Sorry about the delay. School's out now, and I'm mostly calmed down, so hopefully I should be getting back into the swing of things. Also, I tried to keep these as light as possible, but considering the subject matter, some of them are quite angsty. If you prefer light and fluffy, you'll like the next one.
All of these contain mild spoilers except the first one. The first three and the "did not" take place during The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung-Cart Knight, and the "did not" has a word-for-word book quote, underlined for your convenience. The first takes place immediately after Dioneta's death, the second, shortly after Charis and Sarah become friends, and the third, during some random point of travels sometime in between those two. You got it—no more chronological order. The fourth takes place a little before chapter four of The Squire's Quest. The fifth spoils part of Quest in kind of a medium way—not too big, but none too small. It takes place after Gawain arrives back at Camelot. The fifth takes place at the end of Dung-Cart Knight.
Five Times Sarah Missed Her Mother and One Time She Did Not
Sarah wept hard as she ran from the pyre that held the still-charring bodies of her mother and guardian. The sun was beginning to set in the west and the dimming light made it more difficult to see her way. Not that she knew where she was going. As far as she knew, she had no where to go. She was more alone than she had ever been in her entire life, and for the first time, she truly understood what that meant. She had no one, not a single friend or guide.
She choked on another sob and ducked under a low-hanging branch, wincing as her feet found a sharp stone in the forest floor. She wanted her mother. Mordechai was a good man, yes, and she loved him and would miss him in the years to come—but just at this moment, she wanted her mother so badly she feared her heart would burst. Just when she thought she couldn't take anymore, she came up on a house. Throwing herself down on the doorstep without another thought, she wrapped her arms around her stomach and cried herself to sleep.
Charis was a lovely girl. Despite her gnawing fears for the knights in the dungeon, she found herself able to enjoy Charis' company. But Sarah just could not understand her new young friend.
The girl obviously didn't seem to find her "stupid girl" act all that troubling. Perhaps she had done it for so long, it was more like a part of her and less of an act. Sarah knew if she personally had had to keep it up, she would not have been able to last more than ten minutes. And while Charis seemed to love the freedom of talking to another human being without dumbing down her speech, she seemed just as free in pretending to be a bubblehead in front of a large group of people.
Sarah shook her head and turned her attention back to her plate, trying to think of a plan instead of musing over her new friend's behavior. Perhaps all girls had similar aspects of their personality. Perhaps all girls acted like that sometimes. Sarah wouldn't know if they did. Apart from her mother, she'd never gotten to know another woman very well.
She glanced at Charis again, suppressing a pang of grief. She wished she had spoken more to her mother about the ways of the world. Perhaps then she would understand.
"Perhaps, before we find Sir Kay, Mother will come," Ariel said, picking at the hem of her gown. "I want to see her again. I'm not used to questing like this."
"I do hope to meet your mother someday," Jean said with an uneasy smile, leaning back on his elbows. "In the stories she always sounds so grand."
Ariel wrinkled her nose and snorted softly. "She can be grand, yes, but mostly she's just Mother."
The dung-cart knight shook his head. "But she is the Lady of the Lake, Lady Ariel. She is the object of so many wondrous stories and legends. Surely her every action is fraught with magic and grace?"
"If it were, she'd be exhausted in a day." She released her hem when Sarah flicked the back of her hand and blinked in surprise at the hole she'd created. Shrugging, she began plucking blades of grass by the fire and braiding them together. "Lady of the Lake is a noble, toplofty title, I'll grant you that. She does do a lot of great, good things with her time. And she serves the Enchanter well. But when it comes right down to it, she's just like everyone else—or like everyone else's mother."
Sarah's customary frown deepened and she stretched out on the grass. "Everyone's mother is the same?"
"Well, everyone's mother has the same characteristics and habits. To everyone else, mine's the Lady of the Lake, but to me, she's just Mother. She scolds me when I do things wrong and wakes me when I have nightmares. She helps make clothes and teaches me lessons, just like everyone else's mother. The only basic difference is that it's a whole lot harder to get away with trouble." She sighed and glanced up at the stars. "All in all, she's stern and strict and loving and peevish and aggravating and soft and warm and wonderful…"
Ariel went on, encouraged by the fond expression on Jean's face. Sarah stared into the fire and said nothing.
Sarah took one look at the minstrels, mummers, acrobats, dancers, jugglers, jesters, and bards strewn around the crowded and confused main courtyard and said a whole string of foul words that made the grizzled knight errant next to her turn bright red.
The feisty princess cursed again when she realized the only was to get to her and Eileen's shared rooms was either through this courtyard our around the hallways where the spare minstrels had spilled out—and where she would be easier to identify. She closed her eyes and silently counted to five before taking a deep breath and fighting her way through the courtyard. She kept her head down the entire time and prayed that no one would recognize her.
