A/N: I stumbled upon the legend of Tristan and Isolde almost by accident. Recently, I started watching the show Merlin. In curiosity, I went to look up some of the characters connected to the Arthurian Legend in order to satisfy some questions that I had only to realize that Tristan and Isolde, names I recognized from a movie I never watched, were connected to King Arthur. Wanting to learn more, I decided to watch the film. Now, granted, I am aware of the movie's flaws, but the story behind it - the legend - was too powerful to deny. I was captured by it, and my thoughts would not leave the film when it ended. Twice. Since then, not only have I written this piece (whether there will be more Tristan and Isolde stories from me in the future, I do not know yet), but I've also read the first two novels in the Isolde trilogy by Rosalind Miles. Needless to say, I do not believe this will be a mere passing fancy. On one last note, if you're unfamiliar with the tale but curious because of either what I said here or because you enjoy my other stories, the entire movie is posted on youtube in, if I recall correctly, twelve parts, or, if you've already seen the film, it's well worth a second watch. Thanks and, as always, enjoy! ~Charlynn~
Through Death, Love; Through Love, Immortality
A Tristan and Isolde One Shot
Ireland was nothing like his home in Britain.
Instead of small hills and valleys, their lands canopied with the lush boughs of heavily foliaged trees, sunlight filtering through the leaves like dancing, carefree raindrops, Ireland was a land of steep, sheer cliffs and grassy plateaus. The ground beneath his feet seemed to move with the influence of the wind, ebbing and flowing to the point where man became one with his surroundings. It was louder, for the wide, open expanses welcomed the roar of the sea and embraced the echoes of life that floated upon the breeze. So different, yet, in a way that Castle D'Or had never been able to, it whispered a sense of belonging to Tristan, reminded him of his long left behind but never forgotten home at Castle Tantallon.
Or perhaps it was the woman from Ireland who rescued him which made the foreign lands so unexplainably familiar.
No matter what the explanation, there was no denying the fact that for the last several days his father had been heavily weighing upon his mind, not so much his death and wanting retribution for it like it had for so long but rather a new appreciation for his father's hopes and dreams, a new interpretation as to why his father had fought so passionately to unite the tribes of Britain. Yes, his father had felt a duty to his land and his people, and, yes, he had wanted to end their suffering at the hands of the lording Irish and return to Britain its lost honor, but, more importantly, Tristan now realized that his father had wanted to bring peace and prosperity to their home because of his love for his family.
While duty and honor were important, they meant nothing without love, without belonging irrevocably to someone and fighting to protect and keep them safe. Being in Ireland, meeting the woman who had both saved his life and, by showing him love, had shown him what it really meant to be alive for the first time since he had been a mere child, Tristan finally knew what true and honest tranquility felt like. It wasn't the knowledge that you had successfully routed your enemy, it wasn't the thrill of victory following a battle, and it certainly wasn't gaining another step towards unifying Britain; it was doing all of these things and more for one's family, for those that one loved.
For Tristan now, it was Isolde.
"Come with me."
He could see the desire, the yearning to do what he asked in her eyes, but, yet, she still denied him. "I can't."
"Why not," Tristan demanded to know.
"We both know this cannot be, Tristan." Tears clouded her voice, choking it; a silent sob of desperation ricocheted through her anguished blue gaze. "We knew it from the start. That doesn't mean it wasn't true, it is."
He didn't understand her argument. Yes, she was Irish, and he was a Briton, but those weren't insurmountable odds. Why was she so adamant that they couldn't be together? He knew that she did not love her betrothed. If she left with him, she wouldn't be forced to marry someone she didn't love, and he knew that Marke would welcome her into his home simply because he, Tristan, loved her, Irish heritage or not. And who was to say that anyone even had to know where she came from? They could make it work; they could be together... if only she'd agree to leave with him.
"I don't understand," he finally confessed after several silence filled, tense moments between them. With the angry waves rocking them against the small boat which would serve as his means of escape, hopefully their means of escape, they seemed to move closer and closer together, as though the ocean was insisting that they remain as one. Fueled by both his need to have her with him and his need to keep them both safe, Tristan rushed forward, "as just a lady of the court, surely it is not your duty which prevents you from...."
"I am not a mere lady of the court," she confessed upon a whisper. Despite the churning of the water, he could easily hear her soft admission. "I lied. I am Isolde, daughter to King Donnchadh and Princess of Ireland."
Without second thought, he immediately said, "I don't care."
"Wha... what," she stumbled upon her words, obviously shocked by his lack of hard feelings towards either her deception or her true identity. "But surely, especially after the things you told me about your parents, you couldn't still want.... It would never work. If your family ever found out, if my father ever learned of...."
Again, he interrupted her. "So we lie. Your name, the fact that you are the Princess of Ireland does not make you the woman that you are, the woman who cared for me, nursed me back to health, told me of her hopes and dreams, despite the fact that she knew me to be her enemy."
"You were never my enemy, Tristan; you couldn't be."
"So, then leave here with me. Return with me to my home, become my wife, and live your life the way you wish to, not the way your father demands of you."
