Ha! It's not midnight yet and therefore still Yuletide! I made it!
This takes place right after the Letters Interlude: Agravain to Gawain, where Mordred is in Orkney, Percival is in Corbenic and everyone else is in Camelot. And although they're seperated by many thousands of miles, they still find a way to celebrate Yule together.
The door to the courtyard of Orkney castle was pushed open and Gareth yelled in objection as the icy cold wind hit him. He ducked down into his furs as Gaheris and Gawain stumbled into the hall and quickly turned to force the door shut behind them. Once it was shut, Gawain leaned against the door and huddled into his own snow-covered furs as Gaheris bounced around the hall muttering curses about how cold it was.
"How are things?" Mordred asked and Gareth peaked out of his furs long enough to glare at his brother. Why Sir 'This-Isn't-Cold' hadn't volunteered to go out and make sure that Orkney Castle was holding up against the cold weather, Gareth didn't know.
"Cold," Gawain gasped.
"I told you to let me do it," Mordred said. Gareth frowned. So he had volunteered, which meant that Gawain and Gaheris were idiots.
"I can handle anything you can," Gaheris said, lifting a hand to scratch the snow out of his red hair. "Albeit with more whining."
"Idiots," Gareth said. "You should have let Mordred do it.
"I actually need to learn how to do this without Mordred's help," Gawain said indignantly. "But I don't know why Gaheris came."
"I don't really know either," Gaheris sighed. "Except that I felt the need to show up my younger brother."
"I still win because I don't complain," Mordred said.
"I win because I'm older," Gaheris retorted.
"I win, so both of you be quiet," Gawain ordered. "Where are the girls?"
"Audience hall, setting up for the Yule celebration," Gareth said. "We were preparing to come find you in case the cold became too much for you."
Gawain glared at Mordred, who glared right back. "That was Ragnell's idea, not mine," he stated.
Gawain snorted as he walked by them, and the younger brothers followed him into the audience hall where Lyoness and Ragnell were working hard. Lyoness was actually helping the servants decorate. Ragnell stood near the fire pit with Guinglain in her arms. She was directing the servants as she bounced the baby.
Ragnell turned towards them when she heard their feet across the floor. She smiled and met Gawain halfway and bounced on her toes to kiss him.
"You're cold," she whispered.
"Hmm, yes," Gawain agreed. "But you're not." He tried to lean closer to her but she danced away from him.
"Maybe when I'm not holding the baby," she teased. Gawain grumbled as she went back to directing about the servants.
Across the room, Gareth made his way over to Lyoness and wrapped his arms around her. Since he hadn't been running around outside, his wife didn't push him away and instead leaned into his embrace.
Gaheris made a noise of disgust. "What is it about marriage that turns people into--" He looked at Mordred and shook his head. "Hey, why am I asking you? Where's Agravain when I need him?"
"In Camelot, with my wife," Mordred replied.
"Sorry," Gaheris said, making a face. "You miss her?" Mordred nodded, turning his gaze to the floor. "Gawain's going to owe you a big favor after this one."
"He'll owe all of us," Mordred said. "I know Gawain had trouble last year, ruling Orkney through the winter, but I think more problems stemmed form the fact that he was lonely. All he really had was Ragnell and I think he missed us."
"So while you're teaching him how to rule Orkney, we should be teaching him how to make friends?" Gaheris asked.
"He should be fine in the coming years," Mordred observed. "Since Gareth has decided to stay as well."
"Gawain and Gareth in Orkney," Gaheris sighed. "You and Agravain in Dumnonia. That makes me the odd one out on Camelot."
"You could remedy that."
Gaheris shrugged. "I think at least one Orkney brother should always reside in Camelot; it keeps the city on its toes. Good thing it's going to me in the future too. Camelot would be in big trouble if it was you."
"Gawain!" Mordred whined. Gaheris quickly clapped his hand over Mordred's mouth and wrapped his other arm around his brother's shoulder as Mordred tried to struggle out of his grip. Gawain and Gareth looked over at them and Gaheris grinned as Mordred continued to struggle.
