The Broken Blade: A Tale of Camelot
Email and Constructive Criticism too: Llachlan
Rickie smiled and took a last look out the window, her lover's powerful form just disappearing around the low corner of the wooden smithy. The afternoon sun glinted off the water and she spent some time just drinking in the scenery. It had been dark when they'd sailed from Victoria the night before and she hadn't gotten a good look at Saltspring Island. It was beautiful, its rugged majesty pulling her eyes along the swell of shore just below the cabin, and she hoped they could come back more often. She liked the peaceful calm that surrounded them, feeling a deep need for the soothing it offered. Portland was beautiful in its own way, but life had been very busy lately and Saltspring was just so...not busy. "For a street kid you sure have a thing for nature Rickster." Her words echoed in the loft, the wooden walls adding depth to her tone. They'd taken a walk along paths carved by the passage of innumerable sheep and Xena had told her that it was a lot like the Isle of Avalon, the same greens and browns interspersed with the cool gray of exposed rock. Then Xena had wryly laughed and pointed out that there was one small difference - New Years on Avalon meant snow and lots of it. Shaking her head at the pleasant memory of frolicking along the shoreline, she turned her attention to the laptop and switched it on.
Rickie smiled and took a last look out the window, her lover's powerful form just disappearing around the low corner of the wooden smithy. The afternoon sun glinted off the water and she spent some time just drinking in the scenery. It had been dark when they'd sailed from Victoria the night before and she hadn't gotten a good look at Saltspring Island. It was beautiful, its rugged majesty pulling her eyes along the swell of shore just below the cabin, and she hoped they could come back more often. She liked the peaceful calm that surrounded them, feeling a deep need for the soothing it offered.
Portland was beautiful in its own way, but life had been very busy lately and Saltspring was just so...not busy. "For a street kid you sure have a thing for nature Rickster." Her words echoed in the loft, the wooden walls adding depth to her tone.
They'd taken a walk along paths carved by the passage of innumerable sheep and Xena had told her that it was a lot like the Isle of Avalon, the same greens and browns interspersed with the cool gray of exposed rock. Then Xena had wryly laughed and pointed out that there was one small difference - New Years on Avalon meant snow and lots of it.
Shaking her head at the pleasant memory of frolicking along the shoreline, she turned her attention to the laptop and switched it on.
Xena paused before entering the Lady Hall. Michaelmas was in two days, which didn't leave them much time.
The cacophonic symphony of voices raised in discordant argument ceased as she strode into the chambers. Nimue ruled from here, but command over its occupants became hers the instant she entered.
"Lady." A young acolyte exchanged her cloak for a mug of mead.
She stood casually at the end of the long oaken table, weight resting comfortably over one foot as she raised an eyebrow at the assembled council, waiting for the questions and second guessing to begin again.
Long moments of silence stretched before Merlynn cleared his throat, beginning what was sure to be a lengthy debate. "It's time."
"Is he ready?"
Xena remained silent, fascinated, as always by the inexhaustible ability of the council to argue the same points repeatedly, with the same vigour as if they had each just discovered an important law of the universe.
Sweeping her gaze round the combatants, her eyes locked on those of her friend. An amused eyebrow quirked and by unspoken consent they slipped away from the table,
"Is he ready Xena?"
"He's all we've got."
"No he isn't." Nimue's words hung in the air between them.
For an instant she felt her pulse quicken, possibilities writing themselves through her soul. Stripping the longstanding argument to its essentials, she shook her head. "No."
"You under estimate yourself."
Her voice a low growl, blue eyes flashing she stepped closer. "You under estimate me."
It was tempting...tempting in a way that similar offers hadn't been. Hardening her resolve, she wearily shook her head. "And when peace is won and the warlord no longer needed? Artos will be a King for war and for peace."
"Merlynn calls the boy a romantic fool."
"He's not a fool. Artos sees the possibilities in everything and everyone."
"You couldn't have taught him just a little cynism?"
"Nope. I was swordplay and destiny."
