A/N: As promised, the intruder is revealed. How many guessed it right? ;)
Chapter 4 – Farther Still
"What do you want old man?" Lancelot regarded the intruder with a vexed tone.
"Did you succeed in awakening the dead?" Speaking from the shadows, the man remained seated in the corner.
Rolling his eyes at the response, Lancelot retorted with a huff. "I have little patience for your riddles, Merlin. Speak plainly and at once. Why are you here?"
"The screams of Arthur's first knight reached my ears this eve."
"And you found it prudent to come to me? Why?"
Merlin finally stood and promptly exited the cave, nodding for Lancelot to follow him. Lancelot's patience was already wearing extremely thin, and grabbing the rest of his belongings, he followed Merlin outside.
"Is it not a beautiful sight to behold?" Merlin asked, pointing to the surrounding green. The sun was not yet full in the sky, and the air still held the remnants of last night's chill.
"This? You come to me to point out the damned trees?" If Merlin's goal was to annoy Lancelot, he was exceedingly proficient in accomplishing the task.
Merlin laughed at the dark knight's growing irritation. Lancelot promptly decided that he had heard quite enough of the old man's ramblings, and moved to prepare his horse for the journey. Merlin regarded him silently, observing as Lancelot led the beautiful animal to the pond to drink. When the horse had had it's fill of water, it's master mounted, ready to ride off.
"She will not waiver. And neither will you." Merlin spoke pointedly at him.
"Do not presume to tell me what I will or will not do. You do not command me, as you command your daughter." Lancelot heatedly replied.
"Her fate was decided before she was even born. As was yours." Merlin stated matter of factly.
"I don't believe in fate!" Lancelot shouted, glaring at Merlin's deeply mischievous eyes. The Woad was unreadable most of the time and mostly incomprehensible the rest of the time. One required severe patience when speaking with the man; and patience was the one thing Lancelot was fully lacking this morning.
Merlin smiled at his outburst. "Neither did she. When the sun sets, does the moon not reign over land and sky? The stars are merely hidden during the daylight, not missing."
Lancelot let out a deep sigh, "I have had enough of trying to discern your true speech Merlin."
And with that Lancelot prompted his horse to canter, leaving Merlin standing alone with a bemused grin painted on his face.
He will understand soon enough, Merlin thought to himself. One cannot escape fate, not even on the back of the swiftest of horses.
Guinevere's mind was groggy and ill-tempered from lack of sleep. Her anxiety over Lancelot's disappearance had led to a disastrous evening of nightmares and continual wakings in a cold sweat. She had not the patience to entertain anyone, let alone deal with dress fabrics and fittings, which was what lay in store for her this very afternoon. She would just have to grin and bear it, she thought. The wedding was fast approaching, and with less than one month to prepare, the dress fitting was only one item on the long list of preparations.
Guinevere had never fantasized of her wedding day, as so many young girls were fond of doing. She was born a warrior. Without her mother's presence, her father had raised her in the only way he knew how. She knew of no other life than that of the hunt, the battle, the constant struggle for freedom. Merlin had done his best to prepare her since birth for that which awaited her – a life of survival, of fighting for her land and people, and most importantly, her inescapable destiny.
The rest of the day past by tediously, with one monotonous task after another – deciding on fabrics and cuts, enduring fittings and measurements. It was all so tiresome to her. The whole while Guinevere's mind was elsewhere, and every time she heard shouting outside, she would run to her balcony hoping to see Lancelot riding in through the gates. Yet each time she was greeted with disappointment when it turned out to be only some random clamoring below. Maybe some fresh air would do some good, she thought, but just as she was preparing to leave, a knocking on the door sounded.
What now? Enough of these infernal wedding plans!
Lancelot rode hard all day long. His black steed was battle hardened, just like it's master, and could effortlessly gallop for great distances without rest. Lancelot had easily fled from the castle, but could not as easily elude the heavy thoughts that weighed in his mind. "What kind of a knight are you?" The thief's dying words haunted him still. Indeed, he acquiesced. What kind of a knight am I? He thought himself a disgrace to the very term – to everything it stood for. He was doing the right thing, he tried to convince himself. With him gone now, he could bring no further shame to the castle. Guinevere would be free to marry Arthur. She would not have to look at him ever again; he would not ruin her further with his presence. And he would no longer be betraying his best friend in the world.
