Sir Tristan of Camelot and His Lady
This is the sequel to Good Morrow. Those who have not read it need to know that Isolde did not die and she and Tristan decided to stay on in Camelot. He is now one of the Knights and she is Gwen's personal guard.
Isolde brought the stew to the table as Tristan got the bowls and spoons and bread. Neither of them was much of a cook, but they had learned to make reasonably good stew as a matter of survival. Now that they were living in Camelot they mostly ate at the castle, but every now and then they liked to get home to their cottage a little early and just have the night to themselves. They had now lived in Camelot for three months and they were surprised at how easily they had settled in. It was like they had always meant to be right here.
"I heard that the patrol got into a fight again," Isolde said as she ladled the stew into the bowls.
"It seems that every bandit in the five kingdoms has decided to come to Camelot," Tristan explained.
"Is that a surprise," Isolde laughed. "We thought it was a good idea when we were smuggling things."
"Let me finish," Tristan insisted – though with a smile. "We came here to smuggle things because we believed that king was too busy to notice. The thing is we went undetected because – as I was saying before you interrupted – it seems that every bandit in the five kingdoms has decided to come to Camelot to try and kill the king. I mean, one flash of red cape and they swarm on us like we were honey and they were bees. Sure, they often outnumber us, but we are trained knights. Even when they manage to ambush us, they would need about twice the number of men that they usually have to even worry us. We defeated them without too much trouble."
"Was Merlin with you?" Isolde asked.
"Since Arthur was, then, yes, it follows automatically that Merlin was with us as well," Tristan laughed. "Hiding in the bushes as usual."
"And wouldn't you hide in the bushes during a fight as well, if you didn't have a sword and armour?" Isolde defended Merlin.
"You do have a point," Tristan accepted. "And it's not like he really is a coward. I mean, he knows we will be ambushed almost every time Arthur rides with us and still he comes. And if he can, he does clobber a robber or two with a convenient branch. Not that he often needs to. It seems the forests of Camelot are fighting with us as well."
"Really?" Isolde prompted him to go on.
"Like today," Tristan explained. "One of the bandits had climbed a tree so that he could shoot arrows at us from a secure position. He just chose the wrong branch to sit on. It broke right from under him dropping him on top of one of his pals. And either they are unusually clumsy and inept fighters or there is an unusual number of protruding roots and rocks in the forest since they keep tripping on them and pretty much falling on our swords or at least giving us a good warning that someone is right behind us. Arthur especially seems to be faced with the dunces."
"Interesting," Isolde mused. "Do these attacks happen only when the King is with you or all the time?"
"According to Leon," Tristan answered. "This happens much more with the King than without."
"So one way to make patrol safer would be to leave the King home?" Isolde suggested with a laugh.
"Good luck trying to convince him that as a King he needs to stay home," Tristan sighed. "He was the leader of the knights for so many years and he has now twice needed to reclaim the throne from his half sister, it is hard for him to understand that as a King he really can't lead from the front anymore. At least not as much as before."
"He hates sending people out to die for him," Isolde said. "The few times he has sent a patrol to take care of bandits and not gone himself, he has been like a bear with an arrow in his butt. And given the boring meetings and negotiations I'm not surprised that he wants to get out every chance he can. But really, he is the king now and he ought to understand that he is now as much a symbol as a man."
"Merlin has tried to talk to him," Tristan told her. "But, though he does listen to Merlin more than any other of his advisors, he isn't willing to hear this. Maybe Gwen should try?"
"Gwen has tried," Isolde stated. "But she doesn't want to disagree with him. Gaius says that ever since she has been back after the Lancelot incident she has been unsure of herself. She doesn't totally trust herself. She feels that if she could get so confused as to make such a mistake with Lancelot, who she didn't even love, then there must be something wrong with her judgment. She does trust Merlin and she does try and help him with convincing Arthur to stay home more times, but even so, Merlin is pretty much alone there."
