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Blooded Hands

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'Lady,' she said to me, 'stand you further back, for I loved him more than you.'

It was not because she outranked me that I obeyed. It was not because she was tired, and old, and ill; for, though I repented of my cruelty to my husband now that it was too late to help or harm him, I felt no compassion for her. Nor was it because I believed what she said to be true.

But I stood further back from my husband's bier, and I let her weep. And I saw her stagger and fall upon it, and I heard something like a little sigh, the last sound she ever made on this earth.

And I saw her die.

And the woman who stood next me, her woman, gave a great cry, and rushed forwards, and caught the body as it fell. A queen, in a servant's arms? So be it.

When she was buried, that other Iseult, and my Tristan beside her, I called her woman to me. 'What will become of you now?' I asked her.

'What is it to you?' She was entitled to address me thus, I suppose; she was a free woman now.

'You have lost your mistress. I have lost my husband. I wonder what will become of both of us.'

Her dark eyes narrowed. She who had but lately been a queen's lady, she stood before me with head uncovered and grey hair flowing loose like a mad beggar, but she looked at me as if she were queen herself. 'I care not. I care nothing for what becomes of you, and less still for what becomes of me.'

'Where will you go?' I persisted.

'I will go home to Ireland – though I pray that I may drown before ever I reach the shore.'

'Would you stay here?'

'What is there here for me?' She was all but weeping.

'Her grave,' I said. And then, 'And me.'

She did not understand me at first; then her eyes flamed with anger. 'Is that how it is? You could not have her man, so you will have her maid?'

I rose from my seat and crossed the room so that I stood very close to her. I looked up into her eyes. 'I will have you,' I said. 'I do not care whose maid you were. After all, she is gone.'

'You killed her,' she said, her voice low, and trembling with hatred and desire. 'You killed him, and so she died.'

'Kill me, then,' I said. I tore my mantle aside, ripped my gown and my shift open so that my breast was bare to her, fell to my knees before her. 'Render to me what I deserve. I know it as well as you do. And there is no one near to hear me die.'

She dragged me to my feet, gripped my shoulders hard as she might, so that the nails dug in, but I would not cry out, and then her mouth was on mine. And truly I would have been glad to die then.

She lay in my arms that night, and the next morning she brought me a draught of wine. I did not drink it.