"You'll need to stay off the boat overnight," the owner of the repair yard said, rubbing at his stubble, and looking nervously at Jayne. "I'd offer you to stay at my place, but there's only one bedroom, and the lounge isn't big enough for more than two of you."
While the man was nice enough, and able to do the fumigation for a reasonable price, Mal was of the opinion his dwelling probably boasted an infestation almost as epidemic as the tiny beetles that were currently roaming all over Serenity.
Wash twitched and scratched at his neck. "We need the fumigation. Those things bite."
"Doc say's they're not dangerous, though," Mal retorted, scratching his own neck in sympathy.
"Kaylee says they're getting into the engine," Wash reminded him. "Could cause us all sorts of trouble. We need it doing now."
Jayne, Vera cradled to him protectively, said, "I ain't getting back on the ship with those things onboard."
Mal considered the upside of that for a moment but finally moved on to more practical matters.
"Suggestions?" he asked the proprietor.
"Nearest town's seventy miles away," the man said, still watching Jayne. "There's a hotel might put you up but they've only a few room themselves, and it's not that cheap."
Zoë joined them, leaning over and rubbing frantically at her hair. When no beetles fell to the sandy floor she straightened back up. "We don't have a lot of cash, sir," she reminded Mal. Which was a sore point; the wheat cargo that had gotten them infested with beetles had only been traded for goods, not money. Some medicines, some mechanical parts, a heap of fabrics, even some glassware and china – nothing thankfully that would be damaged by the fumigation, but nothing that was actual cash.
"The hotel will take trade?" Mal asked hopefully, already wondering how he'd get the crew to the town before nightfall. The beetles had rendered the mule inoperative, and it was this that made him think Kaylee wasn't overreacting to the threat the critters posed to the engine.
"No," the man said. "Gold, silver, or any recognised currency, but not like, goats and stuff. And neither do I." He'd already agreed to the payment and it was most of the rest of the cash the crew had.
Mal cursed in Chinese for a few moments. Wash pointed out they didn't even have any goats. Jayne just caressed Vera; there was no way he was taking her back onboard where she might get damaged by the horrible creepy-crawlies. Shepard Book, Kaylee, Simon and River joined the group, bringing their hand luggage with them.
"We could camp outside," Zoë suggested.
"Temperature drops mighty fast after sundown. You'd all freeze to death," the proprietor said. "I don't want anybody freezing to death on my property."
"What about the shuttle?" Mal asked in despair.
Zoë shook her head. "Infested too, sir. Sorry."
"We have a meeting to offload the glass and fabrics in two days," Mal reminded her. "We're cutting it fine as it as."
Shepard Book looked to the sky. "God will provide," he said mildly.
Mal was about to give the man a piece of his mind when the whine of shuttle engines cut through the air.
"Inara," Kaylee called joyfully, waving at the shuttle even though there was no way Inara could see her from there. "Captain, her shuttle won't be infected."
"Infested," Mal corrected, before Simon could do so, and taking a callous pleasure in it. "Course it won't be."
It would mean asking Inara if they could sleep onboard her shuttle. It was technically his, belonging to Serenity, but also, legally, hers, since she'd paid rent up front on it. Dammit, she'd make him ask nicely, he bet. Trying to commandeer it would only end up with him on the lounge floor of the ramshackle dwelling while the rest of the crew were tucked away in the cosy living space Inara had crafted with her pillows and soft sofas.
"I told you God would provide," Book said smugly.
Mal muttered a few more choice phrases to get it out of his system before having to make nice with Inara. Then he turned to the proprietor and forced a smile.
"Get on with the fumigating," he said. "We need to be out of here by noon tomorrow."
The proprietor nodded and ambled away to fetch his equipment. Mal watched the shuttle land and sighed.
"It's so nice in here," Kaylee said happily. Inara was seated on a sofa, pouring tea, and Kaylee sat alongside her. Jayne had pulled back the curtains and swung the pilot's chair around to face the others. He had settled down, still holding Vera, and was now stroking her barrel as if to comfort her; Mal found this rather disturbing and was trying not to notice. Book and Simon were sharing another sofa, and River had taken the bed, flopping down with a sigh of pleasure.
