobs* Please, if you've enjoyed my story, or hated it, leave me a review. I love reading all your opinions on what you like or don't like and advice. I am always looking to improve. Thanks and enjoy!
Kayleigh sat at her favorite spot watching the moon sink below the horizon. Tristan had set this log here for her knowing that she liked to watch the moonlight ripple off the water of the lake. Somewhere in its depths lay a half melted sword with a lightning bolt on the pommel. After the battle, stories of the sword's power spread and people flocked to the area to claim it for themselves. Finally, Kayleigh had Tristan and Lancelot dig up its melted roots by cover of night. "Give it to the Lady of the Lake," she told them when they brought her the tangled mass of metal. "It is nothing to me but perhaps she will find it a worthy sacrifice."
It must have pleased her for only good will came to their small piece of land. It was her and Tristan's place to call home, a refuge on the edge of the woods and on the bank of a small lake. Here they were surrounded by life, not by walls. Most were content to stay within the fortress or even in the village surrounding it, but Kayleigh needed the seclusion. Now it was a popular place for their friends to gather away from the fort.
Behind her, somewhere beyond the trees, the sun began to rise. The birds had begun their singing. To the animals of forest and water, it was just another day. But all the people of the land knew the significance of the day. Most of them would be at the fort celebrating the victory of a battle won one year ago.
Arthur had declared a week-long festival with activities to unite the people. Kayleigh made an appearance for the first day, a day of remembrance. There was a beautiful ceremony celebrating the lives of their fallen brethren and acknowledging their sacrifice. Jols' name was one of the first read and Kayleigh was grateful she was able to be there for her friend Lavena. Arthur had given Lavena the plot of land he had reserved for Jols upon Arthur's return to Rome. Lavena had planted a row of flowers in memory of her love. Her garden had expanded as the months passed and her flowers were so popular at the market that she quit her housekeeping job at the fort.
Behind Kayleigh, the door of their home creaked open and Toby came padding out to her. He gave her a lick in greeting and then went splashing out into the water to chase some fowl that had come too close to shore. Another set of feet approached quietly.
"Kayleigh, did you sleep?"
She slid over to make room for her guest and he plopped down next to her, rubbing his eyes. "I don't need much sleep anymore, Lucan."
"Why not? Is it because of the lightning?"
Kayleigh shrugged. "Maybe." She never slept longer than a couple hours every night. Sometimes, she would go days without sleep, though she knew it worried Tristan so she would close her eyes until he fell asleep. When she did sleep, she didn't dream. It was like falling into a bottomless black pit. For her, sleep was more unsettling than reviving.
The moist air was chill this morning and Lucan gave a little shiver. Kayleigh threw the edge of her cloak around him, sharing her warmth. The memories of their trip in the wagon came to her and she smiled. After everything that had been done to him by those Romans, he still had a big heart.
"Do they hurt?" he asked, touching the rough skin of her hand gingerly.
"Dagonet said that Lady Branwen had given you magic potion to rub on your hands to make them better."
"Yes, that's true," Kayleigh confirmed. The weeks, even months after the battle were some of the hardest that Kayleigh had faced. She had pieced together the events of that day on the battlefield. After the lightning struck her sword she was knocked unconscious, and only for the better as her hands had been ruined, the flesh nearly melted off her bones. All she remembered was waking up in agony, writhing in pain until someone forced a foul liquid down her throat and she fell back into darkness.
"Isn't there anything to make you more better?" his questioning brought her attention back. Tears were forming on his lashes.
"Don't cry for me, dear one." Kayleigh said, swiping his tears away with the back of her hand. "It is true, there are some things I can no longer do. But that just means I get out of some chores, like sewing. And there are things that I can do better now, like digging and scaring away nasty monsters." She put her claw-like hands up and growled.
"That's not funny," Lucan said miserably. "Turi was wrong. He said you were blessed by a thunder god and that's how you called the lightning that ended the battle. If you are blessed, why would the god hurt you?"
