The King and Her Queen

This is a list of major changes in the second edition.  Grammar corrections and minor changes are not listed.

Chapter 5

"Thou art welcome."  said Arturia.  After Rhynne rinsed, she returned her washcloth. 
Then Arturia washed her own hair and the rest of her body. 

Rin reached into her small pouch of bath supplies and extracted her shampoo bottle.  She squeezed it until a pea-sized amount of concentrated goo landed on her finger.  Despite the need to minimize their luggage, Rin made a special exception to this shampoo which was a special blend of camellia that would keep her hair lustrous and silky.  Of all the lessons in Ise jingu, the shampoo formula was the most practical one for everyday use.  Of course, the true reason of bringing it was vanity, but she reasoned that it was essential for hygiene and health.  She lathered it on her hands and then shampooed her hair.  When she was satisfied, she rinsed and waited for Arturia.

Eventually, Arturia finished and turned to her.  "May I ask thee to convey me to yonder pool?"

"Of course."  She knelt by Arturia and took her into her arms.  She stood up and felt something slither off her torso.  The horrible realization that her towel had just fallen off filled her with embarrassment.  It was not easy to ignore Arturia pressing against her breasts.

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Chapter 6


As Airianne left the room, Rin and Arturia called out,  "Good night!"  Then Rin faced Arturia and asked, "Shall we retire as well?"

"Yea.  Or... dost thou wish to play with me some more?"

Rin blinked several times as her mind processed several meanings behind that question.  Her sense of propriety selected the most innocent meaning.  But what would they play?  Her curiosity urged her to gather up her courage and find out.  "Yea... I would be delighted to play with thee.  Methinks, however, that Old Maid is poor a choice for a game of two."

"Nine men's morris is engraved upon the table.  Dost thou know how to play?"

Now that Arturia mentioned it, she recognized the layout.  On a whim, she learned the game at the Academy's medieval fair.  "Yea." 

"Tis well.  But first, we must find the pieces."  Arturia's hands slipped under the table.  "Canst thou find a drawer under the table?"

Rin felt under her side of the table.  "... yea."  She pulled the drawer open and selected black and white pieces from the various tokens within.  "Will thou have black or white?"

"White.  To decide who starts, each of us will draw a card.  The highest card starts first."

They drew cards and compared.  Rin started first.  She placed her pieces at the most strategic positions.  She thought that she had the advantage, but when they started moving their pieces, her pieces were forced to deadlocked locations.  One by one, her pieces were captured.  With four pieces left, Rin knew that she lost.

"I forfeit..."  she admitted dejectedly.

At Rhynne's crestfallen face, Arturia felt rather sad for winning.  She restored the board to the state before they started moving pieces.  "Thy game was well played... however..." 

Rin listened with rising admiration as Arturia replayed their game from memory and made comments about each move.  She began to have a deeper understanding behind the strategy in the game.

After her explanation, Arturia asked, "Dost thou wish to play some more?"

Rin grinned at her challenge, "Yea.  I hath learned from mine mistakes and wish to redeem myself."

Arturia was glad to see Rhynne's smile on her face.  She gave her pieces back.  "Then let us increase the stakes.  The one who hath the most losses shall grant the winner a boon."

"All right."

They drew their cards and began a new game with Arturia starting first.  They continued playing until the clock tolled midnight at the middle of their sixth game.

"Ah... tis late." remarked Arturia.  "I enjoyed playing with thee so much that I neglected to asked thee if thou wisheth to retire."  she said apologetically.

"Nay.  Be not, for I felt the same as well."  She looked at the board.  If only she could position her piece there, she might be able to win.  "Shall we finish this game?"

"Only if it doth not tire thee."

"Nay, I am anxious to win this time."

"So am I."  Arturia slid her move.

The game ended with Arturia winning.  Rin sighed in defeat.  "Twas well played.  Shall we?"  She offered her arm and helped Arturia stand up. 

"Ah, before I forget... hmmm... three out of two.  Thou must grant me a boon."

Rin gulped.  "What dost thou wish for?"

"Mayhap, I shall ask for it later."  Arturia picked up a black piece.  "Until then, I shall hold thy piece hostage."

Rin exhaled with relief.  If she was lucky, Arturia might forget about it.  Together, they exited the sitting room and limped back to their rooms.  She helped Arturia to the privy first before bringing her to her room and wishing her good night. 

Then she went into her room and sat on the bed.  She pulled the handkerchief from her pocket and gazed at it before bringing it to her cheek.  She remembered how it felt against her skin.  After a few minutes, she tucked it under her shirt and resolved to keep it close to her for the rest of the night.


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Chapter 7


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.

~~~~~

"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.

~~~~~

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.

~~~~~

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.

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Chapter 8


Rin nodded in understanding.  She remembered how heavy Bedivere was when she and Shiro tried to carry her.  She craned her neck to see if she could spot Bedivere.  As she wondered whether they could catch up with her, an idea popped into her mind.  She untied a short red ribbon around her sleeve and tied it around Arturia's wrist.  "Tis a race, so I shall cheer mine champion on."

Arturia recognized the token and laughed.  "I am honored to be thy champion.  Mine heart gladdens with thy support."  Then with a twinkle in her eye, she asked jokingly,  "Art thou cheering me on because thou wish me to win, or because thou wish to ride with me?"

Rin blushed at the question.  She was hoping that Arturia would win so that she could ride with her.  But she felt that she did not need to hide that wish, so she answered,  "Both."

Her heart leapt with delight at Rhynne's answer.  She felt happy that Rhynne wanted to ride with her.  "Then I am doubly glad.  I shall surely win this race for thee."

~~~~~

They rode to town and stabled their horses before going on foot to the marketplace.  Rin swore that she could feel the eyes of the villagers as they walked by.  All three of them made a rather unusual sight among the plainly clothed villagers.  Bedivere seemed to draw stares of admiration from men and of envy from women. 

Meanwhile, Bedivere noticed the red ribbon around Arturia's wrist.  When she saw Rhynne's unfettered sleeve, she realized the significance of the token.  Her calm face masked her displeasure over this new development.  When she noticed her own reaction, her lips drew taut.  She gathered her thoughts. 