Nimue laughed, the faint crows feet that had sprung up during the last couple of seasons crinkling the corners of her eyes. "You figured out how to get him the sword yet?"
"You have no idea do you?"
Xena refused to be baited. "Knight's of the Pierced Heart."
"You're not serious?"
Xena quirked and eyebrow and grinned.
"By the Goddess. You are...but the Knights of the Pierced Heart are a myth." Nimue's expression at alternating between skeptical and intrigued.
"Myth? No they were as real as I am. As real as The Lady of The Lake." As Gabrielle was.
"Me." Xena's words carried a hint of mischievous humour mixed with belief.
Digging her nails into the palms of her hands she straightened, meeting her friend's eyes. "And it will work Nimue, It has too."
The other woman sighed, yielding. "It does. And Xena...let the Goddess guide you."
"Hmmrumph...I'd be much more interested in letting her row."
The oars creaked in her hands, the steady swishing of water against the blades and keel kept steady track of the passing of time and distance. The water changed sound subtlety and she turned the craft about, facing the island as she covered the slight remaining distance.
Nimbly she leaped from the craft and hauled it out of the water, secreting it behind a rocky outcropping just above the tideline.
Talking the oil cloth bundle from its niche in the prow she deposited the oars next to the boat and made her way to the small cave. Nestled against the back wall was a stout wooden chest. Striking the hasp with the hilt of her sword she heard the ancient metal give way, parting under the impact.
Dull gray gleamed back at her, smell of oil filling the small chamber. Fingering the cold links of chainmail, she felt them warm beneath her touch. Reverently she lifted it from the chest and began the wait.
"Artos. Wait up." Cai scrambled after his younger brother, who seemed not to have heard and was continuing to pick his way over the pebble strewn beach.
Puffing from the exertion he finally caught up, largely because Artos had stopped and was listening intently for something.
"Can you feel it Cai?"
"No." He paused. "Feel what?"
Cai snorted, looking around skeptically. As far as he was concerned it was just another windblown island in the middle of a lake. Its' tales of mysterious lights and a raven haired ghost just one of many tales told by parents to scare children too young to know better.
"There's more to the world than what you can see with your eyes, Cai."
"Merlynn teach you that?"
"I can feel it." Artos looked over at his brother. Night and day, they were. "You have no imagination."
"And you have too much...it works."
"C'mon then, before we lose the light altogether."
Cai laughed. "I'm not worried, you'd just imagine us a path...and since I have no imagination...I can't envision any nasty surprises." He followed the path Artos was picking out along the dwindling shoreline.
Truth be told, he could feel something. The hair on the nape of his neck was standing on edge, and he could feel his pulse racing slightly. Artos had dragged him here before, but never this close to dark and never on the eve of a festival. Deciding his thoughts were becoming uncomfortably superstitious he instead turned his attention to the clearing they had entered.
"Heads or tails?"
Cai sighed. It didn't matter what he chose, he'd still end up cooking. "Heads."
The camp below was illuminated only by the soft low light of a dying campfire. Artos looked back at his sleeping brother and headed across the ridge. Would she come? He didn't know what had woken him or why he felt compelled to leave his bed to roam afield in the moonless night.
"It is time, Artos"
The Lady of the Lake, as she was known, stood silhouetted by starlight, darkness shrouding her face. For his friends, she was the chilling legend of nightmares told them by their parents. To him, she was magic, power and ageless beauty.
She didn't always appear when he visited. Sometimes a book or a fiddechel board awaited him. And even her visits varied. Sometimes they sparred, she loaning him a great gleaming sword that at first he could barely lift, sometimes she talked to him of dreams and duty.
He knew she wasn't human, couldn't have been, she never changed - her raven locks as dark now as they had been a decade ago. When he'd mentioned her to his confessor, the little priest had crosses himself mumbling about the lady and the ban sidhe, and bade him never to talk of her again. Artos wasn't sure, but he thought she had been near him his whole life.