Kayleigh sighed. He was growing up too fast. But what else could she expect of a boy rescued from a torture chamber? "Listen to me," Kayleigh kneeled before him so their eyes were level, "sometimes bad things happen and we do not know how or why. But if we wait long enough, we find something good that comes from it. I am grateful for these wretched claws if it means we can spend the rest of our lives in freedom. I have you and Dagonet, and Tristan, and the rest of your uncles alive and happy and nearby if I need them."
"And Toby and Ayn," Lucan reminded her.
"And Toby and Ayn," Kayleigh agreed. "Without the lightning," Kayleigh shrugged, "who can know?"
"I think I understand," Lucan said.
"Good," Kayleigh stood. "How about some breakfast?"
The day passed too quickly. Kayleigh went through her routine, keeping one eye on Lucan as he played with Toby then skipped stones across the lake's smooth surface. When not with Dagonet, Lucan was most comfortable here with Kayleigh and she relished the time she had with him. Sometimes she felt that pang of regret of not having a child of her own but she had decided long ago that she could never be the mother she wanted to be.
They were just starting the fire in the hearth for dinner when the door opened.
"Dagonet!" Lucan bolted past Tristan and jumped into Dagonet's arms. "What took you so long?"
"Sorry, we're late," he said. "Arthur's mock battles worked in uniting the people, but there were some injuries to attend to."
"Nothing too serious, I hope," Kayleigh replied, greeting Tristan with a kiss.
"Nothing beyond Dagonet and Branwen's skills anyway," Tristan told her. Dagonet had trained with Branwen to learn herbal healing and with a Roman chirurgii to learn more modern methods. Soon he became the official fort physician.
"We brought some dinner. From Vanora." Tristan handed her a cold pot and she carefully placed it over the fire, grasping it between her wrists.
"Feels like there's enough for all of us. Will you stay Dagonet?"
"Please, please," Lucan begged.
"You mean you aren't bored yet?" Dagonet teased him, at which Lucan had to tell him of the adventures he had with Toby, the pirate dog.
Afterward, Dagonet and Tristan recounted the day's events. All the participants were split into two teams, each made up of Britons, Romans, Sarmatians, and Picts. Lancelot led one group and Turi the other. In the end, the battle was a draw.
It had been no easy task getting all the people past their prejudices and hate. Arthur had approached Kayleigh with the proposition of making her liaison to the Picts. She had an unusually comfortable relationship with them and the knights chalked that up to the fact that she hadn't been fighting them for fifteen years and had never really seen them as enemy. Kayleigh let them believe what they wanted, never revealing the extent of her interactions with the Woads. In the end, she relented, taking up the job as her condition limited the ways she could make herself useful.
The other knights had also made themselves useful. Lancelot had actually made a pretty good representative as Arthur's second-in-command. His charm made him a good politician and his sarcasm went over the heads of most Romans so they thought he was genuine.
Bors had been the worst off after the battle, his lower leg broken in two places. He refused to let them amputate it, stubbornly rebuilding muscle so he could walk again with the help of a staff that Dagonet had carved for him. His children were delighted by it. When they played, they imagined him as Merlin. But it hadn't taken him long to tire of Vanora's nagging and his children fighting. Arthur made him responsible for training the next generation of knights, men who had actually volunteered and were eager to learn.
Galahad and Gawain had chosen to stay, especially after Kayleigh finally admitted that Sarmatia didn't exist anymore. After the Hun invasion, their families could be dead or taken refuge in a number of different areas. With such uncertainty, they decided to stay in Briton where a future of peace was possible. With the threat of imminent death lifted, Gawain took a wife and made sure she stayed well clear of Lancelot. Galahad found it more difficult to adjust and spent most of his days at the tavern and his nights in bed with a different woman.
Turi and Branwen had returned to the site of the Scotti settlement, rebuilding and making it a place of their own. It had somehow grown into a place of healing and refuge for those displaced by the Saxon invasion. Occasionally they ventured south for a visit and at least once a month, Branwen would appear to check on the healing of Kayleigh's hands. Kayleigh suspected she would see Branwen more often as Guinevere's stomach swelled with the growth of her first child.
After that lively dinner and hugging Dagonet and Lucan goodbye, she watched at the door as they made their way back home. Tristan came up behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her close.
"I always forget how exhausting it is spending all day with a child. I can't imagine how Vanora does it," Kayleigh told Tristan. Bodily she was tired, but her heart was light with joy.