"E'en if this is her decision, I will support mine King."  She forced her irritation aside and concentrated on finding good supplies.

Every merchant that they dealt with seemed more than happy to receive their patronage.  Bedivere stopped by the local blacksmith to pick up her repaired battle gauntlet for her left hand.  She asked Arturia to test it.  Rin watched in fascination as she slid the switch below the palm.  The fingers opened and closed in response.  Bedivere complimented the smith for his work and paid him.  Then they continued searching for supplies.

Soon, they acquired the necessary supplies and filled their basket and knapsacks.  They took their horses from the stables and strapped their purchases on the backs of their horses.  When they were ready, they rode out of the village in high spirits.

Bedivere rode off the main road.  She led them into a meadow and to a grove of fruit trees.  She selected a shady spot and dismounted.  "Methinks, that tis a good place to take our noon time meal." 

Arturia and Rin dismounted while Bedivere opened a pack on Haut's side to take out a blanket.  Arturia took the blanket and spread it out under the shade.  Rin took out wrapped sandwiches, fruits and a water skin.  Each one selected a sandwich and began to eat.  Bedivere opened the water skin, drank and handed it to Arturia.  Arturia drank in turn and handed it to Rin. 

~~~~~

As part of her education, Bedivere told Rin the basics of court etiquette.  It was then that she learned the difference between High speech and common.

"One uses High speech in formal occasions, such as in court.  Tis also used to denote a sign of respect to the person whom one is speaking to.  Furthermore, if one is addressed by someone in High speech, then one must respond in High speech if one is knowledgeable in it.  Twould be disrespectful not to.  Of course, one can converse in common if the other party requests it.  Common is used by merchants and peasants because they lack the necessary education to speak High speech properly."

From her explanation, Rin discovered that one could gage the social position of a person by judging the way they spoke.  It was an unusual way to determine the other person's place in society.  Then another thought occurred to her.  Arturia used High speech with Bedivere and used common with Airianne.  However, she did this to match Bedivere's and Airianne's preferred speech pattern.  But for herself, Arturia chose to address her in High speech from the very beginning.  Was her appearance and manner worthy enough for Arturia address her that way?  The idea warmed her heart.

~~~~~

Arturia nodded in understanding and read the poem to Bedivere.

  Oh mine love, thou art true and strong.
  No three men smite more than thee
  For thy sword is sharp and long...

~~~~~

"Yea, and thou must do the same."

Arturia blushed and did as she was told.  While they ate, Bedivere gestured towards the patch of blooming flowers.  "Milord, dost thou know the meaning of those flowers?"

"Meaning?"

"When a lady presents thee a red rose in a tourney, dost thou know what she wisheth to convey?"

"Uh... to ask me to be her champion?"

"Tis true that she asks that of thee, but the rose bears the meaning that she fancies thee.  Thus, she is able to convey her heart at the same time."

"Oh.  No one e'er explained that to me."

Bedivere sighed.  "Then listen well, Milord.  I shall tell thee the meaning of each flower nearby."  She gestured to each one and told her what it symbolized.  Then she discussed the meanings of flowers that were not present.  She ended her lecture by saying, "So when thou assemble a bundle of flowers for thy lady, select ones that will convey thy heart to her."

When their meal was done, they packed up rode back to the manor.  They stabled their horses and went back inside.

~~~~~

After a bit of practice, Arturia softened up the muscles in her shoulders.  Bedivere sighed contentedly.  "Milord, when thou art done, massage mine feet."  Arturia nodded and went to her feet to massage it.

"Bedivere..."

"Yes, Milord?"

"After all this... I can not help but wonder... why thou would do this with... them...?"

Despite the warmth of the bath, Bedivere felt her cheeks flush.  Did Arturia hear those wild rumors about those court ladies?  How should she answer?  After a few seconds of thought, she decided that she would satisfy Arturia's curiosity but not betray their trust.

"Milord, I know all too well the demands of duty.  Thus, I acted out of compassion for those who sought solace.  However, tis unchivalrous of me to discuss any details.  Thus, I beseech thee to press no further."

Arturia silently nodded and continued massaging.  When they had finished bathing, they wiped each other dry.  Bedivere asked Arturia to brush her hair.  After her hair was brushed nicely, Arturia reached for her clothes but Bedivere stopped her. 


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Chapter 9


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."

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Chapter 10


Rin's eyes turned towards the floor.  "About yesterday... I hath heard ye say that Morgan was dying.  Was it true?"

"Aye.  Did ye not see the corruption of her flesh?"

"Could she still be saved?"

"Nay."  Merlyn observed her expressions.  Rhynne seemed to be debating within herself.  Merlyn waited patiently for a response.  She suspected that Morgan was using dark magic to create the illusion of youth at the expense of introducing a small amount of its foul taint into her body.  An examination of Morgan's remains proved her theory.  However, her examination also revealed that Rhynne's Gandr Fyre disrupted Morgan's enchantments which reversed its youthful effect and combined with Gandr to amplify the existing taint within her.  But her condition was not Rhynne's fault.  It was her portal that directed Rhynne's spell out of the inn.  Morgan just happened to be on that battlefield when her portal opened.  Fate was strange indeed.

Rhynne lifted her face.  "But the fact that I killed her makes mine sin no less."  She walked to the wall and looked down at the valley.  "I hath never killed before.  What would ye have done?"

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Chapter 11


"Tis them or our country, Arturia.  For each one slain, ten, nay a hundred wert saved from the sword, slavery or hunger.  Tis a small price to pay."

"What about Mordred's host?  They were Bryton!  I slew those whom I swore to protect!"

"Some were, but not all, Arturia.  Merlyn tells me that o'er half the host wert shades.  Besides, didst thou not entreat them to surrender?  They wert given a chance to follow thy banner, and yet they chose otherwise.  If thou hath not defeated her army, she would have rent our country in twain with civil war."  She paused.  "As for slaying her host, doth not forget that I hath done the same."

Arturia looked at her sadly.  "Yea.  And that is mine deep regret as well.  I hath dragged thee to hell with me."

