A/n: Yeah, I know I'm lame for not updating something else. But this is just a one-shot, so no worries, I'm not moving on, lol. Just a quick note, the title refers to the main characters' signs in the Celtic zodiac (Melot as the Ivy). I love you all and hope you enjoy this!
*Kernow: The word with which the Cornish people referred to themselves during Tristan and Isolde's time.
The Oak and the Ivy
I'll watch the moon and stars,
I'll tell them everything about us
Still, somehow I am sure that I will see your face
Morning sun before you will rise
Before you'll come and shine again on us
Let me find some comfort in the night
But all I see is your face, so I come back home
I bleed but I'm choosing you,
I'm done but I'm ready to begin
- 'The Waves' by Elisa
The moon was just beginning to wax again, a good sign for the warriors. The balance of the world would be in their favor. It was quiet in the woods as the dawn approached, the kind of quiet that fell in anticipation of chaos. A last attempt at order before the inevitable. There was nothing to be done for the King's men now but prayer. It was for this reason that Daneal had spent all night in the oak groves just beyond the walls of Castle D'Or. She had constructed sacred fires, offered sacrifices of lamb and grain, and knelt before the spirits of the forest, the heavy light of the moon. The only sound that matched her whispers was that of the wind as it swayed the branches.
"Valiant Nuada of the white sword, who subdued the Firbolg of Blood, for love of the *Kernow, for pains of Danu's children, hold thy shield over them, protect us all." She begged, "Oh Maiden, oh Mother, oh Crone of Wisdom, be the Triad with them day and night, on the grassy plain or the mountain ridge, be the Triad with them and her cloak around us all."
The last embers of the fire round which Daneal had spent her night were finally dying off. With it was passing her energy. She had gone into the wood as soon as the sun's descent had begun to darken the sky, making sure her fire and alter were set in time for the rising of the moon. Having forgone dinner in the precedence of prayer, she was aching with hunger. But the scraping along the inside of her body was outweighed by her fear and apprehension. Damn the tribes for their selfishness. Damn Marke for his persistent will and strong heart. And damn Melot for his noble grace, his stupid pride.
"I didn't meant that." She winced in afterthought as soon as the words had coursed through her mind, distracting her from the purity and whole-hearted love she was trying to convince the gods was at the crux of her prayers. Bring them back safely, she begged, for peace and for the people of Cornwall. Keep your shields around them, she pleaded, so that we may share all we have with our brothers, so that the people of Britain may someday have no fear in the form of Ireland or Saxony or even within itself. But hidden under all her good intentions was a yearning that refused to be completely smothered. Most of all, it cried, bring Mellot back alive for my own selfish heart, that he may feel no pain and that I may not live the rest of my days in agony alone.
Her footsteps faltered, unable to form a straight line back to the village as her senses swam under the influence of smoke and exhaustion. The light clang of armor being refitted mingled with shouts for water and calls for horses. Dawn was only just spreading its pale light upon the people who had made their lives around Castle D'Or, but already everyone was busy preparing for the journey of Lord Marke's warriors. They would be riding out at nightfall toward a series of valleys in the southeast controlled by Jutes. Word had reached Cornwall that the Angles were raiding the villages there again, refusing to recognize the Jutes as a sovereign tribe within themselves. Most of the Lords of Britain did not care, it was not their problem for it was not at their doorstep. But Marke had always refused to stand back and watch while Britain destroyed itself from the inside out when the real enemy lay beyond the island the tribes all shared. They had unified to drive off the Romans, there was no reason now why they should not unify again against the Irish.
Daneal, like the rest of her kinsmen, believed in the cause of her King. But she was also very much aware of its price. Justice demanded blood. Honor was paid for in the dying breaths of husbands and sons and brothers and nephews. Peace was bought with the tears of widows and orphans. Frequently she wondered why safety had to be bargained for with pain and death, why men seemed unable to work out their problems without cutting one another to ribbons. At the end of the day she could only suppose this was how the gods had meant for life to be. You could not attain a perfect, worry-free existence unless you were truly willing to sacrifice everything for the cause. Perhaps if it were not so, man would not appreciate peace during the scarce moments in which he possessed it.
Even so, she was convinced that a short, war-ridden existence with Melot would be brighter than a long, tranquil life ripped away from him. Surely there could be no real peace in the wake of love lost.
A gentle chorus of 'hello's and 'good morning's washed over her, growing as she neared the castle. As her father was the personal physician of Lord Marke the entire family's quarters were permanently stationed within its walls. For the most part it was a lovely place to live, always busy, always full of people. But there were times when Daneal's age got the better of her and she wished for a more private home to fill and decorate as she pleased. A place that was truly hers and depended on her hands alone to be filled with warmth and food and comfort. It would be far more work than living at the castle, but as a woman tending to a home was her birthright. The only thing she could ever take ownership of and pride in. She liked to think she would have that someday.