"Don't mind us," Gaheris said.
"Don't kill Mordred," Gawain sighed.
"Yeah, that's Agravain's job," Gareth snickered.
"Get off me!" Mordred finally yelled, shoving Gaheris away from him. The older brother laughed as he stumbled backwards
"Alright boys," Ragnell said, handing Guinglain off to Gawain and clapped her hands at the scuffling brothers. "Why don't we put that energy to good use? Come on now, help us decorate."
"Yes, Ragnell," Mordred said meekly.
Gawain's wife wrinkled her nose at him. "Or I could let Gaheris beat up on you some more."
"I don't think that would be very safe for Gaheris," Mordred said as he went over to help out.
"It wouldn't be safe for you if Gareth helped me!" Gaheris shot back, also moving to help his twin and Lyoness.
"Don't even," Gawain warned when Mordred glanced over at him. "I'm staying out of this."
"Why do I even bother helping you?" Mordred sighed.
"Because you're a fool," Gareth said helpfully.
"Do you want to take this outside?" Mordred demanded.
"No!" Gaheris squawked. "Too cold!"
"See what I had to deal with growing up?"
"What you had to deal with! You left! Agravain is the one who had to deal with us."
"Which explains a lot actually, when you think about it."
"Yeah, well you three certainly know how to make up for lost time."
"I object being thrown into the same lot as those two."
"We object to being thrown in the same lot as Mordred."
"Would you all just stop talking?!"
Winter was a much more pleasant season in Camelot, although Yvain found it cold. Of course, the Rheged knight had never ventured so far north as Orkney. The southern edge of his father's kingdom was his limit. He preferred remaining in kingdoms where outdoor activity was at least possible in the winter.
This is why he was very upset at spending the entire afternoon in a council meeting when he could have been outdoors helping Nimue and Galahad gather supplies for Yule. He was still feeling sulky when he left the council meeting, so he decided to wander the halls. He ended up at the guest suite Arey was staying in, and was surprised to find the door open with the Dumnonian Queen sitting on one of the couches, a book open on her lap.
"Majesty," he politely.
She looked up and grinned when she saw him. "What are you doing here? I thought you were going out with Nimue to hunt for Yule supplies."
"Arthur called a council meeting today," Yvain sighed.
"Doesn't Galahad usually go to those?"
"We flipped a coin and I lost." Arey chuckled and patted the seat next to her. Yvain sauntered over and collapsed next to her. "What about you? I thought that you would go out with them."
"I'm sulking," she admitted.
"Me too," Yvain said. "But I think we're sulky for different reasons." Arey sighed and ran her hand across the book on her lap. "Mordred."
She looked over at him and smiled. "How could you tell?"
"The book you're reading, it's a mythology book. Mordred likes to read those, when he's not researching this or that," Yvain explained. Arey gave him a look of disbelief and Yvain grinned. "And, of course, what else could you possibly be sulking about?"
"Exactly," Arey agreed, looking back down at her book. She shifted slightly so she was leaning against him and Yvain rested his head on hers.
"Can I ask you something?"
"You can," Arey replied. "But I can't promise that I will answer."
"Why didn't you go up with him?"
"Because I needed to remain in Dumnonia."
"Liar," Yvain said. "You could have easily passed the job off to Agravain."
"That sounds fair. I go up to Orkney but force Agravain to stay in the south while I spend time with his family."
"So give it to Mala or, hell, you could have passed it on to anyone in Dumnonia without a problem. The whole country worships you. Besides, Dumnonia can't need you that badly if you're spending winter in Camelot."
"You know me far too well," Arey sighed.
"You know, if you don't want to answer, you could just tell me," Yvain suggested. "Because I'm going to keep bothering you until you do."
"He didn't ask me," Arey said simply.
"And you decided not to press him about it because you were angry and hurt?" Yvain asked, his tone amused.
