The King and Her Queen

Chapter 7:  Teacher



The round crystal on her hand sparked into life and a face formed within it.

"Hail Bedwyr Bedrydant ap Bedrawt."  Merlyn's voiced echoed from within the crystal.

"Hail Myrddin Emrys."  responded Bedivere.

"How art ye?"

Bedivere hesitated for a moment before replying, "I am well."

Merlyn peered at her.  "Stubborn lass.  Ask Rhynne to treat yer wounds when ye return."

"Tis but a scratch."

"A scratch?!  Yer arm's broken!"

"I've had worse."

With a tinge of pity, Merlyn understood the meaning behind Bedivere's statement.  If only she had been nearby, she might have healed her or at least tried to.  "Anyway, see Rhynne.  She healed Arturia, so she can heal ye."

"Arturia!  Is she alive?"

"Aye."

Bedivere crossed herself.  "Thank heavens!"

"Dinna go riding away yet.  I must speak with ye."

A thundercloud formed on Bedivere's face.  "I am sore with thee, Merlyn.  Thou left me behind and led me on a merry chase."

"Ye wert drunk."

"I can still ride."

"Unless yer horse grows wings, ye cannae keep up with me."

"Thou should have left me a message."

"I did.  Airianne gave it to ye."

"..."  It was futile to argue with her.  "Be quick now."  she demanded.  "I wish to see Arturia in all haste."

"Mine apologies, lass.  I have much to tell ye.  Sit."  said Merlyn firmly.

Bedivere selected a smooth rock and sat on it.  Meanwhile, Merlyn conjured an image of Rhynne and Syrowe in the crystal.

"Have ye seen these two?"

A veil was lifted from her mind and Bedivere sucked in her breath.  "The Saxon spyes!  What of it?"

"Nay.  They're not spyes.  They're from the future."

"The future?  How is that possible?"

"Yon lass managed to do it."

"Why art they here?"  Her eyes narrowed with suspicion.

Merlyn chuckled.  "Would ye believe that they came all this way to visit her?"

"Visit?  How didst they meet her?"

"I can show ye the boy's memories.  Do ye want to see?"

Bedivere nodded.  "Yea."

"Ye will feel a bit strange, but it will pass.  And whatever happens, dinna drop the crystal!  Tis a family heirloom."

Bedivere cradled the crystal securely on her lap.  "Proceed, old friend."

"Brace yerself..."

Suddenly, Bedivere felt a sense of vertigo.  The forest blurred away and was replaced by a vision of a wooden house.  Someone was attacking her.  She ran around the house and made her way outside.  The moon shone brightly and she got a glimpse of her attacker.  It was an Erisch warrior.  She ran into a barn and grabbed a piece of metal.  Desperately, she parried the warrior's attacks, but her efforts were in vain.  And then, when all seemed lost, a flash of light blinded the warrior.  A figure blurred within the light and attacked the warrior.  Her eyes grew in recognition of that familiar form.  Arturia stood in her armor before her and said, "Servant Saber.  Upon your summoning, I have come forth.  I ask you, are you my master?"

Meanwhile, Merlyn monitored the progress of the memory spell.  There was no sign of Syrowe's resistance to the spell.  She sensed that he was still asleep.  She maintained the spell until Bedivere saw Syrowe's memories of arriving in the lake.  Then she released the spell and waited for Bedivere to return to her senses.

"How do ye feel?" asked Merlyn.

"Weary... and thirsty."  replied Bedivere with a shudder.  Some of the images that she saw unnerved her.  She noticed the slant of the shadows on the ground.  "How much time hath passed?"

"About three hours.  So... yer thoughts?"

With an incredulous voice, she exclaimed, "I can not believe that she kissed him!"

Merlyn sighed in exasperation.  "Besides that... anything else?"

Bedivere thought for a moment.  "Twas disturbing to know how Arturia felt about her life." 

"Aye.  I agree with ye."

She paused.  "Is there truth in his memories?"

"Methinks so... but I will put it to test."

"How?"

"In two days, the lords will meet in Camelot.  If his memories art true, then the decisions of the lords will match the history in his memories."

Bedivere nodded in comprehension.  "Will thou be there?"

"Aye.  The boy and me will be there.  And then we journey north.  I hath reports of Saxon attacks on villages.  But, methinks a mage hath a hand in it."

"Why dost thou think so?"

"Before the battle, I examined a village that was supposedly attacked by Saxons."  Merlyn's face darkened.  "Some of those folk died by magical means.  The cuts on their bodies wert made after they died.  Tis a challenge to me, for to leave the remains of their spell is an invitation to find them.  I can see the pattern of their mana.  So I wish to search this other village to see if I might find the same.  Since I will be busy, someone needs to watch over Arturia's progress.  I need someone who knows her very well."

"Be at ease.  I shall watch her well."

"Good, good.  And make sure ye greet her properly.  I want to know if she has Avalon."

"Avalon?  Was it returned to her?"  Bedivere asked excitedly.

"I dinna sense it on her person.  But methinks that it is somewhere nearby.  Arturia's healing is not natural.  Tis as if mana is trickling into her body and is being used to heal her.  Methinks Syrowe has it, but I cannae find it on his person.  So I want yer opinion.  Call upon me again at this time."

"Very well.  I shall do so without fail."

"Good.  And beware of Rhynne.  She hides her strength.  Tis difficult to sense her attack.  Take care not to rouse her temper."

"Is the boy dangerous as well?"

"Yea.  E'en more so.  He is likened to a sword waiting for its first cut.  Most magicians hide their magic, but he dinna bother to mask his magic.  In the realm of magic, his aura shines like a candle in the dark."

"Art there moths who would flock to his light?"

A conspiratorial smile etched itself on Merlyn's face.  "Aye."

"Will they test his mettle?"

"Possibly."

"Thou art cruel sometimes."  chided Bedivere.  She stood up.  "I am hungry.  Was there anything else?"

"Nay.  Ye may go.  I shall tell ye more tomorrow.  Dinna forget to cancel the spell."

"Yea.  I will do so."

"Mine thanks, Bedivere.  Fare ye well."  Merlyn's image faded, and the light in the crystal dispersed in small sparkles.

Bedivere deposited the crystal in its padded velvet pouch.  Then she removed the runes set into the stone boulders in the proper order and put the runes in the same pouch as the crystal.  She mounted her horse and galloped back to the mine.


-------------------


They finished another day of lessons and headed towards the dining room for dinner.  As they approached the dining room, they heard Airianne speaking to someone.  When they entered the room, Airianne's visitor turned to greet them.

"Hail Arturia."  Bedivere raised her right hand about the level of her heart for the customary courtly greeting.

