Authors: Victoria Alexander
Except for Dindrane.
Had it been ten years since his wife’s death? Absently, he twisted the ring on the smallest of his fingers. How swiftly the days had vanished. The stab
of sorrow her name had once brought to his heart had dimmed with the passage of time. He had left Camelot when she had left this earth asking, nay, demanding of the king the most perilous missions, the most treacherous tasks. He had executed Arthur’s business for two years when his father had joined him and together they’d done the king’s bidding, in the process braving adventure and saving each other’s necks more than once. It was the irony of his life that in losing one love he’d found another.
His father had returned to Camelot over and over through the years, torn between the needs of his king and the needs of his son. Galahad suspected that such a man chafed at staying overly long in the pleasant, yet too peaceful, world of Arthur’s court, and indeed his father accompanied him in his travels again and again. It was not until the spring before this that Galahad was at long last convinced to return to the only home he’d ever known. And returned as well to a king who looked upon him as a son and a queen who took the place of the mother who had died at his birth.
He leaned forward and trailed his fingers through the water. Ripples ran out from his touch to mar the smooth perfection of the pond. Odd. The pain of Dindrane’s loss had faded but so too had the joy of their short time together. They had but two full summers before she’d perished in the attempt to bear him a son. He tried to pull her image back into his mind. Vaguely, he could see a girl: tall and slender, skin like cream, hair dark as the night. But her face, her features, sweet as her disposition, shimmered in his mind, as elusive as the water between his fingers.
Why could he not remember? Guilt and frustration surged through him. For so long, the pain was too sharp to bear and he’d tried not to think of her. Now, he could not call her to mind at all. She was his first love, his only love and had stolen his heart forever. But he was naught save a mortal man with all the frailties of such, and only one face lingered in his mind.
Fair and delicate with a resolute expression and sparks that flashed in chestnut eyes.
Dindrane was a long-ago moment in his life. A moment perfect and unique and preserved forever in his soul. Tessa was here and now and he could not deny desire had teased him since the moment he’d realized she was a woman. Still, he had not remained celibate these long years. Indeed, he’d had his fill of comely wenches more than willing to quench the fire of a man such as he.
No, when he looked in the eyes of this maddening woman it was not the pull of his loins that kept him at watch by her bed. Nor was it the pure simplicity of the love he’d shared with Dindrane. This was altogether different. Indefinable. Inexplicable. And it tugged at something deep within him.
“God’s breath.” He stared into the water, half expecting to see her face gazing back from the cool, green depths of the pool “I am bewitched.”
He pulled himself to his feet, pushing the sorcery of this woman’s spell on him to the back of his mind. For now, there were other matters regarding Lady Tessa to consider.
He had not believed the absurd notion that she had come to Camelot to be his wife, although, he noted
with surprise, it was not an altogether distasteful idea. Nay, he had only said such to her in hopes of igniting the temper he’d already sampled. With anger would come truth.
What was the truth? Merlin and Tessa had spoken of a quest. He would never attempt such a thing with a woman by his side. The very idea was absurd. Yet, if the wizard decreed it, Galahad would have little choice. He clenched his jaw. Even a female as unique as Tessa was still a mere woman. Galahad’s journeys and exploits had been solitary or in the company of his father or other knights. Men willing and able to lay their lives down to save a comrade. Men dependable and trustworthy in battle and friendship. Men with a sense of honor and courage. Galahad had yet to meet a woman with the same.
Galahad strode toward his horse, decision firm in his mind. No quest on earth, save the simplest task, could be survived, let alone accomplished, with a woman along. Regardless of the magician’s plans, surely Galahad could convince Tessa of the dangers of such a ridiculous notion. She had a keen mind and could not fail to see the logic of his argument.
Indeed, he pulled himself into the saddle, Merlin himself could not argue with Galahad’s reasoning. Besides, as much as he wished to better know the infuriating lady and explore the enchantment she held for him, he would not be at Camelot for long.
‘Twas past time to beg the king’s permission for the one adventure he’d longed for all his days. For one reason or other he’d missed his chance, time and again. He suspected his father and Arthur had long conspired to keep him from the attempt. Misplaced concern for
his safety, no doubt. Few knights ever returned, not because they had succeeded but because their lives had been lost with their quest. Those that did come back lived in the shadow of failure.
