DISCLAIMER: Part 1
Because of the length of time between the next two tournaments B'Elanna only missed one competition before she was ready to get back in the ring. Whatever the medicines the healer had given her had been they had worked quickly, and aside from another in a growing collection of scars B'Elanna felt none the worse for wear after a few weeks. She had been careful to continue her exercises and had rebuilt almost all of the strength in her left arm by the time she was ready to pick up sword and lance in earnest once more.
Harry had convinced her to stay away from the tournaments altogether during her recuperation and so it had been several long weeks since she had laid eyes on Lady Hansart. As they rode in procession with the other knights into the arena she could not stop her eyes from hungrily searching the crowds lining the street for any sign of the beautiful young woman, but to no avail. It wasn't until she was lined up with the competitors for the opening ceremonies that she caught her first glimpse of white blonde hair in the viewing stands. Her heart leapt at the sight of perfection only to fall to her feet as she saw Charles Kotay sitting beside her. A bargain must have been struck for the Lord to still be sitting with her family and B'Elanna felt physically ill at the thought of what that meant for Annika, and for herself.
She barely noticed anything that happened for the rest of the ceremony and as she went about readying herself for competition she felt a lump in her throat and had to fight back tears of pain such as she would never shed over a physical injury. This was far worse than the blow of a lance or the sting of a sword as it cut into flesh this was her heart being torn asunder by forces she could never hope to control.
When she entered the sword lists she felt herself unable to care about the competition. She heard the chanting of the crowd and saw the women and children as they waved frantically to get even the slightest bit of attention from a knight, someone they looked up to and admired, but she couldn't bring herself to feel anything but an overwhelming lethargic sorrow. Her competitor sensed a chance for victory and attacked with vigour, B'Elanna defended herself but not well and it looked as if she was about to lose her first match. She could hear Harry screaming at her to be careful and she knew he didn't care whether she won or lost but only that she not be hurt in the process. She had to do something and stop behaving like a spoiled child that has been denied a treat. She called upon every ounce of character and strength at her command and returned to the fight with renewed attention. Finally she managed to win back the points and defeat her opponent, much to the delight of the crowd.
"Are you all right?" Harry's anxious visage greeted her the moment she exited the lists.
"I'm fine Harry, I just had a bit of trouble getting my head into the match for a moment."
"Perhaps you came back too soon we should withdraw and take some more time for your wounds to heal." Harry tried again knowing that her lack of concentration in the lists had nothing to do with her shoulder.
"I fear there is no cure for the wounds I carry. We stay."
Harry nodded solemnly knowing the topic was not open for discussion. He helped her to loosen her armour so that the wait for the next match would not be so uncomfortable, and then they leaned up against the wooden enclosure surrounding the sword ring and watched as the other knights competed in their matches. B'Elanna found her mind drifting again and she could not even find her old pleasures in watching a well fought match, or pursue her old habits of looking for weaknesses in potential competitors she was reduced to mourning for love she never really had. In this situation she found herself falling back on her old friend anger. She was angry at herself for not being truthful with Annika earlier, and she was angry with Annika for not realizing that the love they shared was more important than what society may or may not think of their morals. She was angry with Lord Hansart for marrying his daughter off to anyone willing to pay the price and she was angry with Annika for not being strong enough to defy her parents and fight for their love. None of these things were particularly well thought out, but she welcomed the heat of anger as it replaced the cold harshness of the pain that surrounded her heart. The set of her jaw grew stronger and she felt the warm flood of anger race through her veins, feeding on her strength and shutting out the pain. She could not wait to reenter the lists and fight again.
When she finally did reenter the ring she fought with a fury and skill that left her competitors breathless and the crowds crying for more. She could not walk two steps through the crowds without being surrounded by women who were vying for her attention as a lover or for boys who clamoured for the attention of a hero. In another situation it might have gone to her head but as things stood she was unfailingly courteous and always took time to play at battle with the young lads and to gallantly refuse the attentions of the young women. She was tournament champion again and yet again it meant nothing to her beyond the money and power it brought to her and Harry. She had more horses now than she could ever hope to use and enough money to live quite comfortably somewhere for quite some time. The problem was that there was nowhere to go she had no desire to lead a life of leisure and without a way to earn land from the King there was no hope of finding a quiet spot to live out her life with Harry. She had never lived in a city and she had no desire to do so now. Frankly the more success she achieved the less she felt like she fit anywhere in the world, and without Annika and her love she was lonelier than she had ever been. She even missed the company of Kate and Tom whom she had not seen since Annika had left her tent that fateful night.
Instead of attending the banquet that night B'Elanna made her way into the woods to the enclave of pagans that Mary had told her about. She found that she was interested in their views on the world and that she found some solace in the contemplation of the ancient gods and goddesses of the wild. She could forget her pain for moments at a time in this manner and she was eternally grateful for the respite. She returned to the tournament grounds long after midnight feeling refreshed and able to face the next tournament in somewhat better spirits.
It was two longs days of travel before they arrived at the next tournament grounds and another day before they were set up in their camp. Finally when she had a moments free time B'Elanna decided to take her customary stroll around the grounds to see who was here and to hear what news she could of her competition. She was dressed in a simple burgundy tunic and cloak as she walked around the grounds, nodding to friends and acquaintances. She stopped to talk with some of the men she knew well from having seen them so often this season.
She was deep in thought as she rounded the corner of one of the few permanent buildings on the grounds, and so didn't see the person coming around the building from the other direction. She nearly knocked the young woman over and had to reach out and take the woman into her arms to stop her from falling. She steadied the woman on her feet and stepped back abruptly upon realizing who it was she held in her arms.
"Lady Hansart Annika are you alright?"
Annika seemed unable to speak and sagged back against the wall for support. B'Elanna was worried now and leapt forward, talking Annika's hands in her own she crouched lower until she was looking up into Annika's downcast eyes.
"Speak to me Annika, are you injured how can I help you?" B'Elanna's heart was pounding at the nearness of the beautiful young woman and her hands were trembling to be holding those of her love once again.
Annika recovered her senses all at once and pulled her hands from B'Elanna's as if they had been burnt. She pushed B'Elanna away from her,
"Get away from me or I will call my father's men and have you taken away."
B'Elanna bristled at her words, "your father's men are no match for me Annika, you'll have to do better than that if you want me to leave."
"Get away from me you you you are an abomination in the eyes of God and I want nothing to do with you I hate you."
B'Elanna grew angry at Annika's deliberately cruel words she knew Annika was lying to protect herself and yet the words cut deeply into her soul. She took a menacing step forward, taking Annika's upper arm in her hand and pulling her closer. When she could speak her voice was harsh.
"Tell me, Lady Hansart, look me in the eyes and tell me that you don't love me the way that I love you that your heart doesn't race the moment we see one another, that your blood doesn't sing like fire in your veins when our eyes meet. Tell me that when we part it isn't like dying a small death until we see one another again You can't because I know you feel it just as I do!"
"Tell me your heart doesn't leap out of your chest the moment our hands touch when we dance, and that you can barely breathe whenever we are near one another."
B'Elanna caught sight of the ragged end of the leather thong around Annika's neck and slowly drew the ring up out of her bodice, leaning her body in closer she whispered. "Tell me you didn't try a hundred times to throw this away only to be unable to part with it because it reminds you of me, because it is all you have left of me when I am not near."
Holding the ring in her hand she leaned into Annika's bodyher voice low, almost a purr she went on.
"Tell me that the hair on your neck and arms doesn't stand on its end when you are near me that you are not aware of where I am every moment that we are in a room together. Tell me you don't tremble at the slightest touch of our hands that I don't fill your waking thoughts from dawn to dusk, and your dreams after that as you do mine. Tell me you never think of that night, and wonder what might have happened had you stayed. Tell me you don't love me and I will go."
Tears were streaming down Annika's face, "I cannot."
B'Elanna grinned in triumph; "you do love me."
"But I cannot, I will not. It is against God."
"Do you think God would really create such a love only to have us deny it? I would renounce heaven and spend eternity in hell to be with you Annika."
"No, I won't You must go."
"Why, because that would be easier for you wouldn't it? If I were to leave you could marry Kotay and pretend that a part of your soul doesn't die just a little bit every time he touches you, pretend that when you close your eyes to kiss him it isn't my face and my lips you imagine. Well I won't do it Annika; I won't make it easier for you to hide yourself away and live a quiet unhappy little life when I know you and I could have so much more together."
"But we cannot, we cannot marry, the law "
"And what is the law to me? The law forbids me to joust and yet I am champion at almost every tournament I enter. We love each other and that is a law that I hold sacred above all. Take my hand and come with me now. We can make our own rules and live together as we see fit. You'll never want for anything and no one will ever love you as I do. You can be so much more than society will allow if only you take this chance."
"I cannot deny my love any longer Beyla." Tears were in her eyes as she finally gave in to the desires she had been fighting since discovering B'Elanna's secret. She allowed herself to lean into B'Elanna's embrace and moved her head up to finally claim the lips for which she had been longing for so long now.