Arturia paused as images began to flood her mind and a name rose up from those images.  Her eyes widened in recognition.  She transferred the staff to her left hand and reached out to clasp Bedivere's hand in hers in reply.  "Hail Bedwyr Bedrydant ap Bedrawt."

Then Bedivere took a step to stand close to Arturia and bent to kiss her fully on the lips.

Arturia's first reaction was to push Bedivere away, but a feeling of nostalgia swept over her and she let it wash away her resistance.

With her mouth ajar, Rin gaped at them in shocked silence while Airianne looked on with a bemused expression.  An eternity seemed to pass before Bedivere pulled away and released Arturia's hand.   

"Mine heart soars to see that thou hath survived the battle."  said Bedivere.   Her expression softened with concern.  "How art thy injuries?"

Arturia shifted the staff to adjust her balance.  "Thanks to Rhynne, I will be fully recovered within a week."

"Then thou must introduce me to her so that I may show mine thanks."

Arturia gestured to Rhynne.  "Tis Rhynne.  Rhynne, tis mine dear friend, Bedivere."

"Milady, I am pleased to make thy acquaintance."  Bedivere knelt in front of her and held out her hand palm up.  She tried to keep an impassive face.  Their last encounter was still fresh in her mind.  Merlyn was right.  At that time, she did not even detect Rhynne's attack.  But what disturbed her even more was the way that Arturia addressed Rhynne.  Leaving out the formal salutation was an indication that she was no longer a mere acquaintance to her.

Meanwhile, Rin's mind was still stuck on the word 'dear'.  She tried to discern Arturia's relationship to Bedivere with that word.

Since Rhynne did not reply to Bedivere's greeting, Arturia assumed that Rhynne did not know how to respond.  She whispered in her ear.  "Give her thy hand to kiss."

Arturia's voice jolted her out of her thoughts.  Without thinking, she put out her hand.

Bedivere took her hand in hers and kissed it gently.  Her lips lingered upon her skin just slightly longer than necessary.  Then, without letting go of her hand, she stood up, looked into her eyes and spoke with utmost sincerity.

"Know that thou hast obtained mine gratitude for thy aid rendered to mine dearest friend.  I am in thy debt.  If e'er tis in mine power to grant thee a boon, thou only saith so."

Rin's face blushed in embarrassment and because of Bedivere's closeness.  For a moment, Rin felt like she was in a fairy tale cast as a damsel in distress who was rescued by a dashing knight.  Bedivere fit the part of the knight so well with her tall noble figure, her earnest steely gray eyes, her angular face and her thin lips which drew to a tight roguish smile.  She tried to convince herself that the beating of her heart was due to the nervousness of being so close to someone who almost attacked her.

Once again, Rhynne did not reply as expected.  She merely stood there, gazing at Bedivere.  Arturia cleared her throat.

As if released from a spell, Rin blurted out, "I... I am pleased to meet thee as well."  She withdrew her hand and took a step back.  Bedivere radiated a dangerous kind of charm.  She did not want to fall for that kind of charm.

Airianne cleared her throat.  "Before I serve dinner, methinks there is a matter to attend to."

Bedivere stiffened slightly.  Merlyn must have told her about her injury.  She did not want to ask Rhynne and did not look forward to it.

"Yea.  Bedivere, thou must bathe."  remarked Arturia.  "Thou reekest of horse and sweat.  And, is it not saith that the cleanliness of the body reflects the cleanliness of the spirit?"

Bedivere's eyes lit up at Arturia's unexpected intervention.  "Yea.  I will do so anon."

Airianne cast Bedivere a stern gaze.  "Should anything else be done before bathing?"

A sigh of resignation escaped from Bedivere's lips.  She knelt in front of Rhynne again and began to unclasp her riding cloak.  She removed the two silver rosaries that held the front flaps together. 

"Milady, Merlyn hath informed me of thy skill in healing.  And now, I must implore thee to bend thy skill upon mine person for I hath been slightly wounded in battle."

The cloak fell away to reveal her left shoulder and arm.  All three of them gasped at the sight of her injuries.  Her tunic was starched stiff by dried blood.  Her forearm bore a crude splint.  But what shocked Rin and Airianne the most was the absence of her left hand.

'Slightly wounded' was obviously an understatement.  Rin knelt beside her and quickly did a scan.  Her left shoulder blade was fractured and several muscles were severed.  Her upper arm was fractured and her left forearm was splintered in several places.  The wrist, however, indicated a very old injury.  A surge of pity rose within her and she wondered when it happened. 

Even though there were signs that she received some basic first aid, she should be bedridden from the pain.  Rin could only guess that the crusty residue under her bandages might be some form of pain reliever.  After the scan, she spoke to Bedivere.

"I will need to clean thy wounds and set thy bones.  Before that, I will prepare a draught for thee to drink to lessen the pain whilst I set thy bones.  Since thy wounds hath closed, thou can bathe, but only briefly.  I will bandage thy wounds first to repulse water."

Airianne stepped forward.  "If ye instruct me, I can prepare the draught in yer stead."

"Yea, tis a simple method."  replied Rin.

Airianne provided a piece of parchment and a quill.  Rin wrote down the instructions for the potion and handed it to Airianne.  "Mine thanks.  Let me know when tis ready."

"Aye."  Airianne left the room to prepare the potion.

Arturia, Bedivere and Rin headed for the bath.  Along the way, Rin grabbed her medicine kit and bandages from her room.  When they reached the bath, Arturia and Rin helped Bedivere remove her armor and clothes.  Bedivere undid her hair and let it fall.

Rin gasped in admiration of Bedivere's almost naked body.  Her cascading flaxen yellow hair softened the angles of her face.  The slant of her gray eyes accentuated an image of an aristocratic lady.  She was so endowed that Rin wondered where she could contain her breasts in that confining armor.  Her tall slim body was muscular but she carried herself with grace and poise.  However, her skin was streaked with light scars:  the signs of countless battles.  The scars adorned her like scratches on a glass sculpture.  She reminded Rin of an amazon warrior, beautiful and deadly.

Arturia unrolled the bandages and waited for Rhynne's instruction.  However, Rhynne just stood there staring at Bedivere.  The expression on her face betrayed her awe.  She had never seen that kind of reaction from Rhynne.  It amused her and confused her at the same time.  Meanwhile, Bedivere stood in front of them with an air of calm patience.  Tentatively, she touched Rhynne's arm.  "Rhynne..."  she called out.

Arturia's voice shook her out her enthrallment.  She picked up a washcloth with sanitizing alcohol on it.  "I shall clean thy arm.  The cloth hath tonic on it that may cause discomfort.  Please endure it."

