The first thing Janet noticed when she awoke was how cold she was, and how damp her clothes were. The second thing she noticed was that her cloak was missing. The third thing she noticed was that her cloak was not missing after all -- it was wrapped around the still-sleeping Tam Lin.
He looked … smaller than he had before, but perhaps he only seemed so because he was not towering over her like he had that first, fateful day. Cautiously, Janet put a hand on his cheek. It was rough, and already darkening with the day’s stubble. She was quite sure that Tam Lin’s cheek had been as smooth as her own, before.
Tam Lin’s eyes flew open and he stared at her in horror. A stream of words, all foreign, all strange flowed through his lips and he sprang up, gathering Janet’s cloak around him in a desperate attempt to preserve his modesty, and strode through the clearing at a fast pace. Janet got up as well, curious as to what he would do.
What he did was to freeze, stagger, and then fall bonelessly into her waiting arms, for the second time in as many days. Janet reflected then, as she guided them both to the ground (again), that having gone through as many changes as Tam Lin had, it was natural that shock should set in, sooner or later.
But she hoped he would wake soon. Her legs had begun to ache under his weight.
As if on command, Tam Lin stirred again. This time, he looked at Janet gravely, and greeted her well, if a little distantly. Then he asked, “Madam, may I ask what happened to my clothes and my horse?”
“I am sure they have turned to leaves -- or ash; I understand that is the nature of Faery,” Janet said blithely, resisted the impulse to pat his cheek to comfort him.
He raised an eyebrow and contrived to look as proud as one could, lying naked on his back on the forest floor. “My horse, at least, was a creature of flesh and blood --”
“It must have run back to its stables.”
“And you did not remember to bring me some clothes?”
“Tam Lin, you did not ask me to do so.”
“That is true,” Tam Lin said, and looked put out.
Gently, Janet said, “You must present yourself to my father and ask for my hand. But in this state, he will grant you naught but a long stay in the darkest cell in his deepest dungeon.”
She picked off a small branch that had nestled into Tam Lin’s thick, dark hair. Tam Lin turned his fine head to stare at her, his eyes so pale that they might have been made of silver.
Janet smiled at him sweetly. “Would you like to bathe, beloved?”
The sun had risen at this point and made a brave show against the gathering clouds. It grew almost warm as Janet led him to the part of the river closest to them. The river had cut through the bedrock below and formed a small waterfall that spilled into a deep pool. Then it ran on, to join a wider river and on to the sea.
Janet dipped her feet decorously into the edge of the water, appreciating the sparkle of sunlight there. She bent down and washed her face and began to put her hair to rights. Judging from her reflection in the water, she looked as almost as wild as Tam Lin. Once she was seated on a flat, smoothed boulder and had begun to braid her long hair, she looked to see what Tam Lin was doing.
Despite the sunshine, the water was very cold. But Tam Lin had left Janet’s cloak behind on the rocks to dry, and had waded into the water until he was waist deep. His skin was pale; his face and his shoulders were not browned by the sun. As if aware of her scrutiny, he flexed his shoulders, the compact muscles moving under his skin. Then, as quick as a blink, he ducked into the water, disappearing and appearing again.
Janet sighed. She could only hope that her child would come to appreciate the lengths his mother had gone through to make sure he wasn’t born a bastard. Such as watching Tam Lin bathe. Janet shook her head sadly and finished making her braid.
It was a hard, hard thing to see.
Tam Lin turned his head and began to tread water towards the river bank. His voice was loud as he said, “Are you certain that it will be a boy? I feel differently.”
Janet stiffened in her seat and said, rather coldly, “I did not know you could still read my thoughts, Tam Lin.”
Tam Lin shook his head, droplets of water falling from him. “It is not too hard to read your thoughts, Janet. You think very loudly.”
Janet got up and gathered her skirts together. “Then perhaps you will guess what I am thinking now,” she hissed.
Tam Lin smiled for the first time that day. “It is unlikely that I would drown. I am a very strong swimmer.”
They made their way out of Carterhaugh Woods until Janet stopped in front of a cottage and knocked on the door. The woman who answered knew her well, but was frightened by the state of Janet’s clothes -- and her companion’s lack of them.
“Sweet Bess, if you love me,” Janet said, with what she hoped with a winning smile, “I beg you to let me borrow some of your late husband’s clothes, for this knight has sore need of them.”
Bess eyed Tam Lin doubtfully. “My husband was a much smaller man than he.” She began to close the door, but Janet stuck a foot in between the door and frame.
“Anything,” Janet said, with a wide smile, “would be appreciated. And I can promise that you will not have to worry about the rent, come winter.”
"Very generous," Tam Lin said, under his breath. Janet continued to smile fixedly in Bess' direction.