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Chapter 12


She watched for about five minutes before she dispelled the image.  Although Arturia's physical form was restored, she needed to absorb more mana to sustain it.  She can check again after four hours.  Rin breathed a sigh of relief and returned to her desk to attack the mound of books that Merlyn wanted her to read.  She felt like she was in the academy again.  However, instead of aiming for a grade, she was aiming for Arturia's freedom.  Drawing on that for strength, she opened the first book and began to read.

Later that afternoon, Airianne came in with a tray of tea and muffins.  "Have a care and rest yer mind, Lady Rhynne."  She laid out the teapot and dishes on a nearby table.

"Mine thanks, Airianne."  replied Rin gratefully.  The scent of the muffins made her mouth water.

"Mama sends her best."  She placed a vase full of heather flowers on the table. 

"How lovely!  I shall thank her for the beautiful flowers when I see her."

Airianne looked at her inquiringly.  "Do ye know what this flower means?"

"Er... not really..."

"It means:  may yer wish come true."

"I see."  Her eyes misted over.  "That's really thoughtful of her.  And thank ye for the tea and for telling me about the flowers."

She smiled warmly.  "Ye're welcome.  Anyway, please enjoy yer tea." 

"I will." 

Airianne curtsied and left.  Rin quickly finished her tea and muffins.  Then she went to an adjoining room that gave her access to the library.  She placed her hand on a crystal ball.  "A book about the meaning of flowers."

A book appeared on the receiving mat on top of a nearby table.  She took it and went quietly to her room.  She opened the top drawer of her cabinet and carefully lifted the collection of pressed flowers which she made from the bouquet that Arturia gave her.  She leafed through the book and tried to identify each flower.

"Dandelion... Happiness.  Iris... Thy friendship means much to me.  Pansies... I think of thee.  White lily... Purity, Tis heavenly to be with thee.  White Violets... Take a chance with me."

The words blurred before her and a tear stained the page.  She went to the map and commanded it.  She saw an image of Arturia sitting on her cot and eating from a tray.  Rin's fingertips hovered near her head in attempt to caress her and her heart whispered, "I love you..."
 
She would have stood there for the rest of the day but she ended her vigil when she heard footsteps in the hallway.  With a regretful sigh, she dispelled the image and went back to studying.

~~~~~

Rhynne's hands wove through her hair and her scalp tingled at the sensation.  Her hand pushed against the back of her head slightly, and she took that as a sign to part Rhynne's lips.  Her tongue entered Rhynne's mouth and probed her carefully.  Rhynne's tongue pushed against hers and she let Rhynne do as she wished.  Then Rhynne's tongue entered her mouth. 

She let Rhynne play with her... tease her...  It was such sweet torture to let her do so since she wanted to taste Rhynne, to feel her and to take as much of her as she could.  But deep in her heart, she also wanted to know if Rhynne desired her just as much.  She was not disappointed.  She drew her closer to her body to urge her to continue.  Then Rhynne commanded her once more. 

"Put me down... I want thee to touch me..."

------

Chapter 13


"How thoughtful of thee!"  Then Rhynne's face melted with worry.  "Is this from the Lily Pond?"

"Yea, but be at ease.  Airianne gave permission to pick them."

"That is kind of her."   Rin inhaled the fragrance from several blossoms.  Then she noticed that there was only one red rose in the bouquet.  Her heart leapt when she remembered its meaning:  I still love thee.  She looked at Arturia with adoration and kissed her tenderly.  "Mine heart hath received thy message."

Arturia beamed with joy and kissed her back for words failed to express what her heart wanted to say.

After exchanging several kisses, Rin planted her feet on the ground and stood up.  "This place is cold.  Let us go to mine room."

-------

Chapter 14


"I like how she touches me... tis so gentle.  Tis as if she was trying to care for a fragile babe.  I like the fragrance of her hair."  She paused for a moment as she remembered the cause of her distress before continuing.  "Tis a soothing scent that makes me want to caress those raven locks and bring it up to mine face."

She smiled warmly at the memory of Rhynne dozing in the wagon.  "When she's asleep, tis like an innocent babe.  I feel like... I want to protect her."  And at that time, she did in her own way, even though the imagined peril was a swaying wagon over a rocky path.  It was a bit difficult to scout over to where she sat, but she managed to do it.  Holding her under that quilted blanket seemed so natural.

She remembered the first night in which they slept together in the same bed.  The next morning, the first thing that she saw was her face.  She lay there and watched Rhynne until she opened her eyes.  As Rhynne whispered her morning greeting, the smile that graced her face brightened the room.  It was then that she decided the boon that she wanted:  that she must be with her when it was time to sleep for a week.  "Her presence soothes mine troubled heart, especially during those nights when mine terrible dreams shook my sleep.  Tis a joy to have her near."

Then she recalled the nightly stories and plays which she narrated.  "I love the sound of her voice, her grace, her manner... Her stories art so entertaining.  And when she acts, tis as if she were that person in the play."

~~~~~

"With all due respect, Milord, think of how Rhynne would feel."

Arturia did not stop.  "I am no longer High King.  I cannot reward thy faithful service with land or gold or title.  However, Constantine can award thy service with wealth or honor should thou deign to accept.  But I doubt any of that will suffice thee.  Know that mine heart will not rest until I hath shown thee mine gratitude.  So allow me to be selfish."  She slowly slipped off her vest.  She knelt closer to Bedivere and looked into her eyes.  "I cannot give thee mine heart, for that is no longer mine to give.  But allow me to give thee what only I can give."

Bedivere clenched her fists to keep them from trembling.  She narrowed her eyes and spoke sternly.  "Nay, Milord.  As a lady, thy love is meaningless if I cannot have thy heart.  Besides, I merely rendered thee service as required by mine pledge."

------

Chapter 15


After takeoff, they were served dinner before the captain turned off the cabin lights.  Rin raised the armrest between them and pushed it into its recessed area.  She snuggled as close to Arturia as possible.  Arturia pulled her blanket over them, shielding them from curious eyes.  Rin's heart beat excitedly as she inched toward her face.  They shared several good night kisses, each one tasting sweeter than the one before.  Then they reclined together in their stuffed leather seats to fall asleep in each other's arms.