If Merlin insisted that Guinevere's fate was to become Arthur's Queen, then so be it. But Lancelot would not be around to see it. He thought himself a disease, contaminating her; contaminating everything he touched. No wonder she is marrying Arthur. Why would she ever desire to be with a wretched soul like myself? Things would get along just fine with him absent, he decided. He had done nothing but cause trouble of late; they were all better off without him. He was not noble like Arthur; nor innocent like Galahad; nor hopeful like Gawain; nor strong-willed like Bors. He was nothing like any of them. They were all good men, each and everyone. Lancelot had always been the dark sheep, though they had loved him as a brother all the same. I do not belong. I do not deserve their love. I do not deserve Arthur's love. I do not deserve Guinevere.
Lancelot prompted his horse to gallop even faster. The faster and the farther away they rode, the better, he thought.
Guinevere opened the door to find none other than Arthur, standing across the threshold.
"Are you occupied? May I enter?"
"Of course. Please." She replied, stepping aside to allow him entrance.
"How were the day's preparations? Tell me everything went well and was to your liking?"
"Yes, everything went very well. The fabrics were splendid, in fact the choices were so many I had trouble deciding on just one."
"I am certain that whichever you chose will be perfect." He reached down and softly stroked her cheek.
I do not deserver his love, she ruminated, and lowered her eyes to stare intently at the stone floor.
"What is the matter?" He asked her worriedly.
"Nothing," she replied, returning to gaze into his soulful green eyes. "I am slightly weary."
"From the day's events?" He queried.
"I did not sleep well this night," she explained.
"Something troubles you my queen. Please share your thoughts with me, so that I can do whatever is in my capacity to quell your disquietude."
I truly do not deserve this man.
She smiled at him, attempting to alleviate his apparent concern. "Do not worry yourself over me, my dear Arthur. My thoughts are occupied with my people and whether I will be an adequate Queen sitting by your side."
In all truth, she was thusly concerned. Though the reason Arthur would assume would be her fear in her ability to properly rule over the lands; to do her utmost diligence for her people. Which of course was only a tiny fraction of the actual truth. Guinevere could not tell Arthur that last night's lack of sleep had been caused by her worrying over Lancelot – not just his sudden disappearance, but everything else that had occurred in the past few days. She was ashamed, though she marveled in the fact that she mainly felt so only when in the company of Arthur. And yet despite her shame, Guinevere could not stop herself from feeling her feelings, from loving her lover, from betraying her betrothed.
"Fear not, my fair Guinevere. For you shall be the greatest Queen these lands have ever known. Of this I am without doubt." He said, pulling her into a sweet and loving embrace.
"Rest now and do not trouble yourself further with these thoughts." Arthur gently brushed his lips on her forehead before leaving her chambers.
Lancelot arrived at the small town just as the sun was settling behind the trees. The village was wholly unextrordinary, resembling the thousand others that littered the island of Britain.
"Lancelot!" A young dark haired boy of about 8 years of age came running as Lancelot dismounted from his horse.
He regarded the boy curiously, "Hello. Do I know you?"
"You are Lancelot, one of Arthur's knights from the great wall. You killed Cynric in the battle! My name is Bedivere." The boy was smiling from ear to ear at having come upon the fortune of standing so close to one of Arthur's famous knights.
"Nice to meet you Bedivere." Lancelot replied, turning to go about his business. He was weary from his arduous journey and both he and his horse were in great need of food and rest.
The boy followed him, speaking with much enthusiasm, "My father told me all about the battle, and how you and the other knights defeated the Saxons. How you helped us save our land. When I grow up I want to be a knight as well. I want to be one of Arthur's knights. I want to be just like you."
Lancelot turned and spoke sharply to the boy, "No! You do not want to be like me."
The boy frowned at Lancelot's outburst, but did not waiver in shadowing his hero. Like the child he was, the overly harsh words were quickly forgotten and Bedivere was soon cheerful again.
"What's his name?" He asked, pointing to Lancelot's horse.
"Her name is Beornwyn," Lancelot replied, gently stoking the dark mare's flank.
"She's beautiful." The horse whinnied in response, causing both man and boy to chuckle. Lancelot felt badly for having yelled at the boy, and quickly thought of the perfect way to make it up to him.