"Worry not, Milady.  I bear pain well."

Rin did not doubt that statement.  Bedivere showed no sign of being injured when they first met.  She cleaned around the wounds to remove dried blood.  Then she took the bandages from Arturia and bound them around her arm and shoulder.  She poured some body oil on her hands and spread it on the bandages. 

"Thou may bathe now, but do not soak in yonder pool.  When thou scrub and rinse, avoid thy left arm."  instructed Rhynne.

"Yea, I understand."  replied Bedivere.

"Let me assist thee in bathing."  said Arturia.

Bedivere faced Arturia and replied, "As thou wish.  Shall I help thee undress?"  Arturia nodded and Bedivere knelt before her to remove her shoes and hose.

A surge of panic rose in Rin.  She had forgotten that Bedivere knew that Arturia was the king.  She could have sworn that Bedivere bowed slightly as if to acknowledge a command from a superior.  How did Bedivere find them?  Did Merlyn know that she is here?  The questions nagged at Rin and a drop of sweat trickled on her forehead.

Bedivere assisted Arturia to a stool next to the waterspout and sat with her back towards her.  Arturia wet a washcloth and began wiping Bedivere's back. 

Bedivere's eyes widened with surprise.  She and Arturia had bathed together before, but Arturia never scrubbed like this.  It felt very pleasant.  In fact, it felt so sensual that she was glad that Arturia offered to help her bathe.

At the sight of Arturia wiping Bedivere's back, Rin felt a spark of jealousy.  The kiss in the dining room flashed in her mind.  She moved away silently and left the bath quietly.  She went to her room and threw herself on the bed.  Her heart was in turmoil. 

It made sense.  Arturia had a lover.  At first, she thought it was Guinevere, but that kiss showed it was Bedivere.  She put her hands over her face and emptied her mind.  She emptied herself to forget.

But who was she anyway?  She did not have anything to claim.  She was not even her master.  Shiro had snagged that prize and her attempt to force him to surrender his command seals failed.  A wistful sigh escaped from her lips.

When she asked him if he had gotten over the war, he said that he had.  The conviction in his voice convinced her of his truthfulness.  As she lay on her down-feathered bed inside an enchanted mountain fortress, Rin realized the irony of her question.  In the end, she was the one who did not get over it.  She was the one who could not let go. 

She curled up in a ball.  She would have to go home anyway.  There was no reason for her to feel this way.  But a part of her had hoped.  She punched her bed with her fist.  No, it was too much to hope.  The time she spent with her would be enough.  It had to be enough.

Rin willed herself to stand.  Airianne should have finished the potion by now.  She dragged herself to the kitchen.

-------------------

They assembled in the kitchen.  Rin instructed Bedivere to drink the potion and to lie upon the long kitchen table.  Bedivere did so.  Rin removed the bandages and laid her arm on the table's surface.  She spread numbing ointment on a wound and opened it with a surgical knife.  Blood and pus oozed out and Rin squeezed the wound gently to let the blood bleed out the infected area.  When she was satisfied, she applied some antiseptic and cast a spell to accelerate its healing.  Then she bandaged the wound.  She did the same for the other wounds. 

"Art thou sleepy?"  asked Rin.

"Yea... is it the effect of the draught?"

"Yea.  Now thy body is prepared for me.  I will now set thy bones."

"Please proceed."

Rin started with her forearm.  She cast a spell to align the bone fragments and pulled at the arm to give them space to fall in place.  Once in place she cast another spell to keep them there and bound her arm with a splint.  She did the same for the upper arm and shoulder blade. 

Bedivere gritted her teeth.  Something was moving inside her arm and she restrained herself from flinching in pain. 

When she was finished, Rin wiped her forehead with the back of her hand.  "Tis done!"  she declared with relief.  Suddenly, she felt a piece of cloth touch her temple.  She turned slowly to face its owner. 

Arturia calmly wiped the sweat from her forehead.  When she was done, she pressed the handkerchief into Rhynne's hand.  "Thou must remember to carry one and use it."

Rin closed her hand upon Arturia's.  "Yea."  She slowly withdrew her hand and put the handkerchief in her pocket.

Even through the haze of pain, Bedivere witnessed the scene with sense of amazement.  She had rarely seen Arturia act so kindly with another person other than her sister.

"If ye art hungry, I will now serve dinner."  offered Airianne.

All three of them replied positively so Airianne began to move the entrees from the oven to the dining room.  Meanwhile, Rin fashioned a sling for Bedivere's arm and helped her off the table.  Then they went to the dining room and took their seats. 

When they were all seated, Rin was about to reach for a bread bun when Bedivere crossed herself and began to recite grace.  Arturia and Airianne put their hands together as well so Rin imitated them.  After Bedivere finished grace, she did not reach for food and waited until Arturia had selected hers.   As they ate, Rin sat uneasily.  She hoped that Bedivere would not say anything that would give her away.

Then Arturia asked Bedivere, "How didst thou find us?  Didst Merlyn tell thee?"

Bedivere shook her head sadly and put her fork down.  She addressed them all together to tell her tale.  "Alas, to mine great shame, Merlyn found me wallowed in drink and grief in mine camp in the forest.  She beseeched me to reveal whither Arturia went and I told her that the Lady of the Lake hath offered to heal thee so I let her attendants take thee.  After I hath finished mine tale, her visage furrowed with worry and she saith, 'There is no such Lady of the Lake'.  Then she left towards the lake in all haste." 

"Her words cast such harrowing doubt in mine heart!  I tried to follow her but mine legs wert leaden with drink.  When I reached the lake, there wert no sign of her.  Ne'ertheless, for several days, I persevered and hath found folk who hath seen her likeness traveling by wagon due north."

"I scoured the roads all o'er and found a campsite wherein a half burnt piece of stained bandage lay among the cinders.  Encouraged by this, I spyed the wagon tracks upon the road with the best of mine skill.  When the tracks were lost to me, I asked traveling folk if they hath seen a wagon passeth by.  By divine providence, their assistance and yon marks lead me to this valley."

"Twas easy to follow the tracks up this mountain.  Great was mine joy when I hath found the wagon.  But mine joy was short-lived when yon cave below foiled me.  To mine great puzzlement, thy footprints seemeth to lead into a wall.  For days, I searched that wall for sign of entry.  Then one night, as I camped near that wall, the faint sound of a maiden singing reached mine ears.  I pressed mine ear to the wall and listened.  Mine heart leapt with joy when I recognized the song that Arturia had sung for me!"