They hopped from flight to flight and flew for hours at a time.  Their stopovers were as brief as possible.  However, upon arriving in Australia in the evening, they had to book a hotel room since the next flight out was early morning.  As they lay in bed, Rin took the opportunity to ask Arturia about what happened in the Throne of Heroes.

"It's better if I show you."  Arturia took her hand and placed it on her forehead.

Rin understood and chanted a mind read spell.  When the spell activated, she allowed herself to see Arturia's memories as if they were her own.


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


Bright light flooded her eyes.  When her eyes finally adjusted, Arturia saw a golden hall filled with large, faceted crystals.  She looked at the nearest one.

"Someone's inside!"

Her palm tingled.  She must hurry.  Her eyes scanned the hall.  If her hunch was right, there should be a crystal with her other self.  She tried to look for the rift behind her but she could not discern where it was.  She would have to trust that it was there somehow.  To mark its place, she took her pocketknife and laid it on the floor.  It would have to do.

Trusting her instincts, she ran from row to row until she found her crystal.  Pleased with her efforts, she cocked her fist and hit the crystal with all her might.

But the impact did not come.  Instead, she found herself standing on a blood-soaked plain.  Bodies of British warriors and horses were scattered across the plain as far as she could see.  The air was polluted by the stench of rotting bodies and the smoke rising from the burning pyres of corpses blotted out the sun.  She trembled when she recognized it.

"My dream!"

Even so, her dream was nothing compared to this.  Here, everything assaulted her senses with alarming clarity:  the foul air that choked her lungs, the dreadful landscape before her eyes, the frigid wind that chilled her core, and especially, the shrill keening of bagpipes that tortured her ears like a banshee singing praises for the slaughter of so many lives.

It hurt her so much.  This was the perfect nightmare for her.  She closed her eyes and covered her ears to keep it out.  Bile rose to her throat and she fought the urge to throw up.

"This... this was meant for me to see... to hear... to feel..."

Then she realized.  "I saw it through her eyes!"

Her palm tingled again and she drew strength from it.  Steeling her heart, she hurried across the plain and did her best to ignore the carnage around her.  Then she saw her:  a bloodstained figure leaning on her sword atop a pile of dead knights.  When she approached her at the base of the pile, the figure turned in her direction.  Her forlorn gaze shifted to surprise for a moment before returning to its previous state.

"This place is not for ye, Mordred.  Go back to whence ye came."

Now she understood.  There was no one to judge her, so she judged herself.  This place was specifically crafted to remind her of her every failure, true and imagined.  She also realized that her other self did not know why they were divided.  For now, she would play along.

"I will not."

It was odd to see herself scowling.  A moment passed before she spoke.  "Why art ye here?  Have ye come to judge me?"

"Nay."  She reminded herself that this place was not real before stepping on the bodies of knights to climb up to her.  "Instead, I bring judgment from on high."

Her eyebrows arched.  She did not say anything and seemed to be waiting for an explanation. 

When Arturia reached the top, she reached into her suit and unclasped Father Benedict's wooden cross.  She held it before her.  "Here is yer judgment... and absolution."

Hope kindled in those desolate eyes and an armored hand left the hilt of Excalibur to reach for the cross.  But the hand hesitated. 

"Nay... I am not worthy..."  Her hand fell.

Arturia caught the hand and pressed the cross into the gauntlet.  "Ye deem yerself so because ye know not the truth.  God is kind.  He hast forgiven me.  Ye art forgiven as well."

"How do ye know this?"

"Do ye wish to know?"

Her other self nodded grimly. 

She reached out, placed one hand on each side of her head and willed her memories to flow from her mind into hers.  She showed her everything that had transpired since Camlann.  When she was done, she held her gauntlets between her hands. 

"So ye see, God hast forgiven ye...  she hast forgiven ye."

Tears were flowing from her eyes.  "Tis enough to know forgiveness." She whispered between sobs.  "But should I really be allowed to leave?  E'en after all that I wrought, ye wouldst risk making the same mistakes and tempt fate once more?"

"Yea.  Weigh not the battle so heavily, for e'en after yer passing, yer rule was still revered throughout the land.  And worry not about tempting fate for ye will not face it alone.  She hast promised to be by yer side.  She will catch ye if ye fall.  So come.  End this dream, for the future holds a far better one."

"Ye art such an idealistic, romantic fool."  She wiped her tears with the back of her gauntlet.

"Yea.  Verily."  Suddenly, her palm flared.  The pit of her stomach sank with dread.  "Quickly now, I have a promise to keep."  She tightened her hand around her gauntlet. 

"Promises should be kept."  She pulled her close and kissed her.

Images rushed through Arturia's mind.  She felt herself reeling among the multitude of old and new memories.  Everything swirled around her and she toppled over in her confusion.  Her lungs were emptied of air as she hit the ground.  After catching her breath, she looked around.  Instead of the plain, she was standing in front of the pedestal that held her crystal.  She carefully got up to avoid the crystal shards and to test her limbs.  When nothing seemed to be broken, she exhaled with relief.

Her eyes widened in alarm.  She was wearing her armor.  Frantically, she scanned her memories and was relieved that she remembered Rin and their current mission.  Spurred by the thought of Rin, she turned and ran the way she came. 

As she ran, lightning struck from above several times.  Thankfully, it did not strike her.  She continued to run.  When she rounded a corner, she stopped abruptly.

"Caster..."  She drew Excalibur.

Caster stood in front of a crystal which was tinted with a dark streak.  For a moment, Arturia thought that she was freed, but the crystal revealed that another Caster was inside it.  She could only guess that a part of Caster was released from the crystal.

Arturia charged and asked Avalon for protection.  Meanwhile, Caster raised her palms and cast spells in rapid succession.  She evaded and blocked while Avalon deflected the rest.  With an upward slice, she cut off Caster's hands.  Then she reversed the blade's momentum and chopped off her head as she ran by.

She did not run very far before she encountered her next opponent.  Assassin shifted into his trademark stance.  Arturia continued to run and parried his attacks.  Side-stepping at the last instant, she dodged and countered.  He crumpled behind her. 

As she continued to run, she heard heavy steps to her left.  A quick glance revealed her opponent and she ran even faster.  She had no time to deal with Berserker now and hoped that she could outrun him.  As she ran, she heard the clash of steel but she did not look back.