Just as their lips met Charles Kotay came around the corner with a group of his friends and caught his promised bride in the arms of another man.
"You filthy strumpet!" He roared as his brain finally interpreted the signals his eyes were sending it.
"How dare you give your favours to another man. You belong to me You are mine, bought and paid for."
He advanced menacingly toward Annika, his face twisted and red with fury. B'Elanna was unarmed but still she stood between Annika and Lord Kotay, instinctively protecting the woman she loved from harm. Kotay was angrier at his embarrassment in front of his peers than he was at any betrayal by Annika. He had no feelings for the woman, but he felt he had been cheated in his dealings with Lord Hansart. Frankly if he'd been alone he would have cut the young knight's throat and had the woman flogged in public for her sins and he would have been well within his rights to do so. But since his friends were watching he couldn't bring himself to cut down an unarmed man it would have been ignoble to do so and his image in the eyes of others was important to him.
"You worthless woman you can be sure that you will live to regret dishonouring me. Be grateful I don't cancel my bargain with your father as no other man would have you after this disgusting display and as to you you insolent young pup," he said turning his fury onto B'Elanna.
"I'll have my satisfaction from you in the sword ring," he spat furiously and slapped B'Elanna soundly across the face.
"I will happily answer all challenges with the tip of my sword," B'Elanna growled heedless of the fact that while she was unarmed Kotay's hand rested on the hilt of his longsword.
"So be it," Kotay hissed and headed toward the shield tree by the registrar's table.
B'Elanna followed along behind him, still holding onto Annika's hand. On the way they ran into Harry who joined the growing mob of people gathering to watch this altercation.
The shield tree was hung with various shields depicting the events in which the knights could chose to compete. They indicated their intent to compete by striking the shield showing their desired event with a wooden stick kept handy for that purpose. Also hung on the tree were two shields that indicated the degree of competition. They were mostly hung for posterity's sake, as all events in tournaments were generally a plaisance or for pleasure. The shield to indicate that an event was to be held a outrance or to the death was also hung on the tree, but it was hardly ever touched.
Kotay walked up to the shield tree and grasping the wooden stick he struck first the shield to indicate the sword on foot competition, and then he angrily struck the shield of war indicating his desire to duel B'Elanna to the death.
"B'Elanna this is madness, you must walk away," Harry pleaded with her as she approached the tree. B'Elanna stared at the shield of death hanging in front of her, still faintly swaying from the force of Kotay's blow. She reached over and pulled Harry's short sword from its sheath and with a yell swung so fiercely that the shield was torn from its moorings and thrown several feet away to lie in the mud.
"I will meet you in the sword ring in one hour Kotay," she snarled.
She returned to her tent and changed into clothing that would allow her to move more freely in the ring. She strapped on her long sword, and, having no need of armour for this type of duel she was finished with her preparations. Kate and Tom had come to take the tearful Lady Hansart away from B'Elanna so that the young Lord could concentrate on his preparations for the duel. Annika would watch the fate of her life be decided from a distance so as not to distract Beyla.
"Stop this B'Elanna. He is a seasoned soldier; he fought in the war in France, he'll tear you apart. You'll be killed there's no point to this, you can't marry the girl even if you win. You aren't Lord Beyla, you're B'Elanna Torrance and fighting Kotay for Annika won't change that fact."
"When I'm with her I am Lord Beyla, I know you don't understand Harry but this is the way it has to be."
B'Elanna turned and headed toward the sword ring where a crowd was already gathering to watch the death match. Harry grabbed her arm. "Cease this madness B'Elanna I'm begging you. Why risk your life over a woman you can never really have? Let us go you and I, far from here and begin again, Paris perhaps. B'Elanna I'm begging you please."
"You may as well ask me to stop breathing as ask me to stop loving Annika. You ask me why I'm doing this--because I can do nothing else. It doesn't matter anymore whether I can marry her or be with her or not, all that matters is that I love her and I'll fight to the death to defend her honour and save her from a marriage she doesn't want. I can' t explain this Harry, it simply is, she is a part of me and I cannot live without her, so I put myself to the hazard and if I die so be it. I love her Harry, don't ask me to walk away from that."
Harry hung his head, defeated.
"If it should go ill for you Beyla I will act as your second and see try to see justice served."
"No Harry, it ends with me. If I should die I'm trusting to you to keep Annika safe, take her far from here and see to it that she is free and happy. Swear to me Harry that you will do this thing for me."
Harry looked deeply into the eyes of the friend that he had loved more than he loved even himself and said, "I swear it will be done My Lord."
They regarded each other for a moment before grabbing one another in a fierce hug. "I love you my friend," Beyla said as she turned and entered the ring.
B'Elanna entered the ring and knelt down, picking up a handful of the soft dirt that covered the area and letting it trickle through her fingers. She rubbed it into her hands and brushed the excess off on her tunic. The dirt would help absorb the sweat of her palms as they fought and hopefully allow her to keep a firmer grip on her sword during the fight. She began to look for Annika in the crowd that had gathered but then shook her head clearing it firmly of all distraction. If she did not focus on the task at hand, the idea of whether or not she and Annika would find a way to be together would be immaterial.
She looked across the ring to where Charles Kotay stood, one foot resting on the bottom rung of the fence that surrounded the arena. He was leaning on the fence and chatting with his friends, looking for all the world like a man about to dance with a Lady, not a man about to dance with death. B'Elanna was nervous and her heart was pounding but she was confident in her skills as a warrior. Kotay was bigger and had more battle experience, but B'Elanna was counting on her strength, speed and conditioning to see her through the test to come. She filled her lungs with air, feeling her focus narrow with every passing second--she drew her sword from its sheath.
Hearing the ring of metal on metal as Beyla's sword cleared the scabbard, Kotay turned around and picked up the shield he had opted to use, drawing his sword he came to the centre of the ring.
"Are you ready boy?" He asked with disdain in his voice.
"Are you old man?" Beyla sneered in return.
"En garde," Kotay cried as he stepped back and assumed the ready position.
B'Elanna began to circle clockwise around the ring she held her sword in one hand, moving her arm in a figure of eight in front of her, twisting her wrist the sword describing a mesmerizing dance in the air. She watched Kotay and waited for him to make the opening gambit. When it came it was with a speed and strength that B'Elanna had never experienced before. She was hard-pressed to repel his thrusts and it was only by luck and a quick retreat that she managed to keep her feet and remain unharmed. For the first time since she had begun her new life she felt real fear. This was no longer a game should Kotay overpower her he would kill her. She felt her gorge rise and fought to maintain control of herself. Unbidden, an image of Annika came to her mind's eye and she felt herself begin to calm down--her love for the younger woman giving her courage.
Once again they circled one another and this time it was B'Elanna who attacked. Kotay repelled her every thrust and when she managed to outmaneuver his sword arm his shield was there to turn her blade aside. They had been fighting for about 10 minutes but B'Elanna had yet to find a weakness in his style. She found that Kotay was firmly in charge of the duel he was moving her about the sword ring at will and B'Elanna could not seem to bring the fight onto her own terms. Her only hope was the sweat she saw pouring down Kotay's face and the fact that his breathing was becoming laboured. If nothing else she appeared to be in superiour shape to the Lord and she hoped she might eventually wear him down until he made an error on which she could capitalize. She was eternally grateful that he had chosen to carry a shield, for although it made it harder for her to strike him it also encumbered him and made it harder for him to move quickly enough to get inside her defenses.
Kotay rushed at her again, and again she fell back in the face of his ferocious attack. It was then that B'Elanna stumbled over her own feet in her haste to retreat from the viscous assault. She went down hard on her back and looked up to see Kotay thrusting his sword down toward her chest with a vicious snarl. With a desperate sweep of her sword she pushed aside his thrust and the tip of his sword buried itself deeply into the ground beside her. Seeing the look of surprise on Kotay's face that she had actually survived his attack, she seized the moment and rolled her body to the side, rolling over the sword, the weight of her body tearing the hilt from Kotay's hand and flattening the weapon to the ground. She leapt to her feet and as Kotay bent to retrieve his weapon she thrust the tip of her sword to his throat. She forced his head slowly upward with the tip of her sword, a small trickle of blood the only indication that he resisted her imperative. When he stood upright, her sword at his throat, she locked eyes with him seeing there only anger and no fear of his fate at all.
With one flick of her wrist it would be ended, Kotay was powerless to stop her now, but honour stayed her hand. Even though she had disarmed him fairly she could not bring herself to cut the throat of am unarmed man. With a slight bow she stepped back and indicated to the Lord that he should pick up his weapon.
Kotay bent down to retrieve his sword. 'Foolish boy,' he thought to himself. 'Honour is a luxury for those that play at war in the tournaments. It has no place in true battle. You won't live to regret your mistake.' He grasped the hilt of his sword and picked it up quickly, flicking it up toward B'Elanna, throwing all of the sand that had gathered on its blade into her eyes, using his shield to partially hide his actions from the crowd. Quickly he attacked once more.
