The King and Her Queen

Chapter 9:  On the Night of the Ball


Rhynne wandered into the dining hall.  Airianne put her muffin down.  "Good morning."

"Good morning."  Rin sat down and picked up a muffin.  She started nibbling on it.

Airianne glanced at the sun above the horizon.  Rhynne was early.  She listened for more footsteps from the hall, but detected none.  "How odd."  she thought.  She made a pretense of reading her Mother's messages and glanced several times in her direction.  There seemed to be dark shadows under her eyes. 

Rin munched on the muffin to feed her grumbling stomach.  After Arturia ran away so suddenly, she waited for her to come back until the clock struck one.  Finally, she gave up and went to her room.  But she kept worrying about Arturia and could not sleep.  After she finished her muffin, she poured herself some tea.

Footsteps and voices in the hall declared the arrival of Bedivere and Arturia.  From their voices, they seemed to be talking about horses.  They entered the dining room dressed in riding cloaks.  Their hair was tousled and there were several small stems of hay stuck to their cloaks.

"Good morning."  They greeted them and took off their cloaks.  Bedivere sat next to Airianne while Arturia sat next to Rhynne.  They both reached for a muffin.

"Art we late?"  asked Bedivere.

"Nay, we hath just started."  replied Airianne.

Bedivere noted the wrinkled parchment.  "What news?"

"Mother and Syrowe attended a ball."  Airianne giggled.  "Poor Syrowe hath so much trouble with the ladies.  Mother and he had to leave early."

"Tis well that they left.  Some art rather desperate to catch a mate."

"Doth I hear the voice of experience?"  asked Airianne jokingly.

"Methinks this conversation hath exceeded the bounds of propriety."  said Bedivere dryly.  "Anyway, dost thou have a spindle?  I wish to sew banners for the ball."

"Ye can sew?"  exclaimed Airianne.

"Yea.  Twas part of mine studies at Rosenharte."

Rin sipped the last of her tea and put it down.  She watched Arturia warily from the corner of her eye.  Arturia picked up the teapot.  To her surprise, she poured tea into her empty cup.  Rin blinked several times before she responded, "Mine thanks."

Arturia smiled slightly at her.  "Thou art welcome."

Rin felt relieved at those words.  She was so worried that Arturia would not speak to her.  She looked at the stack of freshly baked muffins.  She picked one and bit into it.  She was much hungrier than she thought.


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For the rest of the day, Arturia acted as if last night's incident did not happen.  Rin felt very relieved at this, but kept observing her for any sign that she might be upset with her.  The day passed quickly and Bedivere began their dance lessons once again. 

She and Bedivere waltzed for about half an hour before she commented, "Thou hath improved vastly.  Shall I give thee a reward?"  Before she had a chance to react, Bedivere twirled her about and released her.  She spun awkwardly and felt someone catch her.  When she looked up, she found herself gazing at Arturia's face.  Just behind them, Airianne waltzed with Bedivere.

Rin quickly checked her hand position and was surprised to discover that Arturia was wearing gloves.  She returned her gaze to Arturia's face.  She smiled calmly at her.  Rin smiled back and did her best to keep up with her.

After waltzing for ten minutes, Rin felt that this dance was different from last night.  Arturia's guiding hand seemed more confident and her steps were more evenly paced and smooth.  And the way that Arturia gazed at her seemed different as well.  Rin shook the thoughts from her mind.  It must be just her imagination.

But she was happy that Arturia did not seem upset and that she had another chance to dance with her.  Furthermore, she did not have to worry about the marks since Arturia was wearing gloves.  At the thought that was she wearing it for her sake, her heart became giddy with joy at her kind consideration.  She enjoyed the rest of the dance in a state of bliss.


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After the evening's entertainment was over, Bedivere and Airianne wished them good night and left the sitting room together.  Arturia's eyebrows rose with an unspoken question and she looked at Rin.  Rin answered back with upturned palms and a shrug.  They walked back to their rooms.

"What art thy plans tomorrow morning?" asked Arturia.

Rin was startled a bit.  She tried to figure out what Arturia was thinking.  "I hath not planned that far ahead."

"Then will thou be interested for a morning stroll?"

Her question perked her curiosity.  "Of course.  Whither shall we go?"

Arturia held her index finger to her lips and winked briefly.  "That... is a secret."

Rin forgot her nervousness and chuckled at the sight.  Arturia looked so cute for a moment.  "When should I wake?"

"I shall wake thee when tis proper.  But I must advise thee to sleep early, for we shall rise early."  Arturia paused and added as an afterthought,  "Oh, and I will need permission to enter thy room."

Rin opened the door to her room.  "Thou may enter whenever thou wish.  Thou art always welcome in mine room.  Now I shall take thy advice and sleep.  Good night."

Arturia was a bit surprised at Rhynne's gracious reply.  She regained her composure quickly and replied, "Good night."  Then she made her way to her own room to sleep.


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It was still dark when Arturia woke her.  She dressed up and met her in the great hall.  Arturia was carrying a knapsack and a traveling pack.  Rin offered to help her, but Arturia refused and insisted on carrying them.  They fetched Haut from the stable and secured the knapsack and the pack on him.  Then they descended on the platform and made their way out of the mine.

Arturia handed Rhynne a dark red riding cloak.  "Please wear this.  Tis a bit chilly in the morn."

Rin slipped the cloak on and flicked the hair caught under it.

Arturia nodded appreciatively at the sight of Rhynne flicking her hair.  "This hue suits thee well."  She offered her hand to help Rhynne into the saddle.

Rin noted her gloved hand.  With a smile of relief, she grasped it in hers.  Arturia helped her up and then mounted Haut behind her.

They galloped down the path with only the crescent moon to light their way.  They continued down the main road and took a side road that cut into a forest.  After about twenty minutes, Arturia slowed down a bit and guided Haut down a narrow path.  The branches blocked the light of the moon so she dismounted and lit a small lantern in front of Haut's chest.  Then they resumed their journey. 

Soon a small river broke the path.  Arturia backed up Haut about thirty feet from it.  Her arm slipped around Rin's waist.

"We shall jump over it.  Fret not.  Haut can do it easily."

"All right..." said Rin.  She grabbed the rim of the saddle and steeled her nerves.

Arturia urged Haut to a gallop and then pulled up with his reins just before the river.  With a mighty leap, Haut jumped over it.  Rin felt her stomach flipping over as they sailed through the air.  Leaves brushed her face and hair.

Arturia slowed Haut down to a canter.  "Did the leap alarm thee?"

"Nay."  Rin felt for Arturia's hand on her waist and squeezed it.  "It was an exciting leap."  She chuckled.  "I felt mine stomach fly."

Arturia felt Rhynne's squeeze.  Her heart leapt at her touch.  Then she laughed at Rhynne's last statement.  She reached up and slowly removed a leaf from Rhynne's hair.  "Methinks I made him leap too high."  This time she removed a petal. 