"Smells like ambiguity," she'd said cryptically. Then she'd moved over and patted the other side of the bed. "Zoë and Wash should sit."
Wash had taken up the offer, sitting up by the headboard, and Zoë sat with him, so that he could wrap his arms around her and she could lean her head on his shoulder.
Mal was still sulking by the doorway. He'd only closed the door because it was already getting cold outside. He didn't like owing Inara favours, especially after all that had happened between them recently. She still hadn't told the other crew members she was planning on leaving, and it was another sore point in a week that was turning out downright painful all round.
"Sit down, Mal, you're making the place look untidy," Inara said. "And have some tea, please."
Seeing as how she'd been rather accommodating so far, he didn't rise to the "untidy" comment and took a cup.
Simon was already savouring his beverage and Book was balancing a cup on one knee. Jayne had declined, which might have been a good thing for the delicate china tea service.
"What are we going to do all night?" Jayne complained as Mal pulled a small stool that doubled as a footlocker over towards the door and sat down.
"Sleep," River muttered, eyes half-closed.
"S'alright for those that have the bed," Jayne muttered. He hadn't slept the previous night, afraid of the beetles crawling into his ears - or worse.
"What did you have in mind, Jayne?" Inara asked, and giving him a stern look that promised violence if a rude remark came out of his mouth in answer. "There's not much space left in here to do anything."
She was right. The shuttle really wasn't meant to hold nine people along with some overnight luggage and a crate of foodstuff and other small items that might have been damaged by the fumigation.
"We could play poker," Jayne suggested.
"I don't have any cards," Inara said.
Jayne made to stand. "I'll get mine."
"Sit!" Mal snapped. "You're a mite more useful to me alive than dead, so I'll not have you wander onboard a ship filled with toxic fumes to go get a deck of cards. You should've packed them."
In retrospect he realised he should have removed one of the spacesuits in case there was a genuine reason that someone did need to go back onboard, but it was too late now.
"I didn't need to pack nothing except Vera," Jayne said. "You said one change of clothes, and make sure it ain't got critters on it, and I figured I ain't got any critters on me now, so why bother changing." He sniffed at his T-shirt. "I had it on two days now, and it's still good for at least one more."
Inara looked faintly horrified.
"It's only one night," Mal reminded her quickly, yet again.
"We could tell stories," Kaylee said excitedly. "I bet Inara knows some good stories."
Inara nodded slowly. "Yes," she said, putting down her cup and refilling it. "I know a few."
"Tell us one," Kaylee said. "Please."
"Bedtime story," River purred happily.
"Oh, will there be dinosaurs?" Wash asked. Zoë, who knew he'd carefully wiped off his plastic toys and packed them with their clothes, giggled.
"No," Inara said. "There will be romance, though."
Jayne gave a snort. Mal gave him a look that threatened a cooling off outdoors. Kaylee squealed in excitement.
"That sounds delightful," Book said diplomatically. Simon merely nodded encouragingly.
"This story is called Tristan and Isolde," Inara announced. "It's about a warrior and a princess."
"Was she pretty? Like you? All, you know, elegant and refined?" Kaylee asked. "I can imagine her like that, like you; your clothes, your hair."
Inara smiled. "She was much younger than I am, but for the purposes of this story, I suppose, it will do no harm."
Mal shot Jayne a glance to make sure he wasn't into mischief. Kaylee was snuggling up to the Companion, and was soon curled up with her head in Inara's lap. Simon settled back comfortably, sipping his tea. Inara began the story.
"Once, there was a young man named Tristan." She looked directly at Mal. "He was brave to the point of recklessness, and thought to be rather handsome. He was fiercely loyal to his uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, who'd taken in him when Tristan had been orphaned."
Inara glanced at Jayne, who stopped toying with Vera and looked up guiltily. He listened as Inara said, "King Mark was a fearsome man, tall and broad, a warrior who protected his people, and whose fame was widespread."
