The sea had calmed, making Gawain’s journey to the island of An Tuscar possible. Approaching the shore to pick up the two castaways was a feat that took all of his skill and seamanship. Both Lancelyn and Galahad were battered and covered in contusions, but neither man uttered a complaint. Bodies that had washed ashore were given a sea burial, a thing that affected every man on Gawain’s crew.
When Gawain asked about Branor, Geraint’s son, and his ship, the Ettar, Lancelyn could only say, “We lost sight of them in the storm, as we did you. We thought you lost too, so perhaps they survived.”
“God willing, we’ll find them in Wixfyorde.” Having seen the wreckage of the Morag, Gawain held little hope.
Lancelyn, grim and silent, only nodded. He pulled himself together to handle the business side of things as Geraint would have done, picking through what little cargo was salvageable with Gawain. The footing was steep and treacherous on the rocky island.
In truth, the harsh reality had set in. He was now the only son and stood to inherit what was left of the fleet when his father passed on. Of course, he’d gone to sea at the age of fourteen. He hadn’t hated it, but with his romanticized idea of knighthood and all that entailed, he’d never intended to spend his life sea as his father and brother did. Even if he had wanted it, he was never going to have a son to pass his family’s fortune on to.
He was overwhelmed by the fact he hadn’t been able to save the men who’d depended on his family to get them to safety. That had been his knightly duty, and deaths of so many filled him with a deep sense of personal failure.
Yet, he had to make the effort. He was the senior Reynfrey present and was therefore in charge. Gawain and his crew were now looking to him for direction—this despite the fact Gawain was ten times the captain Lancelyn would ever be. It was just how things were done.
The loss of the Morag would severely impact the fortunes of everyone in the town of Tyrwyddn, and not just the Reynfrey family. The men who’d lost their lives had left behind families, who would suffer. Gawain’s ship, the Olwenna, was heavily laden, but Gawain agreed they had to save what cargo they could from the Morag, for the widows and orphans.
They shoved off, and the oarsmen began the task of getting them out to sea and headed northwest, in the direction of the large harbor where the city of Wixfyorde was situated. Lancelyn stood beside Gawain, staring out to sea, searching for any sign of Branor’s ship, the Ettar, as did Galahad. No red and white striped sails were visible, anywhere.
Once they made landfall, Gawain delivered the goods they had saved and arranged for a return cargo. They made a small profit, but not nearly enough to cover the loss of so many lives and not nearly what they had hoped. Still, they had salvaged enough of Morag’s cargo that it was not a complete loss.
Since they still had to acquire the sand, Lancelyn immediately began making inquiries for several small wooden casks. A local cooper had several small kegs that would suffice.
After purchasing them, and while Gawain arranged for the return cargo, Lancelyn and Galahad hired a man with a donkey to help them acquire the sand. They walked along the beach, searching carefully until they came to the perfect dune. Bramblestein had impressed on them that only the cleanest sand, nearly white with a faint golden sheen would do to create the orb.
Lancelyn remembered how large and heavy the water orb had been, about the size of a small melon, but dense as a rock. He reflected that even though the dwarf had forgiven him for the theft, he owed him recompense, and so he made sure to gather enough sand for several orbs.
They returned to the village with no incident, stowing the casks in Olwenna’s hold. After a brief shore leave, they set sail for Tyrwyddn, arriving home with no trouble three days after the terrible storm.
During the previous days, Lancelyn had come to some decisions. After breaking the news to the families of the dead men and to his father, Tristan, Lancelyn sat in his family’s great hall, with Gawain. His older sister, Leothe, remained upstairs, caring for the old man, who had fallen ill upon learning of Geraint’s death.
Lancelyn broke the silence. “I am making you and Branor if he still lives, my heirs.”
“What? Why?” Gawain was more than surprised. “What about your children?”
“I have none, and Morgause—for various reasons, we won’t be having any children. My wife and I have made a new life in Bleakbourne now. I won’t be parted from her for any reason ever again.”
Gawain sat back. “What’s really going on, Lance? She can’t possibly accept you and Galahad. I can see your relationship with him hasn’t changed, yet here you are, swearing eternal fealty to your unwanted wife. It made our Yule quite merry when you suddenly took her and your catastrophic marriage away from Tyrwyddn.”
Both Lancelyn and Galahad winced at the word ‘catastrophic. “I know it was bad, but—”
Gawain plowed over his words. “The day I received your note saying you had resolved things, and then we found her gone was a good one. I will tell you this—many hoped it meant you had finally murdered her.”
Lancelyn’s features darkened, his flash of anger surprising his nephew. “Morgause has paid dearly for her sins, as have I. No amount of regret on our parts will change what has happened. I treated her abominably, so of course she lashed out. We’ve had to put that aside. I care deeply for her.”
Galahad said, “We both do and have worked things out between the three of us.” He met Gawain’s shocked eyes.
Lancelyn nodded. “The three of us are living well together.”
Gawain sat back, plainly disconcerted. “Well, if you say so. That’s more than likely not going to make Grandfather happy, though, so I suggest you don’t tell him of this triangle. The fact you’re remaining married and living with your wife is all he needs to know.” He rolled his eyes. “Certainly it must take two men to keep her in line. But if you’re so happy, why isn’t she here too?”
“Don’t blame Morgause for the wreckage of our marriage. I was a complete bastard to her, and despite that, she’s forgiven me. She couldn’t make this journey, but believe me when I say she is content with our life. In some ways, although it’s…different, I think she’s happier than she’s ever been.”
