She wasn't sure how long it would take them to travel to the wall. Tristan had said it would be a two-day walk, so it would probably take until nightfall to reach their destination with the aid of horses. Half a day spent stuck in this tiny caravan with absolutely nothing to so. The only window was bolted shut, preventing her from observing the passing landscape, and Tristan in mouse form didn't exactly make for stimulating company. She was left alone with her thoughts, unable to do anything else but muse on her, most likely, unrequited feelings for the man currently scrabbling around in a tiny cage, ears and nose twitching as he took in unfamiliar sights and sounds. Her entire life of watching from the heavens hadn't prepared her for this, for the desperate ache in her chest as she contemplated losing this brave, kind-hearted, idiotic man to another woman. And what a woman! From the little she had heard about Victoria, she could only imagine her as a privileged, stuck-up, stupid brat whose only desires were lavish presents, a fancy house and the envy of everyone else in the village. She was the type of girl who would always want what she didn't have, and who would never appreciate what lay before her. The fact that she had let Tristan go on this quest to retrieve a fallen star spoke volumes. No, that was incorrect; she hadn't let him, she had encouraged him to go. All so that she could have her own star.
Victoria would have her star in little more than a day. Tristan would have the woman he loved, regardless of whether his love felt the same way about him. And Yvaine would be alone, sent back home to the sky, if lucky, after being presented to Victoria as a token of Tristan's affection. Sent home, never to see him again. And he would never know how she felt.
Could he even understand her now? She bent forward, staring intently at the mouse. "Tristan, if you can understand me, look at me now," she said urgently. The mouse looked up, but not to regard her face. Instead, he gazed longingly at the slab of cheese hanging from the ceiling in a netted bag. Yvaine sighed, walking over to break off a small piece to place in the cage. The mouse set upon it straight away, nibbling hungrily on the chunk gripped between his forepaws. Yvaine sat down beside the cage, staring at the yellow wall of the carriage for a few moments as they bounced along the uneven road. All her thoughts came rushing back, desperate to spill out. She smiled crookedly to herself. Well, might as well let them all out. Not like he can hear me now.
"Remember when I said I knew little about love?" she spoke aloud, watching Tristan as he gnawed away at the cheese, oblivious to what she was saying. "Well, that wasn't true. I know a lot about love. I've seen it, seen centuries and centuries of it. And it was the only thing that made watching your world bearable. All those wars, pain, lies, hate, made me want to turn away and never look down." Her face had grown grave and sad, a testament to all the suffering she had witnessed. But as she continued, her eyes began to brighten and her smile came back. "But, to see the way mankind loves; you could search the furthest reaches of the universe and never find anything so beautiful." Her voice trailed off for a moment, a wondering smile on her face. "So, yes, I know love is unconditional, but I also know it can be unpredictable, unexpected, uncontrollable, unbearable, and… and strangely easy to mistake for loathing." She hesitated for a moment. "And, what I'm trying to say Tristan," she said, voice faltering as she struggled to get the words out, " is that I, I think I love you." With those words, it was like a dam breaking, and every feeling inside her began to pour out. "My heart, it's like my chest can barely contain it. Like it doesn't belong to me anymore. Like it belongs to you. And if you wanted it, I'd wish for nothing in exchange- no gifts, no goods, no demonstrations of devotion. Nothing but knowing that you loved me too. Just your heart, in exchange for mine." She finished off her speech with a wistful smile, which gradually faded into nothing. She sat back, leaning against the garish, yellow walls, staring at nothing, her words extinguished. What did it matter anyway? He couldn't understand her in mouse form, and she didn't even think she would have the courage to tell him later. If there was a later. I swear to God, that old hag better turn him back! Yvaine didn't speak for the rest of the long journey. She alternated between staring blankly at the wall, watching Tristan scratch about the cage, and dozing lightly. Even though it was daytime, she was never able to sleep for long. The shaking of the carriage usually jolted her out of her nap, leaving behind traces of dreams full of longing and regret.