"No," Arey said, sitting up and shifting away from him. "I didn't press him about it because I didn't want him to ask me. If he had, I would have said no, and I think Mordred knew that."
"Why would you have said no?" Yvain asked.
"Because the last time I was in Orkney, I watched my mother die."
Yvain half sat up so he could study Arey. "You don't talk about her much, but whenever you do I always get the feeling that you two were close."
"I was thirteen when she died," Arey said. "Still young enough to believe her to be the most amazing, powerful person on the whole of the earth and I don't suppose that will ever change."
"Sounds nice," Yvain said.
Arey nodded. "Sometimes I wonder if her surviving would have been worth losing that idealistic view of her. I haven't come up with the answer yet. But I still miss her, and even after all this time I can't find the strength to make the journey up to Orkney, despite the other aches it causes."
"Sorry," Yvain said as he dropped back into the couch.
"It's alright," Arey said. "So why are you sulking?"
"Because I didn't get to go out with Nim and Galahad," Yvain said. "Seems rather shallow compared to you."
"I like shallow," Arey said. "Sometimes it is a relief to put the cares of the world aside for your own."
"That's why you're here, isn't it?" Yvain asked.
"That's why I'm here," Arey agreed. "What do you say to the two of us going out and trying to find our own Yuletide supplies? Maybe we'll even run into the others."
"I like that plan," Yvain said, getting to his feet and then helping Arey to hers. "It certainly beats sulking in here."
It seemed that the day before Yuletide was one for sulking, for to the south Prince Parzival of Corbenic, or Sir Percival the Red Knight, was also in a sour mood. The previous year he couldn't imagine a better place to live than Corbenic, where the sun was always overhead and the days were always warm. This year, however, he found himself longing for the cold weather and snowfalls that came upon Britain. He also longed for a Yuletide celebration.
They didn't celebrate Yule in Corbenic; they had no need to. The length of the days was the same, no matter what the season, so there was no cause to pray for sunlight in the bleakness of winter. And after a year of sun and heat, Percival found himself missing the changing seasons of Britain.
He also missed his friends, although he tried hard not to think about that. Things in Corbenic were getting easier, and he was just beginning to find a common ground with his family. Remembering his friends (especially an annoying little enchantress whose goal in life was to drive him crazy) could ruin that, and Percival wasn't ready to make any decisions yet.
Percival turned away from the balcony as Heliabel made her way into his room. She smiled warmly at him and Percival did his best to return it. His mind was still on Nimue and the others, which always made it difficult to greet his Corbenic relatives.
"Something wrong?" he asked her.
"The cook told me that you wanted flour and ale brought up to your room tomorrow," Heliabel said, giving him a strange look. "What are you planning?"
"I plan to burn a Yule log tomorrow evening," Percival said.
"A Yule log?" Heliabel repeated. "What's this? Another one of those silly British customs?"
"Yes," Percival agreed. "It is. But that doesn't change the fact that I intend to burn one tomorrow. You're welcome to join me if you like."
Heliabel sighed. "I wish that you would put such childish fancies aside and focus on your duties as the heir to the Corbenic throne."
"I don't have any duties," Percival said. "Not yet."
"Only because father questions how long you truly intend to stay with us," Heliabel said. "If we knew how committed you were to remaining, I am sure that father would give you more to do."
"I don't have an answer for you yet," Percival said.
"And you never will so long as you try to hold onto the past," Heliabel said.
"Tomorrow night my friends will gather together to pray for the sun's return. They'll burn a Yule log as an offering, and upon it they shall carve their hopes for the next year. Then they'll light the log, gather around it in a circle and bid farewell to all the bad things that happened in the previous year. After that, they'll state their plans for the coming year. That one night was probably the greatest of my life. Never before have I felt so welcome. They're my friends, and as hard as I'm trying here, that's not something that's just going to disappear."
Heliabel stared at him for a moment, and Percival dearly wished to know what was going through her mind. Finally, she turned away from him and left without another word. Percival sighed. Yet another moment where his past and present collided only to create a mess in their wake. He wished that Heliabel didn't become so defensive every time he brought up his friends, although he understood why they were a sore spot for her.