"That's not good," Tristan frowned. "I understand that after all the betrayals Arthur finds it hard to trust anyone except Merlin who has definitely been steadfastly loyal to him, always. Of course all the knights are totally loyal to him, too, but Merlin is the only one who will always tell him the truth and give him unbiased advice. But his Queen ought to be such an adviser as well. Do you think Arthur trusts Gwen?"
"He loves her," Isolde pondered. "He knows that she loves him more than anyone else alive and is totally loyal to Camelot. I think he has always trusted her advice, and I believe that he feels that he can trust her, too, now that Lancelot is dead. But when neither of them has a good explanation why she was so taken with Lancelot as to betray Arthur, I think they are both a little insecure. But I also believe that they do love each other enough to live with that until they have been together long enough to know that they can trust both each other and themselves."
"Do you think knowing that Lancelot was a shade would help?" Tristan wondered.
"As Merlin and Gaius said when they told us about that, it is impossible to prove that he was," Isolde reminded him. "And even though that might clear Lancelot's name, it doesn't necessarily help with Gwen unless we can find some kind spell or something to explain her behaviour. And I think that will be impossible this much later."
"I suppose," Tristan acknowledged. "Especially since we don't even know where to start. It is a pity though."
Before Isolde could say anything in answer there was frantic knocking on their door and a female voice was shouting: "Help, come and help before they kill each other!"
Tristan and Isolde grabbed their swords and quickly opened the door. They found their neighbour Enid on their doorstep. Enid didn't start explaining anything just turned to run and they followed. A few houses down they found two young men brawling. Both of them had weapons, admittedly just pieces of wood but they could still hurt each other badly. They were shouting at each other and not paying any attention to their surroundings, not even the girl who was sobbing near and trying to shout some sense into them between the sobs. Tristan and Isolde looked at each other, Isolde lifted the hilt of her sword a little sending a question to him and Tristan nodded. They stepped forward each behind one of the men and knocked them out with the hilts.
"Right, show is over," Tristan stated. "Now, Enid, could you tell us what all that was about before we decide if we let their families drag them home or are we dragging them to the dungeons."
"It's my fault," The girl sobbed.
"It is not your fault," Enid practically growled. "It's that cursed bracelet and it's about time somebody will listen to me about it."
"What bracelet?" Isolde asked.
"This one," Enid said going to the girl and yanking a silver bracelet from her arm. "It has been making mischief for nearly three months now and nobody will listen to me about it. Tanith isn't at fault here; I knew something like this would happen soon as Declan gave her the trinket. I tried to tell him, but since he could see nothing wrong with it, he wasn't listening."
"I can't see anything wrong with it either," Tristan said as he examined the bracelet Enid had given him. "Why do you think it's cursed?"
"I'm not surprised you find it hard to believe," Enid sighed. "I didn't think anything of it at first either. It wasn't until the third break up that I realized what was going on."
"This sounds like a long story," Isolde assumed. "Why don't we give these two young hotheads to the guards who can take them to the dungeons, then everybody can go home and Enid here will come with us and we can listen to her story in peace."
"Good idea," Tristan agreed. He signalled to the two guards, who had got to the scene a few moments after he and Isolde had incapacitated the fighters. The fighters were just waking up, so the guards dragged them up and started to escort them to the dungeons. "Remember to put them in different cells, or you'll have to watch them all night," Tristan instructed.
A little later Enid, Tristan and Isolde were in Enid's cottage sitting at the table with the bracelet in front of them.
"Farrin found it," Enid started. "You know Farrin? He collects the manure from the castle and takes it to the fields. Sometimes he comes across lost items, buckles, brooches, all kinds of things that people might have lost and that has ended up in the manure with the straw from the stables. Well, usually the stables, but the straw comes from all over the castle from dungeons and servants' quarters and the sheds and wherever. Usually the more valuable items find their previous owners quick enough but nobody seemed to know anything about this bracelet."
"When did he find it?" Isolde asked.
"Month or so before the Witch came," Enid remembered. "Anyway, Farrin did what he could to find the proper owner but to no avail, so he gave it to his wife."
