The moon is out and full, lighting the grass below silver, and it swirls like the sea in constant movement. Rocked by the horse's gait, all seems in constant motion, and Guinevere looks up to the sky, wheelsing above them, the stars spinning and tumbling, flashing like match-flames. The wind whips her hair around her face, and for a moment she can't tell the sky or the earth apart through the lashing strands of her hair, and the swarming grass and sky seem to blend together, one sickeningly swirling whole.
She presses her eyes closed and leans her forehead into the safety of Lancelot's back. She can hear his heartbeat thudding through his chain-mail, and she wraps her arms around his waist tighter. He's solid, and warm, and, her eyes seeing only blackness, she imagines she can feel his blood running under his skin, the strain of his muscles. He smells like leather and sweat- like life.
Guiding the horse ,he can't respond, but he murmurs, "Not much farther."
"Mm." she says.
The world seems to turn like a wheel, or like a centrifuge, everything falling into chaos, except for her and Lancelot and his horse and his sword. She opens her eye a slit, and glances down at her bare foot, dangling off the saddle.
That Arthur would let her die looking like a street-urchin, or a child, in a shift, shoeless-
When he had tilted, when he was young and smiled, he had helped his fallen opponents up, jolted them to their feet, thumped them on the back with his broad hands, grinning, flushed in victory and sharing with all. When he had slain Theoderic's armies and was brought the shaken king, sword at his throat, he had given him meat and wine, sat with him, blue eyes clear and piercing.
And he would have given her the death of a heretic.
Lancelot halts the horse, and she lifts her head. They're in a wood, the thin trunks of alder and ash arcing above their heads. She can hear the faint trickle of a stream. Before them, almost hidden in the brush and the gloom, is a cottage, it's windows dark.
He slides off, taking the horse's reins and leading her up the path to the doorway. When they reach it, he takes her hand to lift her off, and pushes the door open for her. She stands in the cottage, watching him move around her, as he brushes off a space of bench for her to sit. "Here."
She perches, and he takes off his cloak to wrap around her. A week ago these gestures would have been expected from any of the knights, unnoticed even, but now they bring a lump to her throat, and she grasps the rough wool around her shoulders. His hands stay on the front of the cloak, and she lays her own, gently, over them.
He smiles, his eyes sad, and he's finished her sentence without saying anything. He knows, he always knows, before she knows her mind herself.
"I'll make a fire." is what he says.
She watches him bend over his flint, but when the first few blades of fire lick up in the hearth, she flinches. He catches the movement and turns.
"We don't have to-"
"No, no." She tucks her chin down. "No, pay no mind." The warmth is nice, really, once she' recovered from the start.
The fire warms the small, damp room, glinting red and orange off his chainmail.
"You're still in your armour." she says, standing. "Here-"
"No," he protests, "You don't have to-"
"Don't be foolish. You've no squire." She shakes her hands free from his cloak. "I'll not have you sleep in your mail."
He smiles, a real smile, not a half-sad one. "Yes, my lady."
He stands as she tugs off his gauntlets and greaves. There's no grease for them, nothing to scrub them with, but she lays them out as best as she can. His gaze meets hers as she unfastens his pauldrons, and it catches her in the chest like a tongue of flame. She looks away.
"Lift your arm." she says, and she reaches around his waist to pick at the small buckles holding his mail on. She slides it off, and he's in his shirt and hose. She can see the strength held in his shoulders, across his chest. Her eyes flicker across him.
He half-bows. "Thank you, my lady."
She nods. When he straightens, he's close enough that she can see the dip in his collarbone, the curve of his chest, at level with her head.
"Lancelot-" she says, and brushes her finger at the hem of his shirt. His hand moves a fraction up to hers, but stops, halted by habit, by twelve years of stilled desire and stiff, courtly manners.
His Adam's apple bobs as he swallows. "My lady, we can't-"
"We already have." she says. "We already have, in all their minds- Gawain, Agravain, Kay- Arthur-"
"Yes. And what good has that done us? You'll be exiled, I should be burnt-" She grips his shirt in her fist, staring down at the bunched linen, struggling against the swell of tears.
He places his hand over hers and ducks his head to meet her eyes. "We'll right it. Together. You can return to him-"
"Return?" Her voice wavers up. "After this-"
"I'll say it was me- I seduced you, or took advantage. He would take you back."
"And you would be killed."
"The realm could be righted, my lady, and one of us would yet live-"
"It would not be life."
She looks up into his eyes, intense under the dark lashes that snared so many maidens, that she had seen from her tower window in Leodegranz's castle so many years ago, when she had thought him Arthur, come to marry her.
"He has the eyes of a poet," Elaine had sighed to her, one afternoon as they watched the knights on their chargers as they rode off, glinting in the sun, and she had felt a tight bitterness bubble in her chest- and just as quickly pushed it down.
She had passed him in the corridor, just before his marriage, and she had arranged her face into a smile and bowed, and said, "congratulations, my Knight." He had smiled back, and when she lifted her head there had been the same ache in his eyes that lived in her bones, and she had opened her mouth, but not said anything.
And there were Grail-quests, and dragons, and Saxons, and giants, and she had seen him barely at all for ten years- across the table at Michaelmas, or a distant silver shine on a clamouring field, until he stood in the doorway of Melwas's tower, blood on his face and his eyes burning, and she was up from the dirty straw she had slept on for over a month, embracing him before she could think.
Lancelot looks at her. The world has fallen apart, the Round Table split and Camelot divided, and he lowers his head and kisses her, and she doesn't care.