"I renewed mine search on that wall.  When I grew weary of the darkness, I would venture outside and break mine fast.  Yesterday, I spyed upon men who set a carcass of rabbit upon the ground and hid amongst a group of boulders.  Curiosity befell me and I observed them for a while.  Within half an hour, a young falcon flew down and feasted upon the rabbit.  Suddenly, the falcon began to flap its wings frantically but it didst not rise.  Then the men leapt from their hiding place and ran to the falcon with large nets aloft.  I knew then that the poor bird was ensnared by a trap and I rushed forth to prevent its capture."

"I smote the men down with mine gloved hand.  Nay, I didst not take their lives.  Then I freed yon falcon from the trap and set it free.  When I was satisfied that it could fly once more, I resumed mine search on the wall until sleep beckoned me.  Then, this afternoon, as I rested, the wall swung open on its own accord!  A musical voice beckoned me in and instructed me to stand on the platform within.  And to mine great astonishment, the platform rose until it reached that great sunlit hall.  There, I beheld a beautiful young maiden.  Twas kind Lady Airianne.  She granted mine request to see thee and escorted me here."

Rin breathed a sigh of relief.  Bedivere did not say anything to give her away.

"I am glad that thou hath found us.  Merlyn should have left thee a sign so that thou may follow us easier."  remarked Arturia.

"There was not a day in which I hath wisheth that she did."  said Bedivere sourly.  "I almost rode poor Haut to the ground in mine efforts."

"But something puzzles me... if there is no such Lady of Lake, what became of me?"

Bedivere hung her head.  "So anxious was I to have thee healed that I neglected to surmise for the possibility that they might be bandits.  I heard about their presence from folk at the nearest village."  She turned to Rhynne.  "Milady, when thou found her, didst she have her sword and purse with her?"

Rin swallowed.  Bedivere did not say what actually happened.  She tried to go along with her tale.  "Nay, she didst not."

"Pray, forgive me, Arturia!  They robbed thee and left thee for dead.  Tis mine own negligence!  If it wert not for Lady Rhynne, thou might have..."

"But I didst not, old friend.  Fret not.  Thy concern warms mine heart.  Raise thy face for I bear thee no ill."

Bedivere wiped a tear from her eye.  "Mine thanks..."

After that, they spent the rest of the dinner with idle chatter.  Rin helped Airianne clean the table and put the dishes away.  Meanwhile, Arturia accompanied Bedivere to her room which was next to Rhynne's.

"If thou art not occupied, Arturia, I wish to speak to thee privately."

"I am not.  What is it?"

Bedivere closed the door, led her to the bed and sat.  "How far back canst thou remember?"

Arturia sat down next to Bedivere and closed her eyes.  "I could remember more before mine twelfth year and less after that."

"How much of me canst thou remember?"

"I remember meeting thee and thy brother.  I remember training with thee.  I see thee winning a tourney.  I see us fighting in battle.  And... I..."  Arturia blushed at the memory.

"And?"

"Thou... and I... we..."  stuttered Arturia.  Her hands gripped the staff firmly.  "Art we lovers?"  asked Arturia softly.

Bedivere grasped the meaning behind her question and blushed as well.  "Nay.  Dost thou remember anything before that?"

"Nay... mine memories seemeth like an unbound book.  I can find some pages, but not all the pages art there."

"What about Rhynne?  What dost thou remember?"

Arturia hesitated.  The image of that bloodstained room flashed in her mind.  "I doth not remember meeting her in mine past."

Bedivere reached out and gently pried her right hand from her staff.  She turned the palm face up.  "What hath she done to thee?"  asked Bedivere with a dangerous edge in her voice.

Arturia stiffened with alarm.  Bedivere must have noticed the marks in the bath.  She had to choose her words carefully.  She did not want to give Bedivere cause to get angry with Rhynne.  "She saith that the mark upon me was the result of a healing spell which she did not dispel properly."

"Then we must beseech her to dispel it.  To have a mark upon thee is unbecoming."  said Bedivere with a note of anger.  She could not bear the idea that Arturia was marked like a piece of property.

"Nay."  Arturia pulled her hand away and stood up.

"But why?" 

"Methinks... that it may aid me in restoring mine memories."

Bedivere sighed and stood up to face Arturia.  "I understand."  She reached for Arturia's shoulders and pulled her into a hug.  "I want thee to know, that I am glad that thou remembered me."

Arturia let the staff drop on the bed and hugged her back.  "I am glad as well."


------------------


After putting away the dishes, Airianne declared that she had to attend to Wybrenne's needs and will not be available for their usual nightly entertainment.  Rin bid her good night and bottled some of the leftover potion for Bedivere.  In small doses, it could be administered as a pain reliever.  As she wrote down instructions for the dosage, she was reminded of Bedivere's request.  

  'Milady, Merlyn hath informed me of thy skill in healing.'

That implied that Merlyn knew of Bedivere's injuries and that she and Bedivere had spoken.  The conversation during dinner indicated that Bedivere knew about Arturia's situation.  However, she did not mention meeting Merlyn after she met Airianne.  If she had met with Merlyn, then there was a possibility that Merlyn might have told her about her and Shiro.  So far, she did not mention anything about Arturia being the king. 

Rin picked up the instructions and the bottle.  She would have to ask her directly.  She recalled Airianne saying that Bedivere's room was next to hers.  She made her way there and knocked on her door.  When she heard no answer, she opened the door.

To her great shock, she saw Bedivere and Arturia holding each other so closely that Bedivere's face was just a few inches from Arturia's.

Bedivere pulled away and scolded her.  "Tis customary not to enter unless one hath permission."

Rin bowed with a fluster.  "I... I beg thy pardon."  she stammered.  She held out the bottle and the folded instructions.  "I hath brought thee draught to lessen thy pain.  When I heard no answer, I meant to leave it on thy table."

Bedivere strode over and held out her hand to accept them.  "Mine thanks.  Thou may go." 

The power of command in her voice compelled Rin to obey.  She backed away and closed the door.  Then she went to her room and closed the door behind her.  Tears began to drip down her cheeks.  She ran to her bed and wept into her pillow.

Meanwhile, Arturia rounded on Bedivere.  "Twas unseemly of thee, Bedivere!  Why didst thou not answer?"

Bedivere examined the instructions with cool indifference.  "Tis mine room.  I can choose to answer or not."

Arturia picked up her staff and almost half ran to the door.  "I have a matter to attend to.  Good night."  She exited quickly.

Bedivere stared at the closed door.  "Is that so?"  The question was directed more to herself than to Arturia.  Arturia was upset at her, but at least, she was able to observe Rhynne's reaction.  She lay down on her bed and tried to plan her next course of action.

Arturia knocked on Rhynne's door.  There was no answer.  She knocked several more times until she decided to enter.  "Forgive me..." she whispered as she grasped the handle.