"Only a little more..."

This time, she had to stop in her tracks.  Standing before her with an arrogant sneer on his face and her pocketknife in his hands, was Gilgamesh.

"You've come back to me."

"You wish."  She charged. 

They clashed mightily and exchanged powerful blows.  She did not have time for this.  She leapt back at the first opportunity and prepared to unleash Excalibur.  Gilgamesh sensed her intention and smirked while he raised his dark blade.

"Excalibur!!!"

"Enûma Elish!!!"

As soon as Excalibur unleashed its attack, she charged, hoping to catch Gilgamesh off-guard.  The attacks cancelled each other out and she struck.  He blocked at the last moment and she growled in frustration.  His eyes leered at her as their swords locked in battle.

"Gáe Bolg!!!"

Blood spurted from his mouth and his grip relaxed.  Quickly, she broke the lock and beheaded him.  His body shuddered and slipped off a crimson spear.  A bloodied Lancer stood behind him.

"Go raibh maith agat."  said Arturia gratefully while greeting him with the traditional Erisch warrior salute.  Despite his assistance, she maintained a defensive distance just in case.

"Such a horrible accent..."  His gaelic brogue was derisive and taunting.  He thrust his spear into the body repeatedly.  "I didn't do it for you.  Something's urging me to fight you.  He just got in the way." 

The body began to dissolve into mist.  As his face scowled in disappointment, he yanked his spear out.  His spear sprang toward her, but he hastily lowered it.  His muscles bunched up as he gripped it tightly. 

Defiance burned in his eyes and he spoke through gritted teeth.  "Nobody... tells me what to do.  Besides, if I hit you once, it's over.  I prefer challengers who are much more difficult to kill."  Then he sprinted off in the direction of the battle raging several rows behind her.

Despite his bravado, she understood his intentions and ignored his insult.  She concentrated on looking for the rift.  She raised her hand and swept it across the empty air in hope that the glyphs would react.  Apprehension rose within her for every second that she failed to sense anything. 

Finally, in an act of desperation, she unleashed Excalibur.  This time, her prayers were answered when a glowing rift appeared.  With eager strokes, she widened it.  As she began to step out, she sensed several projectiles and blocked them.  She continued to block and to counter as she stepped through the rift.  She sensed a movement to her right and turned to see Rin floating nearby. 


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


Rin ended the spell and wiped the tears from her cheeks.  Arturia drew her close. 

"Hush... we're together now."

Rin cried some more, finally releasing the anxiety in her heart.  "I was so scared... I thought I lost you." 

Arturia tried to be strong and calm, but as Rin's hot tears seeped into her clothes, she could sense her fear and pain.   She understood what it meant for it mirrored her own fears as well.  Tears welled in her eyes and she held her tightly.  They wept together, taking comfort and relief in each other's presence.  Eventually, Rin calmed down and fell asleep.  Arturia relaxed and simply enjoyed this moment of peace.

Morning came and they headed out to catch the next flight.  The days flew by as they serenely enjoyed each other's company.  Finally, they boarded the plane that would take them home.  At this point, only the excitement of their pending return repelled the weariness in their muscles.

Their plane landed in due time and they followed Marlen's directions to the Aerie.  After arriving at the train station, they hailed a cab and told the driver to take them to the designated rental car office in the valley. 

When they arrived at the office, the driver handed Arturia their luggage while Rin wearily stepped out of the cab.  After paying the driver, they dragged their luggage toward the office.  For the last part of the trip, they had to drive to the tunnel that would give them access to the Aerie. 

Around the world in eight days had taken its toll.  Rin's internal clock was so confused.  But she was determined to end their journey as soon as possible so she gathered her determination and trudged toward the office.  As they crossed the parking lot, they passed by a classic BMW convertible with yellow and silver trim.

"Hey girls... do you need a ride?"

~~~~~

"I'm not sure... perhaps, I felt something for him.  But... during that time, I felt surges of emotion, even when I was alone.  Sometimes my heart ached so much that it almost made me want to cry.  And there were times when I suddenly felt so lonely without apparent cause."  She paused as she remembered Shiro's kiss.  "But I do know for certain... that Shiro's kiss felt different from Rin's..."  Her hand covered her mouth and she blushed as she recalled her first kiss with Rin.

But can a kiss determine what is true and what is not?  She did not want to betray Rin, but how did she feel about those moments with Shiro?  Desperately, she looked at Marlen and Nell for an answer.  As a couple, they contrasted in many ways:  tall and short, plump and thin, large and small.  How can two people who seemed so different fall in love?  "How... how did you know that your love was meant to be?"

Marlen interlaced her fingers with Nell.  "We just knew.  From the moment we met, our hearts were drawn to each other.  Unlike a lot of things in this world, there is no concrete method to verify that your love is true.  And, there's no need to explain why you would love someone over another.  When you do, you just do.  Of course, this is just our opinion.  Other people may tell you otherwise."

Her eyes softened.  "Perhaps, your heart had already decided for you.  Perhaps, if you listen closely, it will guide you."

Arturia closed her eyes.  Where did her heart lead her?  Then she realized where she was.  Against all odds, her heart led her to this place and this time.

Arturia sighed with relief.  Marlen's words set her mind at ease.  "Now, I think I understand.  I've been thinking about it too much, and got caught up in my thoughts that I couldn't step back to see it from another point of view.  Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and I apologize for my earlier outburst."

~~~~~

Rin quickly exited and left Arturia with just the ticking of the bedside clock for company.  Arturia's eyes wandered around the room.  The furniture was essentially the same, except for some modern conveniences like a hair dryer and a plasma TV on the wall.  The desk, however, was piled with yellowed and wrinkled scrolls and dusty books.  Was Rin watching over her while she slept?  The idea warmed her heart.

Her eyes spotted a vase of flowers on the bedside table and recognized them as Lily of the valley.  She smiled broadly.  "The return to happiness... tis truly fitting..."

Just then, her body reminded her that three days was a long time to be asleep.  Reluctantly, she got up slowly and used the wall to support herself as she made her way to the privy.  After she refreshed herself, she went back to lie down on the bed.