B'Elanna saw Kotay's movement but didn't understand what it meant until it was too late. The debris blinded her and it took all of her self-discipline to not simply drop her sword and rub at her eyes with her hands. Instead she raised her weapon and squinted hard to make out the shape of her enemy as he leapt to the attack. Using all of her senses she listened for the sound of his sword as it cut through the air and in this manner she defended herself clumsily while she retreated around the ring. She fought desperately, trying to gain enough time so that the tears streaming down her cheeks might clear the dirt from her eyes. She heard his blade hissing through the air and parried quickly, his blow sliding clear of her neck and only nicking her free hand as it glanced off to the side. She regained her balance to wait for the next blow, blinking furiously as her world slowly came back into focus.
Kotay pressed his advantage furiously and was angered to see that it was not working. Somehow the boy was managing to detect his blows even though he was blinded. The older Lord was tiring now and still he pressed--raining blows on the younger man in hopes of slipping his blade between Beyla's desperate defenses.
Finally her eyes cleared and now B'Elanna let her anger flow as she for the first time took the fight in the direction she chose. She thrust furiously as she pushed Kotay back toward the fence of the sword ring. She could tell he was growing winded and was relying more and more on his shield to protect him. With a wild cry she used two hands in a ferocious overhand blow that hewed the great buckler in two, and it was all Kotay could do to parry her blows as he discarded the shattered pieces of his shield. In his desperation he struck out with his fist and caught B'Elanna firmly across the mouth, and she tasted the copper of her own blood. Her surprise at the blow gave Kotay the time he needed to free his arm and they once again circled one another slowly around the ring.
B'Elanna knew she needed to end this before Kotay's experience and strength got the better of her. She never took her eyes off of his as she spat the blood from her mouth and rushed headlong into the battle once again. This time Kotay could barely keep up with the blur of blows rained down on him by B'Elanna. He was wholly on the defensive now and he stumbled badly but managed to regain his balance before B'Elanna could press her advantage. Finally she managed to knock his sword to the side with a powerful sweep of her weapon and before he could recover she thrust her sword deeply into his chest. The power and momentum of her blow carried them both across the ring until Kotay's body slammed hard into the fence.
B'Elanna looked deeply into his eyes as the life slowly drained from his body. Gone was the anger, replaced with puzzlement, as if he couldn't quite remember how he had come to be there. His hands clumsily grasped at the blade of her sword, vainly trying to remove it from his body. Finally his arms fell nerveless to his sides and B'Elanna stepped aside as he slumped to his knees and then sideways onto the ground. She kept hold of her sword and as he fell it pulled clear of his body, slick with his blood. She stood for a moment, regarding the Lord as he lay in death, and then she turned to face the gallery, raising her sword again she thundered,
"Are there any others who would challenge me in this matter?"
Kotay's friends cast their eyes downward and did not answer. If he had appointed a second it appeared that man had no desire to enter the ring with Beyla. Satisfied that she was safe B'Elanna turned to look for Annika.
She spotted the younger woman just as she pulled free from Tom's arms and began to run toward the ring in a decidedly unLadylike fashion. Sword still in hand, B'Elanna put her free hand on the top rail of the sword ring fence and cleared it in one graceful leap. She pushed through the crowd and grabbed Annika around the waist as they finally reached one another, picking her up in one arm and swinging her around in a circle before setting her back on her feet. Annika pulled B'Elanna's face to hers and they kissed passionately; there was a murmur of approval from the crowd. Even though Kotay had been the injured party, Beyla had won the duel most honourably and many of the people present knew of the love Annika and Beyla shared and were happy to see the young couple together. Breaking the kiss, Annika kept B'Elanna's face in her hands.
"I feared I might lose you my Lord."
"Never Annika, never when anger opposes love, love will always triumph."
Annika put her head on Beyla's shoulder and allowed the strong arms of her love to hold her close. She didn't care that her knight was covered in dirt, sweat and blood, all that mattered to her was the sense of belonging of the home she found in the arms of her Lord. They stood thus for some time until B'Elanna realized that they were the centre of attention.
"We should go now Lady Hansart. Your father should hear of these events from us and not through the gossip of strangers."
In truth B'Elanna was not looking forward to facing Lord Hansart with the news that the Lord he had picked out to marry his daughter had first been shamed by Annika's actions and then killed by her own hand. She had no idea what Lord Hansart would do when he heard this news, but there was no way that B'Elanna was going to let Annika face her father alone. She squared her shoulders and took Annika's hand as they turned to walk to the inn where the Hansart's were staying.
When the group reached the inn they were greeted by the angry figure of Lord Hansart as he paced back and forth in the public hall. The word that Annika had been caught by Kotay as she kissed Beyla had reached him an hour ago and he had been waiting at first worriedly and later angrily for the return of his daughter so that he might find out the fate of his bargain with the Lord. Kotay would be within his rights to refuse to marry Annika now and if that happened Annika's disgrace would be complete and any hope of finding a suitable husband in England would vanish. He had taken it as a bad sign that over an hour had passed with no further word about the incident. He was decidedly unhappy to see his daughter appear at the inn in the company of a battered and bloodied Lord Beyla obviously the worst had happened.
"Annika," he hissed as they entered the room, his anger at the situation overriding his concern for his daughter. "What do you have to say for yourself. I never expected such wanton behaviour from my own daughter. I thought I raised you to be a lady and not to act the whore for the first young man who comes sniffing around."
Annika hung her head in shame, cowed by her father's angry words. B'Elanna, however, was not in the least intimidated.
"Have a care Lord Hansart," B'Elanna growled, her hand going to the hilt of her sword. "You are Annika's father and as such I owe you my respect, but I will tolerate no such disparagement of my Lady not even from you."
Lord Hansart stepped back in fear at B'Elanna's words, and when he spoke again it was with greater restraint and in a lower tone of voice. Still his fury was evident in every crisply enunciated word that fell from his lips.
"I want an explanation."
Annika, in halting tones, began to tell the story of what happened. When she came to the part about the challenge B'Elanna took over the tale and finished by telling of Lord Kotay's death at her hands. Lord Hansart was devastated by the news. There was no hope now of finding a husband for Annika in England, all of his hopes were dashed. It was as if the life went out of him and he seemed somehow older and smaller.
"Come Annika, get away from Lord Beyla, the two of you have done quite enough damage as it is. I hope you realize that you have ruined your father. There is no chance for us in England now. We will return to France immediately and hope that we can find some suitable man who will not yet have heard of your disgrace."
He grabbed her by the arm and began to pull her to toward the stairs leading up to their rooms. There were tears in Annika's eyes but for the first time there was steel in her voice when she spoke to her father.
"No!" She cried and pulled her arm away from her father's grasp. "I will not be returning to France with you father. My place is here, with Lord Beyla. I love him father, and that is all that matters to me. I care nothing for money, power or land, and I am truly sorry that I will not be able to fulfil your dreams of achieving these things, but I will not be bartered for goods, not by you, not by anyone."
It was perhaps the longest speech Annika had ever made to her father, and certainly the most forceful. Lord Hansart simply stood there staring at this young woman he no longer knew. He loved his daughter in his own way and hated to see her throw her life away on a young upstart with no prospects, but his fury at what he saw as the ultimate betrayal was more potent than his love in this moment.
"Then stay with your vagabond knight. It is well that love is all you care for Annika for it seems that love is all you will have. When you finally realize that you can't eat or drink love, when you finally tire of living in tents and sleeping on the ground remember this day."
"I'm sorry father, I truly am," Annika said as she started up the stairs to pack her belongings. She was impeded in her progress by the hand of her father.
"If you leave with him you leave with nothing but the clothes on your back. Everything else belongs to me. Now be gone both of you from this moment on I have no daughter," he proclaimed in a stentorian voice.
Annika couldn't believe that her father could be so cruel. She turned to leave only to be stopped again by her father's voice.
"And just where do you think you're going?"
She turned around to see what was meant by that statement and saw that her father had addressed that question to Tom and Katherine who had been about to leave with her and Lord Beyla.
"You are indentured to me young lady and it will be several years until you are free to leave my employ."
Katherine's heart fell to her feet at Lord Hansart's pronouncement. It had never occurred to her that she might be separated from Annika.
"Surely we can come to some agreement Lord Hansart," B'Elanna spoke up.
"I am a business man not a monster," Lord Hansart agreed. To prove his point he charged twice what Katherine's indenture was worth, but B'Elanna paid it gladly, her reward being the smiles of Annika and Kate when they learned they were not to be separated after all.
"And you Thomas?" Lord Hansart demanded.
"I believe I will be seeking employment elsewhere my Lord," Tom replied turning to leave with his friends.
Lord Hansart turned and stomped up the stairs in anger, brushing past his wife, who had overheard everything, without so much as a word.