They came away from Bess’ cottage, dressed, if not well, then better than they had been before. To be sure, Tam Lin was taller and wider than Bess’ husband had been, and the clothes made him look more like an over-grown boy than anything else. In a fit of charity, Bess had also given Janet an old kirtle of hers, red and patched, with the understanding that all would be returned as soon as possible.
The walk to her father’s house was not long, but by the time they arrived, a large and curious crowd followed behind them. Janet’s father, usually so meek and mild, stood at the gate with his sword out. He did not lower it when he saw Janet, and he raised it somewhat when he saw Tam Lin.
“My dear child,” he said, looking at Janet, much dismayed. "You were missing from your bed on All Hallows’ Eve and we feared the very worst -- that you had been taken from us, never to return.”
“My dear father,” Janet said, “it grieved me to leave you thus, but know that I did what I thought was best. With me now is the young knight, who I won from the Queen of Faery --”
Tam Lin said sharply, “And she will not easily forget you, Janet. Remember her words well -- she swore to be revenged upon us.”
“On you,” Janet said and Tam Lin frowned.
Janet’s father sheathed his sword. “But this is the knight who … ?”
“It is no matter. We wish to be married. As soon as possible -- if you are willing, that is,” Janet spoke this last part to Tam Lin.
He looked back her steadily and said, “I would do so with great joy.”
“Well,” said Janet’s poor father, “I suppose I will have to get the priest to read the banns... Or perhaps get a dispensation to skip them altogether.”
He turned to Tam Lin, he said, “Pardon me, sir, but what is your name? Have you been baptized?”
Wearily, Tam Lin repeated his family history -- that yes, he had been baptized, and that Roxburgh was his grandfather. He went on to name many names of his family and connections -- names that no one recognized, least of all Janet and her father.
Frowning, her father said at last, “To be sure, there is a village by that name, and not far from here as the crow flies. In my great-grandfather’s day, it was known to be equal in importance to other, far grander places! A king lived there once, I'm told. But all has changed now. I think that you have been away far longer than you know.”
Tam Lin’s shoulders drooped but he acknowledged the news with a grim nod.
The wedding ceremony was hastily arranged, and Janet was carefully stitched into her finest gown. Her belly had expanded alarmingly, and she ate only sparingly at the feast. A sniff of the wine was enough to turn her stomach, and she begged to be excused before the dancing began.
“But you must dance at least one dance, milady,” said one of her women. “See how fine your bridegroom looks! I wish I could get an elf-knight, if they all looked like that.”
“Oh no you wouldn’t, if you knew the cost of it,” Janet said to her sharply, and regretted as soon as the words escaped from her mouth. The woman’s -- the girl’s, really -- face crumpled. More gently, now, Janet said, “Forgive me! I spoke too harshly. I am not feeling altogether well.”
The girl gave her a watery smile. “My mother says that you must be given all consideration, it is only your due -- as our lady, and a brave one at that.”
Janet smiled back at the girl and thought that this was at least a generous view of the rumors that had been circulating around her and her new husband. Some of the rumors were quite bizarre, stranger than reality. She looked around, and caught a glimpse of the old, gray-faced knight, who stared back at her in return. Janet made a face. All could have been much worse! At least Tam Lin was good to look at...
Later, when it was time for bed, the same girl pressed a kiss on Janet’s cheek and told her not to be nervous. Janet promised she wouldn't be, and let her maids undress her. Then, she waited in the darkened bedroom in her white nightgown and reflected that she did not quite know how this would work. The first time, in the woods of Carterhaugh, she had picked the double-rose and paid the price. The memory of that encounter had faded unnaturally quick. She only remembered that she had not tried to run and that her body had ached and pained her, afterwards.
She pressed a hand against her full belly and thought that, really, their work tonight had already been done. But that was cold comfort, at best. The clock struck midnight before there were the sounds of many feet outside the door. Usually, laughter and jokes accompanied those sounds, but tonight was a graver affair.
Tam Lin, after all, was a stranger, and a silent, brooding one at that. He had no friends here, to urge him on to his bridal-chamber.
The door opened, and Tam Lin came through. The lock rattled behind him, sliding into place. Janet sat up in bed and looked at him. His cheeks were flushed, and when he bowed to her, he rocked on his heels.
“My lady,” he said.
“Husband,” Janet said. “Will you not come to me?”
“If you wish.”
“You did not ask before,” Janet said, before she could bite back her words. An uncomfortable silence descended upon them as Tam Lin began to undress. His clothes were less complicated than her own, and he did not need assistance to get free from them -- not that Janet would have offered. And though there was a great fire crackling in the hearth, a chill settled between them as Tam Lin slid into bed with her.