A few minutes later, Rin walked in with a small cart of food.  The scent tickled her nose and her mouth watered.  But first, she needed something else.  As Rin wheeled the cart next to the bed, she sat up and held out her hands.  Rin looked at her quizzically. 

~~~~~

Rin and Arturia glanced at each other with knowing smiles.  Undressing was something they did very well.  After Rin put her bundle down, they began to do so.

They scrubbed and rinsed themselves before soaking in the hot mineral water.  Then a thought occurred to Rin.  Michelle's statement spurred her curiosity.

"Michelle, did you visit Japan before?"

"Oui... just for a short time to see your birth."  Just then, Eileen elbowed Michelle in the ribs.  Michelle let out a surprised yelp.  "But dahling... there's no need to hide it anymore..."

"My... birth?"

Eileen sighed.  "I suppose..."  She drew a deep breath.  "We just wanted to make sure everything's on track.  Over the centuries, the Emrys worked toward one goal:  the retrieval of King Arthur.  So we have to make sure that everything is happening as expected.  That's why Michelle went to Japan to see your birth."

Rin and Arturia stared at them in astonishment.  Of course, it made sense now.  Merlyn knew the future through her memories and Shiro's.  Her eyes grew wide when she realized the implications.

"Then... during my research... all those times when I reached a dead end..."

Eileen nodded.  "Nell is one of the senior archivists of the Academy libraries.  She made sure that you found what you'd need."  Then she winked.   "Discreetly, of course."

"Wow... I have to thank her..."

Eileen laughed.  "Oh, about that... I have a few ideas about souvenirs that she would appreciate."

They talked and soaked for about ten minutes before Michelle gestured towards Arturia.

"Ma cherie, whatever is that on your hand?"

~~~~~

Rin ran her fingers through Arturia's damp hair, relishing its coolness as the strands slipped between her fingers.  "I'm glad that it did... thank you..."  She paused for a moment.  "Did Marlen tell you?"

"When we were traveling, I noticed that you had a tendency to turn your head to the left.  I asked her to confirm my suspicions and she admitted that your left eye was sealed." 

Her voice cracked.  "Th--- that's because... I..."

Arturia silenced her with the tip of her finger and kissed the top of her left eye.  When she drew back, her own eyes gleamed with hunger.  "Like I said before, if I'm getting too close, just push me away."

~~~~~

With a deft move, she flipped Rin onto her back and straddled her hand against her leg.  And then she rocked back and forth to allow Rin's finger to slide within her.  She gasped and moaned with the rhythm of her rocking as her flesh luxuriated with the pleasure of being touched.

Rin watched her with wonder.  Soon, she began to see a pattern and smirked evilly at her discovery.  "So... this is what you want..." she thought.  As she slid against her, she could feel well-toned muscles tensing up and relaxing just underneath that smooth creamy skin.  Her Arturia was both soft and firm;  an elegant British beauty and a powerful knight.  Her sense of wonder grew even more when she realized how she was thinking about her:  her Arturia.  She liked the sound of that.  It was time to truly claim her.

She pressed her leg upward and Arturia yelped at the sensation.  She lost her balance for an instant and Rin took the opportunity to flip her on her back.  She grabbed one of her hands and pinned it over her head.  Then she used her body to pin her to the bed to prevent her from flipping her over.  Once secured, she resumed control.

-----

Chapter 16


Rin stretched and turned on the lights.  For a few moments, she watched Arturia pull on her white long-sleeved shirt.  Then she threw the covers off, stood up and picked up her watch from the bedside table.  It read 7:39.  They had spent most of the afternoon in bed.  She blushed at her new and wonderful memories before shyly glancing back at the bed.  Her eyes grew wide when she noticed two sets of small red stains on the cream colored sheets.

"Rin... here's your clothes..."  Arturia walked over, but Rin did not meet her gaze.  Curious, her eyes traced where Rin was staring.  Then she saw it as well and blushed.  "Is... that..." 

"I... think so..."

Arturia reached over and held her hand.  Rin moved closer and embraced her.  Once again, she glanced at those stains.  She felt a twinge of loss, but she was glad that Arturia was the one who took it.  But in return, Arturia had given her something so glorious and sacred. 

Memories of their joining flashed in Arturia's mind.  As she remembered the moment when Rin entered her, she recalled Bedivere's last lesson.  It was so true.  They had given and taken freely of each other and in the process, had bared each other's heart and soul.  She relished that moment knowing that she was loved despite all her faults and all her sins.  She was glad to have given herself to Rin.

When Rin returned her gaze to Arturia's eyes, she was not surprised to see that Arturia felt the same way.  She leaned in and kissed her gently.  Arturia kissed her back with equal tenderness.

~~~~~

Rin hugged back.  They held each other for a few moments before Sakura withdrew.

Then they exchanged news of what had transpired during their years of separation.  As Rin recounted stories of her academic mishaps, Sakura noted how close they sat together.  She did not need to guess that they were probably holding hands underneath the kotatsu. 

"You fooled us, nee-san."  she thought.  "You made us think that you wanted a Saber class servant for power."  She remembered all those moments when Rin would rant about how events could have happened differently if she summoned Saber instead of Archer.  Since Rin hated to lose, she automatically assumed that she was bitter over losing in the war. 

"How I misunderstood you...  winning wasn't really your goal..."  Arturia's movement of refilling the teacups caught her eye.  Small sparkles reflected off the facets of the ring's diamond when she moved.  "I'm glad, nee-san... that you finally got what you really wanted."  she thought with a smile.

"By the way, something puzzles me."  said Rin.  "Shiro's created some sort of pocket dimension to hide you.  But since he's not here right now, how is mana being supplied to power it?"

~~~~~
Rin's voice choked with the memory.  "But he didn't, because Father's body died.  Someone broke into the hospital and stabbed him in the heart."

"One of the other servants found him, no doubt."

