‘Cause you’re my king and I’m your lionheart


He’d changed. It wasn’t just the…borrowed body – it was in the distance between them, but also the animation in his voice, the shifts in mood and topic, the bravado.

Alethea knew that look. She had seen it in herself – in a dream, and if she were honest, in a recent mirror.

“No, he hasn’t hurt me,” she answered softly, distracted from these observations. His concern opened old wounds, scars she’d taken pains to forget or ignore. Why would Mordred hurt her? She had given him no reason, no need; had fallen in line as meekly as a lamb being led to a mysterious fate. She’d trusted him. Did she dare tell Tristan, her once-friend, the boy she thought she loved, that she’d trusted his enemy?

Why didn’t you come?

That was the question, wasn’t it? And the even worse question…

“Of course not.”

His eyes were searching. His questions hung between them, burning up the air. If not, then why? She swallowed dryly, dragged up the memories that might offer explanation for them both.

“In the days right after the attack, we weren’t allowed out. They said it was for our protection, but…and I heard what they were saying about you, but I thought it was a mistake. I was sure it would be cleared up…that he would clear your name. He seemed sad. He said…he said he missed you…” Her words cracked, made brittle by the realization that she had been stupid, and blind. That everything had been a lie. That Mordred had deceived her, maybe for the exact purpose of driving a wedge between her and Tristan – and if not that, maybe to keep her as bait. Had that intention changed, as her power began to surface? What kind of weapon had he made of her?

Her arms tightened around herself, as if to contain the sharp sickness growing there. “I knew you didn’t do it, but I didn’t think he had, either. I didn’t see the flyers for months. By the time I started to realize that his guards were watching me, all the time, and that it wasn’t for my sake…”

She did not say that it had taken her until this moment, this reunion, for her to see what should have been obvious.

“I’m so sorry, Tristan.” she stammered, half-whispering, a few tears sliding over her lips that she hadn’t known were falling. “For…for everything. For not being there. I should have been there.” Her back bowed under the weight of her guilt, her grief, and she held herself tightly, unable to hold him. What use were these arms? For the first time, she was grateful for all the girls who loved him…who were so much better at loving him than she was. For Thoth, who even in his social confusion had known to run with his friend. For his cadre of former drinking mates who were likely his brothers-in-arms, now.

They wouldn’t have hesitated, like she did, when he proposed they kill the King.

But Alethea was a woman – yes, a woman now – of divided loyalties. Not to Mordred, despite their strange kinship…but to his wife. His son. Could she wish upon them the same loss that Tristan had endured? Could she cause it? And yet, how could she refuse? He was right; Mordred would never stop. Arthur was dead and Tristan would be, too, along with everyone he cared about. He had already suffered so much. She could not stand by, idle and weak, and allow more harm to come to him. She was not a lamb; she was a wolf.

And beyond that, she owed him. For every minute she’d loved him in secret, and failed to make it known.

“We must.” Her hand barely trembled as she brushed her tears away, and finally flicked the dust from her shoulders. Her breath barely fractured, managed not to be a sob. “What do you need me to do?”


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