"It'll never be that simple," Isolde continued to argue, but he could see her wavering. Her eyes didn't appear so hopeless, and her hands were gripping the sides of the small boat as if it was the only thing in her world that made any sense. "We'll constantly be looking over our shoulders, wondering when someone is going to discover our secret. If we do this, I'll be putting your life at further risk, both from my father and your own people."
"And, if we don't, you'll be miserable, forced to marry someone you don't love, and I'll grow bitter with resentment and jealousy, hating what was and yearning for what might have been." Sensing she needed one last push, one more reason to fight for what she wanted, he admitted, "if you don't come with me now, I'll just find a way to return to you later. Betrothed or married, you belong with me, just as I belong to you. I won't give up on you, Isolde, so don't give up on us."
"This is insane," she breathed out tempestuously.
In answer, Tristan simply elevated himself into the boat, smiled, and held out his hand. When he felt her soft, delicate fingers being placed against his own work worn and forever scarred digits, he lifted her out of the water easily, settling her beside him as quickly as he could before placing the oars and pushing off.
While he might have been returning to D'Or and Britain, with Isolde he was already home.
It had been two days since she had last seen Isolde, since the boat had returned from Britain bearing just three of their men with news of both the loss of the battle and the loss of dozens of Irish lives, since she had warned her young charge and Isolde had set off to help the young Tristan of Aragon escape. Though a part of her feared for the Princess' life, the other part of Bragnae knew exactly what had happened to the impetuous girl and wished her nothing but love and happiness.
"Still, you have received no word from my daughter? I know she has been prone to wandering off on her own in the past."
"While this is true, never before has she been away for so long by herself," she answered her King. He was seated before her, insolently lounging on his throne that was secluded in shadows, his ferocious rage and power nearly driving her to her knees in supplication, but, still, despite her fear, she managed to keep her wits about her somehow, never once lying but omitting key facts. "Usually, she returns by nightfall, but two have passed since I last laid eyes upon Isolde."
"And her usual haunts, those places you have found her hiding at before?"
"Searched and what, Bragnae," King Donnchadh roared. "Was anything found?"
"Not a trace of her."
"So, you're saying that my daughter has vanished, that you have lost Ireland's Princess, my one and only child and heir?"
Meekly, she responded, "it appears that way, I'm afraid."
Surprising her, he relented somewhat. "Ah, but then there is the Briton cur to account for. We still haven't been able to find him, and the wreckage of his boat was discovered close to the shore where Isolde was known to walk from time to time. Do you think, Bragnae, that is is possible that my daughter was taken against her will, perhaps even back to Britain as a prisoner?"
"I'm sure anything is possible, but I, for one, would like to think that nothing of the kind happened to her." Tentatively, for she did not want to either tip the King off or anger him further, she suggested, "perhaps she ran away. Isolde was not shy about expressing her objections towards her upcoming nuptials. Maybe when she heard news of the boat's return from Britain, she ran off, seeing it as her last means of escaping a marriage she did not want."
"It is another option to consider. However, if nothing else, my daughter is a recognizable figure. Even those who have never seen her before have heard of the beautiful Princess Isolde, heir to all of Ireland. Someone will spot her, word will spread, and, when it does, I promise you this, Bragnae: your mistress will be coming home."
Knowing when she has been dismissed, Bragnae curtsied hurried before scrambling away, eager to be as far from the King as she possibly could get. While she had no doubt that his words were true, she hoped that Isolde was smarter than her father gave her credit for, because, if not, if she had believed her life miserable before she ran off with the Briton, then she didn't even want to imagine what Isolde's reaction would be to her new life should her father find her and return her to Ireland once more. For everyone's sake, Bragnae hoped that she would never see the Princess again.
Tristan's people weren't suspicious of her; they were suspicious of her.
To Isolde's immense surprise, they never questioned her name (they had decided on Rhiannon, a Welsh name with mystical tendencies, for Bragnae was too entirely Irish), they weren't curious about her appearance (though they had stopped and bartered away her own dress for a more ill-fitting, less regal appearing gown on their way to Castle D'Or), and no one even blinked when told that her father had been dead since before her birth, she didn't even recall his name, and that she and her mother had lived alone in a quiet seaside cottage, stranded from the rest of Britain by miles of uninhabited woods and rocky shoreline. No one glanced at her hands to see if they really were work-hardened from years upon years of harsh, grueling manual labor... which they weren't, and she was still nervous that the other women would ask for advice on how to grow certain plants or what was the best way to prepare a specific kind of fish. However, she had agreed with Tristan that his proposed cover story was the best possible one available to them. Now, they just had to execute it properly in order to shy away from the questions neither of them could properly answer.
Perhaps to their advantage, though, the leader of D'Or, Marke, Tristan's uncle for all intents and purposes, the man who spoke for his entire village, seemed more concerned with their plans to marry than whether or not Isolde was the woman she claimed to be. Though he had pulled Tristan aside to speak to him privately, their voices carried. Everyone present, practically the entire town due to the joyous, miraculous return of their warrior hero, could hear every word that passed between the man she was in love with and the man that he loved as a father.