Galahad would not fail. He knew it in his bones, in his soul. It was he, and he alone, who would find the Grail and thus become its guardian. He did not know precisely what that role entailed but he was prepared. Whatever the cost, ’twould be well worth it. He snapped the reins and the horse started toward Camelot.
And should Arthur refuse?
The thought pulled him up short and he stared without seeing at a point far beyond the forest surrounding him. He had not considered the king’s refusal. To defy the king was treason, punishable by death. But more, he’d sworn an oath to Arthur as his liege lord and shirking his vow of obedience to his king would be the highest breech of a man’s honor and duty.
And what of my duty to myself?
Galahad straightened, resolve raising his chin. There was no choice. This was the path he was meant to tread. He knew nothing in his life so much as he knew this. And no one—not his king nor his father nor a wizard, not even a damsel with golden hair and velvet eyes—could dissuade him from fulfilling his destiny.
It was time and he was Galahad, a knight of the realm. He would seek the prize that all men sought for the glory of his king and his country and his soul.
“’Tis not to your liking, my lady?” The maid’s pretty brow furrowed with concern.
“It’s fine. Thanks.” Tessa nodded at the platter of
bread and cheese and restlessly paced the width of the room Galahad had abandoned her in.
“You have not taken but a morsel.”
“I’m not nearly as hungry as I thought I was.” It was a blatant lie. Tessa felt like she hadn’t eaten in years. Hah. Of course, it hadn’t been years, it had been centuries. Still, every time she tried to take a bite, she’d think of pasteurization, not developed yet, refrigeration, not invented yet, and germs, not discovered yet. Who knew what kind of disgusting microbes were flitting around on this stuff?
“You can scarce get your strength back without food.” Oriana sniffed. “Sir Galahad left strict orders that you should eat.” Her mouth set in a firm, no-nonsense line. A pretty girl with light brown hair and amber eyes, she couldn’t be much more than sixteen but she had the unmistakable air of a drill sergeant.
“Okay. You’re right. I’m not going to be able to deal with any of this if I’m hungry. This is not the best time for a diet.” Tessa stepped to the wooden table that bore her questionable meal, tore off a small piece of bread and gestured with it at Oriana. “I’ll just think of this as all-natural health food. Very trendy.” She took a bite.
“Um-hum.” Tessa chewed and swallowed. A little dry, a bit tough but palatable. “Trendy. Hot. Popular. The thing to do.”
Oriana pulled her brows together. “Your speech is most curious.”
“Believe me, if you want curious, you should try it from this side of the conversation.” Tessa eyed the cheese. Pale and crumbly, it didn’t look at all appetizing but it wouldn’t kill her. Probably. She broke off a
chunk and took a tentative bite. “Not bad.” She studied the cheese. “Kind of like…feta.” She stared for a long moment. This was the final straw. The other shoe. The last piece of the puzzle. Her stomach twisted.
“My lady? Is something amiss?”
“Yes. No. I guess not.” Tessa brushed her hair away from her face. “I just realized people who are unconscious or in comas or whatever probably don’t get hungry. They’re fed through IVs, with plenty of vitamins and minerals and protein and stuff. I’m still not totally convinced but—damn.” She waved the cheese. “This must be real. You’re real.” She gestured at the walls. “All of it is real.”
“Yes, my lady.” Oriana’s eyes widened and she backed up, inching toward the door.
“Oh, knock it off.” Tessa sighed with exasperation. “I’m not going to hurt you. You’re the least of my problems.” She popped the last bite in her mouth, surprised she was as calm as she was. “I suppose I knew it all along, you know, I just didn’t want to admit it. I really hoped this would turn out to be a weird dream.” She shook her head. “I should have known food would bring me around. What am I supposed to do now?”
Oriana took another backward step toward the door. “I know not, my lady.”
“Would you stop that?” Tessa said sharply. “I promise not to bite.”
Oriana clapped her hand over her mouth in terror.
“It’s just an expression.”
“But did not the wizard conjure you up in the chapel? ’Twas what I heard.” The girl’s curiosity shone through her fear.
Tessa groaned. “Hardly. He simply provided the transportation. A Middle Ages
beam me up, Scotty
kind of thing.” She pulled a steadying breath. “Honestly, I’m harmless. And I’m sorry I scared you. I’m a little tense right now.”