Rin felt her cheeks get warm as Arturia took her time to remove the leaves and petals from her hair.  When she was done, they resumed their journey.  They exited the forest and galloped across a meadow.  Then they returned to a paved road that entered another forest.  When they exited the forest, they came upon a small meadow that ended at the shores of a lake. 

They dismounted near a clump of bushes.  Arturia went into the bushes and pushed a small rowboat out on the lake's sandy shore.  Once again, Arturia refused Rin's offer of help.  She helped Rin into the rowboat before fetching the knapsack from Haut's side.

Arturia pushed the boat into the water and hopped in with the grace of a cat.  She picked up the oars and rowed into the lake.  Rin watched her with a puzzled look and then watched the shore.  The light from Haut's lantern grew smaller and smaller.

Finally, Arturia stopped rowing.  She secured the oars.  Rin rubbed her hands and blew into them to warm them up.

Arturia noticed Rhynne.  She reached for the knapsack and pulled out a quilted blanket.  To prevent the boat from rocking, she made her way slowly towards Rhynne and sat next to her.  She put the blanket around her shoulders.

"Mine thanks."  said Rin with a blush.  "But this cloak is quite warm.  Only mine hands felt the chill."

"Is that so?  Shall I warm thy hands instead?"  Arturia held out her hand.

Rin stared at Arturia's hand for a moment.  She remembered Bedivere's advice.   "Oh, what the hell... I'm too lazy to think of excuses right now."  she thought.  She gathered her courage and put her hand on Arturia's.

Arturia put her other hand on top.  As she pressed her hands together, Rin's fingertips edged forward and touched the cold skin of Arturia's wrist.

Her heart warmed with Arturia's act of kindness.  With a half-joking voice, she playfully told Arturia, "How can thou warm mine hand, when thy own skin is just as cold?"  She pulled her hand away and lifted the edge of the blanket.  Then she scooted closer to Arturia and draped the blanket around Arturia's shoulders to enclose them together under its warmth.

Arturia was surprised at Rhynne's behavior.  Her sense of chivalry prompted her to refuse, but the feel of Rhynne's bosom pressing against the side of her arm barred the refusal from leaving the tip of her tongue. 

She regained her composure and stammered out, "M-mine thanks...". 

"Tis thy blanket.  Thou should enjoy its warmth as well."  Rin withdrew her hand under the blanket and attempted to rest it on her own leg.  But instead, she missed and landed on Arturia's upturned palm.  Since she did not intend to do that, she began to move her hand away.

Arturia felt Rhynne's hand on her own.  Thinking that she still wanted to be warmed up, she enclosed Rhynne's hand with her both of her hands.  Rhynne's hand felt so small even though they were almost the same height and build.  Her chivalric nature told her that something so fragile should be protected.  She cradled it gently, like holding a delicate sculpture.

Rin felt the warmth of Arturia's hands around hers.  As she gazed back at Arturia, her heart decided to beat faster.  That self-conscious feeling rose again, and she broke the gaze to stare at the bottom of the rowboat.

They sat in silence in the rowboat.  It was very warm under the blanket but Rin felt even warmer with Arturia's hands around hers.  In fact, it reminded her of the time when Arturia held her under the blanket in the wagon.  She closed her eyes to experience the memory again.

Arturia saw Rhynne's eyes close.  A sense of alarm filled her when the thought entered her mind that Rhynne may be tired because of her malady.  Remorse began to fill her heart.  It was selfish of her to forget.  For now, she had to make do with the situation.  Her hand left Rhynne's and went across her back to grasp her shoulder.  Then she pulled Rhynne to her so that she could rest her head on her shoulder.

"Mine apologies.  I hath awakened thee too early.  Please rest a bit.  I will wake thee when the time comes."

Rin was surprised when Arturia pulled her close and even more so when she thought that she was sleepy.  Because she was so close to Arturia, it took a while for her to sort her thoughts.  Eventually, her mind processed the words, 'when the time comes.'

"I am not sleepy."  However, she made no effort to lift her head off Arturia's shoulder.  It felt too nice.  "But for what shall thou wake me for?"

"Thou shall soon see.  Please abide patiently until then."

Rin waited with curiosity.  With her head on Arturia's shoulder and her body under the same blanket as Arturia's, Rin felt that she could wait forever and not care.  They waited for about twenty minutes before Arturia spoke.

"Behold.  Cast thy eyes at the horizon."  Arturia gestured before her.

Rin did and saw the sky change color to herald the coming of dawn.  The first rays of the sun peeped over the distant hills.  As more rays escaped from behind those hills, they ran over the water of the lake, leaving sparkles on the tip of its small waves. 

Rin's eyes grew in wonder as the sun rose and illuminated the lake.  The lake shimmered as the sun's rays glittered on its surface.  But there was a white patch on the lake that interrupted the golden tide.  She wondered what it was.  As if to answer her question, the white patch stretched out wings into the sky and dispersed into the air with a flutter.  Rin watched in amazement as a flock of swans rose majestically into the sky and formed a pale formation against a background of orange and blue.

"Beautiful..." thought Arturia as she watched Rhynne's varying reactions.  She smiled with satisfaction.  It was worth all that effort to bring her here.

"It's beautiful..."  said Rin softly.

"Verily."  Ever since the breaking of dawn, her eyes had not left Rhynne's face.  Underneath the blanket, her hand shifted to intertwine her fingers with hers.  There was slight tingle in her palm.

Rin felt Arturia's hand move.  She shifted her head on Arturia's shoulder to look up at her.  She did not know that she was looking at her, so her lips ended up brushing against the side of her jaw as she moved her head.  She pulled away abruptly and blushed.  "Mine apologies... I did not mean to..."

Arturia touched the spot on her jaw.  Only an inch more and she would have grazed her lips.  The image of Rhynne meeting her lips flashed in her mind. She blushed slightly and pushed the image out of her mind.  She was a knight and not a wanton knave.  Such thoughts were unbecoming.

She looked over at Rhynne who seemed to be in a state of panic.  Technically, it was her fault for having her face so close to her head.  Hopefully, Rhynne would not realize that she did so because she was looking at her.  She had to divert her attention.  "Be at ease.  There is no need to apologize.  Tis but a small matter and not worth missing God's blessing upon the world."  She gestured again at the rising sun.  "Behold."

Rin turned to look at the sun.  The morning haze was slowly dispersing and the sun was becoming more blinding to look at.  But it did look like that the sun was slowly pushing aside the darkness.  She remembered her basic catechism, and quoted, "And God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness."

"How true..." remarked Arturia and watched the sunrise with Rhynne.  They watched it until it was too bright to look at.

"Methinks that now would be a good time to have breakfast."  Arturia began to move to take her seat, but Rhynne's hand on her arm stopped her.

"Allow me to help thee."