"Tristan you have no idea how happy I am that you are alive, that you have returned to us. Under normal circumstances, you know that I would never question your judgment. You are the man that I trust my army to, the man who's advice I seek out when I'm unsure of myself, but to rush to such a hasty decision?"
Almost impatiently, Tristan demanded, "I ask of you to speak plainly. Tell me what it is that is on your mind so that I can put your worries to rest."
"Rhiannon is beautiful. I don't think there is a man at Castle D'Or who would deny her that. And she saved your life, two things that are a great attraction for any man, but how much do you know about her? Is she worthy of you? Can she be trusted? Are you really in love, or are you simply offering her a better life out of gratitude?"
While Isolde's heart took offense at Marke's words, her brain knew that the leader was justified and right in asking such questions of her betrothed. Perhaps it was because of the circumstances surrounding how they met and how they fell in love, but she started to wonder, after listening to his King, if Tristan would regret his hasty decision in asking her to return to his home with him. While she had no doubt of her own feelings – she loved him for the way he listened to her without judgment, without scorn or derision, without censure unlike anyone else in her sheltered world, for forcing her to confront her feelings for him instead of hiding behind the emotional walls foisted upon her as a woman and as a future queen, for asking her how she felt when they were together for the first time instead of ignoring her and focusing upon his own needs, for making her the bracelet she had yet to take off not as a means to thank her but simply to show that he cared – what were his? They had never spoken of their emotions, instead choosing to act upon them. Though she had no doubt that Tristan genuinely felt for her, were her feelings stronger than his?
When she heard his response, though, beyond the guilt of her momentary doubt, there was only a proud, bright burst of affection within her towards the man she loved. Its sheer vitality warmed her body that had suddenly become chilled without Tristan's pressed against her as it had been while they rode through the untamed wilderness to Castle D'Or. "Marke, Rhiannon didn't simply give me a place to rest and offer me medicine. She spent every moment that she could with me – reading to me, talking to me. I have shared more of myself with her in the few short weeks of our acquaintance than I could ever share with anyone else given an entire lifetime. Frankly, it is I who is unsure whether or not I am worthy of her. Whereas she is beautiful and kind, generous beyond compare, and intelligent, I am nothing more than a man haunted by his past, a warrior whose sole purpose his entire life has been revenge and retribution.
"As for providing her with a better life, again, I have my doubts. I took her from her home, from everything she knew of life and her family, from peace and brought her here with me, to a place that is known and far from sheltered from our enemies' wrath. In loving me, by marrying me, she'll be risking everything; she'll be risking her heart, knowing that every dawn that we see together could very well be our last. I am not a man destined to live a long life, yet, still, she chose me anyway. If that is not a woman who can be trusted, then I no longer possess the tools necessary to judge character."
Taking Marke's stunned silence as her cue to step forward, Isolde curtsied deeply before addressing the man who tentatively was holding the warring tribes of Britain together. "M'lord," she greeted him respectfully, gracefully, keeping her gaze downcast and subservient the entire time. "I do not come to you as another burden upon your land, upon your people. I was able to heal Tristan because of my knowledge of herbs, of elixirs, and I offer my skills and knowledge to your kingdom as well. All I ask in return is your blessing. Though I am poor and possess no royal lineage, am of no importance to Britain like Tristan, I love him."
She stopped there, unable to say more due to her nerves. Although they had worked on cloaking her Irish lilt, Isolde feared that the more she talked the more her natural way of speaking would reveal itself. But, more than that, she simply couldn't utter another word as anxious as she was that even after their heartfelt pleas and declarations, their union would be denied. If Marke spoke out against their marriage, she had no idea what they would do. Though, now that she had left Ireland, she knew that she couldn't go back to the life her father was intent upon forcing her into, she knew that she also couldn't ask Tristan to leave his life behind for her. No, she respected his duty and his honor, his love for his country and his people too much, even if she knew his duty, honor, and love towards her were stronger. How could she ask the man she loved to compromise the very things about himself that made her cherish him in the first place?
"Then you shall marry in a month's time," Marke announced, causing a celebratory roar to spread throughout the gathered people. Over the din of their excited murmuring, he continued, "that should give the other barons enough time to travel to Castle D'Or in order to join us at your wedding and for you women to fuss about the way you do in preparation for such events. In the meantime, Rhiannon...." Startling her, the King bowed and gently lifted and kissed her right hand. "Welcome to my home, and thank you for saving Tristan's life."
For several minutes after everyone filtered away, going back to whatever tasks it were that had been occupying them before she and Tristan rode into town, Isolde just stood in her same place, amazed at how easily, how graciously she had been accepted. Ever so slowly, a small, tentative, slightly crooked smile worked its way unto her lips, curling their corners in astonishment. But then Tristan was there, grinning widely and taking her into his arms, spinning her around in such obvious delight that his elation became contagious, and soon she was beaming just as broadly.
Hand in hand, as they walked towards the castle together, Isolde felt as though, for the first time in years, perhaps her entire life, she could finally breathe.