Oriana cast her a cautious stare then nodded, mollified by the apology.
“Great. Maybe you can help me think of some way out of this mess.” She smiled. “And I could use a friend.”
“I could be your friend,” Oriana said slowly, “if indeed you do not bite.”
Tessa laughed and traced a cross over her heart. “No problem, sweetie. Now.” Tessa strode back and forth across the stone floor of the chamber, shaking her hands absently in front of her and staring straight ahead. “I can’t just sit around here waiting. I have to figure out what to do next. A plan or something.
“First of all, let’s face it, I’m stuck here for now. I could probably escape the castle but where would I go? It’s not like H. G. Wells is waiting outside the walls with his time machine.”
“Time machine?” Oriana narrowed her eyes in confusion.
Tessa ignored her. “Secondly, Merlin says I’m here for the express purpose of helping Galahad—”
“Galahad?” Oriana breathed a wistful sigh. “Would that the wizard would command me to help such a knight.”
Tessa stopped in her tracks. “You like him?”
Oriana stared with an expression of disbelief. “Only a woman long in her grave would not. He is a fine figure of a man. Strong and healthy and noble with the stars of the heavens shining in his eyes.”
“Whoa. You do like him.”
“’Twill do me no good now.” Oriana gazed at her pointedly. “All of the castle, nay the kingdom, knows you are to become his wife.”
“No way,” Tessa said quickly. “His partner maybe, his cohort in crime possibly but not his wife.”
“Still, ’twould be a foolish woman indeed who would set her cap for a man so obviously enamored by another.”
“What do you mean
Oriana cocked her head. “Do you not know?”
Oriana rolled her gaze toward the ceiling and stepped to the stool beside the table. She perched on the edge, stretching out the moment, obviously relishing Tessa’s growing curiosity. “I have seen the look in his eyes when he gazes upon you.”
Tessa snorted. “Yeah, I’ve seen that look. Lots of men get
look. ’Tis not lust—”
“Could have bet me.”
“—’tis something else. Something more.” Oriana tapped her finger against her bottom lip thoughtfully. “Did you know, he watched you while you slept?”
“You’re kidding. That’s kind of creepy.”
And kind of nice.
“Creepy?” Oriana furrowed her brow.
“Um…yucky. Scary. Weird.”
“Not at all,” Oriana said stoutly. “I saw him from the door of his rooms, my presence unbeknownst to him. He gazed at you as if you were a riddle he could not answer.”
“Really? How interesting,” Tessa said casually. “A riddle, huh?”
“Would that he would stare at me that way.”
Tessa walked over to the table, her voice matter-of-fact. “So tell me something, Oriana.” She tore off a piece of bread. “Why is it a man as desirable as Galahad isn’t married?”
“Many have done all in their power to change that. Myself amongst them.” Oriana’s tone was wry. “To no avail.”
“But he was married once, right?”
The girl nodded.
“’Tis a sad tale, my lady.” Oriana sighed. “Galahad was wed to the fair Dindrane. Beloved for her beauty and her charms, she was good and kind and all in the land knew he adored the very earth beneath her feet.”
“What happened?” Tessa was almost afraid to hear the answer.
“She died birthing a babe stillborn. A boy.” Sympathy shone in Oriana’s eyes. “I was naught but a child myself yet I can still recall the sorrow that hung over the castle.” Oriana paused for a moment. “Childbearing is fraught with difficulty. ’Tis not an unusual occurrence for mother and child to perish. But never have I witnessed a love such as that of Galahad for Dindrane. He refused to stay where her presence lingered and left the kingdom, traveling the world in service to the king. It was not a year ago that he finally returned.”
“That explains it,” Tessa said under her breath. “Do you think he’s over her?”
“I think Galahad is a man with a man’s needs and desires. Needs that neither start nor end in the bedchamber. I think and, I am not alone in the thought, ’tis past time he get on with his life.” Oriana rose to her feet. “A man such as Galahad should not live his days alone. He should have sons, strong and handsome and plentiful to make him proud. And daughters to bring him laughter and joy. And a woman who would gaze upon him with a look in her eye,” she grinned, “as if he were a riddle and she alone held the answer.”