Annika took B'Elanna's arm and the group went out from the relative gloom of the interior of the inn to the bright sunlight of the afternoon. They were all silent as they walked each of them lost in thought over the events of the day, each pondering what the future might hold for them.
There was rather an awkward moment when they got back to the tent that Harry and B'Elanna were sharing. There were comfortable sleeping accommodations for two, or four if they shared the beds, but given the newness of their situation nobody was comfortable making a suggestion as to who should sleep where. This was made the more excruciating as B'Elanna was now faced with the prospect of having to tell Kate and Tom the truth about her identity. Finally after several moments of silence in which the newcomers pretended to be interested in looking around their new home B'Elanna cleared her throat.
"I, uh, I have something to tell you, and I'm not sure how you are going to feel about it. I would only hope that you remember that whatever else may be, I am and will always be the same person you've known for some time now, and I hope that you will be able to judge me based on that alone."
Harry stepped forward and attempted to help B'Elanna out, "What Beyla is trying to say ."
"No Harry, this is something I need to do on my own . What I'm trying to say is that well let's start with the easy stuff first shall we? To begin with I am not of noble birth, that is to say that I am neither Lord Beyla, nor am I a knight."
There was a stunned silence at this admission. Everyone knew that to impersonate nobility was punishable by death, but to have done it in such a bold and public manner was incredible. If this was 'the easy stuff' neither Kate nor Tom could conceive of what the 'difficult stuff' could possibly be.
After another moment of awkward silence B'Elanna continued.
"My name is B'Elanna Torrance and I am a woman."
Nobody in the tent moved in fact it seemed as though not even the people who already knew the truth could bring themselves to breathe. After another dazed silence it was finally Tom who found his voice.
"Did you know this Lady Annika?" He couldn't believe that this delicate and proper Lady would involve herself in such a situation.
"Not at first, no. But I have known for some time now and although I did not know Beyla's true name or situation until this very moment I nonetheless love him her, and nothing will change that fact."
"Well, I suppose I have no choice but to accept it," said Kate with a look of disbelief on her face. "I cannot believe that I am indentured to a commoner like myself."
"Indentured what? No, Kate you misunderstand. I didn't buy your indenture from Lord Hansart; I bought your freedom. You may stay or go as you please I have no desire to 'own' anyone," B'Elanna explained.
"Free," Kate's eyes were wide with wonder. "You mean if I choose to leave this moment you won't stop me; I can do as I please?"
"Yes, absolutely! Please know that you will always have a home and employment here with Annika if you chose it, but if you cannot accept me for who and what I am then you are of course free to go. I would only ask that you keep my secret for if you are indiscrete it will surely cost me my life, and perhaps Annika's as well."
Kate did not have words to express her feelings at finally receiving her freedom, so she merely nodded, her eyes filled with unshed tears.
"I don't understand this at all," Tom finally spoke up. "How is it possible that you are a woman and yet a tournament champion you fight like a knight."
At this point Harry intervened and began to explain the story from its beginnings the night that he heard of his father's death at the Battle of Agincourt. This story was new to Annika as well and so the group all found places to sit while Harry told the entire story of B'Elanna saving him from the mob and her eventual decision to become a knight in order to support both of them. Nobody could believe what they were hearing, but the story was so engaging that not a word was spoken until Harry finished the tale at the point where he and B'Elanna had finally met the Hansart family.
"Well, you know the rest," he finished.
"So, let me get this straight you are the Lord, but you are acting as squire for a woman who is pretending to be a Lord?" Tom managed.
"Well, yes actually," Harry answered with a boyish grin. "And I wouldn't trade places with any Lord in Christendom. This is the life I have chosen and I have never been happier."
They all talked for a while longer and Harry and B'Elanna answered the numerous questions the others had for them. Annika had remained silent all the while the rest of them spoke. This was the first time that she had heard the entire story of B'Elanna's life. She couldn't conceive of the courage and strength it had taken B'Elanna to live as she had. Although she could never have imagined such a thing she found that she was completely in love with the enigmatic woman who had the nerve and the daring to flaunt all convention and live her life on her own terms. Annika knew that she wanted to be with B'Elanna no matter what it required her to sacrifice. Hearing the story of B'Elanna's life made her love her more. She was frightened about what the future might hold, and terrified of what would happen to them if their secret was ever revealed, but that was a small consideration when viewed beside the love she felt for her Knight for indeed that was how she would always think of B'Elanna.
In the end it was B'Elanna who brought an end to the discussion. It was obvious that Kate and Tom had reservations about the whole situation, but also that they were not ready to abandon their new friends just yet. B'Elanna decided that Kate and Annika should share the bed in her half of the tent and that she, Tom, and Harry would share the other side. They all bustled about finding suitable nightclothes for the newcomers and soon all save Harry and B'Elanna were settled in bed. B'Elanna went outside to sit by the remains of the fire that was burning in the common area between the tents. Harry waited a moment and then followed her out, taking a seat beside her he waited for her to speak.
"I killed a man today," she finally said.
Harry just waited, knowing that B'Elanna needed time to work all of this out before she could talk about it.
"I know I have taken lives before, but that was different somehow. I killed Robert Johnson to save our lives and when I took the life of the highwayman it was in the heat of battle, but today was different. It was personal the look in his eyes when he died Harry I don't know if I'll ever be able to forget that look."
Harry put his arm around the shoulders of his friend. "I'd be more worried about you if you could forget that look. I know we make our living with violence in a manner of speaking, but underneath it all you are still a caring human being of course you are affected by the taking of life."
B'Elanna nodded mutely as she stared into the flames.
"How am I ever going to look after all of these people?"
"We'll figure something out. We have more than enough money and there are only a few more tournaments left before we go to London for the final tournament of the season. After that we can worry about what to do," Harry reassured her.
"I can't ask Annika to live in the woods for the winter she's a Lady, she deserves better!"
"B'Elanna she would be content to live anywhere as long as you are together, I've seen the way she looks at you, she knew she deserved better and that is why she came here to be with you this IS better for her."
They sat in silence for a while longer before Harry stood up and offered his hand to B'Elanna.
"Come on we aren't going to solve this tonight and you need your sleep for the competitions tomorrow now that you have a family to support," he grinned.
B'Elanna hesitated for a moment before taking his hand and standing up. They went into the tent and curled up on the floor in the old sleeping furs they used when they were camping. Despite the worry and the events of the day they fell asleep quickly.
Early the next morning B'Elanna got up to begin her preparations for the day's tournament events. Despite Harry's assurance that they would be all right she felt a real pressure to win that had never been present before. Every win would now mean the difference between supporting and failing to support her chosen family. It was no longer a fun game to become tournament champion but a serious business of earning money.
Harry rigged up a sheet in the corner of the tent behind which he could bind B'Elanna's chest out of sight of the others, and once they were finished B'Elanna went quietly into the other half of the tent to retrieve her clothing for the day. Annika and Kate were just beginning to wake up so she whispered a good morning to them before leaving to dress behind the curtain on the other side. Once finished she stepped outside where Harry was preparing the morning meal. She began to stretch to warm up her muscles and as she was doing so Tom stepped outside to greet the morning. He watched B'Elanna as she limbered up and was again incredulous of the fact that she was a woman. Her body was lean and strong and her muscles rippled as she moved, he felt a stirring of arousal as he watched her which he firmly extinguished with the thought of what she was capable of doing to him if she ever found out.
He moved to help Harry with the meal preparations, all the time keeping an eye on B'Elanna. He saw the look that completely transformed her face when Annika stepped outside of the tent. It was like watching the sunriseseeing the beautiful light that spread over her features with her lovestruck smile. When he saw an answering smile on Annika's face any doubts he harboured about whether or not he would accept this situation and stay with B'Elanna and the Lady Annika they were dispelled at the sight of such obvious love. You just couldn't argue with a look like that.
Kate offered to clean up after the meal while Harry and Tom went to the stables to prepare Goliath for the day. B'Elanna was cleaning and inspecting her armour while Annika, feeling a little useless, sat and watched. Annika looked up at hearing footsteps and was surprised to see her mother approaching. She was alone which was entirely unusual and she had her hands full with several packages. Upon hearing Annika's intake of breath B'Elanna looked up and saw the elder Lady Hansart as well. She leapt to her feet to take the parcels from the Lady's arms and bid her welcome to their camp.
"Your father and I are leaving for France today Annika. He doesn't know that I am here he would be angry if he knew I'm sure. I just wanted to see you again and to make sure that you are happy my daughter. I want you to know that if you change your mind you are welcome to return home with us."
B'Elanna held her breath while she waited for Annika's reply.
"No mother I am exactly where I am meant to be."
"Well, I thought as much, but I had to be certain. I know your father said some cruel things to you yesterday, but please don't judge him too harshly. He only wants what he feels is best for you." She held up her hand to forestall Annika's protest. "I know that you are happy Annika, but your father cannot conceive of happiness without money and power it is all he understands and he believes you will suffer because of the choices you have made."