Isolde had made a beautiful bride, but, for Tristan, she made an even more beautiful wife. As promised the day they had arrived together upon his return to Castle D'Or a month prior, they had been married, given a King and Queen's service to be exact. Though he had been puzzled as to why Marke insisted upon such a lavish affair, by the time he saw Isolde floating towards him across the river, the flicker of hundreds of flames illuminating her golden hair and creamy skin, making her glow, impossibly fair, against the velvet, ebony backdrop of a still, quiet night, the last thing on his mind had been questioning... well, anything. Instead, all his focused had been upon his vows, upon Isolde's vows, upon kissing her for the very first time as her husband.
Now, though, as he sat with Marke and all the other barons and important figures of Britain, missing his own wedding reception and wanting nothing more than to leave and go somewhere private with Isolde, he knew why such care and excess had been placed upon his nuptials. Buoyed by his return, as if it were a blessed omen, the other men had pledged to stand behind Marke, making him King of Britain just as they had been fighting for years to achieve, just as his father had fervently proposed and wanted that fateful night nine years prior when his life had been taken from him far too early. However, the other barons had one condition for Marke to meet before they would agree to sign any treaty.
He, Tristan, was to be Marke's second, literally Britain's Prince, her King in waiting. Though unification was everything he had lived for up until the moment he thought his life had been taken from him and he had in effect met Isolde, the new price being asked of him seemed almost too much. While he understood that the barons saw Marke's success intricately intwined with Tristan's, he knew that conclusion to be in error. In order for Marke to lead the country effectively, Tristan's presence at his side was not necessary. Although he would continue to stand behind Britain and fight for her, he wanted no part in ruling the fledgling nation, and he certainly didn't want to be the next man in line for the throne.
Not only did Tristan feel as though he were not qualified for the job, but he had no desire to rule, no skill at giving speeches or taking care of others. His mind was a military one. Whereas he could plan for battle, he had no idea how to plan during times of peace. He could train men to fight, but he knew nothing of planting and harvesting crops. However, he also knew that such talents could be learned, certainly not perfected but learned to the point of success.
No, beyond his disinterest in such a vital role, the true reason as to why he was so against being Marke's second was the risk that it placed upon Isolde. As Prince of Britain, she would be Princess, placing her in harm of being discovered. At the same time, though, if he didn't accept the barons' demands, the pact would disintegrate and fall apart before it even had a chance to be officially formed, and suspicions would still be cast upon them, because, instead of thrusting Isolde into unwanted attention, everyone would be questioning why he suddenly refused his duty to his country and people.
In essence, he was damned either way. So, in choosing what he believed to be the lesser of two evils, Tristan merely nodded his assent. The sooner the treaty was completed, the sooner that he could return to Isolde, and they could begin preparing together for what his new role would mean to them together as a couple. However, as he sat there to Marke's left, observing each and every man as he approached the table to sign the treaty, he noticed too things: Lord Wictred was furious, attempting to hide his rage but furious nonetheless, and Melot was hurt, a shadow of betrayal haunting his previously friendly eyes. Together, anger and bitterness were a dangerous combination.
Placing his own signature on the vellum, Tristan fervently hoped that he had made the right decision... for everyone's sake.
"Do you miss Ireland?"
They were lounging together under the broken canopy of the Roman Ruins, sunlight filtering in to dapple their bare, exposed flesh. Although there was a light breeze that afternoon, both the warmth of the day and the warmth of their bodies entwined together kept her from feeling the chill. Her form lax with recently experienced pleasure, Isolde had been near sleep before Tristan spoke, his unexpected question returning her to the precious moment they were sharing away from everything and everyone else. Though she was aware of the fact that others knew of the ruins, she couldn't help but feel as though they belonged to them, their private oasis.
"There are things that I miss about Ireland – visiting my mother's ashes, Bragnae, the wide open spaces," she answered, further molding her back to her husband's chest and watching as her fingers danced along the arm he had carelessly thrown over her naked stomach. He was leaning against a crumbling wall, and she was leaning against him. "But, no, I don't miss Ireland itself. Actually, I find that I quite like it here."
The rumble of his laughter transferred and pulsed through her body. "You sound surprised by that."
"Well, it's new, completely different than the life I'd lived up until I left with you. I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew that I wanted to be with you, that I'd be happy with you, but I didn't know if I'd be happy with your people, and I am. Though I'm the Princess again, I'm not treated that differently than any other woman in the village. People talk to me; I'm not deferentially shunned. Not only am I respected because I'm your wife, but I am respected for who I am, too. After years of being ignored, pushed aside, you have no idea how much that means to me."
"I'm glad," Tristan said, kissing her crown softly before speaking once more. "However, I'm still unsure about being Marke's second, about the risk that it brings to us, to you."
"I don't see what other decision you could have made," Isolde told him honestly. Before he could protest, she continued, "by declining their offer, you not only would have raised their suspicions, but you also would have alienated your strongest allies. We went over this the night of our wedding, the night that the treaty was signed, and we can continue to go over it as often as you like until the coronation, but my mind will not be swayed. You did the right thing, I believe in you, and, perhaps more importantly, I believe in us. I know that I was unsure when you first suggested that I leave Ireland with you, but, now, after coming here with you, after marrying you, I know that I made the right decision. We'll make this work. I just know that we will."
