The waters were calm, for the most part. There was no disquiet, no war, no pain. There was the gentle touch of a breeze on the surface, the stirrings of creatures far in the depths, or the occasional boat passing through, bearing the body of a fallen warrior. Sometimes, Freya could hear the gentle song of a maiden floating across the surface of one of her lakes and it broke her heart to hear such a sweet voice singing of such loneliness. When farmers would pass by the lake, she could hear them murmuring to each other about the songstress, calling her the ‘fairy Lady of Shalott’.
With her life amongst the waters, Freya felt free for the first time in her life.
She wasn’t alone; she had the fish and the Sidhe to keep her company. They spoke to her, told her stories, taught her how to navigate through the waters. It was because of their lessons that she was able to appear to Merlin in the enchanted cave.
Oh, Merlin. Dear, sweet Merlin.
He was the first friend she’d ever had, the first person she’d ever truly loved, and certainly the first person who’d truly loved her. Seeing him again, and seeing how much he’d grown in their time apart warmed her heart. She was content to be the Lady of the Lake, to serve Merlin in any way she could. She was finally at peace.
But one day her waters were disturbed by a boat once again. Freya waited patiently for the flames to take over the boat, as they always did, but none came. Instead, from the heart of the boat came the sound of broken sobs. Curious, she followed the sound, surprising herself when she was able to emerge from the water and rest her elbows on the edge of the small boat. The sobs were coming from a lovely girl in a white gown and shawl with blonde ringlets falling down to her waist. Her hands covered her face as she cried, and Freya’s heart ached for her.
“Girl, why are you crying?” Freya spoke after a moment, resting her chin on her folded hands.
“Where did you come from?” Her hands flew from her face in surprise and she hastily moved backwards in the boat and clutched her knees to her chest.
“I came from the lake. Where did you come from?”
“I came from Shalott.” The girl replied, slowly releasing her knees and moving forward again.
“So you’re the Lady of Shalott!” Freya brightened. “Your songs are lovely. Tell me, why are you so sad?”
“Because love is a terrible, cruel thing.” She used the ends of her shawl to wipe at her eyes. “Have you ever loved someone so much that it destroyed you?”
“Once, long ago.” Freya’s expression was soft as she spoke. “Did someone hurt you?”
“No, no one has had the chance to. I have been alone for my entire life, with no one to talk to, no friends, no family. I’ve been forbidden to even look out of the window of my tower, lest I should meet my doom. The only contact I’ve had with the outside world has been through a looking glass. For years, I’ve watched the people of Camelot. The tournaments, the hidden sorcerers, the lovers stealing away in the middle of the night…I’ve watched it all. And it was through this glass that I saw him, years ago. Thick, dark locks and eyes that could pierce through your very soul. And noble, above all else. He had to leave Camelot, and I so longed to watch him go, but…all I could do was watch through my looking glass. But he returned a fortnight ago, and I have been watching him diligently ever since.”
“So what brought you out of your tower?”
“I looked out of my window. He was out riding alone, singing such a pleasant tune…I had to look upon him. I know I don’t have much time left, before the curse takes me. So I chose to come down to the lake in hopes that…someone would find my body and mourn me.”
“There are many who look forward to hearing your song every morning. I’m certain they will miss you.”
“But Sir Lancelot will not.” The girl sighed as she lowered her hands into the water near Freya, fingers tracing patterns upon the surface of the lake.
“I cannot say for certain.”
“You don’t need to; I know he will not. He doesn’t even know I exist. And now he never will.”
“Nonsense.” Freya shook her head, then leaned down near the lady’s hands. She pressed her fingers to the side of the boat and murmured a few words. Her eyes glowed gold as letters spelling out “Lady of Shalott” appeared on the side of the boat. “There. Now all shall know that it is the Lady of Shalott they look upon when you are found.”
The lady leaned over to see, smiling at Freya when she saw the lettering. “Thank you, my lady. For this gift as well as for staying with me in my last moments. You have done so much for me and yet I do not even know your name.”
“I no longer have a name.”
“My mother once called me Elaine, but after her passing…I couldn’t bear to hear the name. So if I am known as the Lady of Shalott, then you shall be henceforth known as the Lady of the Lake.”
“Lady of the Lake?” Freya smiled softly. “I like that a great deal.”
“My lady…May I ask a favor of you?”
“Anything that is within my power.”
“When the curse takes me…it shall be painful. It has been said that it will feel as though my body is being pierced with thousands of needles and the very blood in my veins will boil.”
“I am not sure if I have the power to ease your pain—”
“No, no. I would never ask that of you. It is my pain to bear, since I chose to look out my window. I was simply hoping…Could you stay with me? I am not afraid of the pain, but I do not think I could bear dying alone. Your presence is soothing, and I feel as though it would ease my mind if not my pain.”
Freya took one of Elaine’s hands in her own, interlacing their fingers together. “I shall stay with you as long as I can. My waters are unreliable, I am not sure how much longer I can stay.”