Lady Hansart paused for a moment while she struggled to control her emotions.
"I just wanted to see you again, and to tell you that I love you, that I will always love you. I hope that you both will be very happy together."
She paused once more to wipe the tears from her eyes.
"I also wanted to give you this," she said as she took the largest of the packages from B'Elanna's hands and gave it to Annika. "Go ahead and open it."
Annika removed the wrapping from the parcel and gasped as she saw the heavy cream coloured linen dress inside the package.
"It is the wedding dress I commissioned when your father struck his bargain with Lord Kotay. It was delivered yesterday and I was going to surprise you with it when you returned from the tournament. I wanted you to have it to wear when you and Lord Beyla are wed. I wish I could be there to see it but your father insists that we leave right away," she sobbed.
Annika held her mother closely and murmured words of love and forgiveness to this woman who had dared more in defying her husband and coming to see her than she ever had before. When Lady Hansart finally had herself under control she took the last two packages and handed them to Annika to open. The first one contained a necklace that had been handed down to the Hansart women through the years and the second, much heavier one, contained a number of gold and silver pieces.
"It is all the money that I have independently of your father. I wanted you to have it as part of your dowry. I know that Lord Beyla can look after you but it never hurts a newly married couple to have a little extra just in case."
She had scrimped over the years to save this money; it was saved from household expenses and set aside a little at a time until she had built up quite a nest egg so she would always feel secure should anything happen to her husband. She gladly parted with it now.
Mother and daughter embraced again and then Lady Hansart turned to B'Elanna.
"Please take care of my daughter Lord Beyla. Be happy together," she said as she hugged the young Lord.
"I swear on my life Lady Hansart I will do everything in power to see that she is always safe and happy."
"I know you will my Lord," said the older woman and then she kissed B'Elanna on each cheek, hugged her daughter fiercely once more and then she departed swiftly through the growing crowds, hoping to return to the inn before her husband noticed she was gone.
Tears were streaming down Annika's face as she watched her mother's departing figure. B'Elanna took her in her arms and held her close, stroking her hair and murmuring assurances that everything was going to be all right. Finally Annika cried herself out and gave herself over to being held in the arms of the woman she loved the woman she had given up her entire way of life to be with. Even though she was saddened at the loss of her parents she was happy to be with B'Elanna and certain that she had made the right choice. She straightened up finally and gazed deeply into the eyes of her love before kissing her softly.
"You are my entire life B'Elanna," she said using her love's proper name for the first time. "I love you."
They were simple words, but they were all that needed to be spoken.
"Now, you need to get ready for the day. Tell me how I can help."
"I love you Lady Hansart," B'Elanna said at her love's obvious attempt to be brave. She held her close for a moment longer and then began to show her the intricacies of putting on a suit of armour.
The responsibility of supporting all the members of her new extended family weighed heavily on B'Elanna's shoulders at first. She was feeling very tense as she struggled to put on her armour with the fumbling help of Annika. Still she had to admit that it felt very good to think that she and Harry were no longer alone in the world. She heard Harry and Tom returning to the tent with Goliath already saddled and armed for the day's work. It had been a long time since she'd heard Harry laugh and joke so freely with someone other than herself and it made her smile to hear he and Tom bantering lightly as they gathered up equipment for the joust. It occurred to her that while she had more responsibility now than ever before in her life she also had people to share her life with and that fact alone helped ease the burden. No longer were she and Harry alone responsible for keeping her secret the burden was spread among the group of friends. Now that Kate and Tom knew the secret they could truly become friends, as they no longer needed to watch every word they spoke in front of them for fear of discovery. As happy as she and Harry had been, B'Elanna knew that they had both been feeling a loneliness that came from hiding a secret from the rest of the world.
The preparations for the day's events went much more quickly as well. Normally she would have tidied up the tent and struggled alone with her armour before heading to the stables to help Harry with the horse. Now the camp was tidy, the horse and equipment were ready and she had time to spare. For once she would not have to hurry to the lists for fear of being late. It was a good feeling to look around and see her 'family' hard at word for a common cause. Even Annika insisted upon helping with the preparations and watched Harry carefully to learn the names and uses for every piece of equipment B'Elanna wore or used.
Tom and Kate appeared to have made their peace with B'Elanna's secret and were relaxing into the atmosphere of the tournament grounds. All in all it was quite a happy group that made their way to the staging area to wait for B'Elanna's first match of the day. When they reached the edge of the staging grounds they stopped while Annika said goodbye to B'Elanna before leaving with Kate to take their seats in the viewing stands.
The young lovers were suddenly shy as they turned to one another, and it was Annika who managed to speak first. She took the scarf from around her neck and tied it around B'Elanna's arm.
"I once gave this favour to Lord Beyla that he might joust in my name, but today I give this to you B'Elanna Torrance so that you might know that I favour you above all others in my heart. Know that I am always with you and that you are always in my heart."
"I never thought I would hear such words spoken in my own name Lady Annika, and I cannot tell you what it means to me to hear them now from you. From the bottom of my heart I thank you and tell you that I love you always I will always be your champion Annika I take my strength from your love and so I know I will be victorious."
With that she placed a kiss on the other woman's lips and watched as her love made her way toward the viewing stands.
"You better pay attention to the ring and forget about the woman or we'll all be in the poor house," Harry joked as he saw the look of love on his friend's face.
"What Oh, I'm ready Harry bring them on. She loves me nothing can stop us now!" B'Elanna grinned widely and grabbed him around the shoulders, forcing his head down as she ruffled his hair.
Harry smiled at his friend's exuberance glad to see a carefree and happy look replace the frown of concentration and responsibility he was used to seeing on B'Elanna's countenance. Love, it would appear, seemed to agree with her.
Love truly did seem to agree with B'Elanna and she tore through the lists with exuberance and skill. She was once again victorious and three days hence was again tournament champion. She spent her days fighting and her evenings with her new extended family. They were growing ever closer but they all knew that something would soon have to be done about enlarging their living quarters. Annika and Kate continued to share B'Elanna's part of the tent while B'Elanna, Harry and Tom bunked together on the other side of the curtain. Harry had gone into town one day and made inquiries about finding another tent suitable for their purposes, but he had no luck. So they were forced to continue living in close quarters and hoping for better luck in the next town.
In all honesty both B'Elanna and Annika were a little relieved not to have the opportunity to share a bed at this point. They knew they loved one another and both were anxious to take the next step in their relationship, but neither of them had any experience in these matters and were both feeling rather shy and inadequate at the thought of a closer intimacy. B'Elanna was also determined to 'do the right thing' in terms of her relationship and she had an idea lurking in the back of her mind that might make them both feel better about things if she could pull it off.
In mapping out the last of the tournaments and the routes and figuring out the time they would need to reach them B'Elanna smiled as she realized that if they skipped one minor outlying tournament they would have time just before the tournament in London to carry out her plan. She spoke to Harry and asked that he spend a few days travelling on his own to make the bulk of the arrangements. She was unwilling to tell Annika of her plans until she was certain they were possible. Only then would she gather up all of her courage and approach her Lady to ask the question she had in mind.
She put all of this out of her mind however as Annika and Kate came into the common area of the tent carrying several parcels. They had spent the afternoon after the presentation ceremonies in town with Tom as an escort while B'Elanna cleaned and packed up the equipment for the next day's travel. Annika appeared to be vibrating with excitement as they came into the shelter.
"What is it love?" B'Elanna asked as she came forward to take the packages from Annika's arms. "You seem rather elated."
"I " she hesitated shyly, "I bought you something when I was at the marketplace this afternoon it is a gift, for you."
B'Elanna smiled at her love's obvious enthusiasm.
"Well, I can't wait to see what it is."
Annika handed her one of the parcels and B'Elanna ripped it open with exuberance. This was the first real gift that she had ever received, and that it should have come from Annika made it all the more special. The gift was a suit of clothing consisting of shirt, tunic and stockings. The fabric was a deep purple colour and the material was of obvious quality and workmanship. B'Elanna had little interest in clothes but she was touched that Annika should have thought of her and she expressed her thanks with honest appreciation.
"I thought you could wear it tonight to the ball; I have a dress that will complement the colour and I thought that since this is the first time we will be attending together that it might be nice "
Her voice trailed off as she spoke; she was suddenly embarrassed at her girlish display and the frivolous nature of her gift. Surely B'Elanna would not care for such matters. She cast her eyes down at the ground and so could not see B'Elanna's reaction until the older woman came forward and gently raised her face up to meet her gaze. She was surprised to see unshed tears shining in B'Elanna's eyes.
"My Lady Annika, this is a most thoughtful gift, and I am most honoured to receive it from you. The fact that we are to be together tonight is most important to me and I am pleased that you sought to mark the occasion in this fashion. Thank you my love from the bottom of my heart."