The last time they had met, The Lady had tossed him the sword and they had both been surprised when he caught it unfalteringly, wielding it at last like it was a part of his arm...of his soul. Almost time she had said then.
Warm summer sun beat mercifully down on the clearing, but only he was sweating.
As always he'd steeled his arms for the tremendous strain of keeping the sword from hitting the ground. Only this time it hadn't nearly fallen.
He stood staring between the sword and the warrior for what felt like forever, until her voice cut his reverie. "Almost time."
He hadn't understood, but then he often didn't when she spoke, but another thought struck him. "Who's Blade is this?"
She had bestowed a rare open smile on him. "Yours. It waits only for you to lay claim to it." Then had savagely attacked with her own blade, driving all other thoughts from his mind. And when the match was done she had scooped it up effortlessly and he'd seen it no more.
"For what?" He whispered.
"To lay claim to a Kingdom."
Rickie reached up and hit the start key, shutting down the machine. Images of long dead Knights, a young man caught in the grip of destiny and an even smaller baby danced in her head. Shaking off the melancholy that threatened to wrap her in its vise like grip, she set aside the most disturbing images and gathered up her notebook.
Maybe, she thought, writing this wasn't such a bright idea after all. Her happy mood from this morning seemed to have evaporated under the weight of delving into the past. Delving into Xena's past...Reflexively she twirled her pen around her fingers. That was part of the problem. How did Xena feel about having motives ascribed to her actions - events that were mere history to Rickie, turned over and examined by her lover?
And why did she feel so...connected...her inner voice supplied, to Artos.
The sound of ringing metal on metal caught her attention and she descended the ladder, suddenly needing to touch Xena.
Thrusting the hot metal into the quenching trough, Xena watched the steam rise into the air, wiping her face as it condensed on her forehead and hair. The metal gleamed dully in the glowing embers from the forge. When the water had stopped steaming she returned the length of iron to the anvil.
Deftly hammering the edges she drew the malleable substance into a shape conforming to the mental image she had been carrying around in her head. Losing herself in the intricate work, the warrior let time slip away - the world reduced to fire, metal and the rhythmic pounding of the hammer.
"What are you making?" A blonde head peeked over the workbench, eyes wide in fascination.
Not answering she continued to shape the metal, bending it to her will before it could cool enough to become unworkable. When the shape at last coincided with her vision she dropped it into the water bucket before handing it to the boy.
"Is it a weapon?" He was eagerly rotating the piece, making tentative stabs in the air trying to skewer an unseen enemy.
"It's not a weapon."
"Then why make it?" Losing interest in an object that wasn't a weapon he negligently tossed it onto the table and exited the forge.
Frowning she had watched him leave, then picked the candlestick up from the table. Tracing her finger lightly over the twisted form and feeling a small bump on the otherwise smooth surface.
Striking it firmly against the anvil the metal exploded in her hands.
For all her careful work and attention to detail - it had still been flawed.
Involuntarily her eyes had found the recently vacated door.
Tossing the shattered remains into the discard pile she exited the forge.
She'd found him struggling to escape the clutches of a large oak. Flipping lazily she had ascended the large bole, perching easily on a strong limb. Blue eyes watched her, as small hands refused to lose their grip on the tree, finally he surrendered, a touch of awe in his voice.
Hauling him casually into the tree with her, she shifted to give him room to sit, his small legs dangling on either side of the tree limb.
"There are two kinds of people Artos...those who make...and those who destroy."
He seemed not to realize she knew his name as a blonde brow scrunched in concentration.
"I make to remind me of destruction." She'd pulled her sword from its resting spot and sent it spinning through a series of maneuvers, unhampered by the branches or leaves.
Artos' eyes had grown wide, paying rapt attention to the path of the blade.
"Anyone can wield a weapon and destroy...but it is the making that lasts...the making which makes a King great or a man successful."
"And pulls beauty from the blade."
His words had startled her, she hadn't expected him to be able to see it. So she'd changed the plan. Springing from the branch, she appeared to vanish, leaving only four simple words behind her.