He turned her over then, rolling both of their forms until she was flat on her back and he had settled once more over top of her. Though his face was pensive, still worried, she could see a spark of hope dancing in his dark eyes, and she smiled in return. Leaning forward, she kissed him softly, beckoning his lips closer to hers with the tender embrace as she fell backward once more, Tristan following. "I love you," she whispered.
"And I love you, Isolde," her husband returned genuinely, instinctively. Only when they were alone in the Roman Ruins did he allow himself to call her by her given name, and she cherished those stolen, secret admissions.
Briefly, for only just a moment, she thought that she saw a darting shadow out of the corner of her eye, but then Tristan was kissing her once more, and his body was fused intimately with hers, and everything and anything other than their own elemental, profound movements disappeared. Such flights of fancy were just that. No one else was there with them; they were alone, and her husband's attentions returned her to reality but only momentarily before the passion between them engulfed her completely, and she was lost in the bliss and ecstasy that was Tristan's touch. When he was near her, inside of her, completing her, nothing else existed.
Bursting through the castle doors, Melot strode into Wictred's home without waiting for an invitation or a proper announcement. After riding without stopping, simple courtly courtesies were not going to prevent him from sharing the news of the deception he had uncovered, stolen a glance of during a private, personal moment between a man and his wife. Though if such treachery had been visited upon him he would have been violent with indignation and rage, he saw no fault in his actions, believing them to be just and true, for they had discovered a traitor by using the secret trap door which led into Castle D'Or's keep in order to trail Tristan and his perfidious imposter of a wife.
"It's all a lie," he announced bitterly, fervently upon his entrance.
Without reacting, Wictred questioned, "what," while signaling for everyone but the two of them to exit the room.
Once they were alone, Melot expounded, "Tristan's return, his marriage, his wife. They lied about everything."
A hardness entered the older man's gaze, but, still, he did not rise from his chair, and, still, he did not react outwardly. "I don't know what you're talking about Melot, but hardly everything you're referring to is an elaborate deception. I've seen Tristan alive with my own eyes, and I've witnessed him with Rhiannon. He loves his wife."
"While that may be true, she is not a Briton, her father is not dead, and her mother did not raise her. Yes, she rescued him, saved his life, and they fell in love, but that is as far as their truths go. Who she is, even her name, it is all treachery of the most treasonous kind."
"Go on," Lord Wictred urged, raising slightly to lean against the table.
Seeing that his audience was indeed interested in what he had to say, Melot revealed, "she is from Ireland, is of noble birth, and is not unfamiliar with the title of Princess."
"Isolde," the contentious baron breathed out, exultation and anticipation generously coloring his tone. Even louder, he yelled while pounding the table with his fists, "her name is Isolde."
"King Donnchadh's only child and heir."
Sitting once more with a smirk upon his face, Wictred took a generous gulp from his goblet of wine before motioning for Melot to join him. As he sat down, the older man asked, "and what do you propose that we do with this information?"
"Why, we expose them," Melot replied immediately. "We go to the court, we tell Marke, and we confront them with the truth of her identity. They'll both be exposed as traitors, and Marke and the other barons, yourself included, will have no choice but to demand retribution. Tristan will be stripped of his title, perhaps banished or even sentenced to death, and..."
"And you'll be right there to step in and take over for him, right?"
"After I have gathered this information, have I not proven myself worthy of such a position?"
Holding up his hands in surrender, Lord Wictred said, "you misunderstand me, Melot. I was not questioning your fitness to be Prince; I was questioning Marke's to be King. Tristan has always been his favorite. He has depended upon him for advice for too many years. If he was so determined to give his trust to a traitor, how can we trust him?"
"And what do you suggest instead?"
"I think that we should wait, that we should confront Tristan and Marke on the night of their coronation and impress upon the other barons that, if Britain is going to survive as a unified nation, she is going to need a far-seeing, brave, fearless leader, a man like yourself. Now, as for whom you should name as your second, while I would not refuse the offer, I cannot tell you who to pick. However, need I remind you that, when you learned of this information, it was I that you trusted with it. In the meantime," Wictred continued, "I shall go to Ireland with your discovery and inform King Donnchadh exactly what has happened to his missing daughter. If the other barons won't stand behind you with just the risk of Marke as their leader hanging over their heads, perhaps the threat of war from an enraged, powerful father will further convince them."
"And you think that Donnchadh can be trusted, that he will side with us and then leave with his daughter without making further demands of his support?"
Smiling cruelly, the older man responded, "I think such support would only be fair and right after we return his poor, kidnapped, used daughter to him, don't you?"
Grinning in return, Melot simply nodding in agreement before raising his own cup of wine in a toast. "To the destruction of Tristan!"
"And to the reign of King Melot, soon-to-be ruler of all of Britain," Wictred finished.
He really liked the sound of that.