"Indeed she is. Do you think you could walk her over to the stables for me?"
Bedivere's face lit up with a massive grin as he nodded profusely in affirmation. Lancelot handed the youngster the reins, and headed out in search of the nearest tavern for some much needed food and ale.
Weary from last night's fitful sleep, Guinevere decided to retire early this evening. Lying in her grand bed, she closed her eyes waiting for much needed sleep to take her. Despite her exhaustion, her mind was unable to properly relax and after more than two hours of tossing and turning, she had had enough. Rest would not come tonight, not while Lancelot's whereabouts were still unknown. Rising from the bed, she quickly dressed and headed down to the stables.
Slinging her quiver of arrows onto her back, she tightly grabbed her bow and turned to make an unnoticed exit from the castle.
"Where you going?" Guinevere nearly jumped as Bors emerged from the shadows.
"Out for a walk," she replied defiantly.
"What's the bow for?" He asked, nodding at what was held in her hand.
"I may do a little hunting," she replied. It was not exactly a lie. She knew not what would await her whilst searching for her missing lover.
"A little dark to be hunting, don't you think?" He retorted.
Guinevere responded only with a silent stare. When the other knights addressed her, they always did so with great deference, treating her as if she held the title of Queen already. But not Bors. Surely he respected her greatly; however, he was never afraid to speak his true mind. Normally she regarded him quite highly for his apparent inability to hold his tongue. She could always count on him to speak the plain truth. But this evening, Guinevere wholly lacked any desire to hear his frank and forthright speech.
"You're going to look for him aren't you?" Bors stared at her, waiting for an answer.
Instead of replying, Guinevere lowered her eyes, suddenly finding the dirt exceedingly interesting. She would not lie to him, she would not even dare. Another of Bors's infamous traits was his ability to smell a lie before it was even spoken. She was not so stupid as to test this proficiency.
"You know, you shouldn't go out alone." His previously gruff words softened a bit. "I'll go with you. Don't want anything happening to our future queen."
"I don't need you looking after me," she responded with an icy tone and an even icier glare; her defiant streak quickly rising to the surface. Guinevere needed no man to look after her. She never had and she never would. Priding herself on her self-sufficiency, she took grave offense to anyone who hinted at her lack thereof.
Before Bors could respond, Galahad interrupted the pair by awkwardly stumbling into the stables.
"What's going on? Has Lancelot returned?" The words slurring off his tongue.
"Nothing! Go to bed you drunk!" Bors roughly commanded the young knight.
Galahad took no offense to Bors and laughed loudly. "Well if you ask me, he probably just ran off with that woman."
The words instantly tumbled from Guinevere's lips, "What woman?"
"He's drunk, don't listen to him!" Turning to Galahad, he screamed at the young knight. "Nobody bloody asked you!" Bors ran over and grabbed him by the arm, intending to drag the drunken knight to his room and away from Guinevere before he could cause any more damage.
Pulling Galahad along with one hand, he pointed at Guinevere with the other, "Now don't you go anywhere."
She watched as the two knights left, Galahad protesting all the while that Bors was not his mother and should not treat him thus.
The first thing Lancelot noticed when he the entered the tavern was the complete and utter silence. Each and every patron had their eyes upon him, watching with bated breath as he moved to seat himself at the bar. He nodded to the elderly bartender who quickly came rushing to take his order of meat and ale. People soon began whispering and Lancelot was growing quite irritated at the reaction he was causing.
"It's not everyday one of Arthur's knights comes here," the bartender addressed him, sensing the dark knight's frustration.
"That is understandable. But what is not understandable is the reaction one of Arthur's knights provokes in these people." Lancelot replied.
The bartender laughed, "You are a hero Sir Lancelot! You are all heroes. Knights of the great wall. Arthur's knights. How would you expect these common people to react to you? They are in awe."
Lancelot crinkled his brow. How quickly they have forgotten how just a few months prior I was in the service of Rome - their enslavers.
"I am no hero," he said shaking his head, "Arthur is the only man who deserves that title."
"You fought the Saxons at Badon Hill. You killed Cedric's son. You saved the Queen. You, Sir Lancelot, are as much a hero as King Arthur; perhaps even more so." The barkeep nodded.
Lancelot had indeed done all those incredible things, but he had never once considered himself a hero.