Jayne settled back in his chair, suddenly interested. "He have a wife?"
"If her name's Vera this story ends right here," Mal muttered.
Inara shook her head. "That's an important part of the story," she said. "King Mark had power, money, respect; everything in fact, except for a wife. He longed for a woman who would be always at his side, supportive, understanding, and loving. Yet his reputation as a warrior made many fear for the safety of their daughters, and the noble ladies who did present themselves at his court were not ones that Mark wanted to wed.
"One day, after Tristan was forced to lead a group of Mark's soldiers against an incursion from Ireland, Mark determined to make peace with that kingdom. It was agreed that he should wed the king's daughter, Isolde, and so forge a great alliance and bring peace between Cornwall and Ireland.
"Mark trusted only Tristan to go and fetch Isolde from across the sea, and so Tristan made the voyage to Ireland."
"What about Isolde?" Kaylee asked. "What did she think about it?"
"No-one asked her," Inara said. "They looked at her as a woman, and a beautiful one at that, and gave no thought as to her desires. She was a princess, and was expected to do as she was told.
"Before this arrangement had been made, she had been pursued by Morolde, a man of noble birth, handsome and intelligent, but arrogant and cruel."
"I know the type," Mal said, thinking of Atherton Wing; from the acknowledgment Inara gave him with a tip of her head and a smile, she was thinking the same thing.
"Many a time Isolde would bewail her fate to her maidservant." Inara looked over at Zoë. "Brangaine was no noble but she had the courage of a soldier, the intellect of a cleric, and more common sense than any five nobleman had between them. She offered to help Isolde escape, but cautioned that they would never be truly free, nor safe, if they did such a thing.
"Now, when Tristan reached the shores of Ireland, he was set upon by Morolde and his men. Morolde hoped to kill this messenger, knowing that if Mark's nephew were to die in Ireland it would lead to war between the kingdoms. Then Morolde could claim Isolde for himself, citing this peril as a reason for urgency that Isolde should quickly wed and provide an heir.
"Morolde's schemes came to naught, however. Tristan, though badly wounded, defeated Morolde. As chance would have it, Brangaine was walking along the beach that day with a stable-hand." Inara glanced at Wash. "He was quite enamoured of Brangaine, and often took walks with her.
"This day however, they came across the dead Morolde and the unconscious Tristan.
" 'Morolde is dead,' the stable-hand said. 'His family will want revenge.'
" 'This one lives,' Brangaine replied, kneeling at Tristan's side. She saw his clothes were of good quality and yet she pointed to the decorative buttons upon his tunic. 'This metal, these symbols; he is not from our kingdom.'
" 'Wherever he is from will be find itself in trouble over this,' the stable-hand said. 'We should alert the royal guards.'
" 'No,' said Brangaine. 'We do not know what happened here. We do know that Morolde's actions have never been honourable. See there are another two men dead here, wearing Morolde's insignia; three soldiers against one. This was no fair fight. Until we know who this man is, where he is from, and why Morolde attacked him, we should keep this a secret.'
"The stable-hand disagreed, but kept quiet, and did as Brangaine asked. She had him secretly take Tristan to the palace and hide him within Isolde's rooms."
"See how manly and useful I am." Wash said gruffly. "Tending to the horses has made me strong and…I said, manly, right?"
Inara sighed and Zoë patted Wash's leg.
"Very manly," Zoë said. "But how about we let Inara tell the story?"
"Okay," Wash said reluctantly. "I was just having my moment of glory."
"When Isolde returned to her quarters after dinner," Inara said, "Brangaine explained the situation.
"Isolde was not sorry that Morolde was dead, and hoped that now she would be free to choose a husband for herself, unaware of the fate her father had planned for her.
"In gratitude, Isolde tended Tristan's wounds, for amongst her other gifts, she was a powerful healer. Several weeks later, when Tristan awoke, Isolde hoped he would look upon her with love, for she had become fond of the handsome man.
"This was not to be so.