~~~~

About halfway through the dinner, someone unexpected came in.  Rin turned away but it was too late.  They had locked eyes for an instant.  She chanced quick glances to see a waiter hand Arturia a nicely wrapped take-out package.  Rin bit her lip when she saw Arturia glance back in her direction before leaving the restaurant.

~~~~

Eileen patted the couch.  "Have a seat dearie.  We're watching episode three."

"And try some escargot."  Michelle moved the plate in front of her.  "One of the local restaurants makes it quite well.  I hope you don't mind that I took the liberty in showing your chefs how it should be done."

"Thanks."  She selected a skewered escargot and sat next to Arturia who seemed engrossed in the show.  They watched several episodes until the clock struck midnight.  Eileen put the remote in front of Rin. 

------

Chapter 17



"During your journey to the Aerie, Merlyn examined both of you."

"She did?"  Rin tried to remember.  Merlyn read some of her memories in the inn, but after that, she just asked a lot of questions.

"I doubt that you'd know, dearie.  She'd do it while you were asleep."  Her voice suddenly dripped with mischief.  "And then, she'd ask questions to see how truthful you are."

Rin's eyes grew wide.  "Really?  Whoa... I didn't sense it at all." 

"But you passed."  Her simple statement hinted of praise.  "She let you in."

For several moments, Rin was silent as pride welled within her.  "Thank you.  That's nice to hear."  Still, she could not help but wonder.  "I apologize for my curiosity, but couldn't you examine Sakura on the plane?"

"I could, but Marlen and Nell would do a better job."

~~~~~

"This was my view from my dorm room."

"It's beautiful..." breathed Arturia.

For several minutes, they stood there and watched.  As Arturia's eyes wandered over the thriving fields and the bustling town, joy filled her heart.  To see people living peacefully in the land that she loved so much overwhelmed her restraint and a tear sprang from her eye.  Then she remembered Bedivere's question before she lost consciousness after the battle of Camlann. 

   "Do you behold it, King Arthur?  The continuation of your dream..."

A gentle warmth flowed through her as she watched the valley below.  She could answer it now.  "I see it, Bedivere... the continuation of my dream..."  Then she glanced at Rin.  "...and a new future."

They watched the valley in silence for a while.  So many things had happened to bring them to this moment.  Once again, Arturia thanked God for His kindness.  Then she turned to Rin and asked, "Where's your room?"

Rin pointed to a window on the fifth floor.  "Third window from the right.  I can't show it to you since someone else is living there."  Then a thought occurred to her and she took Arturia's hand.  "But I know someone who lives in that building."

~~~~~

The moment of truth had come.  Rin walked nervously behind her godfather within the Einzbern manor.  They went to a large room and discussed the spells that were in place.  Then they descended to the lower levels by a hidden elevator.  As they examined the traps and barriers, Rin tried to make elementary suggestions that would be appropriate for someone who just graduated and purposely held back advanced techniques that she learned from the Emrys. 

Finally, after four days of consulting, they finished revising all the traps and barriers.  When they left the manor, her godfather praised her for all her suggestions.

~~~~~

They talked about school for a few minutes before Eileen and Michelle danced by and hustled them all onto the dance floor.  Soon, they were laughing at each other over their awkward attempts to dance.  However, when the music switched to a waltz, some dancers, including Eileen and Michelle, stopped to watch Rin and Arturia.

"They dance so well."  remarked Eileen.

"Dahling, they're not just dancing."  corrected Michelle with a twinkle in her eye.

Just then, Arturia dipped Rin and gazed at her longingly.  For several moments, they seemed frozen in that position as Rin answered in kind.  Then Arturia drew her up and resumed their slow waltz.

Eileen released her bated breath.  After the dip, she expected Arturia to kiss Rin.  She glanced over to her wife who followed them with her eyes fondly.  Deliberately, she stepped before her to block her view.  Michelle arched her eyebrow.

She extended her hand.  "Shall we try it their way, my lady?"

Michelle smiled, crinkling the soft wrinkles around her mouth.  She took Eileen's hand.  "Lead the way, my Emrys."

Around eleven, the guests began to leave.  Thankfully, Eileen and Michelle wore themselves out and wanted to go home.  They made their way out.  Rin was not surprised to see Perecroft waiting outside.

~~~~~

"The money would be nice to have, but it also comes with duties to the allies of the Tohsaka, which includes the Matou and the Einzbern.  After being in Germany, I don't want to be around them again."  Sakura's face flashed in her mind.  "I don't need the estate.  I already have what I need."

She tenderly touched her left arm.  "Rin... I... I can't give you any children."

Her heart stopped.  The reality hit her and her muscles went rigid as understanding crept into her mind.  The Tohsaka were not defined by wealth or influence.  They were defined by the strength of their magic.  It was their pride, their true power.  For generations, this power was transferred to the child who was born with the magic seal.  Goosebumps erupted on her left arm as her seal stirred with mana.  Even if her next of kin took over the estate, even if his last name was Tohsaka, he would not be a true Tohsaka without the seal.  Was she selfish enough to abandon their pride, the magic that defined who they were?

But there was one more Tohsaka who had a strong magic circuit even without the seal.  She hoped and prayed silently for forgiveness.  "I'm so sorry for this burden, Sakura..."

She took Arturia's hands, steeled her voice and spoke carefully to mask her loss.  "I know.  But even so, please stay with me."

"Oh, Rin..."  Arturia buried her face in her shoulder and let a tear seep from her eye.  "I love you."

~~~~~

"Yes.  He was my student.  He would have been my disciple, but he died in the war.  Worst of all, the man who killed him refused to be my disciple.  He just wanted to be a hero of justice."  He sighed deeply.  "What a waste.  He killed his rivals to wish for something that he already had the power to be."

"You mean Kiritsugu?"

He nodded.  "I assumed that he wanted to be my disciple when he participated in the war.  But in the end, he wasted his chance.  I had given up finding a worthy disciple after that.  But now, here you are.  Multilayered counterspells... Advanced magesight... Mana masking... Amalgam magic... Temporal mechanics... You've learned so much in your short time at the academy."  He paused for a moment before adding, "Last I checked, the academy did not teach such subjects to undergraduates.  Did a professor take you as an apprentice?"