"Tis a tiring task, and may blister thy hands."

Rin held out her palm.  "I already have calluses."  It was true.  She had formed some during all those chores.

Arturia shook her head.  "I hath awakened thee too early.  Please rest.  I doth not wish to tire thee."

"I am not tired.  Allow me to help.  Please."  With the best of her ability, which was not much, Rin tried to create similar puppy dog eyes that Sakura would often use on Shiro.  She hoped that she did not look too silly.

Arturia blinked several times.  For some reason, Rhynne's eyes had changed from her usual serious gaze to one that seemed absolutely adorable.  Her heart melted at the sight and she had a sudden urge to hug her.  With all the discipline at her disposal, she restrained herself.

"Oh, very well... but thou must promise not to tire thyself."  Arturia put the other oar in its brace and handed her the handle.

As they rowed back to shore, Rin cursed Merlyn for whatever she said to make Arturia think that she was sickly.  As soon as Merlyn gets back, she would convince her to correct Arturia's misunderstanding.

They climbed out of the rowboat and beached it.  Then Arturia fetched the pack from Haut.  She laid out the blanket under the shade of a tree and began to lay out their breakfast, plates and cutlery.

Breakfast composed of warm bread, butter, grapes, and strawberries.  Arturia poured tea from a clay jug into small tin cups. 

Arturia picked up a strawberry by its stem and held it in front of Rhynne's mouth.  "Try this.  Tis very sweet."

Rin's first inclination was to refuse and say that she could feed herself.  But the very thought of Arturia feeding her spurred her imagination.  She decided to make it a reality.  She leaned forward and touched the tip of the strawberry with her lips and bit halfway into it.  "Tis good!"  declared Rin after she ate it.

"I am glad."  said Arturia who finished the rest the strawberry.

Rin's jaw fell at the sight.  She had just shared food with Arturia.  In school, she had overheard many conversations of girls sharing their drink with a boy they liked.  She laughed at their giddy expressions.  But now, she could laugh no more.  At last, she understood. 

Arturia reached for some grapes and popped them in her mouth.  When she finished the last one, Rin reached for some grapes.  Emboldened, she held out a grape by its stem in front of Arturia.  She smiled winsomely.  "Allow me..."

Arturia smiled and leaned forward to envelop the entire grape.  Her lips touched the tips of Rin's fingers.  Rin sucked her breath in at the sensation of those moist warm lips.  Arturia pulled away, leaving the stem behind.

"Dost thou... want another?"  asked Rin, her cheeks burning.

Arturia observed Rhynne with amusement as her cheeks took on the color of the strawberries nearby.  "Yea."  she replied and accepted the offered grape.

While they fed each other fruit, a thought occurred to Rin.

"Dost thou come to this lake often?"

"Nay.  I hath found this lake yesterday while trying to find Bedivere.  I was tracking her, but a wolf scared mine horse and we fled over yonder river.  Twas amazing that the horse managed to jump across it."  She chuckled.  "I tried to find the main road and return to Bedivere.  I found this lake during mine search."

Arturia's face grew menacing.  "I wish that I hath a sword with me.  That wolf caused me to lose mine way."

"I am glad that thou wert not hurt."  said Rin.  "But... tis not always bad to lose one's way.  One can discover new things sometimes.  For if thou hath not lost thy way, thou would not have found this lake.  If thou would not have found this lake, I would have never seen such a beautiful sunrise."

"Mine thanks."  Arturia's heart soared with Rhynne's words.  It was a pleasure to see her happy face.  Rhynne finished the rest of her tea and sighed with satisfaction.  Airianne was right.  She was so amusing to watch.

Though it was a little reckless of her to invite Rhynne to come despite her malady, she was happy that the trip was going well so far.  She had one more task to do.  She got up.  "Please abide here a moment.  I will be back anon."

Rin watched with curiosity as Arturia mounted Haut and rode back into the forest.  She nibbled on strawberries while she waited for her.  About five minutes later, she heard hoof beats and turned to the direction of the sound.

Arturia was carrying a bouquet of flowers.  She dismounted and offered them to Rhynne.

"For thee.  Tis small recompense for thy timely aid in mine hour of need."

With eyes shining with overflowing joy, Rin accepted the bouquet.  It was a myriad of lilies, daisies and other blossoms that she could not recognize.  They were held together by broad leaves and a small vine.  Fresh dew glistened from their petals and the air around her became suffused with their fragrance.  Rin's nose sampled several flowers.

"Tis a gift fit for a queen!  Thou undermine the value of thy gift."

Arturia laughed and sat down next to her.  "If tis truly a gift for a queen, then tis appropriate for thee."  She smiled at her warmly.

Rin blinked several times before she realized what Arturia meant.  She blushed greatly.  Somehow, she had to hide her embarrassment.  "Is that so?  Well then..."

Rin untied the vine and laid the flowers on the blanket.  Then she selected some with pliant stems and fastened the vine around them to form a small garland.  She went up on her knees and held out the garland over Arturia's head.

"A queen must have a king."  said Rin jokingly as she laid the garland on top of Arturia's head.  Then she sat back to enjoy the sight.

Arturia blushed as Rhynne smiled at her.  She could only imagine how silly she looked with a crown of flowers.  But two can play at this game.  She picked out some flowers and made a similar garland. 

"A queen must have a crown too."  She carefully placed it on Rhynne's head.  Then she sat back to admire her handiwork.

They stared at each other for a while. 

"Beautiful..." said Arturia softly.

"Thy garland was well crafted."

Arturia smiled.  "I spake not of the garland."

Warmth spread across Rin's face and to her ears.  Her mind shut down.  She ran out of things to say.

"How adorable..." thought Arturia as she watched Rhynne's ears turn red.  With her sense of propriety forgotten, she gazed at her with undisguised admiration.

After a while, Rin could not bear her embarrassment anymore and broke the gaze.  She glanced quickly at her watch.  "Mayhap, we should go back..." she said softly.

As if a spell was broken, Arturia returned to her senses.  She noted the height of the sun.  Rhynne was right.  They should go back since Bedivere would be waiting for them at the platform two hours after sunrise.  She sighed.  Time had passed quickly when they had taken their time rowing to shore since it was so amusing meandering back and forth across the lake.  "Yea.  Let us do so."

They packed the utensils and the blanket.  Arturia helped Rhynne on to Haut and then sat behind her.  She slipped a hand around Rhynne's waist.  During all those times when she felt like hugging Rhynne, she restrained herself.  And now, with Rhynne so close, she could not resist anymore.  She shifted slightly and let her settle against her. 

"Come Haut.  Take us home."  With that, she urged Haut to a gallop.  They rode back in time to catch Bedivere exiting the door to the platform.

"Good morning."  greeted Bedivere with a knowing smile.  She waved.

"Good morning."  replied Arturia.  She noted Bedivere's hand signals:  'How was it?'.  She waved back:  'Tis well.'