"He didn't want to sell it and get the money?" Tristan wondered. "It is silver and quite valuable."
"He didn't need the money right then," Enid responded. "And his wife would have sold it herself if they needed something. They have always worked together for the best of the family. That is until he gave her the bracelet. I didn't suspect anything at first – nobody did. But after Link and Meraud, Mason and Kerry, Ralph and Duff, Geary and Colleen had all been through the same thing that Farrin and Muireann did and now Declan and Tanith as the latest victims of the bracelet I can't see how it could be anything but cursed. Every time a man has given it to his beloved, she has ended up flirting with an old suitor. Sometimes it has been so bad that there has been a permanent break up; fortunately most have got back together after a cooling period – after the bracelet was thrown out, of course."
"Thrown out?" Isolde queried.
"Well, Ferrin just threw it out of the window yelling that his wife didn't deserve something that pretty if all she did was flirt with old flames," Enid explained. "Rankin found it and sold it to Doran."
"Doran?" Tristan wasn't sure he knew who Doran was.
"He sells trinkets in the market," Enid informed him. "Anyway, Rankin sold the bracelet to Doran. Link bought it from Doran and Meraud sold it back to him once she and Link quarrelled. And I'm sure you can figure out the rest."
"So Doran has had this bracelet several times in his possession?" Isolde concluded. "But he hasn't quarrelled with his wife, has he?"
"He doesn't have one," Enid said. "Don't think he wants one either."
"How soon did the quarrels start with the couples?" Tristan wanted to know. "I mean surely they would have realized the connection to the bracelet."
"I think you have to wear it for it to affect you," Enid pondered. "Muireann had it for almost a month before anything happened but she wore it only on Sundays. Tanith had it only for four days but she wore it all the time."
"She makes a good case for it being cursed," Isolde told Tristan.
"So what do we do?" Tristan asked. "Destroy it?"
"Of course not!" Isolde couldn't believe that Tristan hadn't realized the significance of the bracelet. "We have no idea what the curse is; trying to destroy it may even make things worse. No we take it to Gaius. He knows about magic and magical objects."
"I think that would be a wise thing to do," Enid agreed.
"Right, we'll take it with us then and give it to Gaius first thing tomorrow," Tristan accepted the decision. "And I think it's time we let you get your rest Enid."
"Yes, it is getting late," Enid agreed. "But thank you for stopping those young idiots from killing each other."
"Any time," Isolde smiled as she and Tristan got up, collected the bracelet and walked to the door. "Good night Enid."
They walked home in silence but as soon as they got home Isolde put the bracelet on the table and turned to Tristan: "Do you know what this means?" She asked.
"I'm not sure I understand your question," Tristan frowned.
"We have proof!" Isolde jubilated.
"Proof?" Tristan was still lost.
"Tristan!" Isolde cried at him. "You can't be that thick. We talked about this just before Enid knocked on our door. This is what made Gwen fall for the shadow."
"I don't see how you made that connection," Tristan wondered.
"A bracelet that makes girls go back to their old loves?" Isolde spelled it out. "Gee, I wonder how that could make me think of Gwen and Lancelot. This bracelet came from the castle. Had I been Gwen and got something as a gift from Lancelot I would have thrown it as far away from me as I could as soon as I could once the fiasco happened. And in Gwen's case that probably meant the dungeons. From the dungeons it would end up in the manure with the straw. There has been an epidemic of heartbreak in Camelot that is clearly connected to this trinket. There is no way that Gwen's actions with Lancelot were not part of that epidemic. Though she no longer loved him, she trusted Lancelot. She would not have questioned a good luck or farewell gift from him. And she especially would not have believed he would give her a cursed object. Nobody would have believed that of Lancelot. You know how people talk about him! Though he is not often talked about, naturally."
"Yes, you do have a point," Tristan agreed. "So, what do we do then?"
"We take this to Gaius," Isolde stated. "And we tell him everything Enid told us and what we suspect. He will know what to do."
"So first thing tomorrow?" Tristan asked.
"First thing tomorrow," Isolde nodded.