the lady of shalott
Summary: Nobody in Camelot could really say they ever took much notice of Elaine of Astolat, until one newly knighted Sir Lancelot smiles at her from across the way. Her life is forever changed. Playing with the BBC and Tennyson is fun!
Disclaimer: Arthurian Legend is full of people making stuff up all the time, so thanks in particular to the BBC and Lord Alfred Tennyson for inspiring this one.
Basically I love Elaine of Astolat. She's one of my favorite bits of Arthurian legend despite her small part. So this may or may not be the last you see of me inserting her into BBC's Merlin.
half sick of shadows
Elaine was cursed that day, cursed with a half life. Or really not even that. Her days spent at the loom, content to peer at the world through a window and interact with it only when absolutely necessary, had once been all she required. But it was no longer enough...those days were gone. She found herself, no...her soul, the very depths of her which she couldn't even begin to imagine, called out for something more. Something deeper. They called out for Lancelot. But she was sure she would never lay eyes on him again, and it put her in a state of right despair. The once comforting rhythm of her loom only reminded her how much time had passed since his smile cracked open something inside of her.
But nobody noticed how sad Elaine had become. Her father worried about her, of course, but only as he always had. How was he to know her heart had been filled to the brim, running over with life, in the blink of an eye... only to be emptied and smashed into pieces just as quickly? How could he ever hope to know? And so he could only sit and watch as his daughter stared out the window, sad and emptier than ever before. Day in and day out she sat; Elaine was there when others rose in the morning and when they laid down to sleep with the moon. The sight of her there became a permanent fixture for the people of Camelot, even more so than before. But luckily none of them knew enough to worry about the young woman whose heart was cursed.
Elaine realized how cursed she truly was when the soldiers who cannot die stormed Camelot. Her father hid in the back room, begged her to hide with him. Could she not see the corpses they leave on the streets? Hear the screams? Did she not care for her life? But none of his words changed her at all. She saw the corpses, heard the screams, but they fell on deaf ears the same as did her father's pleas.
No, Elaine of Astolat did not care for her life, not any longer. But she did not say that. Instead she clung desperately to the arms of her loom as if she were eleven again. Unlike before, however, her father knew he couldn't pick her up like a child and drag her anymore. Her eyes told him, not her words, that she was ready to die. So Elaine sat on the floor by the door, arms wrapped around the only constant companion in her life. She sat and she waited to die.
Yet death never came.
By the work of a miracle, the two foreigners from Astolat were spared. The soldiers never so much as stopped to even look at their home...merely walked by it as if it did not exist while Morgana's wrath was carried out. Elaine cried, whole body shaking, when the ordeal passed and she was still cursed to live. It was not fair, she thought. Why? Why? Why?
But then the most glorious sight she'd ever laid eyes on appeared when the new knights of Camelot processed into the city not days later. Everyone left alive was out on the streets and something dragged the devastated Elaine out to the cobbled street in front of her home. There she beheld him, riding in on his horse, head held high, wearing the armor of a knight. All the breath of life which ever left her all those days ago rushed back into her at the sight of him. He did not see her then; his kind eyes had changed, though, and were focused straight ahead. Elaine swore to herself, watching them continue to the heart of the city, that she would tell him she loved him. She would speak to him, at least. She had to.
Over the next year, she managed to do just that. Unfortunately, the words they exchange were nothing more than simple "hellos" and she could see the way he looked at Gwen. She knew that look...it was how Elaine looked at him. Not deterred, she continued to try so very hard to show him her love. It must have been obvious to everyone how she felt, to all the knights who she did not notice because her eyes could only see Sir Lancelot. He was kind to her, graced her with his smile and sometimes even his laugh. But it was not enough. She wanted his love, she wanted his eyes to burn when he looked at her. She often wondered what it would be like to kiss him; would his lips be soft? Would the hair of his face tickle? But she'd never know the answers because Lancelot was too blinded by the dark skinned, beautiful but simple Gwen.
What was it about Gwen that had both Arthur and Lancelot giving their hearts to her? Elaine could not grasp it. Gwen was beautiful, true, but she could not see what was so special about the former blacksmith's daughter. Sometimes, well more and more, Elaine found herself down at the lake not far beyond the borders of Camelot. For someone who spent so many years unwilling to leave the four walls of her simple house, it was strange that the water drew her in. In the still waters, she saw her reflection. It hit her then, that she'd become a woman and somewhere along the way stopped being a girl. Maybe it happened when Lancelot smiled at her that first time, when the world stopped. Either way, it did not matter. The woman she saw in the water was fair skinned, with a small nose that held, along with her cheeks, a spattering of light freckles. She had long, rust-red hair that fell in a slight wave and sad, green eyes. She was pretty, so why didn't Lancelot look at her the way she wanted? Angry, she would splash the water and ruin the image.
