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Can't You Please See Through Me

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Nimueh wakes up.

This is, itself, a surprise. Her head feels as if someone’s split it in half, and the inside of her mouth tastes like something crawled into it to die, which would also explain the miserable lurching of her stomach.

Very carefully, she opens one eye. Light stabs through to the back of her skull, then dims enough to let her see that she at least picked a comfortable and out-of-the-way glen to fall into drunken slumber in. It’s an incredible temptation to go back to sleep and put off the misery for a while longer.

Ygraine, still sleeping, curls an arm over Nimueh, and Nimueh is suddenly, icily, terribly awake. “Ygraine,” she says, and the sound of her own voice makes her whole head actually throb. “Ygraine, you have to wake up. You’ve been out all night, you’ll be missed.”

She doesn’t even mention the rest, how Ygraine’s warmth is seared into her side. She’ll be feeling it for days, like a bruise. If it’s bad to have kept Lord Anlawd’s daughter out all night—and it is, what was she thinking (she wasn’t)—it’s so much worse to have…what? She can’t even remember, bright Goddess help her.

“Good morning,” Ygraine says, soft and sleepy, blinking into awareness, and then she turns ghastly pale, going still and cold as deep snow.

Nimueh mourns the loss of that sunny expression even as she’s frantically checking the state of Ygraine’s clothes. The gown is what Ygraine mistakenly calls simple, but it still has dozens of hooks and clasps and ties, all of which, as far as Nimueh can tell, are where they belong. Drunk as she was last night she could never have fastened Ygraine up again properly, and even if Ygraine had been cold sober Nimueh doubts she knows how to dress herself. That, at least, is something.

“Nimueh?” Ygraine asks. Her mouth is drawn tight, tucked down at the corners, and it’s impossible to mistake the worry in her eyes.

“I’ll get you home right away,” Nimueh promises, furious at herself all over again for getting lost in thought while Ygraine needed to be on her way already, and for having gotten Ygraine this deeply into her mess in the first place. “I’ll take you there by magic, if you want.”

It’s a reckless offer, something she has no right to do with a magicless Widswigean, but it’s worth it for the way Ygraine brightens into warmth again.

The trip Between burns the worst of the mead’s aftereffects away, but Nimueh still feels sick. She’s put herself in an impossible situation, by some grace not made it worse by taking advantage of Ygraine after being stupid and self-pitying enough to get drunk out of her head and not warning Ygraine that druids’ mead wasn’t the sweetish beer that Ygraine knew by that name—she’d told Ygraine to go easy on it but she hadn’t explained, and now she remembers the pure lines of Ygraine’s throat rippling as she swallowed and laughed, licked a drop from the corner of her mouth and drank again—and really, Nimueh thinks, grim and angry and regretful with Ygraine gone warily silent at her side, she should have known all along that this was something she couldn’t allow herself, that falling for Lady Ygraine de Bois was much too far to fall.

Ygraine’s eyes were wide and thrilled in the shadows. The Midsummer fires turned her skin as gold as her hair. She looked like a being of living light, magic and treasure incarnate, and Nimueh kept her hands very carefully at her sides.

She had, she realized, half-hoped that Ygraine would be tactless—stupid as that was to hope of the Lady Ygraine, soon to be a queen (and when the mead went around again she took another drink on the strength of that thought)—or self-righteous or prim—and Ygraine was never either, that was why Nimueh (loved) spent so much time with her, because Ygraine was fun. But instead Ygraine looked around in wonder and joy and something that might have been the beginnings of reverence. It was more than Nimueh would have expected of her, which meant, really, that it was very Ygraine.

One of the men from the next village came over and held out a hand to Ygraine. Nimueh took another long drink of mead and tried not to glare at him, and then glared anyway because Ygraine wasn’t a Druid girl, Ygraine was Widswigean, a landed lord’s daughter and soon to be betrothed and not for either of them, however right she looked in the Midsummer firelight, however much softer and truer than any gold Nimueh had ever seen she was.

Ygraine hesitated, looking from the man to Nimueh, but she looked hopeful, so Nimueh said, “Go on. He won’t do anything he shouldn’t.”

The man looked at her red robes and swallowed visibly. Ygraine turned too quickly away, tense as she hadn’t been earlier, and Nimueh almost called her back, but what reason could she give?

She watched Ygraine move through the deepening night like a flame, like a falling star, and cursed herself for a maudlin, lovesick fool.