She folded the beautiful lady into her arms and held her tight for several moments until they were both more firmly in control of their emotions. Kissing her gently on the lips B'Elanna teased,
"Perhaps I should try it on in case it doesn't fit, or the colour doesn't suit me once I've put it on."
"I am certain you will be pleased my Lord. I was always very good at purchasing clothing for my father, and the size was always suitable for him."
Seeing the look of sadness that came over Annika's eyes at the mention of her father, B'Elanna hastened to have Kate help her into her new outfit, which indeed fit perfectly. She made a great show of modeling it for her love, exclaiming again and again how much she loved the outfit.
Annika finally noticed that Harry was nowhere to be seen and she was intrigued when B'Elanna was vague as to where the young man had gone only saying that he was away on business for several days. Annika tried her best to get B'Elanna to reveal the nature of the business Harry was taking care of but to no avail. She wasn't certain that she liked the feeling of secrets between them, but she reminded herself of how much she loved and trusted B'Elanna and finally she let it go trusting that B'Elanna would reveal her secret when she was ready.
When they separated to begin their preparations for the evening banquet B'Elanna dressed quickly and carefully, wanting everything to be perfect for this evening. She sat back after she had pulled on her shoes and reflected for a moment on everything that had happened over the past few days. 'What do you do when you have everything you could possibly want in this world,' she wondered to herself. 'Well, almost everything.' It was hard for her to believe that in less than one year she had completely transformed her life from a that of an angry and directionless girl into that of a Lord who had traveled to France, spoke two languages and could read, write, joust, fight and had won the heart of the woman she loved. She smiled to herself as she got up to meet Annika, still not entirely believing that the beautiful young woman returned her love regardless of her situation.
When she entered the other half of the tent, after ascertaining that it was safe to do so, she caught her breath at the sight that greeted her eyes. Annika was a vision in a long, flowing dress that emphasized her slender waist and ample bosom. It was a softer colour than B'Elanna's tunic and was trimmed with the same dark purple as the outfit Annika had purchased for her. They made a stunning couple as they stood side by side to model their clothes for Tom and Kate.
B'Elanna was feeling more than a bit shy and she could not understand why. Then it occurred to her that she and Annika were attending the banquet together this evening. For the first time they would begin and end the evening together, and not rely on stolen moments on the dance floor for their interactions. B'Elanna felt as if she were seven feet tall when she offered her arm to Annika and led her out of the tent toward the banquet hall. She enjoyed the looks they received from the people around them as they picked their way through the tents and firepits that made up the tournament grounds. As they neared the banquet hall they joined a throng of knights and ladies who were also on their way to banquet. Even in such company the pair turned heads.
The double doors to the banquet hall soared 12 feet overhead and the hall itself was huge, with food-laden tables on three sides of it, framing the dance floor. The walls were covered with luxurious banners that depicted the family crest of the Lord who was hosting the tournament as well as richly embroidered scenes illustrating glorious moments in the family's past history. Battle and hunting scenes dominated the banners, and the rich colours of the tapestries gave warmth to the cavernous room. Fires burned in several fireplaces along the walls and torches flickered in sconces at three-foot intervals around the room. It was a warm and welcoming scene, and B'Elanna was happy to hear the musicians tuning up their instruments in one corner of the room. She smiled to herself when she thought of how much she protested against learning to dance in the beginning. Now she couldn't wait to take to the dance floor with Annika on her arm.
As they walked around the room picking at the sumptuous food they nodded greetings to the people that they knew from past tournaments. B'Elanna noticed that some of the older knights refused to meet her eye or return her greetings and she was chastened to realize that she had lost face among some of the more traditional elements on the tour by becoming involved with Lord Kotay's intended wife. The younger men and women however seemed quite willing to accept them as a couple and in fact Lord Beyla's willingness to fight for his lady love had made him even more popular among the younger women in the crowd. Annika was surprised to feel a prickling of jealousy come over her when the young unmarried women were flirtatious with Lord Beyla. She found herself holding even more tightly onto B'Elanna's arm as if she could physically restrain her from being attracted to the flirtatious young women.
When the dancing began B'Elanna led Annika out onto the floor and bowed courteously to her as the music began. As she twisted through the serpentine rows of dancers, changing partners continuously B'Elanna found that more and more she appreciated the rhythm of the dance, and the athletic skills needed to excel at it. Once again she was struck by how much had changed in this year of her life. Catching site of Annika as she wound down the line of ladies toward her she was again awed by the beauty and grace of her love. It was hard to imagine that someone like Annika could have fallen in love with her, and yet the sweet smile that washed over her features when they once again joined hands in the dance was more than enough to convince her of the truth of the matter.
When there was a break in the dancing B'Elanna and Annika made their way over to a group knights that B'Elanna had come to know fairly well over the course of the season. They stood as a group eating and talking and consuming the sweet mead produced in this region. B'Elanna joined in the conversation and after a while Annika grew warm from the efforts of dancing. It was hot in the room and she felt she needed some air. She excused herself saying that she was just going to step outside for a moment and then made her way from the room. B'Elanna watched her go, distracted for a moment by the sight of her love's sensual sway as she walked. She finally turned back to the conversation and it was some time before she realized that Annika had been gone for too long. Excusing herself she went outside to search for Lady Hansart.
She didn't see Annika when she stepped outside of the hall, and she was gripped with panic as she looked around in the dark for some clue as to where the Lady might have gone. She heard what might have been a cry on the other side of the building and she hastened to investigate, fear lending wings to her feet. When she came around the corner she was horrified to see Annika with her back pressed against the wall of the building; she appeared to be struggling with one of the younger knights as he attempted to kiss her against her will.
As she hurried over to the struggling pair she heard the young man exhorting Annika to relax, that he would be as good a lover as Beyla, and better by far than Kotay. B'Elanna drew her dagger from its scabbard and grabbing the man she pulled him away from Annika, twisting his body to face her she slammed him into the wall and stuck the point of her dagger to his throat.
"What the hell do you think you are doing?" she hissed, her face contorted in anger.
"Lord Beyla, I was simply I mean, I just thought "
"You thought what?" she demanded giving him a furious shake.
"I heard that she was Kotay's courtesan "
"Hold your tongue or I shall cut it out of your mouth. You are speaking of the woman I love," B'Elanna interrupted in her fury.
"Love I didn't know Lord Beyla, I swear I heard from several of Kotay's friends that she was his whore." The young man was shaking with fear and somehow B'Elanna believed his story. In fact it didn't surprise her in the least that Kotay's friends would try to salvage his reputation in such a manner.
"Well you can tell them for me that if I hear such a rumour again I'll seek satisfaction from them in the sword ring. Do you understand what I'm telling you?" Her voice was low and deadly and the young man was even more afraid now than he had been when Beyla first discovered him and Annika together.
"Yyes Lord Beyla, I swear I do understand I apologize."
B'Elanna reached up and grasped the young man's face in her hand, twisting his head to the left, forcing him to look at Annika.
"Not to me to the Lady," she ground out, with a deadly emphasis on the word 'lady'"
"Of course Lord Beyla," he stammered.
When B'Elanna finally let him go he dropped to one knee in front of Annika and humbly begged her forgiveness for his words and his actions and he vowed to do all he could to see her name cleared. When he was finished he glanced up at B'Elanna like a whipped dog, not daring to get back to his feet without permission from her. At her curt nod he stood up and backed away from the couple still mumbling apologies as he beat his hasty retreat.
The young man was forgotten the moment he was out of sight and B'Elanna took Annika in her arms, holding the shaking woman close, and murmuring soft words of love and comfort.
"Are you injured my love?" B'Elanna inquired finally.
"I am all right, but B'Elanna, the things he said to me. He thought I was a courtesan and that I would sleep with him without a thought for you."
"I know, and I am sorry. I never thought what our relationship might do to your reputation Lady Hansart. I fear your good name has been sullied because of me."
"I care not for my reputation. I love you B'Elanna, all that matters is your opinion of me."
"Well, I care for your reputation my lady, and I intend to see to it that all such misconceptions as these are cleared up. I have no intention of letting anyone spread such lies about you."
Annika relaxed into B'Elanna's embrace once she realized that the older woman did not hold her responsible for what had just happened.
"Let us go back to the camp Lord Beyla," she said in a small voice.
"Soon my love. I think we would be best served to go back into the hall and dance another set together however. I don't want anyone to get the impression that we are easily shaken."
"As you wish my lord," Annika acquiesced.
When they walked back into the hall arm in arm many heads turned to stare at them and B'Elanna knew she had been wise to return. Word of the incident outside the hall had spread quickly and people were curious to know how the couple would respond. B'Elanna gave Annika a lingering kiss before leading her back onto the dance floor. She could hear the murmur of talk among the gathered nobility, but judging by the smiles and approving looks she saw on many faces Lord Beyla's actions were accepted by the majority. It was obvious to the crowd that Lady Hansart was very important to Lord Beyla, and if he had indeed fought his duel with Kotay for love then under the tenets of the chivalric code they were willing to accept the relationship on those terms.
