The Heart of a Lion
"Come with me... Come with me!"
Isolde looked out over the sea to Britain. She faced Tristan and his dark, intense eyes. "I can't."
"Why not?" Tristan demanded.
Isolde looked back out over the crashing waves. She hesitated. In an instant, images of a life with Tristan, of a home in Britain, of a happy marriage flooded her mind. She looked at Tristan again, his dark eyes pleading her to say yes.
"Come with me," he said over the sound of the crashing waves. After Isolde hesitated again, he ventured, "You said yourself that your parents were dead. What do you want to stay for? A marriage to a man you don't love?"
"-Bragnae," he interrupted her. "Please come with me," he pleaded again in a barely audible whisper. "Please," he repeated, as a wave crashed against them.
Why not? There was nothing that she had to stay for and to look forward to. But she was the King's daughter. He would never rest until she was found. Who knew what he would do then.
When she hesitated to answer, Tristan whispered, "I love you."
Isolde's breath caught in her throat. At the sound of those three words, her resolve melted and all her worries of what her father would do when he discovered that she had run away with the handsome enemy warrior faded away.
She looked deep into Tristan's eyes and said, "Alright. I'll go with you."
"You will?" Tristan smiled, barely able to contain his happiness.
"Yes," she laughed. She loved to see him smile. He seemed to rarely smile. To know that she was the cause of his happiness warmed her heart.
Another wave crashed against them. "Come. We must hurry," Tristan said helping her into the boat.
Isolde watched Tristan effortlessly hop into the boat, put the oars in place, and begin to row away towards Britain. Even though he had not fully recovered from the illness that the poison brought on, he still seemed so strong and handsome. She looked out over the water again towards Britain and then looked back at Tristan. What did the future hold? Isolde looked back at Ireland, back at the beach they had just left. She would miss Ireland. But the future looked too bright to look back at Ireland for long.
Once they got out onto the open water and Tristan put the sail up, Isolde said, "Tristan, there's something I need to tell you."
Tristan turned towards her and smiled. "What is it?"
Isolde hesitated, then said, "My name isn't Bragnae. I lied. It's Isolde."
Tristan moved closer to her. "Isolde?" He brushed a strand of blonde hair back behind her ear. "Why did you tell me you name was Bragnae?" he asked, confused.
"I-I guess I was afraid," she said looking down at her hands in her lap.
"Afraid?" Tristan queried.
"You see," she hesitated, "I'm the daughter of King Donnchadh." She gingerly looked up to meet Tristan's shocked and confused gaze.
"But you said both you parents were-"
"-I know," she interrupted. "I lied." She bit her lip, nervous at what his reaction might be. When he didn't respond, she said, "You don't hate me, do you?" She searched his face for an answer.
Tristan's faced relaxed and he smiled. "No. I don't hate you. I would have asked you to come anyway, even if I had known."
Isolde relaxed, and smiled wholeheartedly back. But she couldn't keep herself from saying, "But when my father finds out, he'll find us. I-It could start a war."
"Donnchadh is always looking to start a war against us. He wants to enslave us. Rule over us. It would just be the excuse that he was looking for," Tristan consoled her.
"But, Tristan-" He silenced her, putting a finger to her lips. Then, he bent towards her and lightly brushed his lips against hers.
Isolde had always figured that Tristan was an English warrior of some sort, and perhaps a very good one. But nothing prepared her for the reception that Tristan received when they entered Cornwall.
When they had gotten to the English coast, Tristan had borrowed a horse, promising to return it. They had ridden hard to get to Cornwall as quickly as possible. Isolde could tell that Tristan couldn't wait to be home again.
"We're here," Tristan said. The horse stepped onto a stone bridge and crossed over it, its hoofs clicking on the stone.
As soon as the village came into sight, Tristan stopped the horse for a moment and took in the scene that lay before him. It was good to be home again!
He urged the horse forward, and as they entered the village, nearby people stopped their work to look up and see who the stranger was. Isolde saw from where she sat behind Tristan astonishment cross their faces as they began to whisper to one another. She heard a few whispering Tristan's name. But as they entered further into Cornwall, the whispers turned into cheers. Men yelled to one another, "It's Tristan!" "Tristan? How can it be!" Little children ran along side the horse, laughing and yelling Tristan's name.
Tristan pulled up before a large stone structure, their castle. Two men ran out. One stopped on the stairs. The other, the younger of the two, ran down the stairs, astonishment dancing across his face.
Tristan swung down from the horse. "Melot!" he greeted, clasping his arm.