"Good morning."  replied Rin.  Bedivere's presence was not a coincidence.  She had a feeling that something else was afoot.  She looked warily at Bedivere and hoped that it was just her imagination.


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Bedivere closed the door of the private room.  "I want details."  she said as she sat down on a chair.

Arturia scratched her jaw absentmindedly.  "Well... tis not much.  We watched the sunrise, then we ate breakfast, and then we came back."

Bedivere slouched back and regarded Arturia critically.  After a moment, she asked, "And what of the petal in thy hair?  Surely, thou did not roll among the daisies."

"Oh, that... tis from the crown, I suppose."

"The crown?"

"Yea... Rhynne made a crown of flowers and laid it on mine head."

Apparently, more had happened than what Arturia had told her.  "Methinks thou should start from the time that thou hath left the mine."

For the next fifteen minutes, Arturia condensed their entire trip to the lake for Bedivere.  After she was done, Bedivere smiled approvingly.

"Well, now.  Methinks that thou should have an answer to thy question.  Thou only need to pursue it further."

Arturia sighed.  "E'en so, methinks that tis all in vain."

Bedivere's smile faded.  "Why dost thou think so?"

"Because... she already hath someone dear."

Bedivere leaned forward.  She had not heard of this.  "How dost thou know this?"

"When we first came to the Aerie, Airianne asked Syrowe and Rhynne if they hath someone dear.  Strangely, Syrowe hath named me e'en though we hath known each other briefly.  And Rhynne saith that she hath someone."

"Did she saith who?"

"Nay.  Merlyn came and Airianne did not ask her."  She sighed.  "I know not what to do."

But Bedivere was sure, so sure that she almost wanted to shout, "She fancies thee, thou loggerheaded flax-wench!"  However, it was very unbecoming of a knight to use such language.  Instead, she swallowed her words and counted to three.  Though it was typical of Arturia to be very oblivious, it sometimes tried her patience.  She returned her thoughts to Arturia's predicament.  She sat before her looking so forlorn, with a countenance matching that of a lost kitten.  Even her sigh echoed her despair.

She had never seen her so despondent.  It was a large contrast to King Arthur who had an uncanny sense of purpose and would forge ahead regardless of any obstacles in her way.  If only there was a way to infuse that kind of purpose on Arturia, then she could break out of her melancholy.  Bedivere tapped her fingers on the table in thought.  The idea that came to her could either spur her to action or depress her even more.  She had to be careful.

"Dost thou recall her visage when Airianne asked her?"

Arturia tried to remember.  "Methinks... she seemeth rather reluctant to admit it."

She sighed dramatically.  "I suppose that's it then.  Let us hope that he is a man of honor."  She paused for effect as Arturia looked up with questioning eyes.

"I doubt that he is a knight, though.  He must be a mage.  From Merlyn's knowledge of Nee-hun, tis customary for parents to arrange marriages for their children.  Tis likely that she was promised to him since birth.  Her reluctance may stem from that.  Mayhap, she is unsure of her own heart and thus hesitated in answering Airianne's question."

She was stretching the cultural aspect based on Syrowe's memories.  Hopefully, she sounded convincing.

Arturia's eyes grew wide.  "Thy argument hath some merit... but tis mere conjecture until proven true."

"Suppose then, that she is betrothed to him, but hath not yielded her heart to him.  What dost thou think of that?"

"Methinks she would not be happy if she married him.  And, if she doth not love him, then she should tell her parents that she doth not want to marry him."

"I see no ring upon her finger.  Hast thou?"

Arturia sat up straight.  "No... I hath not seen one e'er since we met."  Bedivere's argument started to make more sense.

Bedivere put a hand on her shoulder.  "Tis mine opinion then, that thou may still have a chance to win her heart."

"But... what if she truly hath someone dear?"

"Then, she will let thee know.  E'en though I have known her for a short time, methinks she will not lead thee on.  She is a very considerate person."

"Yea, she truly is very considerate."  Arturia stood up.  Her eyes shone with determination.  "He hath an advantage of meeting her first.  But I will not be outdone.  I shall prove to be better than him!"

"Nay, Arturia.  Methinks that is not enough."  Bedivere stood up and put both her hands on her shoulders.  She spoke firmly.  "Thou aim too low.  Rather than being better than him, thou must aim to be the only one for her.  Thou must be her ideal, so that she would only want to love thee and only thee."

"How can I become that?"

"Patience and observation.  She will let thee know the way to her heart."

Arturia nodded in understanding.  "If that is what it takes, then I shall do it."

Bedivere grinned widely.  "Then I shall pray for thy success."

"Mine thanks."  Arturia paused in thought.  "Bedivere, I hath always wondered.  Thou art very knowledgeable in the matters of the heart.  Whither hath thou learned all this?"

"I hath learned the art when I was studying at Rosenharte.  But most importantly, sometimes only a lady can understand another lady's heart."  She winked. 

Arturia giggled.  "How true..." 

Bedivere laughed with her.  "Now then, fellow teacher, I have some lessons to teach and so doth thee.  Shall we?"  She opened the door.

Arturia smiled at the prospect of teaching Rhynne.  "And so we shall..."


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Whenever they were not busy with chores, dancing or preparing for the ball, they went to the lake.  Most of the time, they rowed across it and explored its many hidden spots.  They saw a variety of birds, flowers and turtles.  On other times, they just ate under the shade and practiced conversing in Welsh.   Sometimes, Arturia would bring a harp and she would sing. 

It was on one particularly hot afternoon that they did something entirely different.  They were in the middle of conjugating verbs when Arturia closed the Welsh book.  As Rhynne stared at her in puzzlement, she declared, "Methinks tis too hot to study.  Shall we refresh ourselves in yonder lake?"

Rhynne's jaw dropped.  "But... we did not bring any swimsuits!"

"Swimsuit?  What is a swimsuit?"

"Oh... I am unsure how tis called in thy tongue.  It means a garment that one wears when one goes swimming in public."

Arturia inclined her head in thought before she answered, "Tis not customary to wear such a garment.  Tis difficult to keep clothing secured in water."

A drop of sweat trickled down Rin's forehead.  She realized that Arturia meant to swim in the nude.  Her mind started crunching.  If she agreed to swim with Arturia, she will get to see her swim in the nude.  However, she would be expected to swim naked too.  She had seen Arturia naked in the bath, but that bath was secure from prying eyes. 

Before she could stop herself, she protested, "But what if someone sees us?"

"Haut can easily drive them away."  replied Arturia casually.

"He can?"

"Yea.  He is a trained warhorse."  She walked over to Haut and patted him gently.  "Thou will protect us, right Haut?"  As if in response, Haut neighed and stamped his hoof. 

Arturia turned to Rhynne.  "See?"  She walked to Rhynne and sat down next to her.  She picked up the Welsh book.  "But if thou art uncomfortable swimming, we shall continue thy lesson."