"Look to the Lake..."
"What is it?" A voice tinged with curiousity and awe.
Xena looked up and smiled. "Candlestick." Passing the object over for inspection after grabbing an extra pair of gloves. "Use these...it's still warm."
"It's beautiful." And it was. Rickie ran her fingers over the still warm surface, using the gloves to hold it in her other hand. The iron twisted delicately, three separate prongs twining about a fourth, coming to together at the top to form a shallow bowl like depression to cradle a candle or other adornment. "It's beautiful."
"What's wrong Rickie?"
"Not like you to repeat yourself. And you get a crinkle in your brow right here." Xena had removed her apron and swiped a grimy finger across a pale brow, darkening it.
"I was writing."
"I can't help feeling bad for Artos...I mean I know what happened later...but I feel bad for the young man with dreams of glory. He reminds me..."
"Reminds you of yourself." Xena finished for her. "He was a lot like you...a lot like Gabrielle."
"The world needs Dreamers Rickie...to remind the rest of us what is possible." Xena hesitated, unsure of what to say, unused to seeing her normally ebullient lover melancholy. Drawing Rickie closer, she wrapped her arms tightly around the distraught teen. Waiting silently for the younger woman to continue.
"I've been having these dreams."
"No. Nothing that specific, images and impressions mostly." Rickie clarified wistfully.
She'd been concerned that the nightmares of Telesco's brutality or memories of Jeanne's games had returned to haunt her partner's dreams. "Gabrielle?" Most of what Rickie had remembered of the Bard, had so far been pleasant, but Xena knew it was inevitable that some of the darker ones would surface, especially since Rickie was so focused on Britannia.
Xena felt Rickie's hands circle her torso as though she were trying to physically meld the two of them. Worried she rested her chin on the blonde head and stroked the flesh between Rickie's shoulder blades, moving reassuringly in small circles. "C'mon."
Not losing physical contact with Rickie, she carefully guided them from the small smithy back to the cabin. Tears had begun to slide down her lover's pale cheeks and her green eyes shone with the pooled moisture. She pushed aside the rumpled quilt and sat on the edge of the chesterfield, a gentle tug and Rickie settled onto her lap, immediately burrowing into her chest.
This was serious, so she continued to wait, letting her physical presence and soft touches communicate that she was there.
It was almost dark before Rickie stirred, swollen eyes lifting to meet hers.
"Rickie, I love you. I will always be here."
Xena smoothed Rickie's hair, and tucked it behind a delicate ear, taking the abrupt shift in topic in stride. "Don't be."
"Can I ask something?"
"Does my writing about Artos bother you?"
Xena thought about how to answer, turning the new clue over in her mind. "Not the way it bothers you." She shifted around slightly so that she could clearly see Rickie's eyes.
"So it does bother you?" Rickie looked stricken.
"The only part that bothers me is seeing something about it is upsetting you."
"Oh." This time Rickie moved around, nestling into the space between her shoulder and the cushions. "I think part of what was bothering me was being worried about how you felt having me putting words in your mouth."
A small smile twigged at her lips, the déjà vu like quality of the question making it hard to hold her expression. "They're good words." Warmth from no longer painful memories of Gabrielle filled her tone.
Rickie craned her neck, a puzzled expression having replaced the distress.
Xena leaned slightly forward and planted a tender kiss at the corner of Rickie's mouth then pulled back. "Let's just say you're not the first Bard to 'put' words in my mouth." Her heart lightened as she watched a slow smile creep over Rickie's face, green eyes brightening as the meaning of the Immortal's words became clear.
Her fingers toyed absently with the edge of Rickie's cotton shirt, the button warming under her fingers. "Several hundred scrolls worth."
The younger woman's eyes widened. "Wow. Too bad you couldn't have kept them. That would have been too cool."