The ceremony that would officially declare Lord Marke of Cornwall King of Britain and he, Tristan of Aragon, Prince was almost complete when the doors of the castle were forced open, emitting the very last person Tristan had ever wanted to lay eyes upon: Ireland's King Donnchadh, Isolde's father. Without thought, he immediately reached for his sword, removing it as he lunged in front of his wife, shielding her from both harm and sight as much as he could with his own form. Beside him, Marke stood in shock, in bewilderment, but Tristan knew exactly what had happened.
Someone had betrayed them, had discovered the truth and used it to their own advantage.
He wasn't surprised to see Wictred slither around the room in order to come to a stop near the Irish King, but he was flabbergasted to watch Melot do the same thing. As he witnessed his boyhood friend, the man who had fought beside him since he was a child, the closest thing that he had to a brother leave his own side to go and stand against him with his enemy, Tristan understood that a coup had taken place. How or even why, in that moment, no longer mattered; with everything about to be ruined, all he cared about was making sure that Isolde escaped safely with her life. Everything else – Marke, the kingdom, his own life – had to become secondary, and they did.
"Isolde, daughter, it is alright now," Donnchadh spoke tenderly, but Tristan could easily see past the ruse. "I have come for you, and you'll be going back home to Ireland with me this night, your abduction avenged, your abductor slain for the wrongs he visited upon you."
No one moved; no one said a word.
Finally, it was Marke who stepped forward. "What is this commotion about," he demanded to know. "The woman that you speak to is Rhiannon, beloved wife of my second, Prince Tristan of Britain. There is no Isolde here."
"Are you certain, Lord Marke?" The title was an obvious insult, for the Irish King was evidently refusing to acknowledge the new leader of their united nation.
"Of course. If Tristan says her name is Rhiannon, then her name is Rhiannon. I trust him implicitly."
Snickers sounded from the line of Irish across the room, Wictred and Melot smirking cruelly. "Then you are not only a man of weak judgment," Donnchadh said, "but also a fool. Why would I come here, storm your castle if there was even a chance I was wrong? Your men have bested me before, and we are still recovering from the last time we battled you. No, I come here not as a King but as a father wanting to rescue his daughter." Hardening his voice, he commanded, "Isolde, now. Come to me, daughter."
When she still didn't move, when Tristan still remained poised before her, ready to fight, and when Marke still refused to see the truth, Melot stepped forward. "It is true, Uncle. I discovered their lies myself. I have been suspicious for quite some time of the story they told upon returning to Castle D'Or, and, as everyone in the town knows, they often sneak away to the Roman Ruins to be together. A few weeks ago, I followed them and, in the process, overheard them speak of Ireland, of their deception; I overheard Tristan refer to his wife as Isolde, not Rhiannon."
Needing reassurance that his trust was warranted, Marke turned to him and asked, "is this true, Tristan? Please, tell me that it is not. Tell me that my nephew is merely being jealous and petty, that you have not deceived me."
He remained quiet. Looking his King, the man who had saved his life and raised him like a son, in the eye, Tristan said not a word.
However, the same could not be said for his wife. Struggling against him and failing to push past him, she remarked loudly enough for the entire room to hear, "it is the truth that I rescued and saved Tristan's life, that we fell in love while he was recuperating, and that I am his wife, loyal to both him and this kingdom."
"But your name," Marke roared.
Bowing her head, she answered, "Isolde," her voice a mere whisper, but everyone in the room heard anyway and gasped at her acknowledgement. Regaining her fire, his wife raised her crown and yelled, "my name is Princess Isolde, wife of Tristan of Aragon, Prince of Britain. Whoever I was in the past, that no longer matters. I have no father in this room."
"While you might feel that way, and I believe that you do, it does not matter. You lied, Tristan lied, and I cannot ignore or forget such trespasses. I'm sorry, but these decisions were yours. Now, you must live them with." Turning to his guards, Marke declared, "seize him," nodding in Tristan's direction.
When the soldiers approached, he did not fight his capture, though he did press Isolde further back away from the crowd and her father. However, his efforts were pointless, for, as soon as the men started to lead him away, Donnchadh closed ranks, harshly pulling his daughter, Tristan's wife, away by her arm, mercilessly leading her towards the still open doorway and back towards a life of duty and honor for a man who did not possess those qualities himself.
"No," he screamed, pointlessly lunging in his wife's direction. When his efforts were to no avail, he turned pleading eyes upon the man who had once saved his life. "While I know I don't deserve your loyalty or your sympathy after what I've done, she does," Tristan begged. "Do not let him take her back to Ireland; do not sentence her to a loveless life. Kill me if you have to, make an example of me, for I do not care, but, please, Marke, protect Isolde!"
In return she cried out as well. Instead of begging for her own life, though, instead of seeking solace and quarter from the only man possibly powerful enough to stand up against her father, Isolde pleaded for his life, sobbing and stretching out her hand towards his rapidly disappearing figure until he could no longer see her, her tears and sorrow becoming that much more desperate, that much more miserable the further they were separated.