In her head, she laid down the woven wattle and pieced together the support beams that would come together to form a roundhouse independent of the castle. There would be a central hearth and walls painted with knots and spirals, perhaps even an oak tree over the entrance for balance and strength. She would cook each morning, clean afterward and kiss Melot before he left to aid the King. She would take their clothes down to the river with the other women, laughing as they swapped stories about their husbands. When she came home there would be dinner to tend to and little feet to chase after. Two boys, both born warriors like their father, and a daughter to whom she could pass on the secrets of womanhood. All three would take their dark curls and wide, mischievous smiles from Melot. Their inability to keep an open eye while laughing would be her own fault. At the end of the day they would all fall asleep around the fire, tired but warm and safe.
The images floated around her head as they often did when she allowed herself to slip into daydream and before she even realized she was laying on her bed, sleep overcame her.
Maids flowed into the room, lighting the hearth and every torch on the walls. She had slept for far longer than intended and most of the day had already slipped away. No doubt the moment she stepped foot into the Great Hall her parents would be scowling with disappointment. They wouldn't take kindly to the excuse of prayer for Melot's safe return. No one in her family was keen on him, though Daneal knew she had no one to blame for that but herself.
As little as she wanted to face their chastisement, there was no choice. The sun was beginning its descent in the sky and soon the feast to see the King's men off would commence. She was expected to be there, dressed and smiling as they entered to applause.
"It was not a good day to fall idle, Daneal." Eleanor, the eldest of the maidens grumbled as her young charge rose from the bed and began to splash her face with the water they had brought. "Your mother and father were in a right state when no one could find you all morning. This was the last place they thought to look, with so much needing to be done today."
"I know." She sighed, a headache already forming in her mind from being woken so abruptly. "I didn't mean to leave everyone shorthanded, I just needed to rest. I doubt I would have been very useful had I not."
Nodding in understanding, Eleanor offered only a begrudging, tight-lipped smile.
"Thankfully preparations didn't suffer without you, but you'd best hurry getting ready. The feast starts in little more than an hour."
Knowing better than to respond, Daneal simply nodded and began undressing.
The hall was brightly lit with torches and candles, wreaths hung from every fixture available and the rich scent of roasted boar dominated the air. Sweeping in quietly with a few other ladies of the court, Daneal took her place alongside her parents. Even as she avoided turning towards her family, she could feel the irritation in their eyes burning against her skin.
"Do you have any idea how much time I wasted looking for you today?" Her mother hissed discretely as more people continued to file in.
"The feast was assembled just fine without me." She noted, keeping her voice as low as possible. It was stupid to talk back in such a manor, she knew. But at least the retribution of her actions would have to wait until after the feast.
"How dare you." Her mother looked over at the young girl beside her, hardly believing what she was hearing. "That is not the point. Your insolence cannot continue forever. It won't be tolerated."
"Can we not discuss this later? We have been asked here to support the King, not to bicker at his table." Daneal pleaded with her mother, standing and clapping beside her as the King himself made his entrance followed by Tristan, Melot and the rest of his company. Catching the eye of Marke's nephew for just a moment, Daneal couldn't help but smile when his own face brightened at the sight of her.
"No wonder he won't marry you." Her mother leaned over to murmur, "You can hardly manage your own duties, you'll never be able to handle an entire household."
This time there wasn't much to be said back. However, Daneal was a little slower than everyone else to take her seat, so heavy was the shock that came with her mother's words. It already hurt enough that Melot still hadn't proposed and that her family knew him only as "the scoundrel" who had "stolen her honor" behind their doors. Did her own mother have to rub salt in her wounds? On this of all nights, when Melot might very well be riding to his death?
Knowing there was no good response that could be made, Daneal simply kept her mouth shut, smiling at the servants as they brought 'round the wine. Speeches were made, toasts filled the air and soon everyone was very full with warm food and hearty conversation. Having no desire to speak with her mother, Daneal kept to herself, finding entertainment only in trying to get Melot to laugh during speeches by making faces at him. Finally, once everyone had digested a little, the dancing began.
These were special dances that progressed from illustrating the stories of battles old to bestowing trust and hope within the warriors who would leave that evening. It was an old tradition and, though she wasn't often one for dancing, Daneal enjoyed it very much. Mostly because she was finally away from the reproachful gaze of her family and under the warm fingertips of the only man she had ever loved.
"Rumor has it you slept all day." He teased her the moment their hands were touching, their feet stepping gracefully around one another. Though they made a fairly good pair, it was Melot who really made them look any decent at footwork. He had always been the more graceful of the two. If training to fight for most of his life had instilled anything in him, it was agility.
"Jealous?" Her playful smirk matched his, but there was an element of honesty there. His skin was pallid, eyes heavy and underlined by grey bags. Either he hadn't slept well the night before, or the stress of preparing for battle was getting to him. Quite possibly both.