Just about to answer she stopped, struck by another mischievous thought. Oh this was even better than Christmas. April 18 was still a bit away - lots of time. Hiding the full blown smirk that threatened to explode onto her face she drudged up her best poker face, replying sotto voice. "They'd be all Greek to you anyway."
She was rewarded with an eruption of soft laughter. "That was sooo bad Xena." Rickie finally managed to sputter, head resting on Xena's chest.
"Made you smile." Rickie's hands were circling over her stomach, sending tingles through her muscles.
"That's not the only effect you have on me you know."
"Really," she drawled, arching an expectant eyebrow.
"Really." The blonde dipped her head and nibbled at the open collar of Xena's shirt.
"Hey..." she whispered softly, not wanting to break the moment, but wanting at the same time to make sure Rickie was okay.
Instead of replying the teen worked her way up the sensitive skin of her neck, lingering on her lips before meeting her eyes. "I'm fine...one sensitive chat survived."
Xena chuckled. "Practice makes perfect..."
"...and I have many skills..." they chimed in unison, then laughed.
Rickie's eyes darkened to a smoky green and the Immortal thought no matter how trite it sounded, that she could easily drown in their depths. She felt her shirt being tugged from her jeans and she leaned forward, scooping Rickie into her arms.
Her lover fluidly adjusted herself and allowed Xena to carry her to the bathroom, all the while maintaining a continuous assault on the exposed skin of her neck and face. She stepped over the high side of the antique tub and swung Rickie down to stand next to her. Deliberately she drew the curtain shut and turned the knob on the controls.
A jet of cold water shot from the showerhead and she placed her body between it and Rickie, waiting for the hot water to kick in. The contrast of the icy water soaking through her shirt and the fiery trail left on her front by the soft hands that were slowly removing her top set up ripples of sensation as her skin pores anticipated being touched.
Waterlogged, her shirt slid of its own accord off her shoulders and she moved slightly to one side and let a cascading spray of warm water wash over Rickie, watching in fascination as the material first darkened, then clung suggestively to her slight form.
Mesmerized by the water running in rivulets through Rickie's hair and dripping gently from the ends, she nearly forgot to breathe, her whole world reduced to the soft hiss of water mixed with the gentle exhalations of the two of them.
Xena leaned forward and kissed Rickie lightly, barely touching her full, sensual lips. Though the kiss was delicate, one of promise and love, it had an urgency that was soon resolved when Rickie responded by moving closer.
They brought their mouths together fully and she heard a small whimper escape from Rickie as her fingers brushed the top of her jeans and tugged the shirt free from the waist band.
Rickie responded by lifting her arms above her head and Xena peeled the clinging material over her arms, dropping it with a wet thud to the floor of the tub. She played her lips across her lover's, alternating quick jabs with tender glides.
"You've still got your boots on."
"So do you." She dropped to her knees. The water was pooling in the bottom of the tub trapped by the discarded clothing lying over the drain. Maintaining eye contact, she began undoing the laces on Rickie's Docs by touch alone. When she carefully lifted the left boot the blonde's hands came to rest on her shoulders. When both boots had been removed she turned attention to the buttons on Rickie's jeans, managing with only a little extra tugging to slide the wet material over her lover's hips.
Starting at the bottom, she gradually worked her way back up Rickie's body, captivated by the changing expressions on Rickie's face and in her eyes as she moved over sensitive spots. She left nothing untouched, the soap taking away the friction and allowing her to glide effortlessly along the creamy skin and firm muscles of her lover. After what seemed too short a time, she was standing again, scant inches from Rickie, close but not quite touching, only their eyes binding them. She softly brushed her lips against Rickie's savouring the unhurried passion of the experience, each of them aware of the outcome and fully enjoying every second of the journey.
Rickie leaned forward slightly, breaking the eye contact and whispered. "My turn." The warm breath moving over the wet skin by her ear sent a delighted shiver deep inside and Xena surrendered to the powerful connection running between them, losing track of everything, grounded only by Rickie's eyes and the love she could see reflected in their depths. They were together...again.
15 February 1999
15 February 1999