With his last glimpse of the room full of Britain's most influential men, Tristan saw a hint of feeling in his King's gaze, but he knew that for anything that Marke decided to do, even if it was in an effort to aid Tristan and Isolde, it was too late, for all the other barons had backed away from the Lord of Cornwall, aligning themselves with the traitorous Melot and Wictred, with the capitalizing Donnchadh. The treaty was broken, Marke was now alone, and he and Isolde were now without hope.
Everything he cared for, everything he loved had been destroyed.
The sounds of battle raged around him, but he was powerless, unable to help chained in Castle D'Or's dungeon. Tristan didn't need to be outside to know what had happened. With the barons turning against Marke, Melot, Wictred, and Donnchadh had seized the opportunity and used it to their advantage, storming the castle in the hopes of defeating the powerful Lord of Cornwall. Even stripped of his title of King, Marke was still the most influential of all the barons. If they could defeat him, then they could stand together under a new Lord of Cornwall – Melot. What the barons didn't see, though, was that Melot was simply a puppet. He was controlled by Wictred, and Wictred was nothing more than the Irish King's lap servant. By turning against Marke and supporting his treacherous nephew, they were handing all of Britain over to Ireland on a silver platter.
Startling him out of his dark thoughts, Tristan heard the sounds of the dungeon door behind him opening. Scooting up so that he was sitting as straight as he possibly could with the irons banding his hands and feet together, he was stunned to see Marke walk into his cell, followed by a single guard. "Release him," the older man commanded, leaving Tristan speechless. Neither was he capable of questioning the Lord's generosity nor of expressing to him his gratitude.
Once the guard did as he was told and left the stone chamber, Marke spoke softly, explaining himself. "Though I cannot condone your actions, your deceptions, I can understand them. While you might have betrayed me and my trust, you are not a traitor to your country. Go. Leave Castle D'Or now while you have a chance, and do not come back. With the fighting, the Irish are thoroughly distracted. I believe that you shall have no issue locating and then releasing your wife. There is a boat down at the river waiting for you.
When Marke turned on his heel to leave, Tristan called out, "thank you," as sincerely as he could. The words were rather empty, meaningless in comparison to the gift he had been given, but they were all he could think of to say. However, Marke simply kept walking, never once acknowledging his recognition.
Tristan couldn't blame him.
He had left her.
After everything they had been through together and on the verge of escaping with their lives and their love intact despite the astounding odds set against them, Tristan had stupidly, selflessly left her to return to the fight. If his noble actions didn't make her love him just that much more, then she would have hated him for throwing away what could very well turn out to be their last chance to be together.
She had been overjoyed and shocked beyond words when he first found her, setting both she and an equally secured Bragnae free from the ropes that restrained them in the Irish camp while her father and his men were off slaughtering the Britons. Quickly and as quietly as she could possibly move, she had followed him to the river where he led them to a waiting boat, climbing in without doubt or reservation. But then he had kissed her, pushed the boat away, and ran off into the mists and wild screams of the night, disappearing before she could even realize what he was doing or offer a single protest.
Several tense, nerve-wracking moments later, she spoke, more so to herself than to the maid whom she had just been reunited with. "He'll survive this battle, just like he survived the last, and, when it's over, he'll come for us, and he'll find us, and we'll go somewhere else, somewhere where none of us are known and we can live a life of peace, of honor and love away from my father's influence and the constant feuding of Britain's barons."
"I pray for all our sakes that what you say will come true," Bragnae whispered, obviously cowered by fear into using such soft, hard to hear tones. Despite the fact that the swiftly flowing river was ever moving them further and further away from the castle and the battle that surrounded it, they could still hear the deafening strains of fighting. "But I fear that such an outcome is nearly impossible."
Turning to face her maid, Isolde grabbed her hands roughly and demanded, "what do you mean? Tristan is smart, and strong, and he has managed to live through so much already. Surely he'll..."
"The odds have never quite been so stacked against him before," Bragnae confessed. In wide eyed horror, she listened as the older woman continued. "Your father has planned this perfectly, Isolde. Lord Cornwall's nephew and Lord Wictred plot to seize control of the kingdom, and they exposed Lord Marke and your Tristan in order to convince the other barons to side with them. And that's not the worst of it. There's a secret trap door that leads from something the nephew refers to as the Roman Ruins right into the lowest level of the castle's keep. They are going to use this to sneak inside of the castle's walls, surrounding Lord Marke, his men, and, if he succeeds in getting back inside, your Tristan. There's no way they'll be able to win, let alone even escape."
Isolde wanted to deny Bragnae's words, but they made too much sense. She knew of the trap door; Tristan had showed her its location in case she was ever in danger and needed to flee the castle. It must have been how Melot spied on them at the ruins, how their secrets had been exposed. Such a simple, innocent, seemingly almost childlike treasure of fancy had been the very thing to destroy her freedom, and, now, the same thing was threatening to not only ruin an entire country but take her beloved husband from her.
Standing, she declared, "I can't allow this to happen. I won't."
"I understand your desperation, but just what exactly do you think you'll be able to do to stop it?"