"I don't believe it. I saw you dead. I-I built your boat. We-," he said in amazement.
A smile danced across Tristan's face. "I am delivered," he said.
"Tristan!" Edyth cried, hugging Tristan.
The man on the stairs now stood before Tristan, amazement and happiness glinting in is eyes. "How? How?" He grabbed him and hugged him. The man he considered a son had been brought back to him.
From the horse's back, Isolde had observed all this. Her esteem and respect and love for Tristan increased as she watched this reception.
Then, Tristan pulled away from Marc and turned towards her. "And who is this lovely young lady?" Marc inquired.
"This is Isolde," he said, taking her hand to help her down. "To her I owe my life. Isolde, this is Lord Marc."
"Welcome to Cornwall, Isolde," Marc greeted Isolde. "We are all deeply indebted to you. You have restored heart to us all by returning Tristan to us."
Isolde sheepishly nodded in reply. Edyth, who was now standing beside her, hugged her gently, and said, "Yes, thank you, dear."
"A feast! Tonight at Dor," Marc rose his voice and said for everyone to hear, "will be given in honor of the return of Tristan!" A cheer rose from the crowd. Isolde smiled adoringly up at Tristan. Tristan smiled lovingly back.
A group of servant girls ushered Isolde into the main hall where the feast was to be held. Isolde felt slightly disconcerted. Everyone wanted to meet the girl that saved Tristan's life. Isolde began to realize the differences in their cultures almost immediately, and everyone around her was a complete stranger. She peered through the throng of merry people to find Tristan. A happy, light song floated through the air. Colors and dresses of all sorts seemed to twirled around the room. It was quite a festivity!
"There you are,"Isolde turned to see Tristan standing beside her. "You look beautiful." Isolde smiled bashfully as he took her hand and led her across the room.
"Tristan!" a man shouted. Isolde watched as Tristan turned and heartily greeted the man. They seemed to be old friends. Many others came forward to greet Tristan.
"And Isolde," the first man said, turning to her. "It's an honor to meet the woman that saved Tristan's life." It was a compliment that she had now heard so many times, but each one still gave her a thrill. She loved being associated with Tristan.
"Tell us, Tristan. What all happened to you?" one man asked.
"Isolde, how did you find Tristan?" a girl standing nearby asked.
"Come, Tristan," Melot said suddenly, interrupting the flow of questions. "Let us see you dance with Isolde." Those around that heard heartily agreed. "A new song for Tristan and Isolde!" Melot called to the musicians.
Everyone cleared the dance floor, and a new, slow song started as Tristan led Isolde to the center of the hall. Isolde suddenly felt nervous to be the center of so much attention. No one paid much attention to her on Ireland, despite the title of princess. She glanced up at Tristan. He was looking at her, smiling. His smile warmed and relaxed her.
Slowly they danced while everyone looked on. But they looked at no one but each other.
"I think Tristan's smitten with her," Eydth said to her brother Marc as they looked on.
Not missing a single smile or look that passed between the dancing couple, he said, "I don't think I've ever seen him smile or laugh so much in his life."
Later that night Tristan approach Marc when no one was talking to him. "Marc, there's something I need to talk to you about," he said in a low voice.
"What is it, Tristan," Marc asked, concerned. He had never seen Tristan look worried before.
"Not here," Tristan quickly responded.
"Alright. Let's go outside," Marc said leading him out of the hall and out of Castle Dor.
"What's wrong, Tristan," he asked again, turning towards him.
Tristan hesitated. Tristan never hesitates. Something must really be wrong, thought Marc.
"It's about Isolde," he began. "She, uh-"
"Tristan, spit it out."
"I have your complete confidence?" Tristan asked, his faced lined with apprehension and worry. It was a new face to Marc. Tristan was always a statue and the very essence of confidence and assurance.
"Yes, of course. You know you do," Marc assured, baffled.
Tristan took a deep breath. He hoped Marc would take this well. "Isolde is the daughter of Donnchadh."
"What," Marc said, astounded. It wasn't a question.
After a moment, Marc regained his wits and said, "What were you thinking!"
"Marc-," Tristan winced.
"Do you know what Donnchadh will do? You know he will use this as his excuse to start a war with us!" yelled Marc.
"Well, it was a little too late when I found out. But what does it matter? Donnchadh would have found an excuse sooner or later," Tristan defended.
"Tristan!" Marc yelled, exasperated.
"Shhh!" Tristan warned.
