Playing by Heart

A joyful heart is the inevitable result
of a heart burning with love.
-Mother Teresa.

Chronology: Tristan is 19. Lancelot is 17. Raja is 9.

The first thing Lancelot felt when he came to was a pounding in his head. When he shifted his ribs screamed out, making the drumming in his head worse. His left shoulder felt – he moved – just as painful as the rest of his body. Without opening his eyes, he willed his mind to recollect just exactly how his body became a temple of utter agony. Woads...attack...arrow in the shoulder...knocked off horse...rolled on a bed of rocks...

Lancelot groaned. Now his eyes opened, blinking rapidly. He heard rain outside. It looked to be about...whatever time of day it was. But it was cloudy outside, who the hell could tell? Then his vision focused on a small body sitting in a chair next to his bed. His cousin. She was sitting up straight...sleeping.

She must be uncomfortable, he thought.

Raja's eyes shot open when she heard another moan of pain. "You're awake," she said. She got off the chair and felt his forehead. "How do you feel...besides the obvious. You don't have a fever, but you're still a bit warm." she rambled, asking him if she could get him anything at all.

He tried to speak, but his voice cracked.

"I have water," she told him. She poured him a cup from the pitcher on his bed table. "Okay, careful now," she ordered gently. Raja propped his head up just a bit so he could sip the water.

The water saturated the back of his dry throat. He cleared it. Raja preempted his question.

"You were asleep for three days. They brought you in; you were so bloody and hurt." Her wide eyes held worry.

Lancelot followed her rapid-fire speech. "Don't move," she snapped, when he fidgeted again. "I'll go get my uncle. Dagonet is exhausted, he needs rest." Before her cousin could protest, she was out the door. In less than minute she was back. She looked at him sternly, and set something on the bed – a mouse. "This is Goliath. He will watch you."

She left again, and Goliath the Mouse sat still on the bed, watching him unflinchingly. Lancelot didn't know if it was his injuries but...the mouse was almost eerie. Not long after, Ardeth walked into the room, Raja behind him. She picked up Goliath. "Good job," she said, petting the animal on its head.

Ardeth checked Lancelot's pupils, his pulse. "Raja, you go get some rest now."

"I want to stay," she said.

"I have to clean Lancelot's wounds," he told her.

She pursed her lips, adamant. "I can help."

The Egyptian tried to be as tactful as possible. "I think it would be best if you exited the room, and do as I say."

Raja looked about to argue again, but her uncle's eyes were firm. Then she looked at her cousin. "Ohhhh..." she said quietly.

Dagonet cleared his throat gently. Raja turned around and craned her neck back. "I thought I told you to rest," Raja said.

Dagonet smiled. "I am rested. I promise."

"Raja," her uncle said again, this time a bit more sternly. "I do not want to tell you again."

She said something in Arabic, the inflection of her words sounded contrite. "I'll be back later, okay, Lancelot?"

When she had really gone, Ardeth said, "She refused to leave your side since the day you were brought back."

Lancelot smiled, or rather, tried to. But even his face hurt.

"You took quite a tumble," Dagonet said, as he helped Ardeth prop Lancelot up.

The injured knight did manage to scoff at that. Tumble, understatement of the century.


Raja slept for the rest of that day, her uncle gave her those medicinal herbs that she hated, but she was so spiked with worry for her cousin that it was difficult to sleep. She slept into the next afternoon, and upon realizing what time of day it was she scrambled out of bed, hastily took a bath, dried her hair with a towel, donned clean breeches and tunic and socks and was off to the kitchens.

Less than an hour later, Lancelot noticed Goliath scamper into his room and onto his bed.

"Lunch," Raja said cheerily as she brought a tray into his room.

Lancelot wasn't nearly as dizzy as the previous day. Dagonet gave him such-and-such herbs to alleviate the pounding in his head. His shoulder hurt like hell – but then again, an arrow went through it. Sitting up was a chore, he had no broken ribs, but they were bruised.

"Wait, wait," she said. She put the tray on the table, then went to help Lancelot sit up. He did most of the work as she wasn't quite strong enough to aide him adequately. He thanked her nonetheless, touched at her attentiveness.

Looking at the amount of food she had on the tray, one would think there was more than one injured person in the room. Sliced oranges, fresh bread, vegetable soup – sans meat, and something else he did not quite recognize. He took a sip of the liquid in the cup. Tea. Raja made sure the tray was balanced properly over his lap.

"My uncle said your shoulder will heal well."

"It will," he answered with a mouth full of bread.

Lancelot noticed Raja's hunched posture in the chair, her ankles crossed, thumbs twiddling. She was looking at his bandaged ribs and shoulder. "I'm fine, Raja."

"What's the point of all that armor if it doesn't stop an arrow?" she asked edgily.

That he didn't have an answer to. Logical enough question though. He left the unrecognizable food for last.

"What is this?" he asked her.

Raja sighed. "Baked apples with a bit of sugar, cinnamon and honey. No one here had heard of baked apples until today!" She was comically flabbergasted. "My mother used to make them for me all the time."

He picked one up, hesitating to take a bite.

"Go on," she prompted. "Even Tristan liked them. I even saw him sneak a few."

By the mouthwatering taste of it, Lancelot would have snuck a few, too. Maybe a dozen.

"Are there any more of these?" he asked when he ate the last one.

"I ate the last of them," Tristan said from the doorway.

"See?" Raja said, her eyebrows pointedly arched.

Lancelot snorted.

Tristan's eyes set on Lancelot's. "How are you?" he asked in his usual even tone, but the inflection was different.

"I'm good," he replied.

"Yeah," was all the scout said, with just a hint of a half smile.

Neither of them noticed but Raja had gotten up and lifted the sheet off of her cousin's feet.

"You know, one would think," she said with mock primness, "as much as you all are out, you would take better care of your feet." She tsk-tsked at Lancelot's unclipped toenails, then sighed. "I'll get my kit..." Then looked at Lancelot's unshaven face. "And the razor."

"Like hell!" Lancelot said. "You're never coming near me with a sharp object ever again. And what are you going to do to my feet?"

Raja sighed. "I am going to clip your toenails, rub some soothing oils on your...blisters...ick. Believe me, you'll feel better. Just ask Tristan. Didn't your feet feel better?"

He looked at Tristan dubiously, a little nonplussed that he accepted such care.

Tristan shrugged that lazy, devil-may-care shrug of his.

"I'll go get my kit and the razor," she said, taking the tray away as made to exit.

Lancelot was about to protest to the razor again but she had already pitter-pattered out of the room, leaving him alone with Tristan and Goliath.

"You let her go near you with a razor?" he asked good-naturedly.

He grunted amusement in the back of his throat. "Let her. She likes to take care of us."

"Did she really sleep in that chair for three days?"

"You're hardheaded."


He stared at him for a moment or two. "You really doubt for a second that she wouldn't stay by your side if you got hurt?"

Lancelot didn't have a chance to answer. Raja came back in with a towel over her arm, a kit, and a razor. She arranged all the implements neatly on the table.

"All right, Tristan," she said, holding the razor in her hand. "Hold him down."