Heroes do not flee at the first sign of trouble, Lancelot thought; as he had run away from the castle yesterday. Heroes do not covet their best friend's lady; as he so desperately loved and desired Guinevere. Heroes do not enjoy the kill, as he had so thoroughly relished the taking of Cynric's life. Indeed, he had never taken more pleasure from killing anyone before, than that fateful day on Badon's Hill. The Saxon had been a split-second away from ending Guinevere's life, when Lancelot had stopped the heavy sword mere inches from striking her.
As he lay on the battle-field, his lungs desperately panting for what surely were his last few breaths, the woman he had saved knelt down beside him.
"Shh. Do not speak. Save your strength." She gently stroked his cheek, tears spilling from her grieving brown eyes.
He had to tell her. He could feel the life draining, his heart slowing. He had to tell her now, before the end, before it was too late.
"Guinevere, I ..."
He lost consciousness before he could finish, and the last two words remained lodged in his throat.
"I know," she replied, though he could not hear her. "I know."
The barkeep brought Lancelot his plate and a tall mug, rousing the dark knight from his musings.
"Shall I have a room prepared for you sir?"
Lancelot nodded his approval. It only made sense that he would spend the night here, then tomorrow he could be off again. To where exactly he was not certain, but he loathed the thought of staying in the town for too long. I will decide tomorrow morning. For now he was content to simply enjoy his meal, pass the occasional word with the barkeep, and then retire for the evening.
With Bors and Galahad out of her way, Guinevere slipped silently out of the stables into the cool night air. She made her way to the first place that occurred to her to look for Lancelot – the cave. Galahad's words remained foremost in her thoughts, though her heart refused to believe them. She could not conceive that Lancelot would bed another woman, let alone run off with one. It is not possible. Galahad was full of ale, and surely he was only joking. Surely he was. Though she would not take heed of the rumor, the second the words had fallen on her ears, her stomach had instantly turned to ice - ice which had still refused to melt. Forging on, she forced herself to push the thought into the back of her mind and quickened her pace.
Arriving at the cave, she found recent ashes of a fire and knew Lancelot had been here the previous day. She returned outside and by the light of the full moon searched for and found what were surely his tracks in the dirt. These were her woods. She knew them like the back of her hand. Effortlessly she followed the faint path marked by footprints and littered with fallen leaves. Soon she came upon the first dead soul and her heart quickened anxiously. The trail from there was more scattered and harder to follow now, yet Guinevere persisted until coming upon Lancelot's second victim's decapitated corpse.
She knew Lancelot was a more than capable fighter, and from the state of the two bodies she had found, he clearly had been the victor. However, this did not quell the concern in her heart, and she bent down beside the body looking for any sort of clue as to the happen chances or whereabouts of her missing love. After thoroughly searching the surrounding area, she was unable to pick up any clear signs, and was about to wander farther away when she heard the cries of a voice in the distance.
The faint calling quickly grew louder, until Guinevere could finally discern the words.
A young blonde woman of Guinevere's age came running through the trees, stopping in shock when she caught sight of the corpse.
"Father!" The girl rushed to her father's body sobbing tears of agony.
"I am so sorry. I do not know what has happened." Guinevere heart was saddened for this poor girl, for having found her father in such a state.
"Who could have done this?" She screamed, clutching her father's lifeless body tightly to her chest.
Guinevere did not reply, yet she indeed did know who had done this. Though she could not be fully certain, the proof was quite positive that Lancelot had had an altercation of some sort with this man. An altercation which had ended badly. Badly for the man of course, and now even more so for his daughter.
"I am totally alone now. All I had left was my father," she wept, soaking her father's shirt with the tears that streamed relentlessly from her soft cerulean eyes.
Instinctively Guinevere knelt down and reached out to touch the girl's shoulder in condolence, watching silently as the young lady continued sobbing. Guinevere stayed by her side until the girl's tears were all but spent, and attempted to speak to her again.
"What is your name?" Guinevere asked the fair-haired girl.
"Eliza." She replied, wiping the tears off her flushed cheeks.
"Eliza. That is a pretty name." This garnered a small smile from the girl, who finally looked clearly at the other young woman aside her.
"Guinevere!" In her mourning, Eliza had not taken full notice of the other woman, and finally with tear free eyes she recognized who it was kneeling beside her.
