ir eine und iuwer minne
ir habet mir mîne sinne
gâr verkêret unde benomen,
ich bin ûzer wege komen
sô starke und alsô sêre:
in erhol mich niemer mêre.
(Gottfried von Straßburg, Tristan, v. 12017-12022)
[you alone and your love
have so possessed all my mind
and so distracted all my senses
that I have lost my way entirely,
and indeed with no prospect
that I shall ever find myself.]
The stars have died, and dense light of day paints jagged shadows.
It throws Myka’s crumpled form into relief, pinned to the ground by the lance. She breathes with difficulty, but she is still breathing when the King turns his back and walks past her in fury.
She cannot see him. Nor does she see the arm falling limply from between the folds of the dirt-stained royal coat as Helena is carried away.
A raven sails through the pale dawn then, and lands to stand vigil at Myka’s side.
“Let the vultures feast,” MacMelot sneers upon seeing it.
That makes Arthur stop once more, although he does not turn around. “They already have.” And even MacMelot shrinks away from his glare.
The court retreats in hushed whispers. None of them pay attention to the soft-footed brush of red orange along the wall.
“The garden. Hurry.”
It is all that Claudia says to Curvenal, who is still rubbing his eyes in the swordsmen’s barracks and stares at the woman before him with wariness. They both know what she is speaking of and they look at each other in unwanted understanding. He is on his feet before he is fully awake and never questions how Claudia came to bypass the guards.
He stumbles into the garden, belt still untied.
“By the hounds of hell!”
But when Curvenal sees the lance and bare legs and the stark line of red across Myka’s face, even curses fail him. “What did those bastards…” He rushes closer and at the sound of his steps, Myka blindly tries to move, but to no avail. Her feet are dragging weakly against the soil, as if she were a beetle caught on its back.
Curvenal has seen enough wounds to know that this one is bad, but he will do what he knows to do: He will fight. “You’re not dying on my in a garden like some pansy courtier, Myka. If we die, we do it in the field, sword in hand, you hear me?” His hands are unsteady as he feels around the shaft of the lance and then breaks it in two, making Myka moan incoherently. Curvenal winces, but Myka is still breathing and he will cling to that. He bunches up his shirt and presses it over the wound. “Damn witches of Eire!”
He wipes the back of his hand against his eyes before he hefts Myka up against his chest, as gently as he can. He is not sure whether he sees a raven fly up when he carries Myka to safety, through shadowed passageways and abandoned doors.
Behind doors well-guarded, the Queen slowly awakens.
Next to her, Claudia utters a sound that is half a sob, half a laugh.
“Myka.” Helena moves to sit up. Her skin echoes Myka’s absence, the warmth of her hands, the mindless fear of seeing her torn away and falling. “I have to –“
“The doors are locked, and armed guards are outside.” Claudia wipes a tired hand across her face.
But Helena only knows the space between Myka’s body and her own, and that she has to abolish it. “Where did they take her?”
“Nowhere.” Claudia does not meet her eyes.
Helena sways when she understands, bile rising in the throat. “They left her to die?” Her voice is a whisper, and then she is out of the bed in two steps and races towards the doors in deadly rage.
“So let them run me through as well!” Helena hisses, but when she turns to Claudia again, her gaze is broken, anguish etched into her features. “Is she…?”
“I do not know,” Claudia admits. “I sent Curvenal for her.”
“I…” Helena blinks, and all she can see is the lance burrowing into Myka’s side. Decisiveness settles onto her shoulders. “I need to tend to her wounds. I healed her before. She –”
Claudia holds her back when she moves towards the doors again. “If you want to help her, stop saying her name.”
Helena stares at her without understanding and still she sees nothing but Myka tumbling into the lance unseeing and everything about her is screaming. It takes her long moments to take note of her own predicament at last. “Why are we in my rooms?”
“And not in the dungeons or left to die in the garden, as well?” Claudia finishes the thought, and Helena wishes she were in the garden instead, impaled by the same lance that felled Myka.