" 'That nobleman attacked me without cause,' Tristan explained. 'I am an emissary from Cornwall, hoping to make peace with Ireland, by escorting the Princess Isolde safely to my homeland where she will wed King Mark.'
"Isolde wept bitterly over this.
" 'I am Isolde,' she said, 'and better it would be if I were not.'
"She told Tristan how it pained her that her father had planned for her to be sent overseas to marry a man she had never met. Nevertheless, she and Tristan went before her father to explain how Morolde had attacked Tristan."
Inara glanced at Book. "Her father was not an unkind man," she said, "In fact he was a noble and practical man, and had made a tenuous peace with the other kings of Ireland that his people might live in safety and prosperity. And now he was angry that Morolde had tried to begin a war, especially as he guessed as to the nobleman's selfish motivations in doing so. He sat proudly upon his throne, and addressed his daughter in a firm tone.
" 'My child, you are a princess and your duty is to your people,' he said. 'You will go with this man to Cornwall and wed King Mark so there will be peace between our kingdoms.' And he would not be persuaded otherwise.
"For his part, Tristan was ashamed that he should have to bring such sorrow to the woman who had saved his life. When he had woken he had thought her an angel, and it was distressing to him that he must choose between his loyalty to his uncle and his gratitude to Isolde."
"His uncle," Jayne said abruptly. As everyone looked over him, he shrugged and expanded on his statement. "He should choose his uncle. Man's first duty is to his family. Don't oughta let himself get all muddle headed over some pretty female."
Simon blinked. "Really?" He opened and closed his mouth a few times, unable to articulate his feelings on Jayne's unexpected insistence of loyalty over lust. In the finish, Simon settled for, "You might feel differently if you were Tristan."
"I ain't Tristan," Jayne grumbled, glaring at Simon, then at Mal.
"Nobody's Tristan," Mal said warningly, sensing a fight brewing, something there really wasn't room for in the shuttle. "Just let Inara continue. I'm sure it all works out for the best," he added, unconvincingly.
Inara cleared her throat and when everyone's attention was back on her, she resumed the tale. "Now, Brangaine sought to help her mistress, and approached a witch for help."
River lazily opened one eye at that. "Sure, you'll be wanting a potion," she said.
"See, it's not just me," Wash said. "And I didn't even do the accent." Zoë shushed him. Simon glanced at Inara to see if his sister's interruption had disturbed her, but Inara looked delighted that River was taking an interest.
"Yes," Inara agreed. "That's exactly what she said. Then the witch took Brangaine to her cauldron and filled a vial with liquid.
" 'This is a powerful love potion,' the witch told her. 'Your mistress must drink it a moment before she first meets with the king, for the next face she looks upon after drinking it will be the one she loves with all her heart.'
"To prevent an accidental taking of the potion, Brangaine poured it into a vial marked as poison, and hid it in her luggage. The king ordered a ship to be readied and within the week it set sail. Isolde boarded under duress, miserable, and vocal about her unhappiness.
" 'If you cared anything for my feelings, for she who saved your life, you would let me go, have me take a rowboat and tell your King Mark that I am lost at sea,' Isolde said, and Tristan was distraught that he should bring such grief to her. Yet his first loyalty was to Mark, and he could not let Isolde go.
"The captain," Inara said, bestowing her gaze now on Simon, who nodded, pleased, "was a remarkable sailor."
Inara pointedly ignored Mal's snort of derision. "He was, however, rather a gossip."
Mal grinned and Simon looked somewhat put-out.
"Isolde walked upon the deck each day," Inara said, "bemoaning her fate, watching the waves take them closer to King Mark. She approached the captain, who was, by his own boasting, well-travelled, and leant upon the railing.
" 'Tell me, Captain, what do you know of my intended, King Mark?'
" 'That he is a good man, as kings go,' the captain said. 'And that he is a fine warrior. Why, I heard he has decapitated many a man who dared cross him. And I heard that there is no man in Cornwall who would dare to slight him, for fear of his fury.'
"Isolde listened with horror as the captain unwittingly embellished tales of King Mark's deeds. The picture the sailor painted of the king was that of a monstrous man with no gentleness in his heart. Isolde was afraid now, fearful that if she did not please Mark, he would kill her.