When the dance was over Annika and B'Elanna left the room arm in arm. Annika was surprised by the fact that once she had calmed down from her dreadful experience with the young knight, she was actually glad that they had returned to the banquet hall. She suspected that had they not returned right away, she never would have been able to set foot inside one again. As hard as it had been to go back into that room and face the looks the people gave her, being on B'Elanna's arm had made it possible. As long as they loved one another she was certain that together they could face anything.
She looked sideways at the handsome face of the woman she loved, and stopping, she faced B'Elanna, saying quietly,
"Take me home my love."
The next morning B'Elanna discovered to her chagrin that although she could remove her chest bindings herself, when it came to putting them back on she was unable to sufficiently tighten the cloth around her chest to adequately hide her breasts. It was with a healthy dose of embarrassment that she was forced to ask Tom to assist her. She managed to wind the cloth loosely around her in order to maintain her propriety but she suddenly missed Harry for more than personal reasons. She had thought of asking Annika but wasn't quite ready to share this part of her morning ritual with her new love just yet, and the thought of asking Kate for help was something she wasn't ready to do. Tom's fear of B'Elanna's strength and skills as a warrior kept him from making a fool of himself as he helped B'Elanna bind her chest and dress for the day. To his credit his hands shook only slightly throughout the procedure.
When she was fully clothed she came out of the tent to find that Annika and Kate had already prepared breakfast for all of them. They ate quickly and then they all turned to the task of tearing down the camp and preparing for the day's travel. Without Harry the work progressed slowly. Over the course of the year they had spent together they had developed a certain rhythm when they worked that made the tasks much simpler and quicker to accomplish than they were with other people. Several times she had bumped into Tom or Kate as they worked, and they had to repack the wagon twice before they managed to fit all of the equipment in properly.
They got on the road several hours later than B'Elanna would have liked, but eventually they were all mounted and on their way. They rode for several hours and then stopped for a quick cold lunch. They were back on the road again but after another hour B'Elanna could see that Kate and Annika were suffering. While both of them were used to riding on horseback it was only as a hobby and not as a method of prolonged travel. This was the longest either of them had spent in the saddle and they were stiff and sore even though they had only been riding for a few hours. B'Elanna pushed them as far as she dared, and to their credit neither of the women uttered one word of complaint.
Finally when it was getting dark B'Elanna called for them all to stop for the night. Kate and Annika were swaying in their saddles and B'Elanna felt terrible for pushing them so hard, but the fact was that unless they made up the time they lost in the morning they would not reach their destination on time. She and Tom began to pull the canvas for the tent out of the wagon and to her shock Annika came over and began to help.
"Lady Annika, please allow Tom and I to do this for you. You are exhausted and you need your rest."
"I will rest when you do B'Elanna," said a very determined Annika as she continued to unload the wagon.
In the end B'Elanna relented and Annika helped them set up a modified version of the tent while Kate gathered wood, lit the fire and started dinner for all of them. Tom and B'Elanna stretched some of the guy ropes from the tent between two trees and then threw the canvas over the ropes. They pegged out the sides and corners and in this manner created a rather large, odd-looking pup tent that would keep the ladies dry should it rain in the night. Annika set up the bedding in the tent while Tom and B'Elanna put their bedrolls next to the fire, content to sleep under the stars rather than put up the entire framework for the tent for just one evening. They all ate by the fire with very little conversation between them. During the course of dinner B'Elanna felt Annika lay her head on her shoulder even as she was eating. When the meal was finished B'Elanna realized that Annika had fallen asleep with her plate in her lap and her head on her shoulder. The strength of the feeling of tender concern that washed over B'Elanna surprised even her. She wasn't prepared to feel so much, and it was all she could do to stop herself from crying over Annika's strength of character and the strength of the love she knew the young Lady had for her. She had never been prouder of anyone than she was of Annika in that moment.
She set the half-eaten dinner on the ground and gathered Annika in her arms, carrying the sleeping woman to the tent and laying her gently on her bedroll. She trusted Kate to make certain that Annika was comfortable for the rest of the night. Then, exhausted herself, she rolled up in her bedroll by the fire and was instantly asleep.
She awoke in the morning to the smell of breakfast cooking over the fire and to her surprise she found that Annika had arisen before them all and had built the fire up and begun the meal on her own. She watched her love at work, unaware of the scrutiny, and smiled when she realized that Annika was humming as she toiled. She was constantly amazed at Annika's ability to adapt to any situation in which she found herself. She knew she couldn't have possibly fallen in love with a more perfect match. She pushed herself up on one elbow to get a better view of her love's sensuous form as she worked, but the noise alerted Annika to the fact that she was no longer alone. B'Elanna's heart nearly stopped when Annika smiled at hershe was so beautiful!
Seeing that B'Elanna was awake Annika dipped one of their mugs in the large pot of tea she was boiling and brought it over to the older woman as she lay in her blankets. B'Elanna took the proffered mug and set it on the ground and then pulled Annika down beside her. The beautiful blonde allowed herself to snuggle into the embrace of her love, and for a while they simple lay together watching the fire and reveling in the closeness of their bodies. When she heard Tom begin to stir in his blankets, however, Annika kissed B'Elanna fiercely and then pulled out her embrace and went back to the fire to check on breakfast. B'Elanna smiled at Annika's inbred delicacy and then took a long swig of the tea to prepare herself for the day.
This morning the packing was easy and quickly accomplished and before they knew it they were back on the road. Once again, despite their discomfort, neither Annika nor Kate complained about the work or the pace that B'Elanna was setting. They stopped briefly for lunch and to B'Elanna's delight they were at the next place she intended to camp long before dark. There was a stream nearby for bathing and they were all looking forward to washing the grime of the road from their bodies and clothing. They quickly set up camp and then took turns bathing in the river before returning to the camp to change into clean clothes.
When they were all clean and clothed again there was still an hour before they needed to think about dinner. Annika went over to the wagon and removed one of B'Elanna's swords and brought it over to where her love was oiling the leather joints on her armour. She knelt beside the dark-haired woman and watched her meticulous work for several moments before speaking.
"I wish to learn how to use a sword as you do B'Elanna," she finally said.
B'Elanna looked up with amusement in her eyes.
"You aren't serious are you my Lady?" she queried.
"I assure you I am serious."
"But why would you wish to know such a thing?"
"Because I wish to understand what it is you do when you fight. I wish to share this experience with you, and I wish to know how to defend myself should the need every arise."
"Lady Annika, it is a difficult sport and requires a great deal of physical strength. I'm certain that you wouldn't like it, and besides you are not exactly dressed for fencing my love."
"I feel quite certain that some of your clothing would fit me and be suitable for my purposes. I am serious B'Elanna I wish to learn to fence."
"Annika, I'm sure you don't wish to be seen in men's clothing and fencing is hardly a sport for ladies " B'Elanna began but she immediately realized her mistake when she saw the fire in Annika's eyes and the stern set to her jaw.
"Oh now I understand LORD Beyla," she said in a voice dripping with sarcasm. "You are to be the only woman who has the freedom of choice in this relationship. You are just like a man in that you want me to be ladylike and dress appropriately and act like a piece of furniture for your benefit."
"Annika," B'Elanna interrupted, "I assure you that isn't what I meant."
"Then what exactly did you mean?"
"It just never occurred to me that you might be interested in such things."
"Well, I am interested, unless of course you think a lady such as myself is incapable of learning to fence."
B'Elanna wasn't going to fall into that trap a second time.
"Of course not Annika. I truly believe that you can do anything you set your mind to I'll just find you some clothing to wear."
She scurried to the wagon and found some tights and a tunic that might be suitable for Annika while Kate and Tom watched, highly amused at how easily the Lady had beaten B'Elanna into submission. This promised to be entertaining.
Kate followed Annika into the tent and helped her put on the unfamiliar clothing. B'Elanna's breath caught in her throat when Annika finally emerged from the tent. She was wearing brown tights and a white linen tunic that she had belted at the waist. Her beautiful blonde locks were pulled back from her face and tied into a ponytail that hung down between her shoulder blades. Although she could barely believe it, Annika looked even more beautiful than ever before.
B'Elanna led her out into the clearing and handed her a sword, demonstrating the proper grip and helping her into the starting position. She then took her place opposite the younger woman and stood en garde. Annika felt her arm tremble with the unfamiliar weight of the sword, and she began to wonder if she'd bitten off more than she could chew, but she refused to back down and she held her arm as steady as she could. B'Elanna demonstrated the proper footwork, and soon they were crossing swords in a mock battle. Annika found herself quickly out of breath, but she loved the feeling of learning a new skill, and she was amazed at how much easier it was for her to move without the burden of all the trappings of women's clothing.