"You've no idea." He chuckled, "I don't know how I'm going to stay up all night riding."
"Hmm, perhaps we should get you warmed up for the journey?" It wasn't often that they would risk sneaking away so soon in such a public place. But there wasn't much time before he would ride out and Daneal was desperate to get out from under the ever present gaze of her parents. A fact that was not lost on her lover.
"But then what would your father have to scowl at? I hate to think he might actually have to enjoy himself."
"You're riding to war." She reminded Melot in a cynically flat tone, standing still as he held her hand above their heads and came around in a circle before taking his place beside her again. "Trust me, he is enjoying himself."
"It isn't really war." His voice was soft, eyes pleading with her not to assume the worst.
"My apologies, you're going off to slay fellow countrymen. Which, of course, is much safer."
"Stop making it sound simple." He chuckled at her antics, "You know this business of dealing with the barons is not so easy as it appears on the surface."
"Melot." Her eyes bore into his reproachfully, reminding him not to take her role in this less seriously just because she would be staying at home. "If anyone knows this isn't easy, it is the women and children Marke's men leave behind tonight."
"I know." He nodded apologetically, "I know. I only meant that the politics of it gets lost in the bloodshed. It would be preferable if things were black and white, but they just aren't."
"A little grey can be good." She shrugged, offering a small smile as her own grey eyes looked up at him.
"You know I love grey." The toothy grin she adored so much broke open across his face as the song finally ended and they stood together. As the next one started up and the people around them began to move in intricate circles and turns, he took her hand and led her out of the Great Hall to his own chambers.
Though Daneal could usually find shapes in anything, there were none to be found in the firelight as it danced with its own shadows on the ceiling above Melot's bed. Here there was only color and movement and beauty. But it was still captivating. What she loved the most about fire was how no flame was ever the same twice, and so too was the case with its shadows.
"It's getting colder." Before now Melot had been quiet as he lay beside her, both of them staring up at the wood beams above. "I'm not sure I'm going to like sleeping alone after tonight."
"You can always sidle up to Tristan." Looking over at him, Daneal couldn't help the cheeky smirk that pulled up the side of her mouth. For that she earned a playful shove that was so strong it nearly pushed her clear off the bed, causing a shriek of surprise to fly from her mouth. Narrowing her eyes, she sat up and glared down at the man beside her for a few long, silent moments before smacking him across the face with one of his own pillows.
Stunned surprise widened his eyes for just a moment and then they both knew instantly, just from the look on his face, that she wasn't going to get away with that easily. Leaping from the bed, she tore across the room, but he was right behind her before she'd even wrapped his blanket around herself. From one end of the room to the opposite corner, over the mattress, across his trunk he chased her until finally, somewhere between the fireplace and bed, his arms closed around her from behind. Both of them were laughing, though Daneal's lungs were somewhat more labored as she wasn't accustomed to running. Not the way Melot was anyway.
"You should be beaten." He chuckled, his voice low in her ear as he leaned down over her shoulder. Her lips met his halfway, curling into a smile as he ran his fingertips across her side, caressing softly. Suddenly, a commotion seemed to arise on the other side of Melot's curtains, which gave way to a view of the front of Castle D'Or. Leaving his lover's side, he crossed the room and stuck his head out to see what all the noise was about.
"OI, YOU LOT!" He shouted down, laughing softly when he saw that it was only a gaggle of very drunk soldiers.
"Melot!" A chorus of returns met him happily, if slurred and a bit more amused than necessary.
"What are you doing? I can hear you from up here!"
"The feast's almost over, in'it?" They called up, as though Melot had never left the feast at all and this fact was rather obvious. "We've got to start saddlin' up. Hurry down or you'll be stuck back here pluckin' chickens with the women!"
Shaking his head and chuckling as they stumbled on towards the stables he only nodded, waving them on.
"Alright, alright. Give me a few moments, I'll be along."
By the time he'd turned around Daneal had worked her way back into the petticoat that had been tossed onto the floor nearly an hour before. She wasn't having much luck finding her dress, but his trousers quickly came into view and she took the opportunity to throw them at his head. However, Melot had not been training to defend his country year after year to be so easily caught off guard. His fingers wrapped around the material easily in mid-air, the smug smile he flashed thereafter her only reward. Rolling her eyes, but smiling in spite of herself, Daneal finally came upon her dress. As she tried to fix it about her form once more, she chanced to voice the question that had been rolling around in her mind for some time.
"How long does Marke anticipate your leave?" She asked softly, trying to avert her gaze from him as her hands stretched back to do up the laces that held her dress in place. At first there came no response, only Melot's head turning at an odd angle over his shoulder as though he wanted to look at her but couldn't quite bring himself to do it. Slipping his tunic back on, he cleared his throat before answering.