As Rin lay prone on her bed, she heard the click of the handle and waved her hand to douse the candles.  She did not want Arturia to see her puffy face.  The door opened and Arturia stepped into her moonlit room.

"Tis customary not to enter unless one hath permission."  said Rin sarcastically.

Arturia was a bit surprised by the sarcasm in her voice.  She could only guess that Rhynne was upset over Bedivere's actions and that she became even more upset at her rude intrusion.  "Please forgive me."  Arturia paused.  "May I have thy permission to enter?"

Rin turned her face away from the door and stared at the moonlit landscape of the valley.  A part of her wanted to say no while another wanted to let her in.

Arturia watched Rhynne's still form on the bed and waited for a reply.  She hoped that Rhynne would give her a chance to explain the situation.  Finally, she concluded that her silence meant that she did not have permission, so she turned to exit the room.  Just then Rhynne's soft voice reached her ears.

"Thou... may enter." 

Arturia breathed a sigh of relief.  She closed the door, carefully made her way to the bed and sat down beside Rhynne.  However, Rhynne did not acknowledge her presence.  She waited again before she decided to grab her attention.  "Hail Rhynne of the land of Nee-hun."

Rin glanced over in Arturia's direction.  She had raised her right hand in the same way that Bedivere did. 

"Tis customary to acknowledge a greeting between friends."  said Arturia.

It would be rude to ignore Arturia, so Rin sat up and clasped Arturia's hand.  A slight tingle on her palm alarmed her for a moment, but she reminded herself that the mana flow would only activate if the marks were aligned.  "Hail Arturia."  she replied.

Before she could react, Arturia pulled her close and leaned in to kiss her on the lips.  Her body went rigid with shock and she tightened her grasp on Arturia's hand.  Arturia's lips where soft and nimble as they caressed her own.  Rin's cheeks flushed in reaction.

Rhynne was no mere acquaintance.  With her lips, Arturia tried to express the depth of friendship that she felt with Rhynne.  Words seemed ill suited to show her feelings.   She marveled at the softness of Rin's lips as she caressed them with her own.  She pressed against them gently, feeling its texture as her lips slid against them.  Its sweetness seeped onto her tongue and she was tempted to deepen the kiss.  But that would be inappropriate.  She pulled away before the temptation grew.

She left a few inches between their faces and gazed into Rhynne's eyes.  She watched her reaction carefully.  Rhynne's eyes were distant and she looked at her as if in a trance.  Arturia cleared her throat.  She hoped that Rhynne was not too upset about Bedivere after her explanation.

"Twas ill-mannered of Bedivere to speak to thee as though thou wert a common servant."  She put her left hand over Rhynne's.  "Know that I hold thee in high regard and on equal footing with Bedivere.  Thus I greet thee in the same way as I greet Bedivere.  As for Bedivere, she hath received mine rebuke and will eventually seek thee to beseech thy forgiveness."

It took for a few moments for Rin to realize Arturia's intentions.  When she did, she felt both happy and disappointed at the same time.  Even though it was her first kiss and not as romantic as she had hoped, she was happy to gain Arturia's trust. 

"Thy skin seemeth warm.  Didst the healing tire thee?"  Arturia touched her cool forehead on Rhynne's.  "Yea, it seemeth that thou hath a fever.  Mayhap, we should retire early."  She stood up beside the bed and tugged gently on Rhynne's hand.

Doubt left her heart when she remembered the day when Arturia handed her the black piece and announced her request.  "Yea.  The healing did tax mine strength.  I shall heed thy advice.  Allow me to change.  I will be with thee anon."

With her reassurance, Arturia let go of Rhynne's hand.  "I shall await thee."  Then she limped to the door and left the room.


----------------------


Bedivere woke up refreshed.  By the height of the sun, she had slept longer than usual.  She looked out into valley and felt like going for a morning ride.  She quickly freshened up in the privy and changed into some riding clothes.  Then she went to Arturia's room to invite her to go riding.  She knocked on her door several times, but heard no response.  Cautiously, she opened her door and peeked in.  The curtains were still drawn.  Bedivere strode over and unceremoniously pulled the curtains aside.  She gasped aloud.

Arturia's eyes fluttered open and she drowsily lifted her head from Rhynne's shoulder to look in Bedivere's direction.  Her eyes remained unfocused for a few moments before locking on to Bedivere like a hunter on its prey.  When she recognized her, her eyebrows knit with annoyance.  Like a disturbed lion, she growled in a low voice.  "Bedivere... tis customary not to enter unless one hath permission."  Then she resumed her position on Rhynne and closed her eyes. 

Bedivere's shock was replaced by a wave of irritation.  "Mine apologies."  she grumbled.  She drew the curtains back and stalked out of the room.  She marched down the hall towards the dining room.  Airianne sat at the table sipping tea and reading wrinkled pieces of parchment.

"Good morning."  greeted Airianne upon her entrance.

"Good morning."  replied Bedivere.  She stood for a moment and then started pacing back and forth.  A flood of questions filled her mind.

Airianne followed her with her eyes for a while.  "Please help yerself to breakfast."  said Airianne.  She returned to her reading.
 
Bedivere stopped and faced her.  "How long hath this been going on?"

"About what?"

"Arturia and Rhynne."

Airianne noted the lack of honorifics.  Bedivere must be upset about something to neglect her manners.  "Oh that.  Methinks e'er since they came here."

"Why dost thou thinkst so?"

"Because she asked if Rhynne would share her room, e'en though Syrowe confessed his love for her."

"What?  Thou surely misunderstood her intentions."

"Did I?"  Airianne glanced at the freshly baked muffins.  "Mayhap, we should invite them to breakfast."  She expected Bedivere to offer to fetch them, but she just stood there with her arms crossed and with a sullen frown on her face.  When the reason for her behavior dawned on her, she almost laughed out loud and managed to conceal it with a cough.  She stood up and announced, "I shall remind them to have some.  Pray, sit, Sir Bedivere.  They may yet grace us with their company."


------------------------



Her boot squashed something.  She did not bother to look.  Friend or foe did not matter.  They were all dead.  Hers was the hand that slew them.  The ground was soggy and uneven as she staggered across the bloody plain strewn with the bodies of countless warriors and horses.  Someone was behind her.  A demon appeared with blazing red eyes and a gleaming red sword.  Red lightning spewed from the sword in arcs. 

"No... I refuse to be judged by ye!"  she screamed.  She broke into a sprint and urged herself.  "Run... run and ignore the pain..."

The demon walked towards her and swung the blade in her direction.  She dodged as the ground beside her exploded in a shower of debris and bits of flesh. 

