Hey guys! Look what I found!
It was buried in the annuls of my Documents folder and I was doing some moving around and it only had one "did" scene missing because I couldn't ever remember what "did" I was going to finish with, but then I was talking to someone and Inspiration happened and tada!
Don't expect another update soon. The reason it looks like I've been ignoring these is I lost my handwritten notes as to who the main characters were going to be for 7-9 (10's practically written and the epilogue's been finished for over a year) and the notes about them on my computer are wrong and outdated and contradict themselves. So still puzzling that out. But here, have this! Enjoy! Have some ADORBS!
Six Times Ariel Was Lost And One Time She Was Exactly Where She Belonged
According to Nimue, Ariel went missing when she was three. Ariel didn't remember the exact event, but it was true that her earliest memory was one of being first lost, then found.
She had toddled out of the house while her mother shouted at someone; it hadn't seemed worth her attention at the time. In fact, it was that noise that pushed her to venture beyond the safety of her front door, for she would rather face the great unknown than her mother in a towering rage. So out the door and down the street the child went and, amid the hurry and bustle of the city on a busy day, was soon farther from home than she'd ever been. It was only about a quarter of a mile, but to Ariel's small feet, she'd been walking for days. Quite beside herself, she sat down by the side of the road and began to sniffle.
The sniffling sound caught the attention of the old man standing in front of another doorway. He had a very long beard and was quite impressive— distant and distracted as he seemed, he could still hear the sniffling over the noise of the street and knew immediately where it was coming from. "Ariel?" he said, surprise coloring his strong voice. "Is that you? What on earth are you doing here without your mother?"
"Merlin?" said the woman he was speaking with. "Who are you talking to?"
The old man reached down and scooped the three-year-old into his arms. "My little dear one, here. She appears to be lost." He planted a tender kiss on her forehead, smiling when she giggled at the tickle of his whiskers. "Come on, child. Let's get you back home."
"Once upon a time…" the bard began. He really needn't have continued. He had his small audience hooked already. Ariel listened at the fringe of the crowd, eyes glazing in excitement as the story continued. She had heard it before. It was one of her favorites—Tristram and Isolde—but every storyteller seemed to tell it differently.
The man was just getting to the part about King Mark discovering the lovers when Ariel heard her name being called. A hand grasped her arm. "Ariel! I've called you three times already. Where is your head today?"
"I'm sorry, Mother," the five-year-old said sheepishly. "I lost track of time."
"That's not all you lost," Nimue scolded. "Where's your basket?"
"Um…" She glanced around. The basket containing her afternoon's homework—healing herbs and cooking spices, and a "cheat" sheet on how to tell the difference—was no where to be seen. "Oops?"
"Oops is right." Her mother sighed and shifted her own basketful of groceries to her other arm. "Come on. Let's start over."
"In conclusion," the tutor droned. "If Sir Edward slays fifty of Sir Sangrimoure's men-at-arms, and Sir Sangrimoure hires thirty mercenaries to make up for the loss, which is the greater army?"
Seven-year-old Ariel chewed her bottom lip in intense concentration. She doodled on her work, scratching down numbers and marking them out. After a minute or so, she met her teacher's eye again. "May I ask questions about the problem?"
"Of course," said Mistress Chisliane. The tutor saw the girl's mother nod in approval out of the corner of her eye and smiled. Many tutors dissuaded their pupils from questions. She was glad to see she had made the right choice in the Lady of the Lake's eyes in allowing Ariel's inquiries. "Ask your question, child."
"Did Sir Edward slay all fifty men himself?"
Mistress Chisliane froze in confusion. "What?"
"Did Sir Edward slay all the men himself, or did he have help?" she repeated. "And did he slay them all at once, or one at a time? I want to know if he counts as fifty men or just one. Maybe two…"
"Child, I don't think you quite—"
"Of course, it would also depend on the one who started the whole business in the first place," Ariel went on. "If their families or friends disapprove, or if they know important people who don't want war, the men may leave."