He paused for an answer but only received Rin's defiant stare.  Finally, he broke the silence with a chuckle.  "That look in your eyes!  You are truly your father's child.  The chance that I would have given to your father, I now give to you.  Will you take his place as my disciple?"

~~~~~

"Why are you doing this?"  asked Rin suspiciously.

The hard lines of his face softened as he smiled gently.  His eyes alighted on Shiro and Arturia as he spoke.  "It seems to me, that this is a time for second chances.  So consider it a gift for all your efforts.  Good-bye, Tohsaka Rin." 

"Good-bye."  Rin ushered Shiro into the portal and followed Arturia in.

------

Chapter 18


Sadly, Rin understood why.  When they asked him what happened at Gwent, Shiro refused to talk about it.  After they returned from Germany, Arturia led her to one of the library's private rooms and offered to tell her Shiro's story on the condition that she would not ask her how she found out about it.  Rin agreed.

Arturia told her that after Merlyn left him, he defended several villages from rogue mages who were extracting lifeforce out of the helpless villagers.  Unfortunately, some mages escaped with vials of captured lifeforce.  He stayed to help the villagers whose lifeforce was drained, but for some reason, some villagers accused him of murder.  He was chased out of their borders.  Then he decided to go to Gwent first before going back to the Aerie.  He was welcomed there and offered refreshments.  Rin's face paled when Arturia somberly described the tin goblet from which he drank.  It was too similar to the Grail. 

Then Arturia described Shiro's apprehension when he met the Archbishop.  He suspected them, so he followed them when they left the next day.  Along the way, he encountered the surviving rogue mages who were attacking some travelers.  He fought the mages until the travelers got away, only to discover that the mages were shades in disguise.

Suddenly, he was surrounded by shades.  He did not want to lose the Archbishop's trail, so he activated his ultimate spell to dispatch them quickly.  But he did not have to worry, since the Archbishop and his entourage ambushed him. 

Outnumbered, he fought them desperately.  As he fought, he felt himself growing weaker and weaker.  Then, the Archbishop broke a bundle of vials and summoned another army of shades.  He quickly left with his entourage.  When he realized what the shades were made of, he tried his best to destroy them and go after the Archbishop.  Unfortunately, their savage attacks did not give him that luxury and he only destroyed half of them before she and Bedivere showed up.  But even then, it was too late.  He felt his body coming apart.  It was then that he heard a gentle voice asking him if he wanted a second chance.  Images of those helpless villagers flashed in his mind and without further thought, he accepted.

~~~~~

Rin leafed through the list.  "I've always wondered...  why were you called King Arthur instead of Queen Arturia?"

Arturia laughed heartily.  "Oh, that... it started with exaggerated stories by the fleeing Saxons who returned to the European mainland.  They can't say that they were defeated by an army led by a woman, so they told others that I was a giant with a sword that cut through steel and stone, and so forth.  A Roman consul who was Guinevere's relative, heard of their stories and wrote to her for fear that she was wed to an uncivilized barbarian.  She wrote back to tell him the truth and to ask him to propagate the stories.  By reinforcing those tales, she hoped to scare the Saxons so they won't raid anymore.  He complied with her request, even going so far as to refer to me as Arturius Rex, instead of Arturias."

Rin laughed with her.  "That's awesome!"  She imagined a mighty King Arthur, larger than life.  Those must have been glorious days. 

~~~~~

While they waited for their order to arrive, Arturia took the opportunity to ask Peter.  "Peter, being a King was my duty and I don't need any compensation for it.  So why is everyone still insistent on helping us?"

Peter thought for a moment.  "I don't think it's for that, your Highness.  If anything, it's small compensation for the legacy which you left with each of us...  a legacy which endured to this day."

His gray eyes held hers.  "You gave us your dream:  a peaceful Britain in which everyone can pursue their dreams to the fullest.  Your gift enriched the lives of our ancestors and eventually, our lives as well.  That, in our hearts, is priceless.  So, please, even just a little bit, accept some of our offers of help.  Your dream helped shape our future.  Please let us assist you with your new life in this time."

~~~~~

"Then, when I grow up, I'll be a knight too!"

Arturia laughed at her enthusiasm.  "That'll be nice."  Then she paused.  "But what about King Arthur?  Don't you want to be like King Arthur too?"

Bedivere inclined her head thoughtfully before she shook her head.  "Uh-uh."

Disappointment throbbed in her heart.  "Why not?"

"'Cuz, King Arthur has to stay in Avalon."

"But Avalon is a very nice place."

"Yeah, but..."  Then Bedivere threw her arms around her.  "but I want to be with you and Mommy."

The disappointment in her heart vanished as she hugged her back.  She kissed the top of her head and stroked her unruly hair.  "I want to be here with you, too, sweetie.  Anyway, since you want to be a knight, you have to get some sleep, so you'll grow up."

"Okay."  She kissed her cheek.  "G'night, Mum."

Arturia kissed her again and tucked her in once more.  "Good night."  She stood up, turned off the light and closed the door behind her.

~~~~~

Then her eyes wandered to the pink frame next to it.  She smiled softly as she remembered the day she received that wonderful bundle of joy from the nurse.  She marveled with wonder at the fruit of their love.  As her little darling suckled her first meal, she felt that she could hold her forever.  She was perfect in every little way:  her smooth pale skin, her round face, those chubby little hands and that golden crop of downy hair with a stubborn strand that stood out. 

While she suckled, her little hand reached out and grabbed a strand of her hair.  Gently, she pried it open and was surprised to sense a slight tingle from her palm.  Carefully, she examined it with her magesight.  She saw a faint yellow glow on her right palm.  There was no doubt.  It was a magic seal. 

Rin's heart swelled with pride.  A quick examination of her left hand showed another seal which glowed faint red instead.  Warm tears dripped from her eyes and blessed both seals. 

It only seemed like yesterday when she was so small and tiny.  Her eyes followed the pictures that chronicled her special events:  her first step, her first birthday and her first day in nursery school, with Peter's little granddaughter, Brendan, standing by her side and holding her hand. 

Her eyes rose to the portrait over the dresser.  It was a modified version of Arturia's first coronation portrait with her sitting by her side in the gown that she wore at Airianne's ball.  When she first saw it, she was amazed at Marlen's clever skill.  Later on, she discovered that Arturia requested Marlen to create a portrait with her in it as a wedding present.  Her heart warmed at the thought that Arturia considered her to be her real queen.  Little did she know that she would truly receive that title when Arturia consented to be High King ten years later.




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