In the distance, she could see a silver cross and with it, the hope of salvation.  She ran towards it with all her might.  Behind her, the demon continued its assault.  The cross melded into the red robe of a hooded cleric who reached out towards her.  She grabbed the outstretched hand.  The battlefield melted away into a sunlit green forest.  As she looked up into the hood of the cleric, she saw her face reflected in the deep pool of blue eyes.  She was safe now. 

Suddenly, her ears were assaulted by a loud noise.  Annoyed, she looked about to locate the source.  A large cuckoo perched on a tiny twig.  "Cu--ckoo... Cu--ckoo..." it called.  She swung at it to shoo it away.  It tumbled off the twig and hit the ground with a blinding explosion of light.

Arturia woke up with a start.  She found herself sprawled on her stomach with her hand on the bedside table.  Somewhere behind the bed's curtains was the warbling call of a cuckoo.   "Cu--ckoo... Cu--ckoo..."

She lifted herself up with her elbow and was surprised to find Rhynne beneath her.  She moved away quickly.

"Good morning."  greeted Rhynne casually. 

"Good morning."  replied Arturia. 

"Cu--ckoo... Cu--ckoo..."  replied the cuckoo. 

Rin sat up and got out of the bed.  She drew the curtains aside and located the mechanical bird.  She flipped a small lever to turn it off and returned it to its place on the bedside table.  She could not believe that Arturia managed to crawl from the opposite side of the bed and swatted the bird without seeing it.  She chuckled at the memory. 

She looked at her watch which was calibrated to the current time using the sundial in the rose garden.  It was probably 10:30.  Airianne would be upset at them for missing breakfast.  She turned to Arturia who had also gotten out on the other side of bed and was tying the curtains up. 

Rin noticed the staff leaning by the bedpost.  "Thou can walk?!"  she exclaimed as she made her way to Arturia. 

"Yea.  I had found out yesterday when I walked to thy room."

Rin put her hands on her shoulders.  "I am glad for thee!  This calls for a celebration!"

"Tis thanks to thine skill.  All I did was sleep."  replied Arturia with a sheepish smile. 

"Come!  Let us tell the others the good news."  said Rhynne happily.  Without thinking, she reached for Arturia's hand and grabbed it firmly.

Suddenly, Arturia was transported into a dark cave.  She felt the weight of chains on her body.  She struggled against the chains and tried to yank them off her hands.  To her great amazement, her hands were covered with leathery lizard like skin instead of human skin.  Someone was walking towards her.  It was the red robed cleric.  Arturia shouted with joy but a roar erupted from her throat instead.  Undeterred by her roar, the cleric advanced bravely and lifted a silver staff to strike at the manacles on her hands.  The chains dissolved and she roared in delight.  A great wind filled the chamber as large bat-like wings unfolded from her back.  Freed from her chains, she flew out of the cave and into a lava covered landscape. 

The cave melted away from her vision and she found herself lying on her bed.  Rhynne was lying next to her.  She cradled her right hand to her chest.  Her face seemed paler.

"Art thou well, Rhynne?"  asked Arturia with a concerned voice. 

"Yea."  replied Rin.  "I... was just surprised."

"Mine apologies."

"Nay... I was careless."  Rin sat up.  "How art thee?"

Arturia sat up.  "I am well."  She deliberated whether to tell Rhynne about her vision.  Since Rhynne was not in it, she decided to tell her.  As she told her, Rhynne's face showed subtle signs of apprehension.  Arturia wondered why she reacted that way.  She ended her story by asking, "Is mine vision an omen of some sort?"

Rin shook her head.  "I am unable to discern anything from it since I am not a soothsayer.  Mayhap, Merlyn can advise thee when she returns." 

But the vision hinted that Arturia remembered part of the mana replenishing ritual.  During the ritual, Rin discovered that there was a seal to limit Arturia's mana intake.  So even if Shiro was able to replenish her mana, the quantity and speed of replenishment was limited.  The vision symbolized the breaking of the seal.

Rin stood up.  It was hard to think when she was hungry.  "Mine stomach urges me to eat.  I would be pleased if thou would join me for some late breakfast."

Arturia laughed softly and stood up.  "Yea.  Mine stomach agrees with thine."

As they made their way to the dining room, the experience showed Rin another disadvantage of having the marks.  She could not hold hands with Arturia.  Once again, she cursed herself for not dispelling it properly.  "Damn, I suck at romance."  she thought to herself.  She wished that she was better at it.  For now, she had to work with what she had.


-------------------------


They enjoyed a quick breakfast of muffins and tea.  With a bit of searching, they found Airianne and Bedivere in the rose garden, weeding the ground near the rose bushes. 

Rin rolled up her sleeves and wore an apron to take over for Bedivere.  She convinced her that it was a physic's duty to insure that her patient had enough rest in order to heal properly, and that her honor would be stained if she failed to do that duty.  Bedivere reluctantly complied and sat down at the table.

Rhynne's ears detected the sound of scraping.  She followed the sound to the ceiling.  Just beyond the ceiling, a falcon perched and appeared to scrape the ceiling with its beak. 

"Ah!"  exclaimed Airianne.  "Sir Bedivere has a visitor."  She walked over to a corner of the garden and pulled the outstretched hand of a statue.  A square portion of the ceiling slid open and the falcon flew down.  It landed in front of Airianne and screeched.  Airianne screeched back in reply which surprised everyone else.

Then the falcon faced Bedivere and cocked its head in her direction.  Then the falcon rose up and flew out of the garden.

"He wisheth to thank ye fer yer timely rescue."  said Airianne as she closed the opening in the ceiling.  "And, he was the one that told me that ye were in the mine."

"Ye can speak with birds?"  asked Arturia.

"Aye.  I inherited the gift from Mother."  responded Airianne as she sat down on a stool to weed near a rose bush.

"Amazing..."  remarked Rin.  Then she returned to the chore at hand.  As she pulled the weeds out, something caught her eye.  She called out to everyone.  They came over and she pointed with her finger.  "Behold!  Tis a four leaf clover!"

Airianne clapped her hands with glee at the sight of the little plant under the rose bush.  "How wonderful!  Now ye can make a wish!"

"That's true...  Oh, what the hell...  I wish I could be more romantic."  she thought to herself.

The light from above seemed to shine brighter for a brief instant.  Rin looked up with bewilderment.  "What was that?"  she asked herself.

"So... what is thy wish?"  asked Arturia with curiosity.

"I... uh... it's a secret."  Rin winked at her.

A small laugh of amusement escaped from Arturia's lips.  "Is that so?  Mayhap, when it comes true, will thou tell me?"

"Ah... of course."  Rin rubbed the back of her head sheepishly.