Guinevere smiled in return, "Yes, I am Guinevere."
"You are so lucky, you have no idea." Eliza's blue eyes stared intently into Guinevere's deep brown ones. "You have not one, but two men who love you."
"What are you talking about?" Guinevere asked, shaking her head in confusion.
Eliza looked at her in disbelief. "Do you not know how Lancelot loves you?"
Who is this girl to know anything of Lancelot and I?
A bitter laugh erupted from Eliza's throat. "I thought I loved him as well. He used to come to the tavern, and I would pray that he would notice me. Well last night he finally did. And now, I pray that I had never met him."
Though dreading the answer, Guinevere asked anyway. "What do you mean he noticed you?"
Eliza light blue eyes suddenly turned dark. "He took me to his bed."
"You! You are the woman!" Guinevere stood up in a fit of rage, her shaking fists curled into tight balls at her waist.
Eliza rose and regarded her with equal fire in her eyes; the two women staring defiantly at each other. Eliza recognized well the glare in Guinevere's gaze for it mirrored her own.
"I see Lancelot is not the only one harboring hidden feelings," she spat out, causing Guinevere's anger to increase. Eliza continued, regarding her with utter loathing. "You are both disgusting creatures. I would do well to tell Arthur of this!"
"You will stay your tongue!" Guinevere's entire body was aflame with red hot wrath.
Eliza laughed to herself at her brilliant scheme. "Yes, that's it. I will tell Arthur all about this. Make him ask you both. He will see the guilt written so clearly all over your faces!" She paused for an instant, madness flickering in her eyes before continuing. "I will destroy his love as he has destroyed mine."
"I said you will stay your tongue!" Guinevere roared.
"Or what?" Eliza replied haughtily.
The words came hissing off Guinevere's tongue, "I will cut it right out of your mouth!"
Eliza laughed darkly. "You two belong together. You are cruel just like him! You don't deserve the affection of Arthur."
Not bothering to glance again at Guinevere, Eliza turned her back to leave.
Guinevere called after the blonde woman, her voice franticly hostile. "Where are you going?"
Eliza's laughing answer came from over her shoulder. "I already told you. To destroy your love. To tell Arthur."
Guinevere's body moved faster than her mind, and before she had even realized, her bow was strung, the arrow was shot and had pierced through the heart of it's target.
The fury raging through Guinevere's slight frame overwhelmed the aching in her heart at having learned the truth of the revolting rumor. That disgusting pig! Taking that filthy little whore to his bed! Lancelot had done this just to spite her, of this she was certain. Well, he will have to find pleasure with another wench now, she thought; for this one was dead, by her own hand, and Guinevere herself would never allow Lancelot to touch her own body ever again. Lancelot would do well not to return too swiftly to the castle, lest he was fully prepared to face the wicked wrath of the woman he had so deeply scorned.
When Guinevere returned to the castle, she found Bors waiting for her in the stables. She was in no mood to converse with him, or with anyone else for that matter. But it seemed there was no getting around it. He was just standing there, looming in the middle of the room, watching her like a hawk. Watching and waiting. She had no idea how long he had been here, waiting for her return. Not that she cared. The icy cold glare her deep brown eyes held would have struck fear into the fiercest of men's hearts. But Bors held his ground and stared right back at her. They played the game for a few agonizingly long minutes, until Bors finally broke the spell.
"Did you kill anything?" He asked sharply.
Guinevere freezing stare suddenly turned fiery. "Yes."
Without another word, the fierce Woad marched right past him, with a death grip on her bow and her quiver now missing a single arrow, still dangling from her shoulder, and promptly headed back inside the castle.
"These two are gonna be trouble." Bors spoke aloud to the horses, the only other occupants of the stables, shaking his head somberly.
A/N: I wanted to give Lancelot's horse a name, but I could not find any evidence of his horse being named in any legends, so I found the Old English name of Beornwyn which means "warrior joy" and I liked the sound of it.
Yes I know - in the legends Bedivere is one of the first knights of the Round Table. Well I wanted the boy to be one of the famous knights and I like Bedivere, so there we are!
Yes I killed Eliza. It was this thing I had in my sick and twisted head - I had to have Guinevere kill her! When the plot bunny takes hold you gotta go with it ;)