I am going to tell you a story. It is a story which has long puzzled historians. At times they have gotten bits of it right--bits, mind you--but in the various tellings it has been twisted, distorted as a shattered mirror, each shard showing a small fragment of truth but unable to reflect the whole truth as it was before the mirror was broken. How, you might ask, do I, of all people, know the truth? Well, I know because I was there as an active participant as the drama unfolded. This is my story and it begins with the birth of two girls, twins as seemingly different as night and day.
I am Kellan, named for what my parents hoped I would one day become. I was the eldest born mere moments before my younger sister Guinevere.
We came clamoring into this world as most children do, a great source of joy and pride to our parents who were the leaders of our clan. Two of one birth and both strong and hale was in that time a true miracle. In those early months we looked the twins we were but as time marched on we grew differently.
Guinevere grew tall and willowy, the image of our mother, small breasted and pale of skin, though her hair and eyes were the deepest brown of fresh earth. How I envied her slender frame and earth coloring. She appeared a ghost gliding as a whisper of wind through the trees of our forest home.
I, on the other hand, was heavier than she, which drew many embarrassing stares as I grew. I was taller but not by much. My eyes never truly lost the color usual to infants instead they darkened slightly to the buffed blue-grey of shale stone. My skin browned in the sun and my hair was yellow as wheat. Because of these intense tones it was hard for me to move unseen in the shadows. My hair always caught the sun and threw it back, glimmering brightly in the dimmest of days.
I was told with my unusual coloring that I was a throw-back to my great-great grandmother. She was said to have lived and fought with the spirit of a great warrior, another favorable sign that the gods had smiled on my birth.
My sister and I grew as normal and happy as any children in our age until our fifth birthday when we were taken from our parents to be groomed for our future destinies.
I'll not bore you with the monotonous details of the years of our tutelage, but will say only that with the blood that flowed through our veins it was impossible for us not to thrive on the life we were taught. Even so, I maintained a love for the beauty of my forest home and a respect for life that Guinevere did not. She was especially competitive and she strove, not only to beat me in every task we were put to, but to utterly crush and dominate me. It was a good thing on more then one occasion that I was bigger than her and destined as the eldest to be the next leader.
All went according to everyone's plans until after our first battle. Now, as I have said, I am the offspring of generations of warriors. Their blood flows through me. My grandmother was one of the greatest our clan had known. I lived for my training. I loved the freedom of movement and the dancing grace that came with the strength and knowledge I had gained over the years, but I had yet to be tried and when word came that that time was now I rejoiced.
Guinevere and I prepared diligently for that first battle and it began well enough. As I fought, everything fell away and faded to the background. My vision became narrow and red and the joy that filled me as I overcame my enemies was palpable. In short, I lost myself to the violence. They said later, with pride thickening their voices, that I fought like one possessed -- my grandmother's image. I remembered none of it, but the fierce joy.
When I came to myself and surveyed with astonishment the destruction I had wrought, I knew that I could never again take up my sword. As I saw the lifeless eyes of the men I had killed, smelled their blood fresh in the air, my mouth watered and my soul hungered for more. I knew that to follow the path I was on would be cataclysmic. There would come a day when I would be unable to stop and neither friend nor foe would be recognized. In my blind state of euphoria, I would kill those I loved.
When my decision became known and later proven I saw the disappointment and betrayal my parents' eyes and the gloating fervor in my sister's. Could they ever understand that it was for their wellbeing, I put away my sword? It was for them I refused to be what they most wanted me to be.
As punishment for my obstinate refusal, I was sent to the Roman fort to 'spy' and my sister received what she had always desired -- my destiny.
I lived with an aunt at the fort and was soon installed, by what means I did not know, as a servant in the barracks of the Roman commander and his Sarmatian knights. Though I worked hard enough to fall into my bed at night and instantly fall into a numbed sleep, my hands ached for the solid feel of an oaken staff; my ears could hear the whirl of it through the air and the satisfying thwack of it when it came into contact with another. I longed for the sting of the string on my fingers as an arrow was loosed and flew straight and true from my bow. I hungered to feel the weight of my blade on my back even as I dreamed of the peace and freedom of the forest, the great quiet and solitude where one could sit and hear their heart beating in time to the earth.
As time slowly wore on, I locked that part of me behind thicker and thicker doors. I worked at becoming invisible to all -- a non-entity. It was easy for in those days few saw their servants. I came to believe that I had achieved my goal for I could move about with ease and listen to conversations as if I was not present. I hated it. Part of that I will admit was that for most of my life I had been respected and admired. I will not say that I was the center of attention, but being who I was, I was not far from it. I learned nothing and came to realize with disgust that nothing would be said in the presence of a mere female servant.