"I can fight," she told Bragnae, standing in the narrow, tiny boat. "And I can make sure they win." With that, without waiting for a response, she reached for the oars and, with all her might, started steering the boat back to shore.
She had a plan.
He was injured, perhaps mortally so, Marke as well, but, still, Tristan refused to show weakness as he stepped onto the open drawbridge, Lord Wictred's severed head held high in the air for all to see. Melot had already been slain by the coward he took sides with against his uncle. "Behold! The head of a traitor!"
From far below, the next words spoken, the next voice to speak made him freeze. "And behold the body of a man who does even deserve such a name, for he is less than a traitor, lower than a dog." To punctuate her words, Tristan watched as his beautiful, gentle, supposed to be long gone down the river and safe wife picked up the heavy sword she dragged behind her and cleanly sliced off her father's head, its heavy weight landing against the wood below his feet before his body followed suit and tumbled after it.
Still wielding her sword, Isolde yelled with conviction, "my father had no honor, no sense of duty to his people. He ruled for himself. He conquered for himself. He pillaged, and raped, and destroyed your lands all for himself. And you," she chastised the other barons, spitting out her words with evident disdain. "You turned against a man who had the compassion to release my husband, not because he wasn't hurt by our dishonesty but because he recognized that a King cannot play god with his subjects lives. You turned against a man who welcomed a stranger into his kingdom, who raised his friend's son as his own, who lifted himself above personal adversity and humiliation to rule even more ably than any other man possibly could. And for what, to fight alongside an animal and two cowards? Kill me now where I stand if you must, but, before you do, ask yourselves this question: do you act with your people's best interest in mind, or are you blinded by your jealousies, your pride, your own inflated egos? Britain deserves to be united; it deserves the Lord of Cornwall as its King."
Whether or not his brave, insightful wife had anything else to say in that moment, he'd never know, because, before she had a chance to even take a breath after her impressive, effective speech, Tristan collapsed, his weakened body unable to withstand any further pain or blood loss. As he laid there, prone against the stained wood of the bridge, he could hear the faint din of voices beneath him as barons and soldiers alike put down their weapons, the water of the moat rushed by, and the sound of his own heart pounded loudly in his ears. However, above the cacophony of other noises, he also heard Isolde scream his name, her voice choked with pain, desperation, and disbelief.
The last thing he saw before his eyes fell closed was her tear stained, dirt smudged faced. Nothing had ever been or could ever be as beautiful. And the last thing he heard was her fearful order to carry him to the Roman Ruins where she kept her herbs and prepared her elixers, the sound of her voice a pleasant balm against the numbing pain he was experiencing. It wasn't the goodbye she deserved, but it was enough that he could drift away and die in peace.
Perhaps the most clear memory of her childhood was her mother's memorial, and here Isolde was, saying goodbye to another person she loved far, far too early. They didn't deserve the death they had been given, the unjust conclusion to a life barely led, but she had been powerless to prevent their injury, and her elixirs had done nothing to alleviate their pain or rectify the damage done to them. As she watched their boat drift out to see, a single, lingering tear slid down her pale, cold cheeks.
Bragnae was at her side. Instead of fleeing down the river in the boat that Isolde herself had refused to escape in, her maid had rushed to her aid and assistance, following her to the Roman Ruins after the rather anti-climatic conclusion to the battle that never really started. Yet, at the same time, what fighting did occur had been eventful enough to turn her life upside down and replace it with an existence she didn't recognize, an existence she didn't want.
She was now Queen of both Ireland and Britain, two titles she neither wanted nor felt that she deserved. All she desired was a life of beauty and love, of peace and tranquility, of duty and honor far from the deadly, intrusive corruption and influence of politics. And it would be hers. After everything she had sacrificed and lost, for the second time in her life, Isolde was going to act without thought to consequence; she was going to selfishly do what she felt was best for her and no one else.
Because of recent happenings, no one had thought it strange or even unwise that she immediately name a successor in the event that something should happen to her. It was one thing to leave a single nation in such a limbo should she suddenly be taken by illness or murdered, but to leave two countries in such a plight, especially two who had been enemies for so long and one whose unity was so unstable, was simply foolish. So, with the proper conditions in place, Isolde planned to leave Castle D'Or under the cloak of darkness that night.
And she was never going to return.
As the three of them walked along the beach or, more accurately, the two of them walked along the beach, her daughter being carried, Isolde turned to her companion and asked, "do you regret what I did, the decisions I made for us?"
"No," her husband answered, using his free arm which was not holding their infant daughter to pull her closer against his side. "We're both alive, our child is safe, and I'm happy. Aren't you?"
"More so than I ever thought possible," Isolde replied on a whispered confession. "But what if Britain needs you again someday? What if your dream for her starts to fall apart?"
"Then I will return to fight," he answered, and she didn't begrudge him the response. Rather, she appreciated his honesty and admired his loyalty, just as she always had when it came to his duty towards his people and country. "After all," he added, pausing their movement, smiling in her direction, and kissing her softly. With eyes alight with merriment, Tristan finished, "it wouldn't be the first time I returned from the dead."