He leaned against the fireplace and closed his eyes. In his mind, an all too familiar and dearly missed piper-like voice laughed at him. Percival scowled.
"You would find this funny," he muttered to himself. "I just hope you appreciate all the trouble I'm going through for you."
He turned away from the fireplace to gather some supplies. While ale and flour could be provided easily enough, sprigs and an actual log would be much more difficult to find. At least the weather in Corbenic would be warm. He'd hate to be the poor fool who had to go out hunting for logs in Britain's winter.
"It looks kind of pathetic, doesn't it?" Gaheris asked.
"Sad," Mordred agreed.
"Why'd we pick it again?" Gareth continued.
"Boys, how long does it take to grab one measly Yule log?" Ragnell demanded as she made her way into the room where they had stored the Yule log they had collected a few weeks ago in the 'warmer weather'. She paused when she saw the Yule log. She placed her hands on her hips and frowned at it. "It's smaller than I thought."
"We just noticed that," Gaheris said. "Didn't it take three of us to haul it over here?"
"You, me and Gawain," Gareth agreed.
"I could probably carry that on my own," Gaheris said.
"I could carry it on my own," Ragnell said. "It under one arm and the baby under the other." Mordred laughed and the twins scowled at him.
"I didn't see you making any complaints at the time," Gareth said.
"I was nowhere near you when you picked that out!" Mordred snapped. "I was off in a different section of the forest when you two and Gawain decided on that one."
"He's right," Ragnell said. "We had actually picked out a decent-looking one when you boys called us off saying that you had found 'the perfect log.'"
"Are you sure the cold wasn't deluding you too?" Gaheris asked.
Ragnell sighed and looked at Mordred. "Would you?"
"Of course," he said, retreating from the room.
"You two go with him," Ragnell said.
"What?" Gareth asked as both twins turned to face her. "It's cold out there."
"Yeah, Mordred can handle it on his own," Gaheris agreed.
Ragnell straightened up to her full height, which was still tiny next to the tall twins, but both of them scrambled away from her as she stalked forward. "Oh, so it seems that we have one brother who is willing to brave the cold to rectify this mistake, but the two who made it prefer to stay inside where it's warm with no care as to what could happen to their youngest brother out alone in that weather."
"Ah, I just remembered that we have some very important business outside, right Gareth?"
"Right," the younger twin agreed as the two nearly tripped over each other in their scramble to follow Mordred out into the frozen tundra of Orkney. Ragnell grinned as she followed them back into the main hall, where Gawain, Lyoness and the servants stood with mirrored looks of surprise.
"What was that all about?" Gawain asked as Ragnell went to take the baby out of his arms.
"I think they forgot something outside," she said, her eyes wide with innocence.
Arey froze when she felt something hit her shoulder. She turned around slowly to face Yvain, who looked far too innocent for her taste. He clasped his hands behind his back and bounced onto his toes, the snow crunching underneath his feet.
"Throwing things now, are we?" Arey asked.
"Me?" Yvain asked innocently. "Whatever would make you think that?"
Arey brushed the snow off her shoulder. "I could have you completely covered in snow before you had a chance to lob another one at me."
"Oh, really?" Yvain asked. "Is that a challenge?" Arey smirked. Yvain quickly bent over to scoop up another pile of snow. Before he even had a chance to pack it into a nice round ball someone ran into him and knocked him into the snow. He groaned as Arey rolled off of him and into the snow. "That was your plan?"
"You're covered in snow now, aren't you?" she retorted.
"Well, yes," Yvain agreed, scratching a hand through his blond hair to shake it out. "But so are you."
"Doesn't matter," Arey said, sitting up. "What matters is that I got you before you got me."
"Anyone ever tell you that you have a rather scary philosophy on life?"