"If you are tired," Tristan began, pulling her hair to one side and kissing her neck, "Come to bed."
Her heart jumped at the need in his voice. There was one place she never felt hindered by her ugly hands and that was the bedchamber. What she could no longer do with hands, she could still do with tongue and lips. And of all the things that have changed over the past year, their intense desire for one another hadn't.
In a flurry of kissing, crashing into table and chair and cabinet, they finally made it to the bed. Tristan growled, shooing Toby off the soft mattress, before throwing Kayleigh down and undoing the belt buckle and ties of his pants- the one thing she couldn't manage on her own. They knew one another, every scar, every curve, every muscle, every sensitive spot was found easily in the darkness. Ripples of pleasure built until they became toe curling waves crashing down upon them.
Languid bodies fell back onto the sweat dampened bed linen. Kayleigh sighed in satisfaction as Tristan put an arm around her and pulled her closer. They lay there a moment in silence listening to the sounds of the forest through the open window. Tristan lifted Kayleigh's fingers from his chest to his lips, kissing her knuckles. "Water?" he offered, untangling himself and getting up for a cup and pitcher of water.
"Yes," Kayleigh replied, watching his lean body move in the moonlight.
"Must you look at me like that?" he asked, handing her the cup.
"Like what?" she asked innocently taking a swallow.
"Like I'm a fat mouse and you a starving cat."
Kayleigh swatted at him playfully and he caught her hand, turning it over and kissing the tight pink skin of her palm. Her heart began to race again at the thought of him accepting the ugliest part of her. He leaned over and picked up the jar from the bedside table, scooping out a tiny amount and massaging the ointment into her hands as he did every night.
"Do you ever miss it?" Kayleigh asked.
Tristan thought for a moment. Arthur still occasionally asked him to go on a mission but the land was peaceful for the most part. Killing another human was a powerful thing but he did not take any pleasure in it as others have suggested. "No," he finally answered. "There is no one left that must be killed." They had long ago hunted down the remainder of the Saxons who fled the battleground in fear after the lightning strike. And though he would never trust the Woads after all he had gone through, he found his palm didn't itch for his sword quite so often in their presence.
Especially after their effort to save Kayleigh after the blast. Desperation could be the only explanation as to why he allowed Merlin anywhere near Kayleigh. He shuddered as he thought of the moment he found her, splayed and still as death, her blade smoking and half melted into the steaming ground nearby. Her breath came at shallow, swift intervals but her heart beat strongly if not at its normal tempo. Dagonet had worked on the burn wounds on her hands and knees but the rest was beyond his skill.
After he heard Galahad and Gawain's accounts of the battle, he had pieced together what had happened. They were both a bit awkward around her at first but they all got over it pretty quickly. After all, she was still the woman they had all grown to care for. Tristan was glad he had missed her transformation into that being she feared though he didn't think it would have any effect on their relationship.
He finished with her hands and put the jar away. "Do you miss it?"
They seldom discussed that day of the battle. Kayleigh had no memory of anything after the initial clash but she had heard the stories. Now, when she went into town the people regarded her as some horrific creature of evil. She couldn't blame them. People fear what they do not understand. And how could they understand if she herself could not?
How could she tell Tristan that she did miss it, the darkness inside her that she had always hated and feared? The light had purged her of the darkness in her soul and she was redeemed, at a cost. She felt like a piece of herself was dead and she would never be whole again.
"It was all worth it in the end," she replied instead.
Tristan's eyebrow quirked at her response. "Everything?"
Kayleigh placed a curled hand on his cheek. Someday she hoped she would be able to stretch her fingers out and properly cup his face like she used to. "I would do it all again to be here with you now. Everything."
"I would never wish that for you," he told her, leaning in to kiss her.
She smiled against his lips. "That's why I love you."
Author note again- Just wanted to let know, all who voted for the romance ending should thank Suzanne Collins. The ending for her books was so depressing I thought I can't end my saga like that! It was difficult, believe me, I rewrote it half a dozen times, and am still not completely happy with it. But I guess that's the perfectionist in me. Please, please leave me a review and give me some feedback. Thanks for reading!