The sound of footsteps had long since faded. Melot lay in the dark of the tunnel, struggling for each breath. Past and present twined together until he did not know where or what he was. Sometimes he was a boy, stealing treats from the kitchen with Tristan before a banquet. Climbing trees to snatch crabapples before the cook's helpers could get to them. Sometimes a man, holding Simon's hand as he died, Tristan kneeling beside him. Practicing archery in the yard. Always with Tristan.
After the incident in the training field when they were children, they had become quite good friends. Almost inseparable. Before long, Melot's mother teased them that she sometimes thought they were sewn together. Tristan and Melot. Melot and Tristan. Tristan, the favored son, even though neither of them were truly Marke's sons.
Melot watched as Tristan rode up, returned from the dead. 'I am delivered.' Then he was a boy again, slaying Irishmen and dragons in the forest with Tristan and Simon. Pushing Tristan's boat out to sea. 'Death to the Irish.' Discovering the Roman tunnel with Simon, running back to the castle to find Tristan. The tunnel, the tunnel that led to the keep... The tunnel. Someone was in the tunnel.
Tristan's face swam before his eyes.
"You." It was the real Tristan, summoned by his thoughts. Now he knelt beside Melot.
"What happened here?"
"A reward for idiocy," Melot said softly. Each word was painful, burning in his chest, but Tristan needed to know. To know everything. "A dozen Irish have blazed your way."
Witcred. He led Witcred to the old Roman tunnel. And Witcred led the Irish. Melot heard Tristan speaking, but he was caught up in memories. "Everyone lies."
"I didn't lead them here." Tristan's voice was forceful, begging Melot to believe him.
He had to tell him. Had to tell the truth now. Dead men cannot lie. "No. I did."
"Why?" Tristan knew how he hated the Irish. They both did. Both of their fathers were killed by Donnchadh's men.
"I thought someone believed in me."
"It will be undone."
A ray of hope entered Melot's dark thoughts. Tristan. Always the best, always the noble warrior. Where Melot failed, Tristan always succeeded. He would fix Melot's mistake.
"Tristan, I am for the worms." He grabbed at Tristan's tunic, desperate. Before he died, he had to know that someone would aid Marke. That someone would finally defeat the Irish. "Swear to me that you are true."
"As we were brothers."
Melot breathed an aching sigh of relief. It would be undone. His mistake. He had believed Witcred because he wanted to. He wanted to believe, even when he knew the truth. That Witcred was a coward, an untrustworthy schemer. But Tristan was his brother. Melot trusted him. It would be undone.
"Build my boat," he whispered to his brother.
He had built a boat for Tristan once. He did not remember why now. 'Death to the Irish.' That was it. But there was something. Something more important. 'We were brothers.'