"As the captain walked away to attend to his duties, Isolde vowed aloud that she would take her life. Better to die by her choice than by Mark's hands, she announced, and better to kill herself than to marry against her will.
"She went through Brangaine's luggage, knowing her maidservant always kept a vial of poison to keep down the vermin. As Isolde opened the vial, Tristan, who had, unknown to her, overheard her vow, burst into the cabin.
" 'I will die before I marry Mark,' Isolde declared, reaching for a dagger. 'Do not stop me.'
" 'No,' Tristan said. 'I will not. Rather, let me die too, for I cannot bear to live knowing how I have wronged you.'
"So they both drank of the potion, and of course, the first face they saw was each others, and they fell deeply and madly in love."
"Didn't see that coming," Wash quipped.
"Aiya!" Jayne exclaimed. "Of all the stupid gorram things to do!"
Kaylee began to interrupt, talking of how romantic it was, and Mal retorted that there was nothing romantic about suicide, especially under such ridiculous circumstances. Simon was trying to point out these were common motifs in folklore but no-one was really listening. Eventually Book grabbed a teaspoon and rattled it around his cup until everyone stopped talking and looked at him.
"Perhaps we can continue?" he said.
There were a few mumblings of agreement and Inara sighed, and continued her tale.
"Brangaine was overcome when she found what Isolde had done.
" 'Woe to you, foolish girl,' she said. 'I procured that magic so you might love Mark and be content. What shall become of us now?'
"At least Isolde no longer wished to die; she was too enamoured of Tristan to consider such a thing. 'We will find a way to be together,' she promised him.
"When they reached Cornwall, Isolde was presented to King Mark. He was as tall and broad and fearsome as she had been led to believe, but his eyes were kind, and he seemed oddly nervous in her presence. That such a warrior should be unsettled by the presence of a slender young woman amused and touched Isolde.
"Mark thanked Tristan profusely. 'My beloved nephew,' he said, 'you have brought to me such a treasure. You must stand at my side during the marriage ceremony.'
"So Mark and Isolde were wed, and Tristan could only watch with pain in his heart as his beloved said her vows to another."
"About time," Jayne said, apparently satisfied with this outcome.
Kaylee twisted about on Inara's lap to look up at the Companion. "Is that it?"
"Course that's it. Isn't it?" Jayne asked, half-hopefully but also somewhat wistfully.
Inara paused and stroked Kaylee's hair.
"No." Inara gave a sad smile. "Settle back, Kaylee, and I'll continue." The engineer did as she was bid, and Inara began once more.
"After three moons the potion waned, but Tristan's love for Isolde did not abate. For her part, Isolde still loved Tristan, but something unexpected had happened. She had begun to care for Mark. He treated her with gentleness and kindness, and respect. He would gaze upon her for hours as she read poetry aloud, or played the harp for him.
"Yet Isolde still adored Tristan. When Mark slept, and the moon was bright enough to see by, Isolde, assisted by Brangaine, would sneak out of the castle, to meet with Tristan. It distressed them both to be disloyal to Mark, for they both cared about him, but their love would not be denied.
"Soon suspicions grew amongst certain of the courtiers. One –"
"Ooh, my turn?" Kaylee asked.
Barely missing a beat, Inara said, "Let's call her Kate, was particularly upset about it.
"Kate had been spurned by Mark. She was bitter that he had chosen another, and angry that the one chosen should treat Mark so poorly."
Jayne frowned. "Spurned?"
"Turned down," Simon explained. "Refused."
"Mark spurned Kate?" Jayne said incredulously. "Kwong-run. I wouldn't turn Kate down."
"Aw, that's sweet," Kaylee said.
Book cleared his throat.
"Sorry," Kaylee whispered. "Go on, Inara."
"Kate went to King Mark," Inara said, "and knelt before his throne.
" 'Sire, I regret that I must tell you this, but my heart will not rest easy until I do.'
" 'Speak,' Mark said, 'and so long as you tell the truth, do no tremble in my presence.'