Ygraine’s bedchamber is ground too private for Nimueh to have trespassed on before, but with her attendants both sleeping in the room outside—the quiet one (Elaine? Eleanor?) is actually in front of the door itself, tucked birdlike in a nest of blankets—Nimueh sees no choice but to take Ygraine those few feet further.

For a second she thinks that someone else is sleeping in Ygraine’s bed. Then she realizes the form is nothing more than a mound of pillows, arranged to suggest a figure curled almost into a ball.

Ygraine doesn’t sleep like that, Nimueh thinks. Heat and shame flare within her. She will never be able to unknow that, even once she forgets the exact feel of Ygraine’s body against hers, her warmth, the weight of her arm.

“Thank you,” Ygraine says coolly. “You’ve been most helpful.”

She is once more the flinty noblewoman Nimueh first met, years ago, making herself brittle and proper whenever she didn’t know what else to do. Her words slice straight through Nimueh. She’s lost Ygraine, she in her carelessness, in her unforgivable unbelievable selfishness, has destroyed everything they’d built between them by wishing it were more.

“I’m sorry,” Nimueh says. It’s all she can think to say. Her voice is very small in her own ears.

For a moment Ygraine’s reserve cracks and there’s something frantic in her face. “Don’t apologize,” she begs, and then steadies herself with a long breath. When she speaks again it’s level, flat. “Please…don’t.”

Nimueh bows to her, lost, and steps Between again.

When she comes out the other side, it’s a moment too early and she lands in the center of the village instead of her own home—she lost track of space in her emotional snarl and the sickly pulsing headache that’s returned now that Ygraine seems to be safely home and not even missed. Maybe after all it will be better once Ygraine is married and gone, no longer here to distract Nimueh with her curiosity and her enthusiasm, her laughter and her gravity.

“Congratulations,” Emlyn says, grinning at her.

Nimueh blinks back at him. “On what, exactly?”

“Your marriage, of course,” he says, still grinning, and he must still be drunk, or Nimueh must be dreaming, because she isn’t married, she can’t be married, there’s nobody—

For the first time this morning, she realizes there’s something on her finger. It’s blood-warm with the heat of her body, and it fits her perfectly, but on any other day, less miserable and less frantic, she still would have noticed it at once. Even before she looks at her hand she feels sweat prickle coldly across her skin. It isn’t hers, and any Druid who gave her a marriage-token would have chosen a bracelet, or maybe a necklace. She can’t remember if Ygraine’s hands had been bare when they woke up, but she knows they were. It’s nothing more than confirmation to see Ygraine’s silver ring, the ring she never takes off, shining on her own finger.

“We’re having a feast at the solstice,” Ygraine said, smiling at Nimueh with an unusual hesitancy. “If you don’t have any other plans, we’d love to have you join us.”

Nimueh bites her tongue on the question of whether Ygraine’s father’s offer of tentative alliance to the local Druid clans would really extend to inviting a priestess, one of the acolytes training for the chance to be one of the nine high priestesses over all of Albion, to sit bare-armed in her red robes at his own table. “I’d be honored,” she said instead—it was much too easy to keep from sharp remarks around Ygraine—“but I do have other plans. It’s Midsummer.”

“Of course.”

Ygraine’s smile was still, now, false and polite. Looking at her Nimueh had the sudden urge to do something terribly stupid. “If you’d like to come,” she said before she could stop herself, “you would be welcome as my guest.”

The light in Ygraine’s eyes was spring itself. “Could I? I’d love to, if it’s not secret or forbidden.”

And that was how Nimueh knew how much trouble she was in, because although Ygraine—although any Widswigean—coming to the Midsummer dancing with her would be no worse than unusual, for that look on Ygraine’s face Nimueh thought she might do anything, however arcane, however outlawed. “I asked you, didn’t I?” she said, smiling helplessly back at Ygraine, and then reality crashed in around her again. “But you can’t; you have your parents’ feast to attend.”

“I’ll find a way,” Ygraine said. Men should bow before the certainty in her voice. “I’ll go to bed early and sneak out of my chambers if I have to.”

It was a terrible idea, Nimueh knew it was a terrible idea. “All right,” she said.

“I married Ygraine,” Nimueh says to Emlyn, all too believingly but hoping in defiance of all proof that he’ll tell her no.

“You don’t look as happy as I’d expect about that.” That blasted grin is still on his face.