Preparing to leave Tyrwyddn, Lancelyn climbed aboard his heavily laden wagon. His father tried to force him to take enough coins to buy a cottage in Bleakbourne. He refused, saying he already had a home there, and the family fortunes were shaky enough as it was. “Put it into rebuilding the fleet. This way, Gawain’s son will have something to inherit.”
Compounding the misery, his nephew, Branor, and his ship had not been seen or heard from and was presumed drowned. Three of Galahad’s cousins had been lost with him. The deaths of so many hit Tyrwyddn hard, and many wondered if the town could survive.
Where once Lancelyn had been rash and oblivious of anything but his own interests, he couldn’t seem to find joy in anything, anymore. At the strangest times, the memory of the last sight of his brother, and his failure to save him came back to haunt him.
Galahad knew he was obsessed with Geraint’s death, but could find nothing to pull him out of it.
After a week on the road, they approached the ferry town of Ceridwen Ar Usk. They arrived just after nightfall, camping at the edge of town. After their supper, they sat before the fire. The silence stretched until Galahad broke it. “Are you going to tell me what’s on your mind? You haven’t been yourself since An Tuscar.”
“I know. I’m sorry. Nothing’s on my mind, particularly.” Lancelyn couldn’t meet his eyes. “I just have to get over things on my own.”
“You lost your brother. Of course, you’re taking it hard. It was a mess. You could have done nothing to change anything. I saw how it happened, but there was so much debris in the way I couldn’t reach you.”
“But I was right beside him, and I let it happen.”
“Don’t be absurd. You didn’t ‘let it happen.’ The timber struck his head with such force that he wouldn’t have survived, even if we had been able to drag him from the sea. I tried so hard to reach you, but then the sea took me down, and I couldn’t hold my breath. And just when I thought I was never going to see you again, I was flying through the air and dashed onto the rock. After that, all I remember is waking up and thinking I was home in bed, with Morgause licking my face the way she does when she wants me to get up.”
Lance looked up sharply. “Really? I felt the same thing. It seemed so real…but it was just a dream.”
“Was it? She was no ordinary woman before, and she’s no ordinary cat now.”
Lance exhaled heavily. “I know. And I’m sorry. Your family lost as much as mine, so why I’m feeling this way…I don’t know.”
Galahad gripped Lance’s forearm, holding his gaze. “I understand you. I know how you think, better than you do yourself. You have this vision of nobility that you must live up to, and it’s not always possible.”
“It should be possible to do better than this…this miserable failing of my entire family. I let everyone down. I let my inability to accept reality destroy Morgause, who actually loved me, despite my selfishness. I said things deliberately to hurt her and pushed her into such a jealous snit that she cast that dirty curse on me, which destroyed your life. But I learned nothing by going through that ordeal. When I discovered you might have fathered a foal while you were wearing a horse’s body, it seemed so unnatural. I allowed my rage to rule me. I just had to have revenge against her, no matter what the cost, never once considering how high the price might be.”
“Oh, god. Don’t you see? I planned it. I went home and deliberately goaded her until she lashed out at me. And then, the fear in her eyes when she realized…but it was too late. The curse bounced off me and reflected back on her. I wanted to take it all back right then, but there’s no way to reverse it. I was so arrogant, so self-centered that I just wanted to hurt her. And I did hurt her and look what happened. Geraint died, and I would take it back, all of it, if only I could have Geraint back and Morgause a woman again.”
Galahad didn’t know what to say to Lance’s complicated rant. “Geraint’s death was not punishment for our sins. The miracle is that we survived. Morgause rescued us. I know it. Gawain has more common sense than any five men put together, and he’s there with your father. You don’t have half the skill he does for the business. He’ll take care of things.”
He gripped Lance’s hand. “You were only unfaithful to your wife because of me, and I was wholeheartedly a part it. Yes, she cast a spell to trap you, everyone knows that. She was madly infatuated with you. Who wouldn’t be? You were handsome, chivalrous, and from a rich family—everything a young woman imagines she wants in a husband.”
Lance rested his head in his hands. “But I did marry her, and I had no business staying involved with you.”
“I didn’t turn you away. Instead, I allowed her to catch us together. She was quite justifiably shocked and devastated by the discovery. Apparently no one had seen fit to tell her why your father was so eager to have you married off that he hired a matchmaker. So, here we are, the three of us filled with regrets, and no way of changing what has happened.”
Lance looked up. “I don’t know what the honorable thing to do is anymore. I used to think I did—but I was a lying hypocrite, concerned only that I looked noble to other people. And when you were punished for my sin, I lied, stole, and deliberately endangered Rosie to have you changed back.” Guilt stood stark in his eyes as he said, “I brought it upon us all. And I know my brother died for my sins.”
“What? How can you say that?”
The words were forced from Lancelyn’s lips. “We wouldn’t have had to make that accursed journey if Morgause had been able to be the third sorcerer. She had the abilities Merlin needs, but because of me, she’s trapped in a cat’s body.”
“You’re an idiot. Geraint was already going to Wixfyorde on a trading run, whether we were on that ship or not.”
“Yes, but that was a demon-damned storm, and it was sent to stop us.”
Galahad shook his head in disbelief. “Perhaps. But it’s just as likely it was a natural tempest, and we happened to be caught up in it. If it was sent by the demon, he’s unforgivably clumsy. All those deaths and we survived? I still say Morgause saved us, somehow. She was with me when I was most alone. I’d have given up and died without her intervention.”
“Me too.” Lancelyn exhaled heavily “What will I do if she dies before we can get her changed back? She’s a cat. How long can she possibly have?”
“Bleakbourne on Heath” © 2016 – 2017 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved
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