It worked—until she reached the corner. "Lady Sarah!" called one of the ladies-in-waiting loitering with a hint of jealously. "Isn't it romantic? You'll be accepting Alexander's hand any day now, won't you?"
"Heck no," Sarah gasped, but before she had a chance to say anything more, her name was picked up like a battle cry. "Lady Sarah! Lady Sarah!" echoed around the entire yard and soon those same minstrels she had so wanted to avoid were pressing in on her. Raucous noise filled her ears—uncreative songs jumbled together and became nonsense, while shouts of praise to her features added to the claustrophobic cacophony. She suddenly became very fond of mummers. "Quiet!" she shrieked, but no one heard. "Get off! Get away from me! Let me through, blast you!" Another long string of expletives followed as she fought her way into the castle proper.
A quick jump into a side hall and short cut through the servant's quarters and she was rid of them. Or at least, almost all of them. She soon became aware of someone following her. Her ears turned red and she whirled around. Two silent courtiers with baskets were strewing rose petals at her feet with every step. "Do you mind?" Sarah snapped, none too happy with the day's proceedings as of yet.
"We are covering your path with petals, Lady Sarah," said one courtier, tossing another hand full.
"Yes, I can see that," she said, voice thick with impatience. "Care to explain why?"
"Because one of your unprecedented beauty, purity, grace, wit, charm—"
"Cut to the point, please?"
The servant paused, slack-mouthed, and found his place. "Ah…should never have to tread on mere ground as all the other common mortals, Lady Sarah."
Another list of words—stronger ones, and some in Mordechai's language that she'd forgotten she knew. "Well, you can pack it up and take it home, right now."
"Excuse me, my lady?"
"Stop it," the "lady" shouted, fed up. "Quit following me. And tell your master he can throw himself off the highest tower in the castle!"
But they did not stop, not until they had finally reached Eileen's room and Sarah had split her knuckles open with the chatty servant's face before slamming the door on both of them. "This is NOT my idea of love OR courtship!" she yelled in response to Eileen's cries of surprise and amusement.
Sarah stormed into the side chamber to wrap her hand and soon found herself sagging against the wall, face buried in her good hand. No other ladies were courted in such…loud, horrid manners! She was fairly sure her father didn't court her mother in that manner, either. In fact, if her mother were here…She sighed and stood, seeking out the ointment Eileen had received from Lady Lynet. She missed her mother, yes, but it was no use thinking about it now. She had bigger things to think about.
On second thought, what fiendish and gruesome death would her mother help her think of to bestow upon young Alexander?
News of Alexander's death hit Camelot hard. None but those who knew her best were surprised when the news hit Lady Sarah hardest of all. For days she would not leave her rooms and Eileen had to beg her to eat. She did not cry. She would not belittle her love's death with tears. She had worn herself out on tears after her mother and Mordechai.
Instead, she stared out her window over Camelot and remembered him. He was a rare man, something she had not grasped until he had left for home. He was a rare and honest man, and she was quite astonished to realize she loved him. She was even more astonished to realize she would never stop loving him, just as she still cherished her memories of her early years.
There was still a terrible ache in her chest, an emptiness she had not known was there. She stopped smiling—and at the same time, seemed to smile more often. It was a soft, sad, sweet smile she knew Alexander would have loved to see.
"The pain never goes away, Eileen," she admitted one night after dinner. "Not even for…for those long lost." There was that smile again.
Eileen returned it. "I know. I still miss my mother and father, too."
"I hope to God you never lose Terence," she added, shuddering and edging away from the fire. "I never want anyone to feel what I'm feeling now. I…I didn't even know…" Both women closed their eyes—Sarah in pain, and Eileen in silent prayer. "I didn't even know until it was too late. Do you suppose he knows I love him?"
Eileen opened her eyes and smiled again at the present tense. She moved closer to her friend and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "I'm sure he does. And wherever his spirit is—heaven, paradise, Avalon—I'm sure he's at peace in your love."
Sarah nodded and buried her face into Eileen's shoulder. It was more an action for a mother than a friend, but Sarah needed a mother right then.
"Sorry, Sarah, but that's the way it is. You're family now, and that means you're stuck with the lot of us."
Gawain would never know how much Sarah needed to hear those words—she didn't even know how much she needed them until she heard them. They would stay with her for the rest of her life. Hope blossomed in her heart, and a bubbly joy she'd never thought she'd feel again settled over her.
She had a family—a wonderful family, filled with bad apples, rotten eggs, and magnificent people. She was wanted. She was loved. She was accepted. For the first time in a long time, she was happy. And for the first time since she'd first run from that accursed village, she was at peace.