Nimueh desperately wants to wipe it off. Instead she says, “I’m not,” and strangely enough that does it.

“What’s wrong?”

Where does she even start? “She’s nearly betrothed,” Nimueh says. The words fall heavy as stones and Emlyn’s eyes widen in sudden dismay. “It’s very important, she’s told me all about it. She’s to marry a king—that warlord out of Camelot who calls himself Pendragon. It’s a huge honor, it’s the best marriage her family could ever hope for, and I know her. She’d do it for them even if she wouldn’t do it for herself. She was drunk, Emlyn, we both were. She never meant to handfast herself to me.”

I never got so drunk I pledged myself,” Emlyn says dubiously.

Nimueh sighs. “That, the handfasting, was probably my idea.”

“Oh, it was,” Emlyn says, and oh, Nimueh wants to shake him until all her lost memories fall out of him and she can scoop them up. “But I don’t know why she would have agreed if she didn’t want too, even too drunk to jump the fires.”

Some too-quick denial is on the tip of Nimueh’s tongue, but she hesitates before speaking it. “I don’t know,” she admits.

Emlyn pats her firmly on the shoulder. “There you are, then.”

Nimueh is not there; Nimueh is not anywhere.

“Go talk to her,” he says patiently. It’s much the same tone he’d use to a not-very-bright child. “And sort this out one way or the other by Lammas, Nimueh, I can’t take another quarter’s feast with you wandering around only half-there. If you can’t cut her loose then stay married to her, but you have to make a change.”

“Talk to her.” Nimueh, frankly, stares. If she were in better shape this morning (and, admittedly, if Emlyn hadn’t had years of practice with unfriendly looks of all varieties) he would be quailing, instead of giving her his patient look. It’s even more irritating than the patient voice to her right now. “Talk to her.”

“Talk to her,” Emlyn says, too cheerfully.

Nimueh daughter of Nyneve, priestess of the Triple Goddess, does not take orders from anyone except the high priestess herself. But it will be easier for everyone if she and Emlyn aren’t at odds, and if she’s been mishandling her own obligations this badly she needs to fix that.

And, anyway, a little, senseless, stubborn part of her wants to see Ygraine again.

At the very least she has to return the ring.

“I feel like I never see you anymore,” Ygraine said, and her smile was teasing but it didn’t reach her eyes.

“I’ve been busy,” Nimueh half-lied. It was true there’d been Beltane to celebrate, and the few days afterward were always filled with more than enough work for priestess and headman both, but it was much closer now to Midsummer, the easiest season of most years.

Ygraine, though, accepted the excuse, all unknowing, and guilt pricked Nimueh sharply. “Of course,” she said, her smile going both real and rueful. “I shouldn’t ask you to take so much time from your duties.”

“You don’t,” Nimueh said, which was at least better than I like you to, and very nearly true.

“Let me show you the gardens, then,” Ygraine said.

Her handmaiden Mary whispered something to the new girl (Ellen?) and then burst into giggles while El-whatsit bit her lip against a smile. Nimueh raised a brow at them and they both went suddenly still.

Ygraine said, “I took the advice you gave me last autumn about the herbal plantings—my mother thought it was a bit of a risk, and it is a very…”

She hesitated, sun-flushed, rose and cream and golden, and Nimueh offered, “Uncivilized?”

Different,” Ygraine said firmly, still diplomatic.

What Ygraine would call civilization Nimueh called dull and strange and stifling, made all of walls that cut off the winds and roads that cut up the land. But she liked, anyway, that Ygraine chose a different word. “To you,” she said, mildly enough.

Ygraine blushed darker. “Well, I like it.”

There was another outburst of giggling from the handmaidens. This time Ygraine turned around and looked at them. Mary pressed her lips flat together, and her friend bobbed a sharp curtsy, and Ygraine turned back to Nimueh with a pleasant smile.

“I’m impressed,” said Nimueh, barely even teasing.

Ygraine lifted her chin. “Wait until you see the gardens before you make up your mind.”

“Ygraine,” Nimueh said, startled into tenderness. “I’m sure they’re lovely; you have a wonderful eye and you know what you need.”

“Oh,” Ygraine said. The compliment illuminated her; she fairly glowed with it. Nimueh wondered if praise from her had really become so scarce that it ought to surprise Ygraine so, and felt another stab of guilt. She shouldn’t hurt Ygraine with her inability to manage her own feelings. She would do better in future.