Was swimming with Arturia no longer an option?  Her heart rebelled and spewed forth a small cherub with black wings.  The cherub flew up to her brain where a button marked 'Inhibition Override' was and pressed it.

"Nay!  Let's swim!!!"  cried Rin as she stood up with a fist towards the sky.  Her jaw fell when she realized what she had done.

Arturia giggled at Rin's sudden enthusiasm.  She stood up and held out a gloved hand.  "Come this way to change, Milady."

Arturia led her to a clump of bushes close to the shore.  She pulled some branches aside and let her slip into a small enclosed space.  Then she followed her in.

"Shall I help thee undress?"

"If it doth not inconvenience thee..."  Rin turned around to give her access to her back.  Arturia had undressed her on numerous occasions, but she still could not get used to it.  At least, she could look forward to undressing Arturia.  Oh, what fun!

They hung their clothes on an overhanging branch of a nearby tree.  Arturia offered her gloved hand once again.  Hand in hand, they waded into the lake.  The water was cool and Rin shivered slightly.  When they were about waist level, Arturia suggested, "Shall we swim to the end and back?"

Rin stiffened.  She was not very good at swimming.  But she did not want to disappoint Arturia, so she nodded, "All right."

Arturia dove into the water like a fish.  Rin watched her pale lithe form disappear under the waves.  Her arm resurfaced about ten feet away.  She continued to swim further.

Rin swallowed.  She had to follow.  She squatted until the water was to her shoulders and dog paddled to Arturia.

Arturia switched from the breaststroke to the backstroke to get a view of Rhynne.  When she turned her head left and right, she did not see her nearby.  Alarmed, she stopped and looked around some more.  Then she saw her splashing around about thirty feet away.  She swam to her until she was about five feet away and watched her dog paddle.

It was obvious that there was great gap between their proficiencies.  She took a deep breath and dove under about five feet underneath Rhynne.  She had seen children swim like this before, but when Rhynne does it, there was a certain kind of innocent charm to her efforts.  She tried to maintain her position and continued to watch silently.

Rhynne hoped that the cool water of the lake would extinguish her burning cheeks.  She watched nervously as Arturia stopped, turned around and swam back to her.  But when Arturia suddenly dove out of her sight, she looked around her.  She was not to her left or to her right.  She was not behind her either.  There was only one more direction left.  Rin stopped paddling and dipped her face into the water.  Slowly, she opened her eyes.

Through the blurry water, she could see Arturia looking up at her.  And it seemed that she was getting closer.  Rin resurfaced and began to thread water.  Arturia surfaced next to her and took a few breaths.

"Mine apologies.  I did not realize that thou art not as adept as I am, and caused thee to accompany me across the lake.  Though thy skill will keep thee afloat, it will tire thee faster.  If I may be presumptuous, I would be glad to instruct thee in the finer points of swimming."

"Nay... I can't possibly... ask that... of thee..." sputtered Rin as she bobbed up and down trying to thread water.  She was barely succeeding.

Rhynne was obviously having trouble.  If she were at sea, she would have a hard time fighting against a strong current.  Arturia did not want to be insistent, but she felt that Rhynne needed to understand that her swimming was very poor.

"As thou wish."  Arturia submerged herself underwater and swam underneath Rhynne.  She swam to the nearest clump of reeds and resurfaced to conceal herself behind it.  She picked out a long hollow stem to use for breathing and dove under the waters to stealthily watch Rhynne.

"Oh no..." thought Rin as she submerged her face to look for Arturia.  "Did I offend her?"  Her eyes followed Arturia for as long as she could.  Then she resurfaced for air.  She looked again, but could not find her.  Her eyes quickly scanned the waters around her.  She dog paddled in the direction that she last saw her.  She hated to admit it, but she was getting a bit tired.  She dipped her face in the water again and tried to look for her.  She did this several times before she decided to head for the shore.

The shore seemed farther than she thought.  Her face was bobbing underwater more frequently.  It felt like she was not making much progress.  Panic began to well in her.  Before she realized it, she called out, "Arturia..."  There was no response.  "Arturia!"  Then she sank into the water up to the crown of her head.  She thrashed about to stay afloat.  When she resurfaced, she heard a splash next to her.

"Art thou all right?"

"Arturia!"  Her hands reached out to her with relief.  Arturia caught them in her own.  When she realized what she had done, Rin blushed and looked away.  "Umm... I... am fine."

"If thou saith so."  Arturia let go of her hands and submerged into the water.

Rin panicked.  Her hands darted down to grab Arturia's.  She managed to grab her hands, but was jerked down as Arturia descended.

Arturia felt Rhynne grab her and looked up.  She was spewing bubbles into the water.  Alarmed, she swam up, wrapped her arms around Rhynne and covered her mouth with her own.  She blew a bit of air into her.  They resurfaced together.  Rhynne coughed and drew several gasping breaths.  Then she wrapped her arms around her neck. 

Arturia felt bad for leaving her alone.  She held her closer.  The effect of doing so startled her a little.  She could feel Rhynne's heaving bosom as she drew her breath.  Even with the cool water, she could feel the warmth of her skin against hers.  She had never held her this close before.  It felt rather... wonderful.

They floated in the water for a few moments before Rhynne spoke.  "Mayhap... I may need more instruction in swimming."

"As thou wish.  Let us move to the shore first, so that thou may have stable footing."  Reluctantly, she unwrapped her arms around Rhynne and held her waist.

"All right."

Arturia waited for Rhynne to remove her arms around her neck.  When she did not, she smiled in amusement and cleared her throat.  "E'en with mine skill, methinks twould be difficult to swim to shore in this position."

"Oh..."  Rin pulled away and blushed in embarrassment.  "Mine apologies..."

"To get to shore quickly, I must ask thee to lie on thy back.  Please turn around."  Rhynne complied.  Arturia raised her left arm over Rhynne's left shoulder and placed it across her chest so that her left hand would be under Rhynne's right arm.  Then she tilted her back until her head rested on her shoulder.  While keeping Rhynne's head above water, she swam to the shore with steady strokes.

As Arturia swam underneath her, it seemed that she was lying on a bed of water.  The sky was the canopy and the clouds served as decoration.  And Arturia was... her pillow.  Rin smiled at the thought and forgot her embarrassment.

Arturia stopped when the water was about four feet deep.  Then she began to instruct Rhynne with breathing exercises and basic threading technique.  When she was satisfied with her progress, she started to teach her breaststroke.  When she had learned the basic motions, she swam about thirty feet away.

"Swim to me."  said Arturia.  She held out her hands.

Rin was eager to comply.  Her motions still felt awkward, but Arturia's smiling face caused her to redouble her efforts.  She was really enjoying her instruction.  Internally, she berated herself for refusing in the beginning.  She could have spent more time learning how to swim better.