"Who said anything about a war—"
"The men could back down anyway, I suppose. If they have morals and their leaders do not," she continued, now thoroughly caught up in her musings. "Which is the better knight, Sir Edward or Sir Sangrimoure? I mean the better person, of course, although I guess it would be best to know which one is the better fighter, too. I don't think Sir Edward is very kind if he goes around slaying other knight's men, but good knights don't use mercenaries, either…"
"Child," the teacher said sternly while Nimue shook with silent laughter.
"How many scouts and spies does each man have? Did they manage to get to the other army? How many men does each knight have besides the ones in the question? Or are those the only ones that matter? How much information does each man have? Is there an ambush waiting anywhere? How smart are the knights? Do they lead their armies themselves, or do they have generals? How much land does each man own? How well taken care of are the armies? What day—"
"Child! Please!" Mistress Chisliane snapped, startling Ariel into silence. "You seem confused as to what the question is asking."
The girl stopped, and for the first time since the lesson began, looked her age—cautious, eager, uncertain, painfully young. "Question?"
Chisliane fought to ignore the strange gulping-choking sounds coming from Nimue as she struggled to contain her laughter. "The question."
"Oh." Ariel was silent for a moment. "I'm sorry. I've forgotten the question."
"That's all right, child. It was…" She stopped and closed her mouth as her mind went blank. "It's…how many…uh…"
Nimue snorted before she could stop herself. Mistress Chisliane whirled around and glared at her. "I'm sorry," she explained. "I should have told you that Ariel usually sits in the corner during our council meetings. I didn't know how much she was picking up."
"I don't think you need my services, My Lady," Chisliane answered, standing and turning toward the door. "The girl needs a logician, not a maths tutor."
The woods in the World of Men were stranger and less familiar than those of the Other World, especially near dusk. Ariel knew she should not have run when she saw the wolf—it was far safer for her near the water and Passage than in the forests of this world—but she had panicked. She nearly wept with relief when she saw the campfire through the trees. After watching the yeoman tending the fire for some time to make sure he was safe, she stepped into view.
She knew she must look a sight—her gown torn, muddy, and oviously of much better quality than the yeoman would see in a lifetime; sparkling jewels at her throat; wilting flowers in her hair; dressed as a princess for the faery festival she had snuck away from back when the sun was bright overhead—but she didn't care.
"Excuse me, sir," she said as politely and regally as she could manage. "Could you be so kind as to direct me to the nearest source of water?"
She thought she knew what was right and what was wrong.
She thought she knew a lot of things, but traveling with Sarah and Lancelot was a completely different experience than she expected.
Ariel stared, her face white and drawn, as Sarah cleaned the blood from her sword. The sword she'd just used to kill that man. Ariel didn't even know his name. Had someone said it? If they had, she'd forgotten. And there was Sarah, whom she thought was her friend, cool as a cucumber, cleaning her blade as if she killed every day.
She thought it was wrong to kill…but the man had been evil, had done something wrong…did that make it right?
What is right and wrong? she wondered, her wide eyes looking to Lancelot. He was good, too, or so she had believed, but he had done something bad once, too. Did he deserve to die?
Or what if murder was wrong, no matter the crimes done by the one murdered? Suddenly nothing looked so precious in Ariel's eyes. Lancelot had killed, as had Sir Gawain…and her mother. Was her mother evil, too? She'd heard Ganscotter say that in the world of men, evil could become absolute corruption and goodness could become divine. Now she had to struggle to see the lines between any of it. And if it was like that here, then what did it mean for her homeland, that thrived in shades of gray?
Then Sarah looked up and it felt like a door slamming in Ariel's face. She was trembling, this girl who had just taken a life, her eyes swimming with tears. It was a reflection of Ariel herself, an image of the same dizzy struggle Ariel felt.
The color rushed back into her cheeks. If Sarah could look just as lost as Ariel felt, maybe there was hope yet for the both of them.