Ygraine is on her feet when Nimueh comes back, openly and by full daylight. For once she is alone without a handmaiden or attendant in sight. Her hands, clasped together in front of her, are pale and bare as bone.

“Someone told me we were handfasted last night,” Nimueh says. Best to be blunt. Ygraine’s eyes are already huge in her dismayed face. “You and I, that is. While we were both—‘too drunk to jump the fires,’ he put it.”

“…He…told you,” Ygraine says faintly, dropping back into her chair with none of her usual grace.

Nimueh manages something like a smile, though it’s a poor excuse for one. “He’s trustworthy enough, I’m afraid, and I have—you seem to have given me your ring.” It’s warm as a part of herself on her finger.

“So I do,” Ygraine says. She’s bleached of all color, scoured clean of it. She has never reminded Nimueh as little of summer as she does now.

“I wouldn’t want to interfere with your betrothal.” Nimueh wonders that her tongue doesn’t wither in her mouth at the lie. She does, she does, she wants Uther Pendragon to come back and find that in the time he gave Ygraine to consider the advantages of a walled-in life as his queen, the warlord’s wife, she chose someone else instead. Ygraine says nothing. Nimueh, unwilling, goes on. “If you wanted, we could just…pretend it never happened. Uther never needs to know.”

Ygraine hesitates over her next words, shaping a few failed and silent tries before she says, “But it did happen.”

It did. Nimueh will go the rest of her life knowing that, even once the trial year is over and she can call it failed and marry again, if she chooses, if she wants. “Uther is not likely to ask anyone who was there about your marital history,” she says.

“Me,” Ygraine says. “I was there.” She looks awful, sounds worse—damn her honor, anyway.

“Would it even count as a real marriage to him? Or you?” Nimueh asks. Ygraine makes a sudden, sharply-controlled movement. “It’s not your tradition, it wasn’t your gods we swore to.” And then, because she can’t help wanting to know, “Why did you—do you remember why you did it?”

Ygraine, burning colder and whiter than ice, says, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Even though Nimueh must have expected it, the words hit her like a hard blow to the gut, leaving her sick and breathless. Ygraine goes on, biting off each word with ruthless precision, “But of course, as you said, I was drunk then. You’ve been very kind. You may go now.”

Nimueh barely remembers to take off Ygraine’s ring and hand it back before she flees in utter defeat. Cold as they are, Ygraine’s fingers still strike sparks against her skin.

She lingers for a breath after she closes the door behind her, and so she hears the soft sound of something light striking the wood near her head, and then the barely louder sound of metal falling to land on stone with a dying chime.

The world was warming into spring as Nimueh followed a page through the deep-shaded walkways of Anlawd’s castle to Ygraine’s chambers. She wasn’t sure what Ygraine wanted her for, but it was something, for Ygraine to have actually sent for her. Had something gone wrong on Pendragon’s visit? Had he left not benignly but to gather more men? Did Ygraine want Nimueh to follow a war-banner in the name of a Widswigean lord? That, at least, Nimueh thought, she could still say she would not do.

(She could make a warrior of herself in Ygraine’s name, though.)

“Nimueh!” Ygraine said, lovely as ever but looking shaken, springing to her feet as Nimueh closed the door behind her. Sun streamed into the chilly grey of the room, catching in Ygraine’s hair, sparkling off the gold embroidery of her pale gown and turning her jewels into prisoned stars. “I’m glad you came.” She crossed the room to Nimueh, looking lost and relieved all at once with the corners of her mouth flickering. Something brilliant burned under all that, a nervous excitement that left her hands trembling just enough to make white fire ripple along her ring.

“What is it?” Nimueh asked. Not a war, then; Ygraine would have been steadier for a war. Furious, and cold, and determined. This Ygraine was all warm, a banked fire ready to flare once she knew where to turn.

Ygraine licked her lips; Nimueh tried not to watch the pink flicker of her tongue or the wet shine of her mouth. “Uther Pendragon has asked me to consider—he will, when he returns after his summer campaign, ask me to be his bride. He’s given me this half-year to think on what answer to give him.”

She stopped and waited for Nimueh to answer, but Nimueh couldn’t answer; Nimueh didn’t know what to say. Ygraine, still waiting, looked hopeful, bright and sweet and lovely, and of course, Nimueh thought, of course there would be lords and warlords come to seek her hand, and of course Ygraine who had grown up in this world would want to stay living in it much more than she could ever want to come with Nimueh. And Uther would make Ygraine a queen, and if she had to be a lady Ygraine ought to be a queen.

