Rain hammered down silver-bright on the fields and cobblestones, turned the dark ribbons of road to mire. Ygraine waited anxiously, hands clenched on the windowsill, until Tristan reminded her that she could accomplish nothing by her anxious stares, and that, also, she was driving everyone else half-mad with her worry.
"He should have been here yesterday," Ygraine said.
Tristan ruffled her hair in an attempt to soothe. She slapped his hand away.
Uther arrived that afternoon, the Pendragon banner borne by one of his knights tattered and smoke-singed but still the brightest thing for miles in that dull late-winter countryside, after the snows had gone but before the earth had given birth to spring. Cai saw the banner first, and called down from the tower; word flew through the castle on wings. By the time the weary horses reached the gates, Ygraine, stumbling in her haste on the rain-slick stone, had come to meet them.
Uther swung down from his horse and caught her up in his arms, hugging her so tightly she could have sworn she felt her ribs creak. "You're alive," she gasped, breathless far more from relief than from genuine lack of air. "Oh, thank all the gods, you're alive."
He put her down and stepped back to look at her, and she lifted her hands to his face, smoothing away the water that had caught in his eyebrows and the several days' growth of beard. "You're alive," she whispered again. He had no new scars that she could see, and he moved easily despite his fatigue.
"I promised I'd come back to you," he said, staring at her face as if he had copied map after map of it and was only now seeing the land itself. "Do you think I'd let myself be forced to break my word?"
She laughed, incredulously, joyously. The rain was like liquid light; the fresh promise of spring filled the air. "Never."
Word must have reached the city below and beyond the castle that their young king had returned alive for his wedding. Bells began to ring, a building clamor of exultation.
Uther took Ygraine's hand in his and bowed over it. "My lady," he said.
He brought his other hand to her waist and turned her. She moved into his arms almost on instinct, practice from so many formal galas making it habit. The bells were unlike any music they had ever danced to before, though: they were wild and exuberant, quick and vociferous; and Ygraine found herself clinging to the rain-drenched steel and wool of his uniform as he guided her in wider and more giddy circles and sweeps of motion.
He was laughing now, too, the crinkles at the corners of his eyes drawing her attention to the raindrops sparkling in his lashes. She couldn't remember the last time she'd ever seen Uther so happy, she thought, feeling as if she would overflow with love and gladness.
"Sire?" Gorlois said cautiously, approaching. Ygraine had nearly forgotten there was anyone else within a hundred leagues of them; it was a shock to hear him speak. "My lady's father awaits us."
"Of course," said Uther. He spun Ygraine one last time, her skirts flaring around her in a song of summer-blue, then released her. She took his hand back as they turned towards the castle.