Aine, Tristan's mother, didn't have to say a word in order to share Lord Marke's grief. The two had understood each other ever since the night their spouses died. They never needed to explain to each other, only to be near. That was why Aine had joined his movement so quickly - somewhat for Tristan's sake, somewhat because Marke had probably saved their lives, but mostly because they had both lost everything but their children.
And now they had lost that, too.
Aine tipped her head back to study the grainy beams of the ceiling as Lord Marke held his head in his hands. She told herself, You have no right to feel sorry for yourself while Lord Marke grieves. Tristan is alive. But she couldn't help feeling that she had lost him. Ever since they had pushed off Mairead's funeral boat, he had been - wrong.
Marke broke the silence with a shuddering breath. "I wish I had spent half as much time with Mairead as I did planning warfare. Yet, everyone will expect me to avenge her..." Marke massaged him temps. "I am so tired now." Abruptly, he broke off, locking eyes with Aine. "I haven't caught sight of Tristan since yester eve. I can only assume he's handled it badly."
Aine glanced over her shoulder, turned back, and lowered her voice. "He keeps visiting their old haunts: the big oak, the bend in the river. I think he is looking for her, my lord. And he keeps springing up behind me like an arrow -"
"Hello, Mother." Tristan leaned to kiss her cheek.
Aine jumped, pressing a hand over her pounding heart. She raised her eyebrows significantly at Marke.
"I see what you mean," he murmured.
Tristan stepped forward, bowing. His hand never left his sword hilt. "My lord."
"Tristan, my son." Lord Marke's brow wrinkled. "You seem... tolerably well."
"I am very ill, my lord," Tristan contradicted. "But it is nothing Mairead's stew will not fix. Brew, stew. Lamb stew."
Aine felt sick. "Tristan, Mairead will not be making stew tonight. Or any night. Please think back."
Tristan's eyes darkened. "Don't say it. You all say it. But Mairead - she's only gone for a little while."
"Dead," said Lord Marke bluntly. Aine felt the pain that made him so sharp and cruel about it. Restlessly, the lord stood and walked toward Tristan. "We must both face it and move on."
Tristan backed away toward the door, wild-eyed. "She is not. I can feel her calling. She's nearby, only far away. Both. But finding her is not impossible. That is what we must do, or at least, I must." His fist tightened around his sword. "And whoever keeps me from her will pay."
"Then you will be charging many Irish with death," Lord Marke said wearily, touching Tristan's shoulder. "They took her in the first place."
Tristan's pupils seemed to focus, straighten out. For one moment he looked thoughtfully lucid. Aine felt hope rise in her heart.
Tristan pulled from Marke's grip as he pivoted for the door. "Lamb stew," he muttered.
Mairead's eyelids were so heavy. When she was finally able to open them, she saw that she was in a dark hut. She tried to sit up, but there was an unbelievable pain in her arm. It took everything she had not to let tears fall.
Where am I? What's wrong with my arm?
Before she could do anything, the door to the hut opened and a beautiful woman entered. She smiled at Mairead.
"Hello. How are you feeling?"
Gods! She's Irish! Why didn't I find anything to defend my self with? Tristan would kill me! Tristan!
"Where is Tristan? Who are you? Where am I? What's wrong with my arm?" Mairead could have asked more questions but the woman raised her hand.
"My name is Isolde. I don't know who Tristan is. I found you on the beach. You were unconscious, and you had a deep poisoned cut on your arm. I have hid you here, and no one but my maidservant Bragnae and I know about you. I have dressed your arm with the antidote. You will be fine and will be in full health soon." Isolde finished and smiled.
Tristan crept to the shoreline. The wooden boat creaked as he sat in it, rocking on the sand and trying to inch toward the water.
Tristan heard a voice and ducked, waiting for whoever it was to pass. A few moments later, all was quiet. He wondered if he'd imagined it.
He sat up and took an oar in each hand, pushing off into the sea in Ireland's general direction.
Lord Marke had given him the idea. If Mairead was alive, and Tristan knew she was, she'd be in Ireland. The though made his blood race. He'd kill any Irish who touched her.
And so he stole a boat. Did he know the direction? Not really. But woe betide whoever got in his way.
Isolde and Mairead spent as much time together as possible. Mairead told Isolde all about Tristan and her family and everything else. Isolde told Mairead all about growing up a princess and growing up in the castle and life in Ireland . They also figured out that Isolde's betrothed was dead.
Weeks passed, and Mairead and Isolde felt like sisters. Bragnae seemed like the nitpicking mother.
"Isolde, we should leave. Your father will get suspicious."
"It's fine, Bragnae. You need to stop worrying," Isolde said. "Come sit down with us. You don't need to look out. No one ever comes out this way."
Isolde didn't realize how wrong she was, because at this very moment Tristan was scouring the beach for Mairead.