His lips brush hers, courtly still. She nudges up, hungry after years starved, and opens her mouth, and he opens his, slick and soft, and she feels heat spreading outwards from his lips. His hand is on her waist, drawing her closer. She presses the length of her body against his, chasing one hand up under his shirt, on the smooth, warm skin of his back. His breath halts at the sudden contact. His lips are hot on hers, and she feels like a frosted field touched by the sun, every limb thawing, glowing from the inside.
He pulls back, mouth open, his eyes darting over hers. "Guinevere-" he says, and in the next breath they're crashing into each other like breaking waves, desperate, ungallant, grasping and tugging. Her hands snatch up under his shirt, sliding up against the hot skin of his back, and his mouth opens into hers. She can feel the length of his body pressed against her, taut as a bowstring, and he moves his leg in between hers, trying to get closer, and his hands are crushing her, and she feels all of her blood coursing through her body, hot and thick, and feels the coppery tang in her mouth. His leg moves up against her, and the ache within her is sweet and awful.
Oh, she thinks, distantly, in the part of her brain not consumed. This is what it is supposed to feel like.
He breaks away from her for a moment to pull his shirt over his head, and she catches a glimpse of his broad, curved shoulders, strong as a young tree, before he meets her again, teeth sliding down her jaw. He moves his head down, to her neck, and his lips on her are like fire. They stumble back until her back is pressed against the wall, Lancelot to her front.
She presses her head down into the side of his head, bent, his dark curls, breathes in the scent of his body. He's so close- she can't take a full breath. She wants to eat him- she wants him to consume her, to live within his bones and his heart forever, to possess him, to never wake up.
She tugs at the lacings of her shift, before giving up and pulling the whole thing over her head. Lancelot's hands on her stills, and he pauses in front of her. His expression is so open- so sharp and hungry- after so many years of small smiles, courtly touches on the hand-
His hand glides down her, and she realizes she's trembling. Not from fear or cold, but like- like the way a cat trembles and lashes before it pounces. His fingers- soft, like a poet's, no knight's hands- graze her nipple, and she gasps. He cups her breasts, gently, with a sort of reverence, but she's past this. She grasps a hand between his legs, feels him there, and he jerks in surprise. Testing, she curls her fingers, firmly, and he collapses against her a little.
"Ever-impatient." he says into her neck, breath gusting across her skin."Ah-"
"Will you keep me waiting?" she says, as he twitches against her again, and she releases him, thinking they'll go to where her cloak is laid down on the ground, but Lancelot grips her thigh with his hand, those slender hands, and she realizes, and catches his eye just as he drives up into her.
The blood roars in her ears like a monster. He pushes up inside of her, rough and slick all at once, and she feels like nothing except her hunger and her lust, nothing apart from this, Lancelot's sweat and heat against her and him inside of her.
He rolls into a rhythm, bumping and uneven like a boy, breath rasping as he pulls out and delves in again. She's a great open wound, every nerve ending oversensitive, feeling everything, overflowing. She wraps her hands around his neck , clinging on, a part of him- they are no longer separate, no longer anything, just the points where their skin meet.
He pushes, shaky, now, pulsing, jerky and desperate, his eyes unseeing and wild, and she grasps on tighter, trying to get closer, impossibly closer, wanting to feel all of him, fill herself with him entirely.
"Mine-" she says, roughly, half to herself. "Mine, you're mine-"
"Yes-"he says senselessly, "yes, yes-Oh-" and he stutters a breath and is gone, losing himself to her, and she grips her fingers against his body, teeth against his collarbone, as she shakes too.
"Deus adiuva-" he says helplessly, twitching, and shudders as he finishes.
He stills. She can feel her pulse, rapid still, begin to slow again, but for a long moment he stands, still gripping her. His breath is warm.
"I love you." he says gently. It doesn't need to be said, really, but he does anyway.
She nods. Better not to speak- who knows what she would say.
Then he steps back, their bodies separating, and it's like being born. She slumps, and he's there, laying her down on the cloak. She wraps her arms around him and rolls the cloak over them both like a cocoon.
There's a little blood on his collarbone. She traces it with her finger. "I'm sorry."
He smiles. "You apologize for a scratch after what you have done to me here?" He places his hand over his heart.
She huffs a half-laugh. Lancelot and his melodrama.
He settles his head on her breast, and she threads her fingers through his curls. It makes her feel warm- not in the furnace-like way of earlier- like the warmth of hot mead. Above, in a hole in the cottage's roof, two stars gleam.
'What will come tomorrow?" she says. Her voice catches a little, and he strokes her hip.
"We can go to Joyous Gard." he says, his voice muffled. "And from there- France, or Denmark. I have gold, we can buy horses."
His voice is soft in the night. "We could live in France, in Normandy. Poor peasants, anonymous."
"You'll have to sell your armour."
"We can buy land with it. Goats and chickens. A cow."
"The Queen of England, a dairy maid." she says wryly.
His finger draws circles on her breast. "The most beautiful dairy maid in all of Normandy."
"And we could have children."
"A girl and a boy." he agrees.
She feels the old wanting tug in her gut, and she almost can believe it. Almost.
"Alienor, after your mother." he says. "With your golden hair. Our eldest. We can teach her all of the songs and old tales, and she will have a voice like a songbird. I can see you both, hanging the washing in the yard, as Alienor sings."
His voice flows, smooth as a river over stones, as he crafts her the story. She strokes his head on her breast. On the road behind them Arthur nudges on his charger, his eyes terrible, Kay at his side, his sword unsheathed.
She closes her eyes. "Yes. I see it too."