A/N: Well, this is the final chapter. I just checked the publishing date and to my horror discovered it was July 2005. Regular five month gaps between chapters might have something to do with that... So, I really want to thank you all for sticking to this story for so long. And also a thank you to the (relatively) new readers, who dared to start reading a story that is way too long, with way too much attention for minor characters, deviating from the main story line way too many times. I'm sorry, I can't help it.
I hope you will enjoy the last chapter and for a reference to the little girl's name in this chapter: see chapter 32. (It's been a while.)
Witch of Eastwick
The stone bench was a menace to his aching joints. He'd become an old man. Thankfully the weather had been dry and warm for a few weeks now, a most unusual occurrence, and it had eased his pains greatly.
He stretched his back for a moment, before leaning against the wall again, looking out over the crowded courtyard. He was turning into a relic, he thought wryly, the last of his generation. Yet he couldn't complain. He'd lived a good life. A hard life, with many losses, but he had also received much for it in return.
He'd lived to see his children grow up and take his place at the Round Table, serving their king. Gingalin and Yvain, his eldest sons, were training younglings a few feet away from him, two of them being their little brother, Gareth, and Gingalin's own son, Caradoc.
He smiled as he watched the boys' coltish enthusiasm and admiration. Most training took place in the courtyard these days. The fortress they lived in now was so much larger than the old fort at the Wall and had been built a few years after Arthur had become king, in a more central part of the land.
Gareth looked at his father sitting there and waved, losing all concentration, until Gingalin whacked his backside with the flat side of his wooden sword. Gareth glared at his eldest brother.
Gawain laughed, quickly moulding his face into an appropriately stern expression when his tawny-haired son glared at him too. He listened to Gingalin berating his youngest sibling for a moment, before he sank back into his musing.
The first years of Arthur's reign had been hard on him. After he'd lost Isabelle, he'd barely even known he was alive. He'd just stumbled on, doing his part in establishing order and peace in the newly formed nation, and defending it from the endless flow of Saxon attacks.
Those years the roles had been reversed, Galahad taking care of Gawain.
They'd lost so many at the hands of the Saxons, but having a common enemy had forged a bond between former enemies, and it was in those hard years that Woads, Britons, Sarmatians, and remaining Romans went from a shaky, motley group of allies to one people.
A few years of relative calm followed, allowing for the new castle to be built. When that was done, Gawain remembered with a groan, Bors's sixteen-year-old daughter Elaine, still affectionately nicknamed Seven, had ended Galahad's philandering days by deciding he was the only one she ever wanted to marry. Galahad never stood a chance against Vanora's daughter.
They married the next summer, after Galahad had healed from the injuries inflicted by Bors. It was a fruitful marriage. Geraint, Megan, Percival, Bran, Pryderi, and young Vanora.
Their eldest, Geraint, had married Gawain's daughter, Enid.
Gawain shook his head with a smile. His little girl had seen even more of the land than he had, always on the road with her husband, who was a gifted emissary. Now that they had children, Enid stayed at Camelot more often, while Geraint continued to appease the many tribes of Britannia.
Aye, it was a fine son-in-law that he had, the spitting image of his father. Gawain chuckled. But with the persistence that ran through his mother's side of the family.
Ah, Bors and Vanora, Gawain reflected. Bors had never been the same after he'd lost his wife to the fever that had wreaked havoc in the land. Arthur had lost Guinevere and their unborn child, left behind with their thirteen-year-old son Emrys.
He himself had lost a child too, a daughter named Aline. His wife's smile had always held a sad tinge after that.
Unfortunately they'd seen much more loss. They'd faced civil war when Guinevere's cousin Morgan, gone unchecked by Merlin and Guinevere after their deaths, had rebelled against Arthur, with her son Mordred, claiming that Arthur and his family would lose the land to the Saxons.