It was dark when they finally reached a small town situated not too far from the wall separating the faerie and human realms. The witch pulled open the door of the caravan, and Yvaine gratefully clambered out, gulping in the fresh air and stretching her stiff legs. The witch carefully lifted Tristan out of his cage, and placed him on the ground before lifting her enchantment. "The Wall is one mile that way. Though the walk might take you a little longer than normal, the transformation tends to leave the brain a bit scrambled for a while." The mouse dissolved into a cloud of dark smoke, which grew larger and larger, before finally forming the shape of a man. Tristan stood up straight, swaying slightly, a bemused look on his face. He reached for his sword, intending to defend himself from the witch, but as he pulled it out, he lost his balance and collapsed onto the cobbled street. The witch cackled, "I warned you. Save your strength." Shaking her head in amusement, she turned away and headed back to her caravan. Yvaine rushed to Tristan's side. "Thank God," she said, cradling his head. "I've been so worried about you." Tristan gazed up at her, a bleary smile on his face. "Victoria" he murmured, his smile stretching. Yvaine sighed and sat back on her heels. "I think I preferred 'mother'." She looked up, searching for a place to bring him while he recovered. A sign for "The Slaughtered Prince" caught her eye. "Come on," she said, grunting slightly as she pulled Tristan up from the ground, and supported him as he tried to stand. "There's an inn over there. Victoria's birthday isn't until tomorrow. I need a bath and a good nights sleep before you present me to her." She strove to keep the bitterness out of her voice as she spoke, even though she guessed that Tristan would be too dazed to understand the nuances in her voice.
They eventually reached the inn, hindered by the difficulty of supporting Tristan's dead weight on Yvaine's slender frame. She pulled him inside the front doors, and plonked him down on a nearby settee, before making her way over to the reception desk. There was nobody to be seen. "Hello?" she called out, leaning over the counter. "Anybody there?" There was no reply. Sighing in exasperation, she looked around in search of a register book. Instead she spotted a bell marked by a piece of paper that read, "For assistance, please ring bell". She banged on the bell smartly, and stood back, tapping her foot impatiently. She turned around at the sound of an answering grunt behind her. Sitting in the shadows was a middle-aged man in shabby clothes. He struggled to his feet, rubbing his eyes, before sleepily making his way behind the counter. "What cannae do for you?" he mumbled, blinking hazily at her. "I'd like a room for myself and my friend," Yvaine replied, masking the impatience in her voice as she gestured to Tristan's body sprawled on the nearby couch. The man looked past her, gawking unashamedly at Tristan. "What's wrong with 'im?" he asked, fixing her with an inquisitive stare. "Not drunk, is 'e? We don' take kindly to drunks in 'ere, they always get sick on the carpet". "No, no, he's not drunk. He's just tired" Yvaine replied with a tight smile. "Any mess he makes, it's comin outta your bill" the man glared, reaching under the counter for the sign-in book. He sighed loudly as he turned the pages. "You want one room or two?" Yvaine paused. "Emmmm, well, how much is it per room?" As he named his price, her eyes widened slightly. "Hold on a second" she excused herself, returning to Tristan's side. She shook his shoulder. "Tristan," she hissed. "How much money do you have?" He mumbled incoherently in response. "God dammit!" she growled in frustration. After a moment's hesitation, she slapped him across his face. His eyes flew open in shock. "What the.." he began. She cut him off. "Tristan, how much money do we have?" "What?" Tristan asked, struggling to sit up. "I have to pay the man for the room" she said, pointing to the man waiting behind the counter, a bored look on his face. "Oh, right," Tristan muttered, pulling himself upright. He began searching through his pockets. "Captain Shakespeare gave me some money to help us along the way. Just in case we weren't able to barter the lightening." He pulled a handful of coins out of his pocket, dropping most of them on the ground in the process. "Whoops," he mumbled, attempting to catch them before they fell, but failing miserably. Yvaine bit her tongue, and instead concentrated on gathering up the coins on the ground, counting them as they were collected. "We've just enough here for one room," she said, when they all were collected. "Is that okay?" she looked up at Tristan. No point waiting on a response though, as he was already asleep. She resisted the urge to smack him into awareness. She rose to her feet, and made her way back to the desk. "All okay, love?" the man asked, smirking at her in bored amusement. "Fine," she snapped, laying the money on the table. "We'll take one room." The man slowly took her details and the money, and rummaged behind the counter producing a battered looking key. "Upstairs, first door on the left," he said, before returning to his couch to resume his snooze. "Upstairs?" Yvaine asked. "You don't have any rooms on the ground floor, do you?" "Nope" a voice said from the shadows. Yvaine turned to glare at Tristan's sleeping form, before examining the staircase. She groaned inwardly. This really wasn't her day.