"Tristan, what were you thinking?" Marc asked again, lowering his voice, his face hard with anger.
"Marc," Tristan began, hesitantly, "I love her." It was all he could think to say.
Marc's face softened. "I see," he sighed. After a moment, he added, "We'll just keep this between ourselves for now. We'll talk again later."
"You won't send her away, will you?" he asked anxiously.
"No," promised Marc. "Come," he smiled, "there is a feast going on without us!"
Isolde awoke with a start. Where was she? She couldn't remember.
Then, she remembered. She lay back against her pillow, a smile stretching across her face as she remembered the preceding day. Tristan had been so sweet to her at the party and had stayed by her side almost the entire night.
There the sound came again. Someone was knocking on her door.
Isolde slipped out from under the bed sheets, walked to the door, and cautiously opened it to peak out. It was Tristan!
"Come with me. There's something I want to show you," he whispered and smiled mysteriously.
"One minute," she said, closing the door and reemerging a moment later.
Tristan took her hand and lead her out of Dor and down to the river. The sky was beginning to become light. It was almost dawn.
They were in a forest clearing near the Roman bridge. The ruins of some small ancient structure still stood, close to the river, with curious paintings on the walls. Tristan sat down, leaning his back against one of the walls, looking out over the river. He beckoned Isolde to come sit by him. She sat, leaning against him, resting her head on his chest. He wrapped his arms around her.
"You can see the sunrise perfectly from here," he told her, resting his cheek gently on the top of her head.
Just as he said, the sun slowly rose from behind the trees on the other side of the river, glinting majestically off of the water.
"Oh," breathed Isolde, "it's beautiful!"
She looked up to find Tristan not looking at the sunrise, but at her. His eyes stared deeply into hers. They seemed to reach down and look into her very soul.
"Would you like to be my wife," he asked suddenly, bashfully.
Isolde smiled with her whole heart. She reached up and kissed him passionately.
"Is that a yes?" Tristan laughed.
"Yes," Isolde giggled. Tristan's arms tightened around Isolde as he leaned down and kissed her sweetly on the lips.
Isolde was standing alone on the wooden bridge that crossed the river to Dor. She silently basked in the sweet afternoon breeze and turned her face upwards to the glorious warm sun.
She heard footsteps coming up behind her and turned, expecting to see Tristan. But it was Marc.
"Good afternoon, Isolde," he greeted. "How are you?"
"I'm very well, thank you," she replied politely.
"Tristan has told me the news. I think he's lucky to find himself such a nice girl as yourself.
"Thank you," she smiled sweetly.
"He also told me that you are King Donnchadh's daughter." He paused as she looked down at her hands. "But I don't think that will be a problem as long as no one knows," he smiled. Isolde relaxed and looked back up.
After a moment of awkward silence, Isolde asked, "How did Tristan come to be on Ireland?"
"The Irish came to Cornwall to collect slaves," Marc began. "They killed anyone that tried to interfere. Tristan and I were finally able to convince the other barons to join their armies with ours, and Tristan led them out and ambushed them. Tristan fought a man that had poison on his sword, and even though he killed the man, Tristan was scratched by the blade. He was believed to be dead."
"He killed Morholt!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, I believe that was his name," Marc said, believing it was a question. "You know him?"
"He was my father's best general," Isolde stuttered. She did not tell him that she had been betrothed to the man. She was shocked. "I-I didn't realize that Tristan was such a great warrior. I mean, I always figure that he...," she trailed off.
"Tristan is my champion. My greatest warrior and the best fighter I have ever known." He paused. "Someone once told me that he has the heart of a lion, and he was exactly right. Tristan has a heart of a lion...," Marc trailed off, lost in his thoughts.
"You love him like a son? " Isolde asked.
"Oh, yes. Very much so. His parets died the day my wife and unborn child died. He became part of my family that day," he told her.
"How did they all die?" she couldn't help but ask.
Marc gazed out over the river. "All the barons met at Aragon's- Tristan's father. We were trying to unite the baron and sign a treaty to unite us into one land under my rule. But the Irish ambushed us, sacked the city and many others all throughout Britain. I came home here to find Cornwall almost completely destroyed. It has pushed back our plan to unite Britain for almost ten years."
"I didn't realize that the Irish rule was so... cruel to the English," Isolde said.
She truly never had until now, until she heard the stories of the people that had been oppressed by her own people. She had always been told that this was and evil land, deserving of any punishment bestowed upon it. She had never completely believed it, but she knew now for certainty that they were just like her. The English people hoped and dreamed for the same things that the Irish people hoped and dreamed for.