“You apparently piqued the pride of the Norman envoy,” Claudia states flatly, and Helena does not understand how this can possibly matter, how it even merits to be named. The only thing her mind grasps is Myka, and that Myka is not here with her.
“What with the envoy?” Her mind is numb even as her body is alive, the scent of dewy grass still in her nostrils and her back sore from the stones in the soil.
The memory of Myka’s hands is still so close that it feels like an actual touch, still makes her shiver with completion, but the imprints are lessening as the day pushes in and covers them in worry, with clouds hovering low over the ground.
“The envoy did not sign the treaty,” Claudia relates. “Instead, the Normans keep closing in and even made offers to the Eastern duchies. The crown will have to send warriors there, and cannot afford war with Eire at the same time. And your mother would declare war if you were harmed.” Claudia nods at the diplomatic impasse. “She would tear Cornwall to the ground herself, in claws and teeth.”
Helena looks up at that with a frown. “But she never changed…”
And Claudia’s eyes are older than they both are and Helena wants to have had the strength of bears and wolves to struggle free and throw herself in between Melot and Myka, to have shielded Myka, who could not even see the weapon, not anymore.
And elsewhere, hidden in the stables, Myka’s breath is rattling, but she is still clawing at Curvenal’s shoulder to sit up.
“I am not a coward,” is the one thing she bites out. “Take me to Arthur.”
Curvenal curses, and curses some more, but Myka is his liege, and they are both bound by honor. So he carries Myka of Canoêl in front of Arthur’s throne.
The Queen is not present and by how Myka strains and then stills, she seems to sense it.
“Myka of Canoêl,” Arthur acknowledges her, and the blend of pain and ire in his tone makes Curvenal’s skin crawl and has him wish he were facing a pack of wolves instead. “You have forfeited your title, and you place at court. What for have you come?”
If he is surprised or relieved that she is still alive, Curvenal cannot tell. Myka is too weak to kneel on her own, he is keeping her propped up with his own body.
“To ask for my sentence. My Lord.” Myka’s voice is weak, and Arthur involuntarily leans forward to catch her words. He can see how much strength it takes her just to remain conscious, but he does not offer her to lie down.
“Your sentence.” Arthur repeats quietly. He takes in Myka’s body, not under her command any longer, and the bloodied bandage across her eyes. “Just tell me why you did it.”
For long moments, there is only Myka’s uneven breath audible in the hall. The knights and courtiers around the throne, MacMelot among them, have fallen silent at last.
Then, Myka speaks again. “I cannot say.”
“I would have given you the throne!” Angrily, Arthur throws up his hands. “And gladly! And you betray me like this?”
“It was not her fault,” Myka says, her voice stronger. “I seduced her.”
And still Myka acts like the knight she no longer is, and perhaps it is that display of chivalrousness that angers Arthur the most. “You do not get to talk about her.” Like a knight, Myka has offered up herself in repay for his honor. She has taken the light of her own eyes, without hesitation, and it implies that the most precious thing she had to offer up was being able to see Helena, and it angers Arthur even more. “She is my wife!”
Curvenal sees with alarm that Myka, after a moment, simply smiles in a faraway manner. “She is. And she is not.” She has to cough and Curvenal feels her body rattle and go slack again in his hold. “I deeply regret causing hurt to you and the reign. – Hang me like a traitor, if you will.”
There are murmurs among the courtiers, then, but Arthur is still seething at how Myka seems to be beyond his grasp, freer even in her broken state than he, the King, who has lost his Queen and his best knight in one day. “Say that you regret touching her,” he demands.
Myka’s shoulders rise with an attempt at a deeper breath. “I will not lie,” she finally says.
Arthur jabs a bejeweled finger at her, even though she cannot see him. “You pushed me into marrying her!”
“Yes.” Myka acquiesces with a nod. And, even quieter, she adds, “It was the hardest thing I ever did.”