"About a week's ride to Juteland, maybe a fortnight fighting off the Angles and feasting after, then another week back."
"If you're lucky."
"Or unlucky. The wounded slow us down, but the dead carry no burden."
"It does to the families who are left behind. On both sides." Her voice was hard with bitterness as she tried to smooth her hair back once again. But it was hard, her hair was long and there were so many knots from rolling around in his bed. Pain and frustration pounded through her with every rake of her fingers through the mess.
Just as tears were beginning to sting her eyes, maybe from the ache of her hair being pulled, maybe from the reality of Melot's leave finally beginning to set it, she felt a warm pair of hands encircle her own. They were bigger than hers, stronger, but gentle as they set her hands free and began working through the knots themselves.
"Please do not let your mind linger on such things while I am away." He was begging, she could feel it in the soft desperation of his voice. The fire went on burning, crackling and throwing shadows in the silence that followed while his fingers wove in and out her hair. She wasn't sure how a second officer of the King had ever become so good at such a thing, but no one else was as fast and gentle as Melot at untangling the knots that their lovemaking always seemed to bring about.
"Then you want me not to think at all for the next month. How can you ask so much?" He was the brightest light in her life when at home. How could she stay away from the thought of him when it was all she would have to hold onto at all for the next month.
"Because I love you." The murmur fell deeply across her ear as he leaned over her shoulder. Finished with her hair, he came around to face her, eyes heavy with guilt. He made no effort to mask that his leave would be as hard on him as it would be on Daneal. It was for that openness, that respect he showed only her of all the women in D'Or, that she loved him back.
"Melot, it's alright." She shook her head, feeling sorry for ever giving him grief when he was just trying to do his duty to the King, his own uncle. "I should never have"-
"I have to go in a few moments." He stopped her, warm hands coming up to hold her face. The firelight danced in his eyes, softening the gray bags beneath them to give him a far less weary look. It seemed, for just that moment, he was the boy she had known all her life and not a hardened solider riding to war. Just a beautiful boy with a smile too big for his face and a hope in his heart for all the joys life could bring.
"I know." Her fingertips ran through his hair as the muscles in her throat seized together, trying to dam up a wall of tears that were building with a strong and steady force.
"I do not mean to waste those moments." Reaching out to the table beside his bed, Melot opened the box he always kept there, full of odd trinkets and mementos from special occasions. From inside he produced a ring of heather and moss, just big enough to fit over her hand and around her wrist. It was a promise wreath.
"What?" Her voice was reduced to a whisper, unsure if she was hearing him right or simply the way her heart wanted to.
"Daneal, I'm asking that you allow my return home be to a wife. Please?"
The hair around her face brushed his fingers as it shook back and forth with disbelief. At first, the movement made his blood run cold, his heart sink into the depths of his stomach with fear. Was she refusing him?
"I was beginning to fear you would never ask." A laugh broke through her words, heavy from the tears, growing stronger as his words sunk in. Her family had been wrong, her doubts had been for nothing at all. He wanted to start a life with her and she felt as though every fiber of her being might rip open from the sheer ecstasy that seemed to be filling every space within. His own deep, resounding laughter mingled with hers in the air between them as relief poured through his veins.
"I should never have hesitated. But I was so afraid to leave you a widow. I saw what it did to my mother, consumed as she was for so many years with grief. I couldn't bear to leave you in such a state."
"What changed?" She asked softly. He was still riding to battle, the risk of his death was as great as ever. And yet, even Daneal could feel a new ease settling over them now. None of it mattered. If she was to grieve, she would be proud to do it as his widow.
"I realized that what I am riding toward is not so important as what I will be leaving here today. What I will be coming home to." He kissed her forehead and for a moment they simply grinned into one another's eyes, soaking up the joy.
"Thank you." Daneal motioned to her wrist, proudly arranging the wreath along her pale skin. "I shall never take it off. Even if you're gone for a year."
He chuckled softly, tucking some of her hair behind her ear, smoothing it affectionately.
"If I am gone for more than a month, I fear I might die of desperation, just so my soul may escape to where it belongs."
A deep breath filled her lungs and Daneal stepped closer to him, wrapping her arms around his neck and back. He was so warm and solid, the thought of being without that security was already beginning to physically hurt.
"I can't wait to be your wife." She whispered, "I feel as though I have been for it waiting my entire life."
"As have I." He assured her, voice just as low. Pulling away, he looked down at her with a steady gaze and she could see it there. Everything he felt, everything he was about to say, everything they were and ever would be. Though it pained them both to see him leave, the promise of something to come lifted them both beyond their grief. Even on this night, as he would ride off with the King, she would not be able to keep a smile from her face. "I will return to you Daneal. I will come back and I will marry you. This I promise."
With one last kiss and her blessing, he left her there. But she knew, she was not alone. And she never would be again.