Isolde and Marc talk only a little longer before he said he had to return to the castle and left.
A little while later, Tristan walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. She sighed a sigh of deep appreciation and love.
"Donnchadh has sent each of the barons a letter, offering the reward of riches and a vast amount of land to the man that returns to him his daughter," Marc told Tristan, holding the letter out for him to see.
The two of them were sitting in his chamber office.
"But he knew I was on Ireland. Surely, for as smart as he is, he would have figured out that she is here. Why doesn't he just come marching in?"
"Because, as you well know, Donnchadh is very cunning. He will use this to split the tribes. We'll have to have your wedding as soon as possible and get the barons to sign the treaty. Once the coronation is over with, things will be a little easier to handle and there will be less chances of a split in the alliance," Marc said. "By the way, Tristan, I will be naming you my second."
"What?" Tristan asked, surprised. "But Melot should be your second. He's your own flesh and blood."
"Tristan, you must be my second. Melot is noble and brave, but he does not have your natural ability. The tribes will unite quicker with you as my second." Then, he added, "I will only be king if you are my second."
"Then, I am your second," Tristan resigned.
In the following months, meetings among the barons were held, and all had come to the agreement to unite together under Marc, signing a treaty. During this time, Marc and Tristan tried to conceal Isolde's presence from the rest of the barons. However, the sly Wictred soon heard the story of the brave Isolde from some of the people of Cornwall. Evil plans quickly took form in his mind, but he made no move or shared his plans and suspicions with anyone.
Isolde missed her maid Bragnae more than ever now, but she determined not to let it diminish her joy in helping to prepare for the wedding.
The day of the wedding finally came. It was now fall and the air had grown chilly.
As was tradition, it seemed, for the English, Isolde, clothed in a glorious gown, was put in a beautifully decorated raft lit all around by candles. Servants pushed the raft into the deeper waters of the river. The candle light reflected off of the water and shone in the night as the raft floated down the river to a magnificent English ship. There Tristan stood waiting, and as the raft pulled up alongside the ship, Tristan took her hand and helped her aboard. They smiled endearingly to each other and walked forward together too the priest.
After the vows were said and the rings exchanged, everyone returned to Castle Dor and the main hall for the celebration. Musicians played lively tunes on their pipes while couples danced with delight. Tristan and Isolde danced rapturously together amongst the throng of dancers, but the lovers, as before, saw only each other.
After one of the dances ended, Tristan and Isolde walked over to where Marc and Edyth were standing.
"Tristan!" Marc greeted. "Look at him, Edyth. I've never seen him smile so much before."
"He's beaming!" Edyth teased.
"Look! He's blushing. I've never seen him blush before in his life!" Marc heartlessly teased as Isolde laughed. For some reason, she was thoroughly enjoy this.
"Alright, alright. Stop it," Tristan laughed. "You both can be heartless."
"Oh, Tristan, I do believe that this is the first time in my life that I have been able to tease you about anything," Marc winked. "But it is getting late... perhaps it is time you both turned in for the night," he grinned.
"Yes, Isolde, let's leave these fools to themselves," Tristan laughed. He took Isolde's hand and together they walked out of the room as the guests cheered.
Sounds of the celebration continuing floated out the door and followed the two lovers. Tristan picked Isolde up and carried her in his arms to his room. He put her down at the door and opened it. Once the door was closed, they wrapped their arms around one another and kissed passionately.
"I love you," whispered Tristan.
"I love you," Isolde whispered back.
They kissed again, this kiss telling even more of their love for one another. Then Tristan picked her up and carried her to the bed.
The following week, Marc's coronation took place and he was crowned King of Britain.
Soon after, Wictred told his suspicions to some of the more corruptible barons and laid out his plans. He then paid a visit to the Irish King.
One day, when they were all gathered in the main hall for their midday meal, a sentry ran in and kneeled before Marc. "My King, Irish ships have been seen approaching," he said, nearly out of breath from running.
Murmurs were heard from all around the room.
Marc jumped up. "How many?"
"Twenty, maybe twenty-five ships," he answered quickly.
Marc quickly gave his orders. He sent out messengers to warn the surround barons and to call for their aid. Then, he gave the orders for all of Cornwall's fighting men to prepare for battle.
"Tristan," Marc said as everyone scurried to obey his orders, "we will go out to the beach and meet them to find out their intentions. If we must fight, you will lead the men. I cannot."
