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Her hands were warm, soft, reassuring; the king gave her fingers a replying squeeze. He was glad she was there. As she rested her head on his shoulder, he wrapped his arm around her waist and sighed. Arthur considered her question, thinking himself around in circles and bumping into walls of contradiction at every turn.
"As a father?" he said at last, "as a father I'll be eternally grateful to her for making sure Tristan came home." He allowed himself a laugh, "as a father I also want to wring Tristan's neck for being there in the first place, and for not telling me until now." The king shook his head. "I'm proud of him for telling me too, I think the whole situation has been harder on him than he lets on. He never lets on much."

He scanned the room, his eyes lighting over the bottles and tins on her dressing table, and coming to rest on the roses. The gardener had chosen well, a mixture of blooms, buds and half-blooms.
"As a king?" he resumed heavily, "I don't know. Does saving my heir mean she should escape punishment? She wasn't just a pirate, she was the pirate. And when they arrested her? I've got one guard who'll limp for the rest of his life and... She killed a guard, Cia. I saw him when they brought him back. It was awful. His face...she must have fire magic..." Arthur shook his head, trying to dislodge the memory of the blackened, disfigured face, the waxen flesh. "What duty do I owe him? His family? he worked for me, he served me, and in return for his efforts I gave him...what? A horrible death and no justice? How can I look his wife in the eye and tell her I've decided to let his murderer go? He lost his life, but she'll get to live hers? Why? Because she slept with Mallos? Bore him a child? Is that really all it takes for me to override the law? One rule for my family, and another for everyone else? That's not the king of justice I believe in. Do you? Could you?"

He felt like a weight had been lifted, just by telling her. He had kept it all bottled up for months. Like a great monster lurking in the depths of his mind it had reared up whenever Mallos of Croe were mentioned. It had haunted his sleep, preyed on insecurities and values he'd half-forgotten he'd had. The memory of that poor guard's face... Arthur removed his arm from around Ciara and adjusted his position on the bed. He set their joined hands down on his knee, drawn up onto the mattress. He smiled at her gentle words, her kindness, a refuge in a world of rougher things.
"You know..." he began, freeing his hand and taking her chin gently between finger and thumb. "I rather think I'd rather think about you." Arthur leaned forwards and kissed her on the mouth, firm but uninsistent; will you let me?


Arthur
see heaven's got a plan for you


photo by Jon Nelson at flickr.com






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