"Just you," Arey said, pulling her hair out of the bun she had tied it up in to shake the snow out of it. Yvain had to stand and move away from her, in order to resist running his fingers through her hair. She really looked quite nice with it down, albeit more delicate and feminine, which was probably why she kept it up. Still, Yvain was pretty sure that Mordred was the only person who got to see that side of Arey, no matter how close she was to the rest of them.
"Something wrong?" Arey asked. Yvain glanced back to see her pull her hair over one shoulder and wrap a tie around it so it would stay there.
"No," Yvain replied. "Just thinking."
He didn't get a chance to elaborate as several balls of snow flew out of the forest and pelted them. Yvain yelped and reached down to scoop up a handful of snow and started to pelt it back in the direction of the attacks. Arey jumped to her feet and raced in the woods, disappearing into the dense forest once she was off the trail. Yvain followed her, because the trees would be much safer than out on the open trail.
He quickly lost track of her though, which was bad. He also lost track of whoever had decided to bombard them with snow balls, which was good.
Or, at least he thought that he lost them, until a large pile of snow was dumped on his head. Yvain yelled out as he was forced to his knees. Once it stopped, he shook out his hair and glared over his shoulder at Nimue, who stood a few feet away and looked far too innocent for Yvain's taste.
"Nim," he warned.
"Yvain," she replied. His name was barely out of her mouth when Yvain rushed her, taking on Arey's approach and running into her. He wrapped his arms around her and lifted her off the ground as she shrieked and tried to kick him away. "No! Let go!"
"What are you going to do now, huh Nim?"
More snowballs bombarded Yvain and he dropped Nimue in surprise. She scurried away from him over to Galahad and Arey, who had launched the attack on Yvain.
"What is this?" Yvain sputtered, glaring at Arey. "I thought you were on my side?"
"Galahad bribed me with a trip to Nimue's cottage and hot drinks," she said with a shrug. "It sounded like a much better deal than helping you."
"What about a Yule log and sprigs?" Yvain asked.
Galahad holds up a bag filled with sprigs. Yvain grins and Nimue nods.
"We picked out a log too," Nimue said. "I sent it to my cottage."
"Looks like we missed all the fun," Yvain sighed to Arey.
"That's why Galahad's offer seemed so good," she agreed.
Yvain motioned for Nimue to lead the way. The enchantress bounced through the snow towards her cottage. Arey and Galahad followed her. Yvain shoved his way in between the two of them and slipped his arms through theirs. Arey smiled and leaned her head against his shoulder. Galahad looked around Yvain at the Queen, who appeared to be the most content they had seen her since she had arrived in Camelot almost two months ago.
Galahad then looked up Yvain and the Knight of the Lion couldn't help but lean over and kiss his lover's cheek. It was days like this that Yvain was almost positive that his life couldn't get any better.
"Farewell to loneliness," Percival muttered, tossing a holly sprig into the burning Yule log. He watched the fire consume the sprig and wished it would also consume the empty feeling he felt in his stomach. He couldn't help but wonder what the others were doing right now. Were they all at Nimue's? Having a Yule celebration together without a care for anything else in the world? Did they care about him? Did they miss him?
There was a knock at his door. Percival glanced over as it opened and Pelleas stuck his head in. Percival waved as his father made his way into the room.
"Evening," the old king said. "Heliabel said that you were, oh, what did she say? 'Holding a childish and senseless heathen ceremony.'"
Percival snorted. "She spying on me, now?"
"Your sister spent many years bitterly waiting for her brother to return," Pelleas said, taking a seat next to Percival. "Some days I think she is still waiting." The king looked down at his hands. "Don't be too harsh on her. I think she expected everything to turn out just like she had dreamt it, and now she cannot come to terms with it being so different and foreign." He looked down at the basket of sprigs and picked one up. "So, do I just toss one of these into the fire?"
"That's oak," Percival replied. "You want to toss a holly in first, and then say farewell to something. Than you toss in the oak and make a promise for the coming year."
"Ah," Pelleas said, picking up a holly sprig and tossing it into the fire. "Farewell to old dreams." As the fire consumed the sprig, he looked back at Percival. "Like that?"