Slowly, she swam towards her.  When she was about three feet away, she kicked with all her might and grabbed the tips of Arturia's fingers.

"Good.  Thou hast done well."  said Arturia approvingly.

Rin beamed happily with her praise.  Suddenly, their lesson was interrupted by the call of the cuckoo. 

"Ah..." Arturia sighed regretfully.  She glanced at the mechanical bird on the blanket.  Time had passed quicker than she anticipated.  She shifted her hand to intertwine her fingers with Rhynne's.  "Tis time to go back."

"Yea." agreed Rin with the same regretful tone. 

Hand in hand, they waded back to the clump of bushes to change.  After changing, they packed up their things and mounted Haut. 

Arturia slipped her hand around Rhynne's waist.  There was no need for her to invent chivalric reasons to explain why she did it.  It had become a habit, and a good one, too.  For at least once a day, she could hold her closely without waiting for an event that would allow her to do so.  The thought brought a wide smile on her face.  Then she pulled on Haut's reins and prompted him to bring them home.


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


It was time.  A regal melody filled the hall as Bedivere pushed Wybrenne's wheeled chair in time with the melody to the raised stage in the middle of the hall.  She positioned the chair at the middle of the stage and faced the entrance of the sitting room.  Although Wybrenne wore a conservative gown as appropriate for her age, she held herself in an elegant manner.  Bedivere stood beside Wybrenne with an air of poise and noble calmness.  She presented a dashing figure in her white and gray waistcoat, half-cloak and breeches.  If someone were to take a picture of them, they could easily be mistaken as a noble mother and her son.

Arturia and Airianne took their cue.  Arturia offered her gloved hand and Airianne put her hand on top of Arturia's.  Then Arturia escorted Airianne to the stage.  Airianne was stunning in her pearl colored gown.  Arturia looked just as dashing in her blue and gold waistcoat and white breeches.

When they were about two feet from the stage, they bowed in courtly fashion to Wybrenne and Bedivere.  Wybrenne nodded while Bedivere bowed to them in return.  Arturia and Airianne took their places beside Wybrenne while Bedivere walked back to the sitting room.  She stopped at the entrance and offered her hand to Rin.  Rin put her hand on top of Bedivere's and let Bedivere escort her to the stage. 

Arturia watched Rhynne approach the stage.  In her flowing dark red velvet gown, she was like a flower in bloom.  She could almost imagine her scent upon her nose.  In retrospect, she should have insisted in escorting Wybrenne to stage.  That way, she would be the one escorting Rhynne instead of Bedivere. 

When they were close enough, Bedivere and Rhynne bowed to them.  As she bowed back, Arturia noted grace in which Rhynne did so.  Her eyes drunk the sight of Rhynne's braided hair, her half-lidded eyes, the elegant curve of her pale neck and the depth her cleavage.  When she realized what she was staring at, Arturia wrenched her eyes away with great effort.

Bedivere cleared her throat.  "Ladies, we art gathered here today to witness the coming of age of Lady Airianne who is of the most esteemed House of Emrys.  Let us welcome her warmly into our embrace.  Glory be to the one who will gain her favor tonight."  Bedivere knelt before her and offered her hand.  "If it pleases thee, may I have thy first dance?"

Airianne placed her hand out to accept.  "Yea, twould give me great pleasure to dance with thee."

Bedivere smiled roguishly and led Airianne to the dance floor.  Rin turned to the musical instruments hanging under a potted tree and snapped her fingers to change the tune.  The instruments faded the current melody and started playing a slow waltz.

Meanwhile, Arturia asked Wybrenne to dance.  Wybrenne accepted and Arturia pushed her chair toward a padded swing hanging under the intertwined branches of two trees.  Gently, she moved Wybrenne from the chair to the swing.  Then she secured her to the swing and adjusted its height with a nearby pulley.  Arturia and Wybrenne assumed the proper waltz hand and arm positions.  Then they began to waltz in place.

When the song finished, the dancers exchanged the customary farewell bow and went to find a new partner.  For the next dance, Arturia partnered with Airianne and Bedivere partnered with Wybrenne.  When they assumed the starting position, Rin snapped her fingers again to change the tune.

Wybrenne chuckled at the sight of Bedivere dancing with her.  She spoke softly.  "Thou art too charming for thy own good.  What is thy proficiency in Advanced Charms and Allure?"

Bedivere matched the softness of Wybrenne's voice.  "Twas the highest the academy e'er awarded when I finished mine studies.  I know not if anyone hast bested it."

"Was thy nickname 'Dangerous Beauty'?"

"Why... twas so..."  replied Bedivere with a note of surprise.

"Thy name was whispered as a legend within the halls when I studied there long ago."

"Then I shall have to live up to the legend."  Bedivere dipped her backwards slightly and gazed into her eyes.

Wybrenne laughed softly.  "Art thou trying to make me feel like a maid again?  Cease thy seduction, sir knight.  Mine Merlyn will be sore with thee.  Besides, I am old."

"If thou art old, what am I?"

Wybrenne gazed back with a puzzled look in her eyes before understanding reflected on them.  "I see... so tis true.  Thou art fortunate in that respect."

"Since I am thy elder sister, thou art certainly a maid.  Allow me to treat thee as such."

"Merlyn will not let this go lightly."

Bedivere winked at her.  "Tis our secret then."

They broke out into soft laughter and continued their slow waltz.

Since she was not dancing, Rin just watched the couples dance.  When Bedivere and Wybrenne started talking softly, she pricked up her ears and tried to catch their conversation.  Amidst the flirty conversation, she deduced something that seemed illogical.  Bedivere was older than Wybrenne.  And yet, Wybrenne looks very old.  She glanced at Airianne.  Airianne said she was thirty-six.  She added twenty years to Airianne's age to estimate Wybrenne's age to be fifty-six.  Her jaw dropped.  That would mean that Bedivere was at least fifty-seven or more.  Her eyes drifted to Arturia who did not look a day over twenty.  Bedivere was supposedly older than Arturia, but certainly not thirty-seven years older.  In appearance, Bedivere was between twenty-five to thirty years old.

The sight of Arturia offering her hand to dance interrupted her thoughts.  Hastily, she placed her hand on Arturia's and snapped her fingers to start the next tune.

As she gazed into Arturia's eyes, she could not help but wonder how old she really was.  However, her thoughts melted away when Arturia spoke.

"I would like thee to know that I hath been looking forward to this moment."

Bells were ringing with joy inside her mind.  Rin felt so happy.  "M-- me too..."

Arturia pulled Rhynne a little closer.  This beautiful blossom was hers to hold for this dance.
 
When the dance was over, they reluctantly separated and bowed.  The dancing continued for five more songs before Bedivere announced that they would break for dinner.  They adjourned to the dining room and ate a five-course meal.  A set of flutes played while they ate.  Airianne's cooking was far more exquisite than before, and she earned everyone's high praise. 