So once again, even at this simple task I failed. I despaired. I lost my sharpness. I forgot about the one other person who worked even harder than I to live a shadow life -- the scout. I remembered trailing him through the forest, always one step behind, a dangerous game to be sure, but an exhilarating one. Now, I tried to steer clear of his piercing gaze, to appear humble when in all actuality I thirsted for his blood and welcomed a chance to pit myself against this most notorious of men. But it was not to be.
One oppressive day in late summer, when the weather had been uncommonly hot and sticky, I went from one room to another, changing linens and grousing to myself over how untidy the Sarmatians were. To my annoyance several had congregated in the room I was in making it all the hotter for their bodies. I ground my teeth together to keep from saying something that I might regret. They were oblivious and took little to no notice of the woman moving about as she completed her responsibilities.
Their conversation was nothing of great importance, so I began to pay it little mind. It was stifling in the room and I could feel sweat beading at my neck and running in little rivulets down between my breasts and shoulder blades. In my discomfort I made a mistake. It was simple and of seeming little consequence. I flicked my hair from my face and drew it over one shoulder to allow my neck to cool. The sudden unexpected movement caught the eye of the scout and his full attention fell directly on me for the first time since I had been caused to come to the fort. As I felt his gaze, I glanced up. His dark eyes gave nothing away, but I was surprised his fellows could feel nothing of his sudden attentiveness and I was suddenly chilled. I realized just how proud I had been to even think I had any hope of killing this man. His eyes held the darkness of death within them.
I looked down and away as a frightened girl would and swallowed the urge to fidget under that penetrating stare. Doing my best to appear merely scared and not terrified, I finished my task and left the room knowing that not once had the man taken his eyes from me and wondering what had caught his attention so fully.
Where had I stepped wrong?
I followed the golden-haired girl all that day and through the next week. I found her name was Kellan, a peculiar name I had not heard previously. It seemed she strived to remain unnoticed, something I felt sure she was good at because once she had drawn my eye, I was hard pressed to look away.
She was lovely and strong in a way that I knew only from Sarmatian women, though she was fairer with eyes the color of the wild storm-tossed sea I remembered from our ride over. Her hair fell like warm honey over her shoulders and down her back to her hips. Her flawless skin was the color sun kissed gold, her cheeks and lips a tempting pink. She was neither plump nor thin as many of this land were, but her figure, even hidden behind the rough clothing, was beautifully female, soft and shapely. I could not imagine how I had not noticed her before that afternoon in Lancelot's room.
Her life was simple enough. She ate, worked, and slept only to rise and repeat it all the next day. She lived with a relative, I learned, an aunt who seemed to bear no love for her and was interested only in how much money she earned.
One stifling afternoon, I lay unmoving and hidden from view behind a particularly thick bush, watching as she finished her washing and set it to dry on the surrounding bushes. The close heat and soothing sound of the water was causing me to drowse -- the girl was doing nothing report worthy anyway, and I was beginning to think that I had imagined what I had seen in the heat of that room, that perhaps the heat had caused me to see things, when she glanced furtively about her. I became instantly alert. She pulled herself to her feet and upon seeing no one, strode into the cool of the forest. I followed a step behind.
Her quick, light footsteps never faltered as she made her way through the thick trees. I was surprised at silently she moved in her long skirt and how she seemed to know exactly where she was going. She moved like a spirit, sliding from shadow to shadow, seeming almost unreal in the dappled light that filtered through the trees. At times I lost her and it was only by the gleam of her golden hair that I was able to find her again.
She had led me quite far from the fort when she turned sharply and disappeared from view. Through several moss draped trees, I caught sight of her just as she shed the last of her clothing and stepped into the cool of a small pond, gently nestled in the heart of the forest. The sun shone down through a break in the trees and lit the water, causing it to sparkle and glow. The girl herself glowed with an unearthly light, like one of Arthur's angels. I felt as an intruder here in this place that was so alive and I was not surprised that I had never found it before. Trapped in some spell, I almost stepped from the shadows. The sound of the girl's sigh of delight stopped me and when I turned my attention back to her, I could see I had not been mistaken in what I had seen on her.
There curling along her shoulder and collar bone were dark blue markings. Others circled her upper arms and calves. A peculiar curving symbol painted the flesh between her hips, heightening her allure. My heart sank and hardened all at once. She was Woad.