"I hath decided."  declared Bedivere.

Curiosity caused all three of them to turn their attention to Bedivere.  Bedivere grinned widely as if she was announcing a great event.  "Lady Airianne told me yesterday that she hath not left the Aerie since her birth.  Nor hath Merlyn prepared a ball upon her sixteenth year.  Therefore, since Lady Airianne cannot go to a ball, we shall bring the ball to her.  What saith thou?  Tis a minor requital for the kindness that her family hath bestowed upon us."

Rin sat in stunned silence.  One glance at Airianne's gaping face indicated that she was not aware of Bedivere's plans.

"Methinks that tis a wonderful plan."  said Arturia with a note of approval. 

"Then tis settled! I assume that thou knowst how to dance?"

"Mother showed me some steps..."  started Airianne. 

"Pah!  I hath seen Merlyn dance, and it shamed me to see a lady dance so badly.  I shall give thee proper instruction."

"I am not sure that I remember how..."  said Arturia slowly.  It was obvious why.

"Do not worry.  I shall refresh thy memory."

Their eyes fell on Rin.  She swallowed and with great embarrassment, she admitted, "I hath ne'er been to a ball."  It was true.

"Then I shall instruct thee as well.  When our chores art done, we shall begin thy lessons.  We shall have a ball within a fourtenight."   


---------------------


After the chores were assigned, Arturia cornered Airianne in the kitchen to speak to her privately.  With a testy voice, she asked, "Lady Airianne, art ye sure that the curse of the chair hath been lifted?"

"Aye.  The chair is not at the table, so she did not sit upon it."

"Then why doth it seemeth that curse still remains?"

Airianne smiled mischievously.  "If ye look upon her face, ye will know her hand."

Arturia's eyebrows went up.  "Really?"

"Aye."  Airianne giggled.  "And... I've discovered something."

"What?"  inquired Arturia curiously.

"She hates to lose."  She giggled some more.  "Oh, how amusing tis to see that pert mouth curl into a frown when victory slips from her grasp.  Ah... she is so interesting.  Tis a pity that someone hath her favor before I met her.  I would leap at a chance to win it."

"Though ye art amused, I am not.  How can ye delight at her misery?"

"Why art ye disturbed?  Tis but a game."

Why indeed?  It was only a game.  But yet, Arturia felt like she had to do something.  "For once, may I implore ye to leave yer selection to chance instead of yer method?"

Airianne sighed.  "Oh, all right, since ye asked."  With a wistful face, she added, "Ah!  How I will miss her pouting visage!"

An image of Rhynne pouting after another loss crept into her mind.  A small smile wandered into her face and she relented.  "Well... mayhap, tis all right to employ yer method once in a while..."

Airianne smiled gratefully.  "Aye.  I will do mine best."


---------------------


The crystal burst into life.  Merlyn's face flickered within.

"Hail Myrddin Emrys."  greeted Bedivere.

"Hail Bedwyr Bedrydant ap Bedrawt."  replied Merlyn.  "What news?"

Bedivere recalled the kiss.  "She doth not have it on her person.  There is some mana there, but tis not Avalon's.  Tis more like... a cool breeze on a summer day."

"Tis Rhynne's healing magic.  Did ye feel it when she healed ye?"

"Yea."

"Did ye feel anything else?  Like the bitterness of cold steel?"

Bedivere thought for a moment.  "Nay, I did not feel such mana.  Is that the boy's?"

"Aye."  Merlyn sighed in frustration.  "Tis possible that Syrowe or Rhynne asked Avalon to hide its presence."  Merlyn paused in thought.  "There is one test... if she were to get injured..."

Bedivere shook her head vigorously and with an air of disgust, she replied,  "Nay, Merlyn.  I shant be party to such lowly tactics."   

With a twinkle in her eye, Merlyn suggested, "Well... there is another test... one in which ye may use yer special skills to check Rhynne's mana."  Merlyn watched Bedivere with amusement as her face changed from puzzlement to indignation.

"Saith that when thou perform the task!"  Her eyes flashed with anger.

"Nay, mine wife will be cross with me for dallying with a young maiden.  Besides, didst ye not use yer skill with countless maidens in many courtly occasions?"  Although Lancelot held the honor of the most favored knight among the court ladies, Bedivere was the third or fourth most favored.  This reputation often led to many amusing situations among ladies who were either aware or unaware of her gender.

Bedivere turned away sullenly to hide her embarrassment.  "I was merely entertaining them as chivalry bade me to, and took no delight in doing so."

Merlyn laughed at Bedivere's expression.  "All right... toss that idea away.  I suggest ye watch her then.  Any other news?"

"Arturia can walk on her own."

"Tis good news indeed!  And how about ye?"

"Still in a splint, as thou can see."

"Can ye draw mana from Arturia?"

"I dare not without Avalon in her possession."

"I understand.  So... what do ye think of Rhynne?"

"She reminds me of thee, serious and curt."

"Really?  She reminds me of ye, loyal and trusting."

"Surely, thou jest."

"And ye as well.  I am married, ye know."

"So was I."

"..."

"..."

They sighed in unison.  Then Bedivere's face grew serious.  "Doth Rhynne fancy Arturia?"

In the crystal, Merlyn's face indicated surprise.  "Aye, methinks so."

"Then why didst thou leave her behind?"  An image of a vulture preying upon an innocent Arturia flashed in her mind.

"She touched a soft spot in mine heart.  I wanted to give the lass a chance."

Now it was Bedivere's turn to be surprised.  Then Merlyn's statement filled her with sudden mirth.  She began to tremble to contain her laughter but she gave in and let it out in a rich guffaw.

"What's so funny?"

Bedivere took a few moments to calm down.  "I hath heard of thy many titles, Merlyn.  Mage paramount, Counsel to the High King, Seer, Protector of eagles...  But now I add a new one to mine list:  Matchmaker."

Merlyn's face twisted with indignation.  Bedivere chortled at the sight of it. 

"Dinna mock me, lass!  I may turn ye into a toad!"

"Pray, hold thy spell.  I may drop thy precious crystal."

For several tense moments, they glowered at each other.  Finally, Merlyn laughed at the absurdness of the situation which prompted Bedivere to laugh along as well.  When they calmed down, Merlyn coughed into her hand.  "The lords art asking about ye.  They wish to honor the hero of Camlann.  What will I say?"

"Tis obvious that some lord will attempt to reward me with an offer of service under their banner.  I will only serve mine king, Merlyn.  I refuse to pledge mine sword to another.  Tell them that I will retire in honor of mine king."

"I will do so.  That is all I have fer ye.  Return the crystal to Airianne.  When I need to speak to ye, I will leave word."