Arthur had died in that battle, leaving his son to pick up his sword aged only seventeen. Emrys had been on the throne for many years now, restoring peace in his kingdom after putting down Morgan's rebellion. Bors had died in that war as well. Reckless he'd fought, on his way to his beloved Vanora.
Bors and Vanora had lost two of their daughters in childbirth, and three sons in battle. But their family still thrived. The count stood at forty-nine grandchildren and half of the Round Table was made up of Bors's sons and grandsons, Gawain believed.
Four years ago, his own wife had died. Galahad had died two years later, an old man like him. Now he was the only one left, the only one who'd been there since the beginning.
The only one who'd seen the founding of the kingdom over forty years ago.
Gawain hissed, surprised by the stab of pain. He hadn't thought of Badon Hill in a while. He could still feel the sick, cold feeling in his stomach as he'd searched the battlefield for her, and the pure, unadulterated disbelief that she'd come back only to die in his arms. They'd burned Lancelot and buried Tristan. It had taken Gawain another full day to be able to let go of her. He'd dug her grave himself, next to Tristan, overlooking the fort. He'd slammed one of her knives into the earth, marking her resting place. She'd fought in the fort raid and on Badon Hill. She'd earned it.
He'd weighed her other knife carefully in his hand, before driving it into the ground next to Tristan's sword, making his peace with the man who'd loved the same woman.
He'd walked away from the graveyard and done his part in the forging of Arthur's realm, feeling as dead as the bodies he'd left behind. Galahad and his pestering ways had managed to drag him back to life kicking and screaming eventually. It had taken a good pounding and an impressive screaming match on the younger knight's part for Gawain to listen.
It was Gawain to whom Tristan's hawk came, one day as he was scouting the area, a while later. It sat perched on his shoulder as he rode through the forest, claws digging deep into his shoulder, but Gawain cared not, because it was Tristan's hawk and these woods were Tristan's territory.
When the trees cleared, revealing grassy hills, Gawain hissed a curse through his clenched teeth. "You're being missed, you bloody scout," he muttered.
The hawk screeched and took flight, soaring above him in the open sky for a moment, before it circled and headed into the forest again. Gawain turned in his saddle to follow it with his eyes and watched it disappear into the shadowy path of the forest. For a moment the shadows shifted, and a tall, statuesque silhouette lifted an elegant arm, awaiting the hawk.
Gawain blinked and it was gone, as well as the hawk. "Goodbye," he murmured, raising his hand.
He'd married, had children, and lived the rest of his life. Gawain sighed, shifting to alleviate his groaning joints.
Gawain looked at the young girl running towards him on sturdy legs. He smiled. "Esyllt, my little girl."
"I am not little," she protested indignantly as he heaved her into his lap. She tugged on his long hair. Grey it was now, not tawny. It hadn't been for a long time, but it was still unruly.
He looked at Esyllt's brown hair and green eyes. The Sarmatian pet name suited her. "A name from a story," Enid, her mother, had said once, and laid a hand on her father's shoulder. She'd always been too smart for her own good.
"Grandpa? Will you tell me about Kay and the Giant again? Or about Lancelot and the Lady in the Tower?"
"Again?" he said. "No, I'll tell you about Esyllt."
"About me?" his granddaughter gasped.
"No, this is another Esyllt. She was just as pretty as you are. And she loved a knight very much."
Her eyes lit up. "Who was it?"
"One of King Arthur's first knights. His name was Tristan."
"Why have you never told me this story before, grandpa?"
He closed his eyes for a moment. "Because it's a very special story," he answered. "Now sit still, you little squirrel, or I won't tell you."
Esyllt pouted, but settled against his chest.
As always, Gawain's low voice calmed his energetic granddaughter. She was playing with his hair as she listened to him recalling a time before Arthur's kingship, but sat very still otherwise, while Gawain spun his tale of memories.
"And Esyllt came from a land very far away," Gawain continued.
He smiled knowingly. "Hibernia? Aye, something like that."