" 'Alas, I have seen your queen leave the castle at night,' Kate said, 'I had my servant follow her and she told me she saw Queen Isolde in the embrace of your nephew, Tristan!'
"Mark was furious and, unwilling to believe such an accusation, ordered Kate away from the court. Still, he brooded on the rumours that continued to circulate, and finally knew that he could not tolerate the gossip any longer. A disloyal wife made him look weak to his subjects. He ordered that Isolde should be brought to the fabled seat of judgement to answer as to her faithfulness.
" 'Woe is us,' Isolde wept as she sat upon her bed, reading the summons. 'We shall be discovered and pay with our lives.'
" 'Not so,' said Brangaine. 'Do as I say, and we shall all of us live through this.'
"On her advice, Tristan disguised himself as a beggar and hid by the stream that flowed past the seat of judgment, and waited. King Mark and his retinue arrived, and waited impatiently. At last, Isolde, head held high, with Brangaine trailing behind, walked to the edge of the stream.
"Mark held out his hand but Isolde declined. 'I will not wet my dress to add further to my shame,' she declared. 'Nor will I take the hand of my accuser.'
"Mark was angry at this, but then Tristan hobbled from the bushes.
" 'Allow me, fair maiden,' he said, and Isolde climbed onto his back, wrapping her legs about his waist. They crossed the stream and he placed Isolde by the seat. Mark ordered a coin to be given to the beggar for his kindness, and Tristan accepted the gold piece, and hobbled away.
"Isolde sat upon the rocky throne and waited.
" 'Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, you are accused of unfaithfulness to your King and husband,' Mark said sternly. 'By God, what is your answer to this? And answer truthfully, for those who tell falsehood upon the seat shall surely perish.'
" 'Then by God, I tell you this in truth,' Isolde said. 'The only man ever betwixt my thighs has been my husband, King Mark; that is, save for the man who just carried me across the river!'
"A few looked to the sky for lightning to strike her down, but when no ill fate befell Isolde, Mark fell to his knees.
" 'Forgive me, wife,' he said. 'I love you and should not have doubted you.'
" 'Forgive me for giving you any reason to doubt,' Isolde said. She realised that she loved Mark dearly and that she had to choose between the two men. From that moment on, she vowed that no matter how much she loved Tristan, her first duty was to her husband. She and Tristan would never meet again.
"When Brangaine met with Tristan that night to tell him of her mistress's decision he howled in rage and gnashed his teeth.
" 'Woe unto you, disloyal nephew," Brangaine said fiercely. 'You risk your life, and my lady's life by this deceit, and you dishonour the man who loves you as his own brother, his own son. This is an end to it, and past time about it.'
"Knowing that Brangaine was right, Tristan went, with heavy heart, to Mark. He sought leave from his service, said that he would travel and see more of the island that had given birth to such a woman as Isolde, and Mark gave his blessing.
"Tristan left Cornwall and sailed back to Ireland. There he met a woman named Iseult of the White Hands and she soon became his wife. She was not Isolde, but she was lovely to look upon, and intelligent, though not without her flaws."
"Let me guess; she was a devious little minx," Mal interrupted.
Inara considered. "If you like."
"Iseult probably wasn't even her real name," Mal went on. "In fact, she probably had to trick him into marrying her."
Inara raised an eyebrow. "Anyway," she said decisively, "however it happened, Tristan never forgot Isolde, which angered Iseult though she tried to keep her jealously hidden from him. Isolde never forgot Tristan either, but they were each content for many a long year."
Inara stopped talking. There was silence.
"Didn't they ever see each other again?" Kaylee asked softly from Inara's lap.
"No." Inara glanced at Mal. "Sometimes, no matter what one's personal feelings or desires are, the only decent thing to do is to walk away."
Jayne leant forward. "Now that's it? I get…I mean, King Mark gets to keep Isolde?"
"But she's supposed to be with Tristan," Kaylee protested. "Isn't she? That can't be it!"
"Actually," Book said, softly, "there is another part, in many versions of the story."