Janet saw the years spread out before her, of the child being born and growing, and the coldness between her and her husband growing as well until there was nothing but a score of wasted years and a lump of ice where her heart should be. Was that what she wanted? Was it what she had fought for, what she had won?
Tam Lin’s breathing was soft and even beside her, and if she did not know better, she would have said that he was asleep. She took a deep breath and turned towards him and whispered his name. He did not stir, though he grew quieter than before. So, not sleeping, then.
“Tell me true, why were you there that day?”
“Why were you?” He turned to her, his pale grey eyes boring into her soul.
“I -- I wished to know if the story was true. I did not lie: those woods were mine, given to me by my father.”
“But I have been there longer than you have been alive, Janet, and your father too, and his father before him.”
“And how many maidens did you take, during your time in Carterhaugh Woods?”
“How many maidens, wearing green kirtles and with gold in their hair, who heeded no warnings and dared to pluck a double rose from my rose-bush? Not as many as you would think.”
Janet hid her face before a smile could betray her. Softly, she said, “If you had but asked, perhaps I would have yielded to you.”
“I cannot say that I was free to ask you. I know that I was not free to act until you came back.”
Janet looked at him squarely. “I came back for the child -- either to get the herb that would set me free or to make you do what was right for all of us.”
He touched her arm, a cold touch. “Is this right?”
Janet sighed. “I don’t know. Let us talk of something else... Tell me about Faery. Do they have weddings like this there?”
At first, she thought he would not reply, but slowly, he nodded. “Yes. The Fair Folk are slow to age and slow to die, but they need children, the same as any mortal living. But their weddings are few and far between, for there are bonds that need doing that go deeper than just tying two people together. Clans are merged, lands, rivers, hills, lakes are joined -- Faery is not … complete, like the world outside of it. It is not stable. There are patches of it that overlap together, and rub against each other. Sometimes it ruptures, and war breaks out. Weddings and treaties are meant to prevent that.”
“Then Faery is not so different than here,” Janet said dryly. Tam Lin gave her an inquisitive look, but she shook her head. “Never mind, go on. Was there a King of Faery, then?”
“Not while I was there,” he said.
“But there is Queen, who had great love for you,” Janet said. She remembered the Queen very well, her face more lovely than Janet could even describe, her hair as fair as silver under moonlight. She remembered too the way that lovely face had distorted into inhuman rage when she realized that Tam Lin was lost.
Tam Lin only nodded.
After a while, Janet reached out and touched Tam Lin’s chest, and felt his heart beating there. Once she had touched him, however, she felt reluctant to stop. He moved toward her, putting a hand on her hip.
Janet bit her lip, and hitching up her nightgown. She said, hesitatingly, “Do you not think I should -- perhaps --”
Tam Lin’s voice was low and wondering. “But is that shyness I hear in your voice, fair Janet?”
“Hush, imprudent sir -- it is only, I am little bigger than before, and -- ,” Janet hesitated, feeling her face beginning to burn.
“That is no great matter --”
“My lord, you should have been a jester, not a knight,” Janet said, throwing aside her blanket and crawling toward him. They touched lips briefly, before Tam Lin gently pulled one of Janet’s legs across his hip. She lifted herself up and straddled him, and could feel his arousal against her thigh. He arched toward her and Janet leaned down.
“That’s the idea…” Tam Lin said, biting his bottom lip.
She moved closer, but not quite close enough. “Is that the way of it, Tam Lin?”
Tam Lin could not speak, though he put his tongue to good use. Janet squeaked as he thrust upward. Neither spoke for a long while afterward.
Winter melted swiftly into spring that year, and soon it was May. When Janet had time to note it, she was pleased to see that her new husband had made inroads into the people’s hearts, especially her father’s. But then again her father was in his heart a practical soul, and it did not surprise Janet that he should take to his new son-in-law so completely -- her father had always longed for a son.
And Janet was content, she believed, and --
Abruptly, she handed her sewing to one of her maidens and said in a clipped voice, “Send for the midwife, Kate. I think my time has come.” The room exploded into a flurry of activity and exclamations and Janet was led off to bed. Her contractions came slowly at first, and when the midwife came, she almost dozing.
“If only it would be this easy all the way through,” Janet said lightly, though she felt nervousness well up within her. The pain grew quickly from a dull ache, to feeling as someone had thrust a sword into her innards.
The midwife seemed to sense the change in Janet’s mood and came to her side. She was an older woman, whose brown hair was liberally streaked with gray. Janet had seen her go about her business for many years now -- she was a competent, no-nonsense woman, who had a reassuring way about her. She smiled now, and touched Janet’s sweat-streaked forehead for a moment. “Do not worry so, milady. You are young and healthy, and you will not give up your life, or that of your babe's. Is that not right?”
