He sat within the cool shadows of the furthest battlements of the outpost Secunda, perched on an ancient boulder long overtaken by moss. Sheltered from the blistering heat of the midday sun, sword laid across his knees and a whetstone in hand, Tristan watched with an idle eye the festivities of the local civilians as they milled about in the open, grassy plain. It was a day of celebration, apparently; he'd never bothered to learn about such occasions, hadn't really cared to. He knew his comrades were somewhere about, using this day as an excuse to indulge in all the worldly pleasures they otherwise had to forsake for duties they all in one way or another despised. He didn't begrudge them that, for today he was doing much the same …
Carefully, skilfully, his hands began to move, running the angled and worn grey whetstone over the curved, honed edge of his sabre. The other knights jested about the love and devotion he gave to his weapons, but he didn't mind. His blade, his bow – those were what kept him alive day in and day out, and he always made sure they were in the finest of shape. He continued thus until a swirl of color caught his keen eye; lifting his head slightly, he watched as children ran past with vibrant ribbons trailing behind them, the air filled then with their sounds of merriment. One small girl stumbled and fell; awkwardly gaining her feet she came face to face with Tristan seated some several feet away. A slight and mirthless smile flickered about his mouth as she stared at him with wide eyes; a second later she had scooped up her ribbon and was running madly to catch up with the others. He knew his somewhat wild appearance frightened some and disconcerted others, and the fact did not bother him.
Somewhere within the ever moving throng of people music began to play –the sharp twang of a lute and the piercing whistle of a flute rose on the air, accompanied by the steady pounding of a skin drum. Instead of returning to the sharpening of his weapon, Tristan tilted his head back slightly to listen. Though he'd never openly admit it to anybody, he quite enjoyed the music of the local Secunda musicians, and whenever Vanora could be rousted to sing in the tavern he often turned a rapt ear to her pleasing voice.
Eyes narrowed against the glare of the sun as it moved into an opportune position to pierce the shade he currently inhabited, he watched as people began to dance, men with women, women alone, children twisting and leaping with the joyous abandon possessed only by the young. He spied Gawain in the midst, a laughing maid held firmly in his embrace. From there it was easy for him to pinpoint Bors, flagon in hand, in heated conversation with Galahad. The two of them had been butting heads frequently nowadays, for Bors' ofttimes violent exuberance clashed with the younger knight's somewhat more conservative point of view. A genuine smile of amusement briefly crossed Tristan's face as the argument between his two comrades was abruptly brought to an end as Galahad emptied his own flagon contents over Bors' head.
Shaking a stray braid out of his eyes, Tristan snorted slightly as Bors rushed after the leaving Galahad, and both disappeared from view. He was about to return his attention to his sword when something else caught his focus; he let his hands fall still as he trained his full attention on the entire reason he was here.
Ludicrous to think that Tristan, deadly scout and ruthless warrior, had been drawn here on a whim, riding the unfamiliar, unprecedented urge to observe another living being. He was having a hard time believing it himself; never had he been plagued by the fascination of another human. And so it was, as he watched with subtle interest a woman standing apart from the crowd, that he felt a twinge of self hatred, of disgust at this affliction, this weakness. It couldn't be denied, however much he loathed that fact, and so he gave into baser desires and simply did what it was by nature he excelled at. He observed.
She wasn't by any means a beauty such as the likes Gawain and Lancelot boasted of having. She was a slender, willowy thing, large dark eyes dominating most of her face. She wore a simple dress, dove-grey in color, high collared and long sleeved, and her long black hair was bound back as it always was in a plait. What had initially caught his interest was how she had come to dwell in Secunda; she was a Briton, an enemy of Rome, brought in as a prisoner by a small Roman company traversing the Empire. There had been other Britons as well, all haggard, all worn, many on death's door from a mixture of malnourishment and mistreatment. The leader of the Roman company proclaimed he had seized the heretics to the far north, near the Saxon lands, and had brought them here as a gift to renowned Lucius Artorius Castus.
Tristan's lips quirked, remembering Arthur's expression at the term "gift". The Britons had been carted off to the outpost prison but had been fed and offered medical services. And when the Roman company had departed, Arthur had freed them, giving them a choice that angered most of his knights but was not unexpected. The Britons could either remain in Secunda, or return to the north; it was common knowledge that Arthur tired of the ceaseless battle with the Woads. Some of them chose to leave, fleeing immediately through the opened gates. Others had chosen to challenge Arthur, challenge his knights, perhaps wanting to leave this world in a valorous rush; not one of them survived. Of all the Britons, twenty three in number, only one had chosen to remain in Secunda, and her name was Iseult.
Why she had made such a decision had been an enigma to everyone; given the opportunity to attain once more absolute freedom, who in their right mind would refuse? She had persisted against Arthur's repeated offers to return her to whence she had come, quietly but obstinately, and finally resigned he acquiesced to her wish. Her placement within Secunda, however, had not been accepted warmly by the locals; indeed, many despised her purely on the basis of her heritage. Life in the outpost was most decidedly unpleasant, which caused many, Tristan included, to wonder again why she had chosen to remain. As time had passed, some had begun to warm to her, Vanora foremost among them, and now some seven months after her arrival the wild speculations and gossip surrounding her had almost completely dissipated.
What it was about Iseult that interested Tristan, he could not say. At first it had been wariness; he had disagreed with Arthur's decision to allow a Briton – a Woad- live within the outpost walls. He'd observed discreetly, knowing that like any other of her ilk she was more than likely trained in some forms of combat. His suspicions, however, were unjustified, for never once did she raise hide nor hand against anyone. Like any other person, she went about daily life, through the drudgeries and toils, in her silent, grim manner. Perhaps that was what intrigued him, piqued his attention so; she may live like those all around her, but her very origin made her something other than that. There was something inexplicable, something almost infuriatingly enigmatic about her, and it was that very thing that had Tristan watching her now.
As she almost always was, she stood alone, beneath the canvas canopy that had been made for the day's festivities. Although it was not entirely obvious, if one watched closely enough they could see the way people flowed all around her in constant states of motion, but never interacting. It was as if she were something taboo, something invisible; those that did acknowledge her presence did so briefly, hastily, fearing perhaps that their peers would catch them in the act. She did not look perturbed by her almost exile; she rarely appeared to feel anything, so calm was the eternal mask of her face. She simply existed, a living and sentient entity, offering only to the world the shell of a woman. Tristan was fairly certain there was more to it than that. And as much as he disliked the effect she had over his thoughts, he was going to attempt to discern what it was about this Briton, this Woad, that intrigued him so.
A woman and a man who upon closer inspection turned out to be Lancelot, engaged in a romping dance to the current upbeat music, momentarily obscured his view of Iseult. When they had passed back into the swirling throng, she was gone; he wasted no time searching for her and instead picked up the whetstone and began again to sharpen.
The day was still young.
A/N – I like Tristan, and I've always loved the Isolde/Iseult tale. This is just my version. Lemme know if you like it. Also, "Fax mentis incedium gloriae" translates into "the passion of glory is the torch of the mind".