"Like that," Percival agreed. He picked up an oak sprig and looked down at it, not really sure what to promise for the coming year. The sudden wave of homesickness made it tempting to promise to return to Britain, but he couldn't do that to Pelleas. The old king had been so kind to him during the past year and a half, doing his best not to push too fast but also making sure Percival knew that this was his family, and that he would always be welcome. It was Heliabel who was making things so difficult.
Maybe he wasn't trying hard enough to get this right, although Percival honestly didn't know how much harder he could try. He had once made a promise that he would never try to be something he wasn't, although that seemed to be exactly what Heliabel wanted, for him to become the brother of her dreams. Someone he wasn't.
"To progress," Percival muttered, tossing the oak sprig into the fire. There, he'd promised to try harder. He didn't know what else they could possibly ask of him.
"To progress," Pelleas agreed, tossing in his own sprig.
Startled, Percival looked at his father. Pelleas looked back and smiled. So they had both promised to try harder. Percival was pretty sure he could live with that compromise.
Nimue's cottage was small and quaint, the kind of place Alessandra had dreamt of living in when she was a little girl. As a princess, the grand luxurious life of her father's house had quickly lost its appeal, and Alessandra had often found herself wondering what it would be like to live in a cottage like Nimue's.
Alright, so not exactly like Nimue's, since the enchantress lived in a magical cottage where rooms appeared out of nowhere and there was a magical door that could take you anywhere. Alessandra hadn't seen much of that magic yet, except for the door opening to both Nimue's kitchen and wherever her cat liked to spend his time.
They had set the Yule Log up in the fireplace of the main room of Nimue's cottage. What had once been a brightly burning Yule Log had settled down into smoldering embers. Every few minutes Yvain would lean forward and poke at it, to make sure it continued to smolder. Supposedly the coming year would be a good one if the log burned continuously for twelve days.
Earlier in the evening they had all thrown sprigs into the fire, putting something from the past year behind them and making a wish for the coming one. Alessandra had put her hardships behind her and wished for a healthy baby. Loholt's claims had been very similar. The others wishes had all varied, and Alessandra hoped the best for all of them.
She was just starting to doze against Loholt's shoulder when she noticed Nimue and Arey stand. The Dumnonian Queen caught Alessandra's eye and motioned that she was welcome to join them. Untangling herself from Loholt's protective grip, Alessandra stood and followed the two other women into the kitchen.
"If you want I could get a letter to him," Nimue was saying when Alessandra entered. As she spoke to Arey, she absently waved her hands at the dirty dishes left over from their dinner earlier in the evening. The dishes sprang into the air along with the soap and set to work cleaning themselves.
"Stop fussing," Arey ordered, settling down at one of the kitchen tables. "I don't have any need to hear from him. Let him have his winter and I'll have mine."
"Of course," Nimue agreed, crossing her arms. "You're not sulking at all." Before Arey could respond to that, Nimue bounced over to Alessandra and took her hands. "You're starting to show, you know."
"So Loholt tells me every day," Alessandra said, her cheeks flushing with pride. "But I would be lying if I said that I wasn't pleased to hear such news." She glanced from Nimue to Arey. "What were you just discussing?"
"Mordred," Nimue said promptly, and Arey sighed loudly and looked away. "You know, it wouldn't kill you to admit that you miss him."
"I already did!" Arey snapped. "I told Yvain that I missed my husband, and now look where it's got me. Everyone is sticking their nose into this and trying to help."
"I think you only made it worse for yourself when you said 'to family' in your wish for the coming year," Alessandra said, going around Nimue to sit at the table next to Arey.
"I realize that," Arey sighed. "But I assure you that I wasn't thinking about the current situation when I made that wish. I was looking towards the future."
"Children?" Alessandra asked quietly. There had been rumors going around Camelot for years that Areria was barren, since she and Mordred had been lovers for years and no child had come of it. Those close to the Dumnonian Queen knew, or at least suspected, that Arey had been using some sort of charm against becoming pregnant. Now, though, Alessandra suspected that there would already be a child on the way if Mordred hadn't spent the last few months in Orkney.