“Yes,” Janet said, gasping, squeezing her hand. Things began to narrow around her then, between her growing pain and the midwife’s calm voice, telling her to push. Janet was dimly aware of the people coming in and out of the room -- maids carrying in pitchers of boiling water and clean linens.
Janet could hear the midwife still speaking, telling her her things, but it was as if she somewhere far away. As she pushed and pushed, a single, deadly thought came to her suddenly and fear gripped her heart. What had the Queen said to her? Before, she had been too distracted, dazed by her own success to heed the words. But now they came crashing into her mind, as clear as if they were being spoken into her ear. The Queen had wished for Janet to die a terrible death. Janet turned her head away, in time to see the midwife wipe bright, red blood from her hands. Janet’s blood.
Oh, but a terrible death surely meant something unusual? A woman dying in childbirth was hardly that. Why, Janet’s own mother had not survived giving birth to her…
But she was in such a lot of pain. If only she had not listened --
The baby -- a girl -- was gently swaddled in blankets, and put in the wooden cradle beside Janet’s bed. Janet could not take her attention away from the cradle. She strained her ears to hear the baby's soft breathing.
She was so very tired, but she could not -- would not sleep. Her mouth felt very dry, and before she could beg for water, someone gently tipped a little of it into her mouth. She swallowed, gratefully, and saw Tam Lin was there. It seemed odd to see him, it was as if she had not seen him days, years now. But that was not right -- it was her exhaustion speaking. She knew that the room had been cleaned of the blood and debris of childbirth, and so he was allowed in again. He put the cup on the table and turned his attention back to the cradle. He went over to it and bent down, his hair covering his face. He was perfectly still, and idly, Janet wondered if the sight of an unbaptized babe reminded him of anything. But the cradle gleamed dully in the light -- the edges of it were lined with cold iron. Tam Lin's idea.
Janet took a breath and tried to gather her strength. Still, her voice wavered when she spoke. “The child -- is she …?”
“Perfect,” Tam Lin said, his voice full of wonder. “Without a flaw.”
She sat up slowly and said, “Let me see her, please?”
“I do not how to --” Tam Lin hesitated before he reached into the cradle and picked the baby up. He carried the child with what seemed to be elaborate caution, before coming over to Janet’s side of the bed. The baby was still fast asleep, her little wizened face scrunched up, her mouth in an unhappy little pucker. Her parents both peered down at her curiously.
“Oh,” Janet said softly, “there can be no doubt about who her father is.”
“I was just about say how much she favors you, my love,” Tam Lin said mildly. “Have you decided on a name for her?”
Janet smiled and put a gentle hand on soft, fair-colored down that covered the baby's head. Thoughtfully, she said, “I think her name should be Margaret, after my mother -- who died, you see, giving birth to me.”
"She is well-named, then," Tam Lin said.
The baby woke at the sound of their voices and began to stir and fuss. Janet took her from Tam Lin’s arms, and did not wholly resist the urge to coo at her. The baby ignored the noise and yawned hugely. She soon fell back to sleep. Janet looked down, satisfied, and unexpectedly, Tam Lin leaned in close and kissed her forehead.
It was a year afterward, on All-Hallows’ Eve, when Janet saw the Queen of Faery again. She was back at the Miles Cross, but the road was deserted and a full moon hung overhead. The Queen was luminous in the dark, and her face was grave when she came to Janet, who stepped back, alarmed. Her hands flew to her throat, to catch a hold of the the iron crucifix that she wore around her neck. It was not there.
“You are more fearful now, Janet, than you were when last we met,” the Queen said, giving her a smile that was not entirely without humor. “But that is understandable. You have more to lose now than you did then.”
“Have you come back for Tam Lin?” Janet asked sharply, her hands falling from her throat.
“Oh, him,” the Queen said, her laughter like the tinkling of silver bells. “Do not fear, he is easily replaced. Though last year I lost two knights when I thought I would lose one. No, it is you I seek. I have been watching, and now I have reasons to regret. What wonders you could have done with a stone heart in your breast, Janet, being both pitiless and brave!”
The Queen leaned in and pressed a kiss on Janet’s cheek, which burned as well as froze. Janet closed her eyes and wished nothing more than to have the Queen kiss her again, and again, until Janet’s mind was full of her, and her heart…
She opened her eyes again to see the Queen smile, her teeth sharp and white.
Janet sighed, and shivered a little. Why hadn’t Tam Lin mentioned that Faery was so very cold?
And without light...? Not even moonlight now...
The Queen laughed again and Janet shuddered and woke. Beside her, Tam Lin stirred his sleep, muttering foreign words under his breath. She nudged his back until he woke and turned to her. He did not speak, but he understood the blind, hurt expression upon her face.
They lay in each other’s arms until morning, until all thought of the cold and moonlight faded away.