“I should have you killed.” Arthur spits out, even as his eyes burst with sadness when he looks at Myka’s bandages. “But I will not. – You are sentenced to the dungeons, to then be exiled in shame to the castle of your father, never to return.”
Myka seems to sag a little more in Curvenal’s arms, but tries to straighten one more time. “And Helena –”
“The Queen is none of your concern,” Arthur says sharply.
But Helena is her only concern.
“Helena…” It is the last word she manages before she passes out, her head lolling back onto Curvenal’s shoulder.
“Pathetic.” MacMelot eyes the former champion with derision. “And you really wanted her to be heir to the throne, Cousin?”
“That is enough, James,” Arthur says with authority. He sighs. “I wish I would have never known.”
“They lied!” MacMelot protests. “They betrayed you, and harmed the kingdom. For months, for all we know!”
“And God knows I was happy,” Arthur mutters.
It is evening when he walks past the guards in front of the Queen’s chambers.
“Myka –“ It is the first and only thing Helena says. She searches his face, and he is taken aback by her bravery despite his ire.
“You will not see her again,” he says sternly, but all he achieves is Helena breaking into a small, relieved smile.
“She lives, then.”
Arthur says neither yes nor no. He is left staring at Helena, at the relief that washes over her face and renders her more beautiful than he has ever seen her, and it has nothing to do with him and everything with Myka.
“Why?” he asks again, needing an answer.
But Helena looks at him with that same expression, close to pity, that shone through Myka’s tone in the morning.
“Were you sent here to weaken the reign?” he presses on. “To weaken my standing? To take away my champion knight, my heir?”
“No.” Helena says, and there is something very close to amusement in her voice.
Arthur lashes out in reflex. “I could have you killed for your adultery!”
And in an instant, Helena is in his face, eyes blazing. “Do so, I beg of you.” She inches close to him, closer than she will be in the nightly hours he spends with her. “Do you not think that I wish it was me, and not her, whom you had skewered? – I would gladly take her place!”
Arthur still feels the jealousy tear at him in a way that would be befitting for a far younger man, but he is more surprised to find himself united in his grief for Myka with the very woman who took her away.
“Your reasons, I can see.” He shrugs, looking more an aging man than like a king right then. “My youth has passed. I was a fool to trust my luck, to believe that I found a wife who wanted me, at my age…”
“There are no such reasons.” Helena crosses her arms over her chest and Arthur does not understand that he is not the cause for anything, that none of this has ever been about him. Arthur is nothing but an afterthought, though one that has been granted power over their lives. “I seduced her,” Helena makes sure to point out. “Myka did not do anything. – That is what you wish to hear, is it not?” Her gaze is unrelenting and now it is Arthur who is at a loss for words. “She cares for you far more than I ever will. And yet you had her run through!”
“You are bound to me,” he reminds her. “Just as Myka is bound to me.”
Helena regards him coolly. “And what about the Lady Vanessa?”
For a moment, it seems as if the King will strike her. Then he steps away, his tone cold. “No harm will befall you for now. Not for your sake, but for the reign’s, for we need the treaty with Eire.” He gestures at the door before the guards open it to grant him passage. “You are confined to these rooms.”
The whole court must know about this because when Helena appears in front of Curvenal in a dark passageway outside the footmen’s quarters, he jumps as if he has seen a ghost.
“You cannot be out here!”
Helena brushes his protest aside. “Let that be none of your concern.”
He takes a step back, wary of her. “Witches,” he spits out at a somewhat safer distance.
Helena gives him an odd look. It takes a moment for the insult to register as such, for it is not an insult on the shores from which she hails. But she has not come to fight with him. She may think him rude and unlikable, yet he is the only one whom she trusts with Myka and time is running through their hands all too quickly.
“Take care of her.” It is a simple plea. Helena holds out a purse and two vials. “You will be able to leave. Bring her someplace safe, I beg of you.”