It was Ariel who discovered the closing of the gates. She was on her way to visit Sarah and deliver a letter to Gawain on the way home. She waved farewell to her mother and turned again, taking a deep breath, and walking the few steps forward toward the Passage—
A pins-and-needles sensation spread over her body, stemming from a point on the top of her head where she felt as if she'd just head-butted a wall. She was pushed back, under the water, and quickly broke the surface. The water was only knee deep. Ariel puffed out an angry little breath and sat in the river, rubbing the top of her head, while Nimue called out her name.
"I'm fine, Mother," she said, feeling the familiar weight of hand on her shoulder. "I'm not hurt."
"You're certain?" Nimue said, parting her hair to inspect her scalp where she was rubbing.
Ariel nodded. "What happened?"
The Lady of the Lake, keeping one hand on her daughter's shoulder, turned and pushed a bit at the air where the gate should have been. "…it's closed," she muttered as Ariel stood and rung water out of her skirt. "The gate…it's like it isn't there at all."
"Could it have moved?"
Nimue shook her head. "No, it's still there, it just thinks it isn't." She pushed at the air again, then grabbed Ariel's arm and moved them both out of the river. "That's a spell, and a dark one, too. Blood went into workings off that spell."
Ariel swallowed the knot of fear building in her throat. "Is it just this gate, maybe, or—"
"No one would go through that much trouble to close one gate," Nimue said. She closed her eyes, then opened them and breathed in sharply. "Well, we were afraid something like this would happen. Doubtless Ganscotter already knows, but we'd better go tell him anyway."
"It's her, isn't it?" Nimue's tight sigh and refusal to look at her gave Ariel all the answers she needed. "What's going to happen now?"
"We wait, and we trust in Terence's ability to figure out what's wrong and break it. If the gates have closed, the Other Worlders would have been called back before the spell's casting. No one with more faery blood than he is left in the World of Men."
Ariel swallowed again, but this time the lump in her throat did not disappear. "What if he can't do it? I mean, I know he can, but what if he can't?"
"Then we are all lost."
Ariel and Nimue stepped forward together and in an instant found themselves between two massive standing stones. Ariel wanted nothing more than to scan the crowd for familiar faces, but her mother swept forward, leaving her no choice but to keep step. Being "grown up" was horrible and bothersome and she'd already decided she was going to avoid it as long as possible.
Still, she couldn't stop her eyes from sweeping over the assembly of faeries and part-faeries and knowledgeable mortals. She didn't know what she was looking for—she assumed she would know it when she found it. The coming of the end of Avalon's era had had a stifling effect on her, even with the knowledge that she would not be without her closest friends. She didn't make so many trips to the World of Men for it to affect her much, but she would miss the journeys.
She'd been…restless since the gates reopened. Her mother insisted that it was because the gates had been closed so long, but she felt there was something more to it. She was…missing something, something important, and she couldn't put her finger on what—
Nimue stopped and Ariel attempted to resume her perusal of the crowds. As she lifted her head, however, she found she didn't need to anymore.
Piers was walking towards her, strong and confident-looking, and she couldn't stop the elated grin from spreading across her face as she met his eyes. Something lifted in her chest. She held her arms out to him, intending to clasp his hands as they had often done in greetings before. Instead he waved her hands away and wrapped his arms around her, engulfing her in the tightest and most desperate hug she'd ever experienced—and she'd hugged bears before.
He'd grown since their last meeting, and he dwarfed her now, easily lifting her and burying his face in her shoulder. "I missed you," he muttered, his breath tickling her ear.
All the restless, discontented feelings she'd lived with for the last six months melted away at the sound of his voice and she chuckled against his chest. "I missed you, too," she whispered, certain he would understand without being able to hear her.
Home, she thought to herself as he released her and she immediately regretted the separation. He feels like home. The gates were closing, England was burning, heroes were dying, and if she went back into Avalon now, she'd never be able to leave again. Suddenly those grave, important thoughts didn't seem nearly as heartbreaking and imposing as they had when Piers wasn't within hand-holding distance.
Without a second thought, she reached out and took that hand so tantalizingly near. Piers didn't even blink—he gently squeezed her fingers and continued talking to the faery on his other side. Despite his new height and muscle and her much longer fingers, their hands still fit together perfectly.