"I understand," nodded Tristan. Deep inside Tristan was thrilled. He had not battled or fought in such a long time. It seemed to be in his blood to fight.
Tristan ran quickly to his room, picking up his favorite swords. When he turned back towards the door, he saw Isolde hovering just outside the door, her eyes brimming with tears.
"Somehow I can't help but feel that this is all my fault," she said, closing her eyes, a single tear trickling down her cheek.
Tristan strode to the door and stood in front of his wife. He cupped her face in his hands and said, "No, this is not your fault. This would have happened one day regardless of whether or not you were here," Tristan comforted her. He whipped the stray tear from her check. "Wait for me here. I'll return soon."
"It's not fair," Isolde said. "You get to go and I have to stay here."
Tristan laughed lightly. Only Isolde would say something like that. He winked at her and strode out the door.
At the beach, King Donnchadh's ship landed and docked. He and his men jumped from the boat and strode to where King Marc was standing with his men.
"Lord Marc," Donnchadh greeted, refusing to acknowledge him as a king. "I see that Tristan lives," he said, looking at Tristan. "I have been told that it was he that has taken my daughter. If Isolde is returned to me and if you pay the price for your treachery, I will spare you lives."
"And what is the 'price' for our treachery?" queried Marc.
"We need slaves, Lord Marc. And I think it is time that your land begins paying its taxes to us once again," Donnchadh answered.
"You know our answer, Donnchadh. We will never again submit to the oppression of the Irish," Marc stonily replied.
During this exchange, Wictred and many of the other barons arrived on horseback.
"And why, tell us King Marc, should we follow you. It was you and Tristan after all that deceived us by keeping Isolde's true identity secret. And now a war is brought upon us because of it. I will follow no such king," Wictred spit and rode off with his men. A few of the other barons followed.
"You are now impossibly outnumbered, Lord Marc," Donnchadh smiled. "I'll give you until nightfall to change your mind."
Marc and his soldiers waited silently in the keep. The sound of far off marching troops could be heard faintly in the night air.
An hour before, Marc and Tristan laid their plan out to the barons. Marc and his troops would wait inside the keep, and defend it and Cornwall's citizens. Once the Irish attacked, Tristan would lead the armies of the still-loyal barons out from the surrounding forests and attack the Irish on the flank.
"Fire!" Marc yelled to the archers at the top of the keep.
A volley of arrows sliced through the night and pierced the enemy. The second volley met the prepared Irish shields. The Irish advanced to the draw- bridge of the keep, though the draw-bridge was up. Large ladders were raised, and the Irish soldiers began to quickly ascend , though many were shot down by the archers. Trebuches launched fiery missiles over their heads into the keep.
"Show the signal!" commanded Marc. A nearby archer lighted an arrow and shot it straight up in the air.
Tristan and the armies laying hidden in the forest jumped up and ran out of the forest towards the Irish. Surprised and caught off-guard, the Irish turned to see the mad approach of the English and to meet their deaths with a quick slash of their swords.
Tristan was a blur of motion as he fought. He sliced at a man on his left, turned and stuck down a soldier on his right. Another directly in front of him lunged at him. Tristan dodged the blade, plunging his own into the man.
The battle continued on, bloody and long. But the Irish still gained ground on the keep and at last succeed in entering it. Marc and his army held them off, but were slowly being pushed back further and further into the keep.
When Tristan realized what happened, he called to some of the men to follow him. He retreated quickly back into the woods and cut wide around the keep towards the Roman bridge. Stopping to make sure no one followed, Tristan and the others made their way past the Roman bridge. Tristan opened the trap door hidden so well in the foliage and jumped down through. The men quickly followed. They wound their way quickly yet silently though the spider-web covered tunnel.
Opening the trap door that opened to the bottom of the keep, Tristan, followed by the others, jumped out and ran into the fray. Within moments they were able to slay the Irish soldiers and sever their only way in: disconnecting and pushing the bridges away from the keep.
As the morning dawned, the first lights showed the victor: the English.
"We won," breathed Melot, standing next to Marc.
"Yes, but this is only the beginning, I'm afraid," answered Marc.
Isolde wandered out of the keep, her bag of herbs and remedies slung over her shoulder. "Is it over then?" asked Isolde.
"Yes," answered Marc.
Isolde then walked out and down towards the troops to help the wounded with her medicines. She didn't distinguish the Irish from the English, but instead helped all and whomever she could.
"She too has the heart of a lion," mumbled Marc. "Noble till the end of time..."