Arey nodded. "When Mordred finally gets back, it will be the right time, I think."
Nimue darted forward and grabbed both women by the arm. "Come on, I just had a great idea!" Alessandra got to her feet, but Arey pulled back against the enchantress' pull.
"No messages!" she said firmly.
"No, of course not!" Nimue scoffed, releasing Arey. "This is better." She bounced towards the door, pulling Alessandra along behind her. The young princess had no choice but to follow as Nimue stepped out into her living room and then outside. Arey followed, and of course by that time they had caught the attention of the boys, who also joined them in frozen forest. Alessandra shivered, until Loholt wrapped his arms protectively around her.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Nothing," Nimue said, holding a closed fist out in front of her. She opened it slowly to reveal a bright bouncing ball of green-blue light on her palm. She lifted it to her face and blew on it gently. "Go on," she whispered. "Go play."
The light slowly lifted up into the air. It hovered above them for a moment before shooting off into the sky. The moment their eyes lost sight of it, the sky erupted into a brilliant wave of green light, dancing across the sky.
"Well I'll be," Yvain whispered. "The Merry Dancers."
"The what?" Alessandra asked, looking around Loholt at the other knight.
"That's what we call that," Yvain nodded to the dancing green light, "up in the north. Have you ever seen them before?"
"No, never," Alessandra said.
"It's understandable," Loholt said. "I was a young boy the last time the Merry Dancers ventured this far south. They are a rare occurrence, unless you have help, it seems." At this he looked at Nimue, who grinned before racing to an open clearing a few feet. She left them standing by the cottage so she could join the Merry Dancers in their dance. It was a sight to see, especially with the green light dancing across Nimue just as she twirled under the light.
Yvain laughed as he watched her, then turned and tugged on Arey's arm. "Come on."
"What? No!" Arey said, pulling her arm back. But Yvain wasn't about to take 'no' for an answer. He scooped her up in his arms and rushed out to join Nimue, spinning around as he went. Galahad rushed after them, and soon all four friends were dancing under the glow of the Merry Dancers.
Loholt and Alessandra didn't follow. Instead Aless leaned against her husband and Loholt tightened his grip around her, one hand straying down to rest over her abdomen. "I love you," he whispered in her ear.
"I love you too," Alessandra murmured. "Happy Yuletide."
"And Merry Christmas," Loholt replied.
Up in Orkney, the Yule Celebration had been the most activity the castle had seen all winter. Morris dances were preformed for the King and Queen. Then a group of Mummers came forward to perform the traditional Yule Play, about a hero who had just returned home from a distant land and challenged by those who had risen to power in his place. The hero died, but then a doctor would be called in to revive him and hostilities ceased with the heroes return to life.
To Mordred, the story sounded a lot like Gawain's journey. He had finally returned to Orkney after years of serving as a knight in Camelot. The harsh wintered had defeated him, but Gawain had managed to rise back up this year, providing a good harvest and a grand feast for his people. That would make Mordred the doctor, the one who came and helped King Gawain and Orkney back to life and helped them created a truce with winter. Mordred couldn't help but wonder if the doctor from the story had felt this pride as he watched the hero of the story rise back to life. It was a good feeling, and it helped keep Mordred warm on this cool night.
When a group of children came forward to wassail the royal couple, Mordred excused himself from the table and stepped out into the cool night. For the past few days, whenever Mordred saw a child his thoughts turned to his wife. He couldn't even begin to fathom why, well, except for the fact that he and Areria were married now, and children usually came soon after that. To make matters worse, he had said 'to family' when he threw his oak sprig into the Yule Log. The look of absolute glee on Ragnell's face had made his stomach sink and even now Mordred couldn't help but wonder what on earth he had been thinking.
Someone dropped a cloak on his shoulders and Mordred turned to see Ragnell, bumbled up in her furs. She smiled as she stepped up next to him.
