The only thing she could think was: It's not supposed to end this way.
Love stories were supposed to end in a kiss, a wedding, the birth of a child. Well, thought Isolde sadly, two of them would come to pass. As Tristan took his last breath, she had leaned forward and kissed his motionless lips. She still didn't know why. Perhaps it was so he could take some pleasant memory with him. But before she had even pulled away, he was dead.
The wedding would never happen. The child, however...Isolde placed a hand over her belly. There was the slightest of bumps there, completely unnoticeable to everyone but her. She didn't know whose child it was- Tristan's, or Mark's? She would have liked to think the child belonged to Tristan.
What if it was a little boy, with dark curly hair and brown eyes? Could she raise him without breaking under the grief of seeing her dead lover in the young face of her child?
"Isolde," said a voice, breaking her out of her thoughts. The words belonged to Mark, who looked sorrowfully at her. Evidently Tristan's funeral was over. She looked out to sea and saw the lonely wooden boat floating on the waves. The flames engulfed it in a haze of orange and gold and red. Black smoke billowed into the overcast sky. Soon, the man she loved would be nothing but ashes thrown to the wind and scattered in the water.
A black veil covered Isolde's face and draped down to the ground. A heavy silver circlet held it in place. She could feel the chill of the metal through the thin veil. She turned her eyes slowly to Mark's light ones.
"Isolde, I don't expect you to come back with me," he said. "But if there is anything I can do to help you, tell me. I will do it," he said. Isolde's heart shuddered inside her. She read the sincerity in his words, and a tear rolled down her face. Mark was a good man. He had been betrayed by his wife and nephew, and still he was gentle and understanding.
She couldn't stand it. She turned and fled, unsure of where she was going but desperate to get away. She found herself standing at the entrance to the garden, the place that belonged to her and Tristan.
It was nothing but ash. Dark cinders coated everything. The gorgeous murals were gone, the statues cracked and blackened. Tristan had done this, and the thought made her feel both desolate and closer to him.
She knelt on the ground and sifted the soft ashes through her fingers. She could almost feel him here, like he was still alive. She could sense his breathing, the soft rise and fall of his chest, see his strong shoulders under his tunic. Most eerily, she thought she sensed his eyes on her.
She wished she could see his ghost appear, luminous and beautiful. She could imagine him now. His skin would glow slightly. Everything about him would be just the same, aside from that. He would smile. Tell her she would be fine. But it was just a foolish fantasy, and she cast it out of her mind.
All the color seemed to have leeched out of the sky. There was nothing, no speck of blue or red or brilliant gold. Only gray that faded to black.
Isolde stood at Tristan's grave. It was just a symbol, really, since his ashes were now far and wide across the water. His spirit, though, would reside here. She was sure of it. Her fingers dug in the soft, wet dirt. She dropped a handful of seeds in a small depression in the ground.
Day after day, she came. She sat and watched the trees grow, and at the same time felt the child in her belly grow as well. The branches of the tree wove together and interlocked in a way that seemed utterly natural and eerie at the same time.
One evening she picked her way carefully to the grave and the trees. Everything felt heavy today, from her thick crown of braids to her huge belly. Her shoulders slumped forward, drawn down to the earth by some invisible burden she could not bear. She stood and stared at the saplings that would one day be strong, broad trees.
She cradled her stomach. "Time to go," she whispered. She smiled slightly, then walked past the grave. A path led through the woods, past valleys and down to a beach. Isolde walked. Her feet guided her while her mind meandered through the memories of better times.
When she finally reached the shores of England, she looked out at the waves that rocked and crashed against the sand, as though trying to coax the land right in. The smell of salt pressed over her mouth and nose like a damp cloth. She walked along the shore, the frigid water swirling around her ankles.
Heavy drops of rain began to fall. Isolde did not stop or take shelter. She let her feet carry her forward, fading into the distance until she had disappeared entirely, leaving only the sound of crashing waves behind her.