The moment she reached the room, a barely awake Tristan in tow, she dumped him on the bed. He sprawled out on the mattress, facedown, a content smile on his face. After some struggle, she managed to pull his coat off him in the hope of making him more comfortable. After that, she didn't know what to do with herself. She didn't feel like sleeping, and even so, it would be impossible to find any place on the bed with Tristan lying there. She paced around the room for a while, distracted by the thought of the following day. Victoria's birthday. The day she would finally accept Tristan's proposal. The day Yvaine's adventure would be over. Oh God, she was going to go mad here. She just needed to stop thinking and just relax. She looked at the bath partially hidden by a wooden screen. Perhaps a nice hot bath would do the trick. It had worked wonders back in Lamia's inn. True, she had almost died there, but before the innkeeper's wife had revealed herself to be a witch intent on carving out her heart, she had really had a most lovely time there. What was it she had said? Nothing like a nice soak to warm the cockles of your heart. Maybe a bath would make her feel better.
It didn't. She sat there soaking in the bath until her skin had turned wrinkly and the water began to cool. But still her thoughts kept swirling in her mind. She couldn't even find the enthusiasm or the will to move. All she could do was sit there, mulling over everything that had happened, and everything that had yet to pass. Suddenly a voice broke her reverie. "Excuse me?" Tristan's grinning face peered at her through a window in the screen. "I think you're in my bath". She cried out in surprise, twisting in the bath so that her back was turned to him. "Close your eyes," she exclaimed, her cheeks flushing red. Tristan closed the window in the screen, and backed away, giggling to himself . "Honestly, I'm not looking. "Here, I'll turn away." He turned his back to her, giggles still spilling out of his mouth. Yvaine emerged from the bath, shaking her head in amused disbelief. She pulled a towel around her, and when it was securely tied, walked around the screen. "Alright, you can open them now" she said, pulling her hair free from the loose plait. She glanced sideways at Tristan as he turned around with a gentle smile. She smiled at him for a moment, before turning away shyly. He was silent for a moment. "Did you really mean what you said in the caravan?" he asked curiously. She turned around to face him, confusion fogging her brain for a few seconds. What I said in the… Suddenly, it dawned on her. She gasped in dismay. "But, but you were a mouse. You were a mouse. You wanted cheese. You didn't…" She covered her face in her hands. "I asked you to give me a sign," she blurted out, turning away from him. His hands stopped her, pulling her around to face him again. "And risk you being too embarrassed to keep saying such lovely things?" he grinned, pressing his forehead to hers for a moment, before planting a kiss on the crown of her head. She couldn't help but giggle awkwardly. He stroked her cheek for a moment. "Do you want to know what the captain really whispered to me that day?" She nodded, scarcely able to breathe. She lowered her hands from her face, and he held them gently within his own. "He told me my true love was right in front of my eyes" he said softly, a warm look in his eyes as he smiled at her. "And he was right." She felt her heart was about to burst with happiness at those words. She could scarcely believe them, could scarcely believe she could be so lucky. Was it possible she was only dreaming, only imagining that he was saying these words? Her concerns faltered as he pulled her in for a kiss. Real or imaginary, Tristan was a very good kisser.