“Oh,” Nimueh said, finally, and couldn’t think of anything to follow it with. Ygraine dimmed, and that was wrong, too, and Nimueh rallied herself and said, “It’s a great honor, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Ygraine said, smiling, and something was off with her smile but something was off with the whole room, walls and tapestries and sunlight and—no, that really was a new handmaiden, not Nimueh’s mind playing tricks on her. “A great honor. My family is very proud.”

“They should be,” Nimueh said, the words coming a little easier with use. “It’s the…best offer they could have gotten, isn’t it.” So strange to think of that being a concern of Ygraine’s, too, that the dance of negotiation and favors that made any normal marriage was also something for Ygraine’s family to weave through. It was easier to think of it that way, as a collection of familiar customs in a foreign land, than it was to think about what she was saying.

Ygraine turned away and picked up her workbasket. “It is. They’re so pleased for me.”

“And you?” Nimueh asked, even knowing the answer as she must, because it was what she would be expected to say. “Are you pleased for yourself?”

“Of course,” Ygraine said. Her smile was mirror-bright.

Nimueh knocks before she can talk herself out of it. That last sound is still ringing and ringing in her head, and she knows even without having seen that Ygraine didn’t put her ring—her grandmother’s ring, the ring she has worn through every season of every year since she grew into it—back on her finger but threw it at the door.

“Go away!” Ygraine shouts.

Nimueh says, “I made a mistake.”

There is a very long silence. It seems like a year, or longer, before Ygraine says, “Come in, then.”

Her frightening pallor is gone. Color blazes in her cheeks, burns duller across the rest of her face. She’s in a terrible temper, and the wet brilliance of her eyes only underscores her anger.

She asks, in a voice choked thin and rough, “What was that mistake?” The question is a warning, and a threat, and still under all that it’s hopeful like the last fading flickers of light in a blown-out candlewick.

“I tried to decide for you,” Nimueh says. If she’d felt guilty before she has no words for what she feels now, what she—thinks she must have—put them both through. “I told you what you thought, what you’d meant, what you wanted. I didn’t even ask questions honestly.”

Ygraine’s breath stutters in her throat.

“Ygraine,” Nimueh says, as coaxingly as she can. Ygraine draws herself up, all steel and diamond and pride. “Ygraine, honestly, why did you agree to marry me?”

“It seemed…” Ygraine hesitates for just long enough to make Nimueh think she’s been having false hope after all, that once again this will end—that this could only end—like a good idea at the time. “Possible,” Ygraine says, finally, instead. “I wouldn’t have done it sober and I can’t even imagine you would have either.”

That’s certainly true. Uther aside, everything else aside, in the chilly light of reason Nimueh would have thought much more often than twice about pledging herself to a Widswigean. “But?” she says.

“I wasn’t as drunk as you seem to have thought I was,” Ygraine says, an answer that both is and isn’t. “I remembered, afterward.”

Nimueh had guessed that by now, but the brittle caution in Ygraine’s voice as she says it still tears at her. She realizes, suddenly, that she’s offered no real assurances, that the only thing she’s really admitted is that she should have given Ygraine more say in her own life, and that’s something she should have done as a friend. And Ygraine, fragile and fearless, is almost answering her anyway.

“Why did you ask me to?” Ygraine asks.

It would have been tempting to be literal, before. Nimueh knows how to be cryptically truthful, how to deflect, how to defend. She says, “I wanted to. I don’t remember doing it but I know that was why.”

Oh,” Ygraine says, half-sigh and half-sob. She gathers herself together, visibly, and says, “There were handfastings. I asked you about them, and you explained, and then—you asked if I wanted to as well, for—I think you said the blessing?”

“It’s good luck,” Nimueh says. “I might have called it a blessing, if I were feeling…expansive. It’s only a small one, though, fortune on the marriage and—” in the marriage bed.

Ygraine, waiting for her to finish and then realizing she isn’t going to, slowly blushes. The color rises like the spring flood from the lace trimming her bodice to her hairline, and Nimueh wants to follow it with hands and lips and tongue and then realizes she can, now, and digs her nails into her palms to distract herself. Wait. Ygraine isn’t done.