"Yea.  Consider it done.  Farewell, old friend."

"Fare ye well, Bedivere."

The crystal dimmed.  Bedivere removed the runes properly and galloped back to the Aerie.  It was time to teach her charges how to dance.


---------------------


They gathered in the great sunlit hall.  To gauge their skill, Bedivere danced with them in turn.  When it was Rin's turn, she slowly waltzed her away from Arturia and Airianne.  When they were far enough away, Bedivere whispered near her ear, tickling it with her warm breath.  Rin broke out into goose bumps at the sensation. 

"Milady, I must apologize for mine rude speech last night.  There is no excuse for mine unchivalrous conduct."

The scene flashed in Rin's mind and she hesitated before answering.  "Nay, tis I who must apologize.  I was presumptuous and careless."  She looked away but Bedivere's hand left her side to tilt her chin up towards her face.  Then her hand returned to her side to guide her.  Bedivere's face seemed so close and her eyes were trapped in that steel gray gaze.

"E'en so, twas unseemly for me to lose mine calm over such a small matter.  I shall take it as a lesson and pledge that it shall ne'er happen again.  To compensate thee, I shall take up a quest in thy name.  Thou only need to name it, and I shall do it within mine power."

"Since I am a visitor in these lands, I have no knowledge of suitable quests for thee.  Consider thy quest complete."

"Nay.  Providence will surely guide thee and thou will have need of one.  Until then, I shall await thy behest." 

As she smiled roguishly at her, Rin felt that dangerous charm again.  Her knees felt weak and she stumbled, but Bedivere drew her close to her body to give her support, causing her face to squash into her ample bosom.

With cat-like agility to avoid Rhynne's stumbling steps, Bedivere led her back to Arturia and Airianne.  She released Rhynne and bowed to signal the end of the dance.  Then she turned to address them like squires in training.

"Arturia, thou remembered the basics, so teach all that thou knoweth to Lady Airianne.  Milady, I shall instruct thee."

Rin grimaced internally as Bedivere led her back on the dance floor.  She did not like how she was reacting to Bedivere, so she tried her best not to look her in the eye for the next hour.  However, she seemed to notice her behavior.

"Milady, tis customary for one to look upon one's partner whilst dancing."

Rin cursed her bad luck and made an effort to look.  "If only she didn't look so dashing..." thought Rin.  Suddenly, an idea formed in her head.  "I have thought of a quest."  declared Rin. 

Bedivere's eyebrows rose.  "May I know it?"

"Yea.  From now until a day before the ball, thou must dress like a lady."

Bedivere's jaw dropped and for a moment she was speechless.  Then she laughed at the strangeness of the request and replied, "As thou wish."  She waltzed Rhynne toward Airianne and Arturia.

"Lady Airianne, I require thy assistance."

Then she led Rhynne back to the end of the great hall and bowed.  "I shall change mine clothes and shall return in most haste."

Bedivere turned to Airianne.  "I will require clothing more suitable for a lady."

Airianne clapped her hands with glee.  "Ah!  I hath often wondered how ye would look in a dress!  Come hither, Sir Bedivere.  Ye shall choose from mine wardrobe."


--------------------------


Thankfully, that dangerous charm did not manifest itself when Bedivere wore a dress.  Thus, she managed to keep her concentration on learning the dance.  However, she did not expect to get sore feet from learning it.  Rin limped slightly as she and Arturia walked to their rooms. 

"Is something bothering thee, Rhynne?"  asked Arturia.

"Yea.  Mine feet art not used to dancing.  Tis a bit sore."

"Ah!  I have a remedy for that."

"Thou hast one!  May I try it?"

"Yea.  Thou may.  Follow me."  Arturia led her into her room and bid her to sit on her bed.  Then she left the room. 

Rin sat there wondering what the remedy was.  Eventually, Arturia came back with a basin of hot water and a washcloth.  She put the basin near her feet and knelt. 

"Allow me to remove thy shoes and hose."

"Nay, let me do it..."

"Thou art my guest.  Please sit."

At her insistence, Rin obeyed and watched nervously as Arturia pulled her shoes off.  Then her hand crept up her leg to find the end of her socks below her right knee under her skirt.  She pulled the sock off and did the same for the left.

She took her right foot and gently wiped it clean with hot water.  Then she dipped it the basin.  Rin gasped as her skin met the hot water.  It was not as warm as the pool water in the bath, but felt just as good. 

"Is it too hot?"  asked Arturia.

"Nay.  Tis well."

Arturia smiled slightly.  She lifted her foot out of the water and cleaned the left foot.  After cleaning it, she put her left foot in the water.  Then she took her right foot and started massaging it.

Rin sighed contentedly as her sore muscles relaxed under Arturia's hands.  By the time Arturia switched to the left foot, her other muscles decided to relax as well and she let herself lie upon Arturia's bed. 

Arturia alternated massaging and soaking for several times.  When she was done, she got up to tell Rhynne that she was finished, but Rhynne had fallen asleep.  She bent over to wake her but suddenly remembered that as of yesterday, Rhynne had fulfilled her boon.  In her heart, she wanted to ask for a more than week, but prudence dictated that asking for more would be selfish and wanton.  She stood thinking about what she should do for a few moments. 

Then a voice within her told her that it would be rude to wake someone who had worked so hard all day.  She agreed with the voice and picked up the basin to return it to the bath.  After that, she changed her clothes and doused the candles.  She threw the covers over Rhynne, and drew the curtains shut.  Then she took a nearby pillow and crept under the covers to sleep beside her.


------------------------


Bedivere tapped her fingers on the dining table and noted the height of the sun over the horizon.  They were late... again.  She stirred the tea idly before her and dropped a sugar cube in the cup.

Meanwhile, Airianne noticed the sugar cube drop.  "Tis the fourth one."  she thought with wry amusement as she watched Bedivere from behind the parchment that she was reading.

Finally, Bedivere stood up and began to walk out of the room.

Airianne called out, "Art ye going to see them?"

Bedivere stopped, like a hound on a leash.  "Maybe..."

"Dinna wake them.  Ye will only earn their ire.  Besides, I have arranged for a little bird to wake them up."

"Is that so?"  She did not look forward to barging into Arturia's room.

Airianne nodded.  "Please sit, and lend me the company of one of the most favored knights of the court."

Bedivere laughed.  "I hardly look like one dressed in this manner."  She gestured to her dress which accentuated her bosom and slim waist.  Then she returned to her chair and resumed her stirring.

Meanwhile, the mechanical bird on the table in Arturia's room sprang into life.  "Cu--ckoo... Cu--ckoo..."





Chapter  8
Table of Contents
Hosting by WebRing.