“It is your fault!” Curvenal bites out, his anger catching up with him. He does not even notice that the Queen – the one he always derided for her pride – is pleading with him. “You brought this onto her.”
Helena inclines her head. “Be that as it may. We have no time –“
“Arthur does not want her dead,” Curvenal says defiantly. “He loves her like his own child. Before you came along, everything –“
“James MacMelot wants her dead,” Helena points out quietly, and it stops Curvenal short. There’s something in his gaze that tells Helena that he, as well, is not one to trust the King’s cousin.
“Take her someplace where his men, his family will not find her.” Helena pushes the money and the medicine into Curvenal’s hands. He does not protest. “Please keep her safe.”
“To be safe, she needs to get away from you,” Curvenal says, only to add, “…my Queen,” as if to make up for his rudeness. Perhaps for the first time, he means it. He may not think her a good fit to the throne, much less for his liege, but even he cannot deny that Helena clearly loves Myka and he can respect that she does not back down, not even in the face of death and the King.
“Yes,” Helena admits with a small nod, and Curvenal can see her pain even in this minuscule gesture. Then Helena’s hands are on his arms, surprisingly strong, and the dark eyes that look at him make it impossible for Curvenal to glance elsewhere. “But I will come for her. I will come for her or die trying.”
Curvenal glances at the hands on his arms and then straightens his shoulders when he meets Helena’s gaze. “I will keep her safe,” he says. “By my sword arm, no one will get to her unless they walk over my dead body.” He does not promise to tell Myka about Helena’s words, but if Helena takes note of that, she does not let it show. It is not as if she has other choices at her disposal.
And this is how Helena finds herself listening from the windows of her rooms the following night, her heart racing after every set of hooves that she hears. She remembers the night the skiff sailed away, soundless on the waters. The rustle of trees carries on the wind and it is the same sound, and the same yearning.
Later, she will hear the yells in the courtyards that Lady Myka is not in the dungeons anymore, and later still, someone will discover that Curvenal is not in the swordsmen’s barracks. But for now, Helena is standing at the window openings, staring out into the night and feeling the space between Myka and herself grow with every breath she takes. It is the only goodbye that she gets.
And then there is just one more thing to do.
Helena cannot heft a jousting lance with enough strength to throw it, but in searching for the ointments to give to Curvenal, another bottle has wandered from the chest into Helena’s sleeve unseen.
MacMelot resides close to the rooms of the King himself. He turns around with a start at the brush of air behind him, only to find the Queen leaning against the door – the only way out, he quickly surmises. Helena’s hands rest against the heavy frame of the door and there is something feral in her gaze that makes MacMelot take a step back.
She eyes him intently, wide sleeves hanging down almost to the ground.
“There is blood between us,” Helena states without preamble. “Myka’s blood.”
“A traitor is none of my concern,” MacMelot brushes her off. “It should not be yours, either.”
“You will never even be a tenth of what Myka is,” Helena declares. It makes MacMelot nervous enough to eye his sword on the table and inch closer to it.
Helena shrugs. “Go ahead, take it.” It will not help him and judging from the look in his eyes, he is aware of it. He reaches for a tray at his side instead and picks up a goblet for a sip of claret wine. The cup is bronze, intricately forged, and when he sets it down again, he smiles at Helena, poised once more. “Well…”
Only when his hands come up to his throat, desperately grasping for air, he realizes that Helena has no need for a sword to avenge Myka of Canoêl.
Helena watches impassively as he crumbles to the floor and then stills, his limbs angled awkwardly. It does not abate her hate but a little. To purge it, she would have to kill him a dozen times, and she wishes she knew how to wield a sword the way Myka does, Myka’s hands, which are now too weak to hold even a knife, and whose imprints on Helena’s skin – those that wake her up gasping and flushed at night – are already beginning to fade. And nothing will ever take away the hollowness that settles into place within her instead.
The stars have died, and dense light of day paints jagged shadows.
~ on to Chapter 7 ~