“I—I said,” Ygraine says, “with whom? Not one of those strangers who keeps asking me to dance? And you said, no, with you. And you were…you were waiting to laugh, like once I started you’d join in, but you didn’t look like you thought it was amusing, for all that, so I said yes.”

As simple as that. “Did I give you a pledge-token?” Nimueh asks, stooping and picking up the ring. She doesn’t think she can have; she had nothing on her to give. She wishes she had.

Ygraine watches Nimueh’s hands, curled uncertain and protective around the ring. “Put it on, if you want to,” she says. When Nimueh does Ygraine shivers a little and Nimueh remembers rings mean something special to outlanders—less a gift, and more a marking—and likes the thought more than she’d expected. “You gave me this,” Ygraine says, bringing her gaze back to Nimueh’s and taking a lock of dark hair from the embroidered pouch she wears at her waist. “You said you’d give me something better later, but this is…this is important, isn’t it?”

Bright Goddess. “Yes,” Nimueh says, and remembers how angry Ygraine had been at her, and is so, so grateful that for all her sensitivity to it Ygraine has no magic of her own—and no malice either. “I will get you something better; you can’t keep that. Please.”

“You did mean it?” Ygraine asks. Her fingers tighten around the lock of hair.

“I do, I swear,” Nimueh says. She’s going to explain, to beg if she has to, because she trusts Ygraine absolutely but she doesn’t trust Ygraine’s handmaidens, or her maidservants, or her parents, or any of the castle servitors who might need to be in Ygraine’s chambers, or the little ratting dogs to not drag it out of Ygraine’s chambers, or…

Ygraine hands it back to her before she’s begun.

Nimueh burns it with a word, turns the reek of scorched hair to the sweetness of honeysuckle with another almost before it even reaches their noses. “Thank you.”

“And now?” Ygraine asks.

It’s a simple enough question, on its face, but all the things that would have kept Nimueh from offering this if she’d been thinking at the time hold her still in the vast distance between them: Druid priestess and Widswigean noblewoman, both with their own cares and duties. “I don’t know,” Nimueh has to admit. “It’s not like you can just run off into the wild.”

But Ygraine, astonishingly, says, “Why not?”

Nimueh thinks she must be gaping.

“I’ve always known that my childhood home could never be mine to keep.” Ygraine clasps her hands in front of her, twisting her fingers together to still their trembling. Nimueh knows the gesture. “Tristan will be a responsible and honorable lord; it’s not as if I’m leaving it in the hands of a monster, or even a fool.”

“You won’t know anyone.”

“I’ll know you,” Ygraine says, as if it’s easy. As if she can make it that easy just by speaking. “Who would I know if I went with Uther instead?”

It makes so much sense, but Nimueh still shakes her head. “You deserve better,” she says. “You’ll want better. You have no magic, you could never be a priestess, and that’s the best thing a woman can hope for in times of peace. Our village is mine and Headman Emlyn’s; there’s no way for you to help lead it. You’d just be my strange Widswigean bride.”

“Don’t you have judges who are women?” Ygraine asks.

Nimueh had been prepared for a passionate denial, Ygraine claiming that she didn’t care about any of that as long as she had Nimueh—something romantic and balladic and hollow. Ygraine could never be happy doing nothing. Her calm, thoughtful question knocks Nimueh off-guard in more ways than one. How long has Ygraine been thinking about this? “We do,” Nimueh remembers to say.

Hesitantly, watching Nimueh for her reaction all the while, Ygraine says, “I could do that. If I studied, I mean; if I apprenticed myself to someone and learned how to be a judge among the Druids as well as the laws I’d be upholding. I think I would be good at it, once I’d learned.” It’s a remarkably sound plan, no half-formed giddy dream. Ygraine must be able to see that, because she relaxes into a smile and adds, “I’d rather be a judge than a queen, anyway. It’s much the same work, and I’d be the one praised for it.”

“Would you be happy outside your walls?” Nimueh asks, one last offering to reason.

“Would I be happy inside them?” Ygraine answers.

Nimueh stops fighting. She is outmatched—she has always been outmatched—ever since she looked up from making a barren apple tree flower to see a beautiful girl her own age staring in awe, caught between fear and excitement, and thought very clearly that she did not want that girl to fear her. “We’ll try it, then,” she says, and holds out her hands to Ygraine. The ring gleams like sunlight, almost as bright as Ygraine’s smile, as Ygraine takes them and pulls her in for a kiss.