"Your wife will never forgive me if you catch your death in this weather," she said in explanation.
"What's this?" Mordred teased. "Lady Ragnell is afraid to tangle with someone?"
Rangell sniffed. "The trick to staying on top, dear brother, is to know who could best you and avoid them at all costs." Mordred laughed and let the cloak slide off his shoulders a bit. Ragnell sighed loudly, and readjusted it. "I felt like Gaheris, but aren't you cold?"
"No," Mordred said. "Not really."
"I wonder if the sea god put ice in your blood after you fell into the sea when you were younger," Rangell mused, recounting the well known story of Agravain knocking Mordred off a small fishing boat in the late fall. To hear the others recount it, it seemed as though it was a miracle that the young man before her had survived.
"Now that would be a story," Mordred agreed.
"I have yet to thank you for staying," Ragnell said, bouncing on her toes. "Gawain is so grateful to you and I'm just happy that he's finally starting to settle into his life hear." She looked up at Mordred. "I just wish that there was more we could to show our gratitude."
"You've done enough," Mordred promised as something in the sky caught his eye. He looked up to see the Merry Dancers, their green light making their way across the sky. Next to him, Ragnell caught her breath.
"What is this magic?" she whispered.
"The Merry Dancers," Mordred replied, looking down at her. Her eyes were wide with surprise and awe. "I don't think there are really dancers up there, despite the stories of the Merry Dancers being the Fay out playing at night…"
"They're dancing all right," Ragnell whispered.
"It's just a story-"
Mordred looked back into the sky and his mouth dropped as he watched figures- people, dance through the green light. As he watched them, he couldn't help the outline of curly hair on one and how her dress seemed bluer than the light around her. "Nim…" he whispered.
"What?" Ragnell asked, but Mordred wasn't paying attention to her anymore. His concentration was on the other three figures. Two males, dancing together- that had to be Yvain and Galahad, and then there was a female standing off to the side. She was watching the others dance with her hands on her hips, and she was shaking her head. It had to be…
She looked at him, right at him. Tentatively, Mordred raised his hand and waved. If he could she her, she had to be able to see him…
Arey couldn't help but feel a twinge of jealousy as she watched Yvain and Galahad dance together. They seemed happy, and Yvain was suddenly full of energy. When he leaned in to give Galahad a kiss, Arey looked away out of courtesy. Her eyes ended up wandering up to the Merry Dancers, and her eye widened as she noticed two figures up in the sky- a male and a female. The male raised a hand and waved, and Arey knew. She knew that it was her husband up in the sky.
"Nim!" she yelled, turning to glare at the enchantress. "You said no messages!"
"I didn't!" the enchantress said, pausing in her dance next to Arey to look up in the sky. "This, as I said, is much better."
Arey sighed and looked back into the sky. "Who's that with him?"
"Ragnell," Nimue replied. "Better wave, so he knows that you can see him."
Arey waved, and Mordred's outline relaxed. Even among the Merry Dancers, as just an outline, Arey could tell that he was happy. In her mind she pictured his smile and she couldn't help her own from spreading across her lips.
'I love you,' she mouthed, although she didn't know how he could possibly get that message.
Mordred couldn't help but relax and smile as Arey finally waved back. So she could see him, which meant that this really was Nimue's doing and not some other magic sent to torment him. That was good.
And then something surprising happened. The light around Arey erupted into different colors, ending with red, which seemed radiate around Arey's outline.
"Wow," Ragnell whispered next to him. "Now that is something powerful." Mordred glanced down at her, and then at the door. Ragnell sighed, loudly again. "Very well, I'll leave you alone."
Once she was gone and the door had shut firmly behind her, Mordred looked back at the sky and the red light still surrounding Arey. "I love you too," he whispered as he settled down to watch the Merry Dancers for as long as Nimue kept them going.
Just wanted to wish everyone a quick Happy Holidays . I hope whatever you celebrate, it a good one filled with love and family.