“However long you have is long enough.” The blonde leaned over to rest her elbows on the side of the boat next to Freya’s, keeping their fingers interlaced.
“Your enchanted mirror and terrible fate…are you a creature of magic, then?”
“I believe so. My mother once called me a Seer. What I see in my mirror…it is not always things that are currently happening. Sometimes it is things that have not yet come to pass. King Uther would have killed me if he knew, so I always thought my mother wanted to keep me from the window so he would not be able to find me. Before my mother passed away, she told me the truth of my curse.”
“To live your entire life, knowing you were cursed…it must have been awful.”
“Can you blame me, then, for growing sick of the shadows in my mirror? To look upon Sir Lancelot with my own eyes was worth whatever agony I shall soon endure.”
Freya thought back to her last encounter with Merlin, when he’d been in the underground castle with Prince Arthur and his knights. She was very familiar with Sir Lancelot and his loyalty to her dear Merlin, and she couldn’t find it in herself to blame Elaine for her instant love of the man.
Freya’s musings were interrupted with the first cry of pain from her companion. She felt fingers tighten on her own and she began murmuring soothing nonsense words. Her free hand came up to stroke at Elaine’s hair and water droplets from her fingertips clung to the blonde ringlets, shining in the sunlight. Elaine began sobbing and pulled her shawl tighter around herself, shaking with the pain of the curse. Blue lights rose out of the water and Freya looked between the approaching Sidhe worriedly.
“What is it?” she asked them.
“The Lady suffers so. It is bringing pain to these waters.” One replied, arms crossed. “Send her away.”
“I shall not! She is dying!”
“Then it does not matter much where she dies. Send her away.” Another one spoke.
“I gave her my word I wouldn’t leave her. The least I can do is allow her to pass peacefully among my waters.”
“Then let her perish in your waters so the depths may swallow her screams and we may be spared the inconvenience of hearing them.”
“How can you be so cruel?” Freya moved higher on the boat so she could pull Elaine into an embrace, running her hands up and down her back to help soothe the shaking girl.
“It hurts…” She whimpered. Her skin was warm to the touch, and Freya pressed her lips to her forehead reassuringly. “It hurts, make it stop…please. Make it stop.”
The Sidhe exchanged glances before one of them moved towards them. Freya recognized him as one of the elders and she immediately tightened her hold on the girl. He scoffed at the movement and pressed his palm to Elaine’s forehead.
“There is no way for us to save her. The curse is too powerful. We can take her pain though, for a few moments. You can give her a peaceful death, if you choose.”
“What is he saying?” she asked and Freya petted her curls gently.
“I can give you a painless death, if you’d like. They can take your pain away long enough for you to be dragged to the depths, if you chose.”
“Yes, please, anything, anything to make it stop.”
Freya nodded her consent to the Sidhe, who surrounded the boat in a loose circle. They began murmuring a spell and Freya hummed a soothing tune, something she’d heard the Lady of Shalott herself sing long ago. As her pain slowly faded, Elaine began to hum along.
“Tirra lirra.” She sang the final lines to the song and gave Freya a soft smile. “Thank you, my lady. I owe you a great debt.”
“You owe me nothing.” Freya released her and moved away from the boat, extending her arms as she did. “Are you ready?”
She gave a short nod and clutched at Freya’s arms, allowing the Lady of the Lake to pull her out of the boat and down into the water. Her blue eyes remained open, holding Freya’s gaze as they began to sink slowly down. Bubbles escaped her lips as she murmured a final “thank you”, sinking into Freya’s embrace as the life finally left her body.
Once she was sure the Lady of Shalott was truly gone from this world, Freya returned her body to the surface, not surprised to see the Sidhe had long since fled. She arranged Elaine’s body in the boat, placing a lone amaranth blossom on her stomach and folding her hands over it. Freya stayed by the boat as she urged the waters to carry it closer to Camelot, only disappearing back into the water once she saw Prince Arthur and his knights gathered nearby.
“What’s that?” Freya could hear Merlin ask.
“Well, Merlin, it appears to be a boat.” Came Arthur’s sarcastic reply. But it was Lancelot who came into the waters themselves, who pulled the boat closer to shore.
“It’s a lady.” One of the other knights, Gwaine, Freya believed, spoke in surprise. “Is she..?”
“She is dead.” Merlin confirmed after placing two fingers to her neck. Freya could see the knights all exchange worried glances, save for Lancelot, who leaned closer to the boat and pushed a stray ringlet from her face.
“Her face is quite lovely.” He said quietly
“She is indeed.” Gwaine agreed. “I wonder what tragedy has befallen her to bring her here like this.”
“Whatever it was, may God in his mercy lend her grace.” He glanced down at the side of the boat and, almost like a prayer, read it aloud. “The Lady of Shalott.”
They began the preparations to give her a proper burial and as the flames slowly engulfed the boat, Freya swore she could feel fingers around her own as a voice in her waters began to sing “Tirra lirra...”