After dinner, they bade Wybrenne good night.  While waiting for Bedivere to escort Wybrenne to her quarters, they went to the sitting room and listened to Arturia play the harp. 

When Bedivere returned, they continued to waltz for about twenty songs.  After each song, they exchanged partners.  For three songs, Rin was entertained by a waltz with Airianne while Bedivere and Arturia challenged their skill in waltzing by switching between the male and female roles in the middle of the song.  

"Thy skill is not as lacking as thou hath spake it to be."  remarked Bedivere as Arturia led her in time with the music.

"Methinks that e'en though mine memory was lacking, mine body remembered well."

Bedivere chuckled.  "Indeed."  She glanced over at Airianne and Rhynne.  "Her gown is quite fetching, is it not?"

Upon hearing Bedivere's statement, Arturia was speechless for a moment.  Then her eyes narrowed and a scowl formed on her face.  "Bedivere!  Must thy tongue speak of Rhynne like an uncouth knave?"

"Rhynne?  I spake not of her."  replied Bedivere calmly.

Arturia's voice caught in her throat like a boar in a trap.

Bedivere smiled roguishly.  "It seemst that thy thoughts art preoccupied.  If I may venture to suggest, please take Airianne into consideration.  Tis her ball after all."

Arturia cheeks burned with embarrassment and she did not bother to meet Bedivere's gaze.  She increased the rhythm of their steps and hoped for the song to end.

Meanwhile, Rin tried her best to lead.  There were several moments where she almost stepped on Airianne's gown, but managed to reposition herself at the last instance.  So far, the most enjoyable waltzes were the ones she danced with Arturia.  Whenever she gazed into Arturia's eyes, she was fairly certain that she felt the same.

After the last song, Bedivere clapped her hands and announced, "Tis time for Lady Airianne to announce the one who hath won her favor tonight."

Airianne went to the stage to stand in its center.  She looked at everyone and declared, "Twas a difficult choice, for I hath enjoyed mine dances with thee.  But tonight, the one who stirred mine heart the most was..."  Her eyes alighted on Bedivere.  "...Sir Arturia."

Rin gaped in astonishment.  A quick glance at Arturia and Bedivere indicated that they were surprised as well.  All three of them stood in silence until Bedivere began to clap her hands. 

"Hail, Sir Arturia.  The chosen one."

Arturia walked to the stage to claim her prize from Airianne.  She knelt before Airianne and offered her hand.  Airianne placed her hand on Arturia's and Arturia kissed it.  Then Arturia stood up to kiss Airianne on the cheek.  But instead, Airianne moved slightly to capture Arturia's lips with her own.

Arturia's eyes widened.  At first, she wanted to push Airianne away, but that would be humiliating for Airianne.  Suddenly, the cherry stem jest leapt into her mind.  Since it was Airianne's ball, she could be magnanimous.  Her hand snaked behind Airianne's head and her lips parted Airianne's.  She guided her tongue in and showed her what she wanted to know.

Rin stared in horror at the spectacle before her.  As it went on, she could not bear to watch anymore.  She turned to run away, but Bedivere was standing behind her and blocked her path. 

"Nay... Please abide a moment."  asked Bedivere.  "She is almost done."

As if on cue, Airianne went limp and swooned.  Arturia caught her in her arms.  Bedivere put her hand on Rin's shoulder.

"I shall not be outdone!" declared Bedivere.  She pulled Rhynne towards her and cupped the side of her face.  Her large gauntlet slightly obscured Rhynne's face from Arturia's view.  Then she dipped her and lowered her face towards hers.  Before she touched her lips, Bedivere whispered,  "Count to three and pretend to faint."  And then she added, "For revenge."

Arturia watched in horror as Bedivere dipped Rhynne into her trademark kissing position.  "Wait..." she cried out and stepped toward Bedivere and Rhynne.  But she was too late.  Bedivere cupped Rhynne's face and kissed her.  After a few moments, Rhynne swooned.

"Bedivere!" growled Arturia.

"Be at ease.  I shall take her to bed." said Bedivere.  She took Rhynne in her arms and with long powerful strides, exited the hall.

Arturia stared after her in confusion.  She told herself that there was nothing to worry about, since Bedivere would take Rhynne back to her room.  But her mind narrowed in on Bedivere's words 'to bed'.  Her first inclination was to assume that those words indicated Rhynne's bed.  However, an insistent voice in the back of her mind told her to make sure.

Arturia carried Airianne to the sitting room and laid her on the padded bench.  Then she hurriedly went to Rhynne's room and found it open.  She peeked inside before she entered.  Rhynne was not there.

Arturia checked her room, then Bedivere's and even Syrowe's.  Rhynne was not there either.  Where did they go?  Arturia punched her fist into her palm.  With patience born out of knightly discipline, she had endured Bedivere's teasing during the ball.  But now, she had gone too far.  She would pay dearly for this.


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


When Rhynne opened her eyes, they were walking hurriedly in a strange corridor.  The walls were etched with many arcane symbols.  Every twenty paces or so, they passed by a suit of armor or a statue of a mythical beast.  When they passed by a window, Rin realized where they were when she saw the village illuminated by moonlight.  They were in the east wing.

Bedivere entered a room which appeared to be a study.  Several desks and chairs were up against the walls.  A large tapestry with faces of people was hanging from the wall.  There were cabinets full of scrolls and bound books.  But what caught Rin's eye was a cabinet full of several types of round crystal balls and other strange trinkets.  Bedivere sat her down on a chair. 

"Whither art we?" asked Rin.

"We art in Airianne's study." 

"Why didst thou bring me here?"

Bedivere chuckled.  "Can I not engage thee in friendly conversation?  These past few days, I hardly spoke to thee unless I was instructing thee.  Besides, thou seemeth to be disturbed by Arturia's conduct recently."

Rin bowed her head as she remembered the kiss.  Her heart ached as the image flashed in her mind.

"Fret not.  Arturia is not like me.  Methinks she hath done so as a boon to Airianne."  Bedivere stood up and offered her hand.  "Forgive her, and I will show thee something that will surely interest thee."

Rin looked up.  She wondered what Bedivere meant by something interesting.  She thought for a moment.  Her experience with Arturia seemed to coincide with what Bedivere said.  So she put aside her doubts, put her hand on Bedivere's and replied, "I understand.  I was just surprised, that's all."

Bedivere laughed.  "Verily.  She surprises me all the time.  Come.  I shall show thee thy reward."

Bedivere escorted her to another room.  She struck the flint by the door to light the lamps in the room. 

Rin's jaw fell in astonishment.  The room was full of paintings of Arturia.  The paintings were arranged in chronological order from her birth until the formation of the Round Table.  Rin's eyes devoured the rows of paintings.

"Incredible, is it not?" said Bedivere.

"Yea... verily." said Rin with undisguised awe.