"Does it make it any happier?" Wash asked.
Inara shook her head.
"Then I don't think I like this story anymore," Wash said and squeezed Zoë tightly.
"Why'd all the great love stories have to end tragic?" Kaylee said. "Like Romeo and Juliet. They were so much in love. It's not fair."
"Maybe not everyone likes happy endings," Mal said tightly. "Tell a person a happy story they forget it a minute later. Make someone suffer, they'll remember that their whole life."
"So what did happen?" Jayne demanded.
"Are you sure you want to know?" Inara asked. Simon looked over to River.
"Perhaps it's not the best idea," he began.
River stretched and sat up. "I know what happened. Let me tell it." She looked to Inara, who nodded her assent. River tucked her hair behind her ears and began.
"Isolde lived happily with her husband and they ruled wisely for many years. Likewise, Tristan and Iseult lived in contentment, until a rival clan moved against Isolde's aging father. Tristan joined the war party and defeated many of the soldiers, driving back the onslaught.
"However he was wounded by a poisoned spear, and Iseult had no skill to save him. In despair he begged for word to be sent to Cornwall, to Isolde, for surely she could heal him.
" 'Tell her to come with white sails if she will," Tristan told Iseult, 'and let the ship return with black sails if she will not.'
"This was done, and the days passed slowly as they waited for Isolde to arrive. In Cornwall, Isolde boarded the ship immediately she heard of Tristan's plight, and this was with Mark's blessing, for he missed his nephew dearly. The white sails were hoisted and the ship made good time with the winds in their favour.
"Iseult watched from her tower where she tended Tristan, but her thoughts were not of saving him, for her heart had been poisoned by jealously. She knew that Tristan loved her second best, that Isolde was the woman he truly loved.
" 'Do you see the ship?' Tristan asked as he did every day and on this day, Iseult nodded as she saw the boat draw near, white sails hoisted. Her heart sank, for she thought if Isolde were to once more save Tristan's life, he might forsake his marriage vows and run away with Isolde.
" 'I see the ship,' Iseult said, and in a moment of insanity said, 'the sails are black.'
"And with that Tristan breathed his last, believing that Isolde had forsaken him.
"Iseult was heart broken when she realised what she had done, and threw herself to her death from the tower. When Isolde finally arrived at Tristan's side, she too was heartbroken, and fell down dead on the spot.
"Their bodies were borne back to Cornwall and they were buried side by side. Two rosebushes grew there, one from each grave, and they intertwined so tightly that one could barely be distinguished from the other. At first, the bushes were cut back, but they simply re-grew overnight, and at last Mark commanded that they be let alone.
"Tristan and Isolde were together at last."
A single tear ran down River's face but her voice hadn't wavered in the least.
There was a muffled sob and Inara squeezed Kaylee's shoulder. "It's all right," she said.
"That's so sad," Kaylee wept.
Wash rubbed his face against Zoë's neck. "I think I have something in my eye," he said. Zoë kissed his hair.
Jayne blinked a few times. "It's the ventilation," he said gruffly. "It's gritty. Gets dirt in a man's eye."
Inara shot him a look. "My ventilation system is not dirty," she retorted. "I clean my shuttle, Jayne Cobb."
Simon looked amused and moved to the tea tray. "Can I make more tea?"
"That would be very kind," Inara said.
"Perhaps," Book said, "I can go next. I think a story with a somewhat happier ending is in order?"
"Yes, you're right. Please, go head," Inara said, gratefully. "Oh, Kaylee, it's all right. Please stop crying. I didn't mean to upset you. I should never have picked such a sad story."
"All stories are sad," Mal said, "you stick with them long enough. There's no happily ever after. Everybody leaves eventually, everybody dies eventually."
Zoë cleared her throat. "Not really lifting the mood, sir."
Mal shrugged. "Maybe I don't want my mood lifting." He stood. "I'm going to go sleep in the house. There's too many of us in here."
Inara watched him leave with a sigh.
"Make it a funny story, please, Shepard," she requested. "I think we'd all appreciate something light-hearted right now."