Her anger quickly turned to guilt when they returned one day without him. Her year with Lancelot had ended, and without warning he was gone forever. Simple, common people like Elaine were not allowed at the funeral, and so she was left to mourn outside the castle's gates, barely able to glance the top of his funeral pyre. It was her fault, she reasoned; her anger had done it. And worst of all, she'd never told him she loved him. Her sobs and her misery consumed her. Elaine could take the pain no longer and fled to the lake.
After staring at the waters for a while, she took a deep breath. Lifting her skirts, Elaine slowly waded into the water - it came up to her ankles, her knees, then her waist, up to her chest. She was so close when she heard a shout.
"What are you doing, woman?" came he voice a man dressed in the garb of Arthur's knights.
"Drowning myself, now go away!" Elaine retorted, continuing to move deeper into the lake. The knight shouted something back but she had stopped listening and soon after felt her entire body submerge beneath the waters. It reminded her of her far away home, the Astolat of her memory which was both beloved and reviled. The Astolat in which she played and laughed, but also the one that took her mother from her. It was a good thing she'd never learned to swim, she thought, as her chest constricted and she sunk lower thanks to the heaviness of her dress. The blackness had almost claimed her when she felt arms around her waist and it was all very violently taken from her.
"You, lady, are heavier than you look!" commented the knight as he dragged her quickly to shore before collapsing beside her as she sputtered.
"What did you do that for?" she asked angrily, eyes narrowed as she turned to glare at him.
"That? You mean saving your life?" he continued. "By the way, the name is Gwaine and any time now that you'd like to thank me..."
"I will most certainly not be thanking you," Elaine spat. "Don't you understand what I meant by drowning myself? I want to die."
"Well, we can't have lovely women like yourself off drowning themselves," he replied. "Seems a terrible tragedy. Why would you want to do that?"
Elaine sat up slightly, turning to look at this Sir Gwaine of Camelot. She recognized his face slightly, she supposed, but that was to be expected; she'd always spent most of her focus on Lancelot, not the knights beside him, after all. His attitude infuriated her.
"What is there to live for?" she asked, suddenly not so angry and more melancholic. "What is left? Nothing. I have loved in silence and now he is gone."
Elaine felt Gwaine's eyes on her and to her dismay, the tears returned. Her knees came up to meet her chest and she hugged them helplessly.
"You speak of Lancelot," he observed, and her answer was to sob harder.
"I loved him so much it hurt!" she cried out as her body shook. "I have been cursed to live without him and I can bear it no longer!"
In a move that surprised her, Gwaine shifted so that he sat up beside her and his arm went around her shoulder. His other hand gently grasped her chin, bringing her tear-stained face to look at him. Their eyes met and something flashed there, she could have sworn it, but it was gone too quickly for her to think on it.
"Lancelot was a brave man, better than most," he told her softly. "And this I know: he would never have wanted you to die for him, or with him. If you loved him could you dishonor his memory in that way?"
"...No," she sniffled. "But now I shall forever hate you for telling me. I have never felt so ready to meet death."
"You have wanted to die before?" he asked carefully, eyeing her in a strange way.
"When the Lady Morgana's immortal soldiers came to Camelot, I sat next to my loom praying they would take me," Elaine admitted, breaking eye contact. His careful gaze made her feel so ashamed.
"Sounds to me like you need to find your own reason to live," Gwaine told her, arm slowly sliding across her back until it was again at his side.
"I have never had one," she replied. "I cannot learn now."
"Perhaps not...but as long as I am in Camelot, I will keep you from taking your life," he swore, eyes on fire. It was too much, she had to look away. There was little else she could say. Silently, he stood, and offered his hand to her. Sighing, Elaine took it, and they walked back up to Camelot. They soon stood at the door to her house, and she hoped her father was not inside. There was no desire in her to explain any of this to him.
"I will not thank you," Elaine supplied, breaking the silence. Oddly enough, he grinned.
"I'd expect nothing less," he quipped. "Until we meet again, Elaine."
As he walked away and she returned to the familiar seat of her loom, it never occurred to her that she hadn't told him her name. She never wondered how he knew, she never asked herself why he'd been so adamant. No, she simply began to weave as she always did, and perhaps wait until the day when she knew Sir Gwaine would not be in Camelot.
part two! Set from the end of Season Three's "The Coming of Arthur" to the end of the second part of Season Four's"The Darkest Hour." couldn't have her die just yet, not with with Lancelot's resurrection and all...though honestly writing this chapter put some new ideas in my head. This ficlet will definitely not be the end of my Elaine of Astolat bunnies.