Bedivere waited until Rhynne was done with all the walls of the room.  Then she strode over to a set of curtains.  "If thou art done, please look here."

Rin turned around to look at Bedivere.  Bedivere pulled a brown sash and drew the curtains back.  Rin sucked in her breath when she saw what was hidden behind them.

"Behold, "  proclaimed Bedivere.  "King Arthur."

She was majestic.  No, she was beyond majestic.  Arturia wore an intricately wrought golden crown upon her head.  Her intense green eyes spoke of a calm strength and a noble heart.  A blue cloak lined with white fur and decorated with ornate silver stitching was secured around her shoulders with a golden chain and a blue sash.  On the side of cloak was an emblem of a silver and gold dragon.  Over her blue tunic and skirt, she wore a polished set of silver armor with embossed markings in blue.  Just under the cloak, her left hand held a golden scabbard which in turn held Excalibur.  Since she had never seen Avalon before, she could only guess that the scabbard was Avalon.

Bedivere smiled with pride as Rhynne gazed in wonder at the painting.

"I want a copy..." thought Rin as she gazed at the painting.  "Actually, I want a copy of EVERYTHING."  She would have to fetch her camera and take pictures.  And perhaps, she could spare a jewel or two to make a duplicate of the King Arthur's painting.

A thought suddenly occurred to her.  "Sir Bedivere, why didst thou show me this?"

"All the paintings in this room were commissioned by Merlyn.  As thou can guess, she thought of Arturia as her own child.  Airianne hast a similar room, but larger."  Bedivere paused.  "Merlyn loves Arturia very much, and so doth I.  We would be very, very displeased if someone were to break her heart."

Rin swallowed.  Did she just hear a threat?  She had to show that she was on their side.  "I understand.  I, too, would be very displeased if someone did Arturia ill."

Bedivere smiled wolfishly.  "Then I am glad that we art in accord."

The door to the room opened.  Airianne walked in.  "Oh, so here ye art.  I was wondering where ye were."  She cast a stern look at Bedivere.  "Ye dinna show her mine room, did ye?"

Bedivere laughed.  "And earn thy ire?  Of course not."  Bedivere drew the curtains close.  "Methinks, we should adjourn to thy study."

Airianne turned to Rin.  "Oh!  Sir Arturia was looking for ye."

"All right, let me go find her."

"I'll show ye where to look." 

Rin and Bedivere followed Airianne into her study.  She went to a map on a table and waved her hand over a crystal ball.  "Sir Arturia."

A tiny figure of Arturia materialized on top of the map.  She was at the lily pond and was walking about.

"Can this map show ye where everyone is?" asked Rin with a sense of amazement.

"Aye."  replied Airianne.  She waved her hand over the crystal.  "Lady Rhynne and Sir Bedivere."  They showed up on the eastern part of the map.

"Amazing..." said Rin.

"Verily."  Airianne pointed to Arturia's little image.  "Methinks she's going to the lower levels now."

"I beg thy pardon.  Allow me to go to her."

Bedivere nodded.  "I shall escort thee to the sitting room."

They walked through that strange corridor again.  Rin's mage sense indicated that the entire hallway was enchanted to only let certain people pass.  That was probably why Bedivere was escorting her to the sitting room.  She glanced at Bedivere and wondered how she was granted access to the east wing.

When they reached the sitting room, she bade Bedivere good night and went to search for Arturia.  She found her as she was descending down the stairs to the laundry room.

"Rhynne!"  cried Arturia with obvious relief.  She reached out to take Rhynne's hands in her own.  "Art thou well?"

"Yea.  I am."

"I am glad!"  Her face grew dark.  "Did Bedivere do anything unusual to thee?"

Rin shook her head.  "Nay.  Be at ease."

Arturia sighed with relief.  "Thank God!  I feared that she was going to..."  She stopped abruptly and berated herself.  She almost let out an indiscretion.

"Going to...?"

Arturia shifted her hand to intertwine her fingers with Rhynne.  "Tis of no matter.  Shall we leave this place?"

Rin nodded and so they made they way back to their rooms.  When they were near Arturia's room, Arturia turned to her.

"If it pleases thee, may I have the last dance for tonight?"

Rin's eyes grew wide and her heart leapt with anticipation.  She smiled at Arturia and replied, "Twould be mine pleasure."

They entered Arturia's room and selected a wide space to waltz on.  Then they began a slow waltz.  The only music that Rin could hear was the beating of her own heart in her ears.  And the only thing that she could see were Arturia's intense green eyes.  Arturia held her so closely that she could almost feel her breath upon her face.

Arturia gazed in wonder at the beautiful flower that she held in her hands.  The familiar scent of camellia wafted in the air.  It felt so intoxicating as she inhaled its fragrance.  She gazed into Rhynne's eyes and felt trapped in its deep blue depths.  Those eyes seemed to pull her in and she bent slightly closer to comply.  It was then that she saw her own face reflected in Rhynne's eyes.  It was then that she knew the answer to her question.

Her face inched forward until the tips of their noses touched.  She paused for a moment to observe Rhynne's reaction.  Rhynne's eyes indicated surprise, but her lips parted slightly.  Arturia smiled at the invitation and bridged the distance to accept it wholeheartedly. 

When their lips touched, a tingling jolt spread out from her spine to her hands and feet.  Her heart began to beat rapidly as she caressed Rhynne's lips slowly.  The taste of her lips seeped onto her tongue.  Its sweetness spread across her mouth and she savored it.  Her hand left Rhynne's waist to snake its way behind her head. 

She could no longer resist.  Her tongue parted Rhynne's lips and entered her mouth.  She shifted slightly to deepen the kiss and the hand behind her head helpfully assisted in the effort.  Rhynne's hand trembled in her own and told her what she needed to know as she explored her mouth.  As she sampled the luscious nectar of this beautiful flower, she thanked God above for his kindness.

But God was not that generous.  Rhynne suddenly went limp in her arms.  She drew back in alarm.  The blood dripping from her nose proclaimed the reason why.  She gritted her teeth in frustration as she carried her to her bed.  As she applied the usual treatment, she was reminded of the first time Rhynne fainted in her arms.  In her mind, the last piece of a puzzle fell into place and her heart filled with delight at the discovery.

The wonder in her voice was louder than her whisper.  "Didst thou love me then?"  She cradled her closer and kissed her cheek. 

When the bleeding stopped, Arturia changed out of her coat and breeches and into her sleeping gown.  Then she took off Rhynne's shoes, loosened her gown and undid her braids to make her sleep more comfortably.  When she was done, she gazed at Rhynne's face and stroked her cheek.

It was her fault.  She should have restrained herself.  It was God's punishment for her indulgence.  Next time, she would be more careful.  She doused the candles and drew the curtains shut.  Then she planted a gentle kiss on Rhynne's lips to wish her good night.  She snuggled against her and for once, dreamt of a shining lake.





Chapter 10
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