They stayed awake for hours that night, lying side by side on the bed, talking and laughing and reminiscing over the past few days. So little time, yet so much had happened. "So, you don't love Victoria anymore?" she said playfully. "After all that true love nonsense. How fickle you are!" She poked him teasingly. His face grew solemn, regarding her question seriously. "Well, I don't suppose I ever loved Victoria. Not really. I guess I was just taken away by her beauty and her charm, and I suppose I thought it would be a great accomplishment to win her affection, seeing as so many men desired her. God, how shallow of me" he said, staring up at the ceiling for a second. "You know," he said, "I really don't know what I was thinking. How could I have cared so much about someone I had absolutely nothing in common with, someone who obviously didn't love me?" He was silent for a moment, pondering his previous affections for the girl he had hardly known. "Hmm, yes, well you were a bit of a fool when I first met you. Luckily you've grown up since." Yvaine laughed, stroking the side of his face with her finger. He laughed, slapping at her hand playfully, turning over on his side to face her. "Was I really that bad when I met you?" he asked. "Well…yes" Yvaine said, with a mock serious look on her face. She managed to keep that look for a few seconds, before breaking into a fit of giggles. "You didn't exactly make the best first impression, knocking me into the ground and calling me your.." she broke into further giggles, "..your mother." "Ah yes, not my finest moment," Tristan agreed, joining in with the laughter. "I suppose tying you up and intending to give you to Victoria as a present didn't help either." "The most annoying thing was that you wouldn't shut up about 'your Victoria'," she teased him. "It was most tiring." "Tiring?" Tristan remarked, raising an eyebrow. "Well, that explains why you constantly wanted to sit down. If I'd know that talk of Victoria was slowing you down, I'd have kept my mouth shut," he grinned, pushing her hair off her face. "Ha ha," she laughed sarcastically, prodding him in the stomach. "Hey!" he complained, grabbing her hand tightly. A mock fight ensued, which quickly led to another kiss. They lay side by side in companionable silence, smiling at each other occasionally. "So," Yvaine said, breaking the silence. "When did you decide you didn't love Victoria anymore?" Tristan paused for a moment, looking thoughtful. "Well, I suppose it was on Captain Shakespeare's ship. I hadn't time to really think about it before then." He was silent for a few moments. "There was one point, remember, when he was doing my hair so the crew wouldn't recognise me? I asked him why he bothered pretending to be something he's not, just for the sake of reputation. I wondered why he wanted to be someone he didn't even like, and why the crew wouldn't accept him for the way he is. Wouldn't he be happier that way?" Tristan paused again, turning to stare up at the ceiling, mulling things over. Yvaine waited silently for him to finish his speech. "And then I realised I had no right to talk, because I was doing the same thing. All my life, I've strove to be like the privileged crowd, but never quite making it. And the thing is, I can't stand any of them. Spoilt brats, the lot of them. Even Victoria. Especially Victoria. Maybe that's why I thought I loved her so much. Maybe I thought if I won her heart, I'd be accepted." He turned back to look into her eyes. "Silly, really." Yvaine smiled in sympathy. "Understandable," she replied. "Though maybe just a little bit silly." Tristan smiled in response. "And I'm not even certain as to when I started falling in love with you," he said. "It may have taken Captain Shakespeare's hint to help me realise it." "Smart man, that guy," Yvaine grinned. "And he certainly does have a wonderful wardrobe. I couldn't help but wonder though, why all the dresses? There's no women on the ship." Tristan stared at her, his eyebrows raised in amusement. "Well, he is a very…flamboyant man," he pointed out. Yvaine propped herself up on her elbows at that. "What do you mean? You don't think he wears…" Tristan continued to stare at her emphatically. She let out a roar of laughter, collapsing back down beside him. "Oh god, that would be a sight to see." She continued to chuckle away to herself. "Do you think we'll ever see him again?" she wondered aloud, once her giggles had subsided. "He was a good friend to us." "I hope so," Tristan said, wrapping his arm around her. "I think he'd get a kick out of us. Probably congratulate himself on his marvellous match-making skills." Yvaine grinned at that. Her face then split into a large yawn. "You're tired?" Tristan exclaimed in surprise. "And it's night time! My, you are getting settled into human life." "Well, I did have to drag you up those stairs, you big lump," she teased. "That would tire anyone out." "Cheek," Tristan said reprovingly. "Fine, I'm going to keep talking just to keep you awake." Yvaine scoffed at that. She reached behind her, and grabbing a pillow, proceeded to whack him with it. "You will not! You'll keep quiet while I sleep or I'm going to go back to my old sleeping patterns. And then you'll be sorry." "Oh, I'm scared," Tristan chortled, grabbing at the pillow. "Seriously, I'm terrified. Okay, okay, I'll let you sleep." He pulled the pillow away from her grasp, and threw it to one side. "But, in punishment for your abuse, you don't get your own pillow to sleep on." "Well," Yvaine said, snuggling closer to him, smiling suggestively. "I suppose I'll just have to share yours then."