B'Elanna was a patient teacher and she was impressed with how quickly Annika learned. She stepped behind the lady and put her arms around her showing her a different grip of the sword and guiding her hands to teach the proper methods of parrying and thrusting. She was also enjoying very much the feeling of holding Annika's slim figure in her arms. She lowered her voice until she was almost whispering in the young lady's ear. Annika relaxed her body back into B'Elanna's arms and marveled at the strength she felt in the older woman's body as she led her through the movements of the fight. B'Elanna continued to move Annika's body in the motions of fencing, all the while loving the fact that she was holding the woman she adored in her arms.
"B'Elanna I believe you are merely attempting to flirt with me and that you are not really teaching me fencing at all," Annika said after a while.
B'Elanna grinned slyly at the younger woman. "And if I was would you like me to stop?"
"Don't you dare," Annika said with an answering smile, "But be warned that I will learn to fence and one of these days I may even defeat you."
"I have absolutely no doubt that you can do whatever you set your mind to Annika. You amaze me. I can't believe how well you've adjusted to living like this with me, and you already show great promise as a fencer."
"You are my life B'Elanna, and there is nothing I wouldn't be willing to do or sacrifice in order to be with you."
"So you really don't mind living so roughly as we are?"
"I am adjusting. In truth I actually find myself enjoying this lifestyle. In particular now that I have discovered the pleasures of men's clothing," she teased.
Seeing the look of dismay on B'Elanna's face she hastened to reassure her.
"Do not worry I will continue to dress the part of a proper lady in public as I know it is necessary, but I see no need to wear such confining garments when we are alone in the woods, do you?"
B'Elanna drank in the sight of her love's beautiful body looking somehow even more feminine in men's clothing and hastened to agree vehemently with Annika's assessment.
They continued the lesson for almost an hour until even Annika had to admit she was not strong enough to go on. B'Elanna was impressed with how quickly the Lady had learned and how far she was willing to push herself physically. They fell ravenously on the meal that Tom and Kate had prepared and soon afterward they all retired exhausted to bed.
The next day they were all up before the dawn in order to reach the tournament grounds before nightfall. They traveled quickly and hard all day, barely stopping even to eat, but they managed to reach the town in time to have at least an hour's worth of sunlight left in order to set up their camp. Every one of them was thrilled to find that Harry was already there ahead of them and had begun cooking a hot meal for the weary travelers. They set up the camp in a hurry and then gratefully wolfed down the meal that Harry had provided. Soon enough all but Harry and B'Elanna retired to sleep. With a nod to Harry B'Elanna left the tent to sit by the fire, and she was soon joined by her trusted friend.
"So, did you have success with your trip?"
Harry paused a moment and B'Elanna was aware that her heart was pounding as she waited for his answer.
"I did my friend. It is all arranged."
B'Elanna stared into the fire a slow smile spreading over her features.
"I will speak to her at the ball after the tournament."
"Think you'll be able to concentrate with all of that on your mind?"
"I think I'll manage Harry don't know if I'll get any sleep tonight however."
"Well you'd better you don't want to lose this tournament in particular do you. Think what that would look like," Harry teased.
"In that case I suppose I had better get to bed." She paused for a moment before saying, "Harry I can't thank you enough for everything you've done for me."
"The feeling is more than mutual I assure you B'Elanna, more than mutual."
The two friends embraced warmly before heading off to bed. Contrary to her fears B'Elanna fell asleep almost the moment her head touched her pillow.
The next day was a whirlwind of competition for B'Elanna. This particular tournament was a day shorter than the rest and so she spent the entire day racing from the sword ring to the jousting lists. Only the fact that her retinue had expanded allowed her time to eat and change and attend all of the events. Everyone was busy but they were all happy and B'Elanna once again ended the day undefeated. It was after dark before the equipment was cleaned and put away and the horses' needs attended to, and once again the crew ate hungrily and retired immediately.
True to her word B'Elanna was once again crowned as tournament champion by the end of the second day. As tired as she was B'Elanna was almost vibrating with excitement as she prepared for the night's banquet. Harry had to calm her down several times as she paced around their half of the tent. He finally insisted she sit in a chair and simply listen to her own breathing until he felt she was calm enough to go and get Annika so they could walk to the banquet hall together. He gave her a quick hug before she left and wished her the best of luck.
Walking arm in arm to the banquet hall Annika could sense that B'Elanna had something on her mind. She attempted to draw the warrior out on the subject but B'Elanna was not forthcoming. Once they reached the banquet hall and the dancing began B'Elanna calmed down somewhat, although it amused Annika no end to see her graceful warrior trip over her own feet twice during the dancing. Whatever was on her mind, Annika was grateful that it hadn't interfered with her performance during the games.
They danced all night with their friends and were among the last to leave the banquet hall. B'Elanna had seemed reluctant to go, and Annika was more confused than ever as to what was on her love's mind. When they finally walked out into the night Annika forced herself not to pester B'Elanna with questions about what was on her mind. She trusted that B'Elanna would speak to her when she was ready. Her patience was rewarded when they were crossing the river back to the tournament campgrounds.
At the centre of the bridge B'Elanna stopped walking and they leaned against the rail and watched the black water slip away beneath them. Annika recognized that something important was about to happen and so she merely waited silently for B'Elanna to finally tell her what was on her mind. After a few moments of silent contemplation B'Elanna took a very deep breath, squared her shoulders and turned to face Annika. Wordlessly B'Elanna gestured to the night sky. Looking up they saw a blanket of stars whose beauty defied description.
"Annika if I had as many words as there are stars in the sky tonight I still could not adequately describe all that I feel in my heart for you."
She paused for a moment and then took both of Annika's hands in her own.
"Lady Hansart you know how much I love you. I can never tell you what it means to me that you have forsaken everything you know in life to come and be with me. I can never express my feelings of joy and pride in your strength and your love. I only wish I were a poet or a bard that I might better tell you of my feelings of my love. There is so much that I wish I could give you."
Annika took B'Elanna's beautiful face in both of her hands and looked deeply into her love's liquid brown eyes.
"My beautiful B'Elanna how can you not know by now that you and your love are all that I will ever need in this world."
B'Elanna almost lost control of her emotions at hearing Annika's heartfelt speech, but she managed to reign herself in for the moment. She reached into the pocket of her tunic and drew out the ring she had been carrying with her for some time now. She managed a weak smile.
"I'm glad to hear you say that my Lady, because all that I have to offer you in this world are my heart and my love but nevertheless they are yours if you'll have them. So what say you Lady Hansart will you marry me?"
The confused look on Annika's face might have concerned B'Elanna had she not been expecting it. Even so she felt her heart miss a beat as she contemplated the idea that Annika might simply say no without waiting to hear her explanation.
"But B'Elanna, how can we possibly marry, the church would never permit it."
"It is true the church would not marry us Annika, but there is a way we can be joined if you desire it."
B'Elanna explained her plan to Annika and tried not to read too much or too little into her love's facial expression as she spoke. When she was finished outlining her plan to Annika she paused for a moment before taking her heart into her hands once again and restating her question.
"Annika my love now that you know what I am asking will you consent to be joined with me for life?"
There were tears in Annika's eyes and she could barely find her voice to speak. Finally she had to settle for nodding and a whispered
Even though she had been expecting Annika to say yes B'Elanna still could not believe her luck.
"Yes...You said yes did you not or are my ears deceived by the strength of my hope?"
"Your ears do not deceive you my love I assure you that I did indeed say yes."
B'Elanna placed the ring on Annika's finger before sweeping her love up in her arms and spinning her wildly in circles. She let the Lady's body slide down along her own until their lips met in a kiss of surpassing tenderness and passion. Annika's feet had still not touched the ground and her heart itself had taken wings. When B'Elanna finally set Annika back on the ground she continued to hold her fiercely in her arms; afraid that should she let her go the dream would end and she would find herself alone. Annika rested her head on the powerful shoulders of her love and reveled in the feeling of being pressed so close to the woman she adored. Time ceased to have meaning for them and it was several moments before either of them moved.
When they finally moved apart, Annika was surprised to see the joy so clearly displayed on the face of the normally reserved young warrior. B'Elanna could barely contain herself and she found herself talking and laughing much more than was her custom. She finally had to express herself in her preferred medium, the physical, by sweeping Annika off her feet and into her arms, carrying her off toward their camp. They were both oblivious to the amused or envious looks that were directed their way by the others that they passed. There were both too wrapped up in their own world, which in these moments had contracted until it encompassed only the two of them. Once again Annika marveled at the strength in her love's arms as B'Elanna carried her effortlessly back to their camp.
Tom, Harry and Kate were all sitting by the fire awaiting the arrival of their two friends. Only Harry truly knew how important the evening was to B'Elanna, but the others had sensed that something was in the air and so had opted to stick close to the camp for the evening in order not to miss whatever it was that was about to happen. When they observed B'Elanna approaching the camp with Annika in her arms they were at first concerned that something might have happened to the Lady, but the sound of laughter soon set their minds at ease. They walked out to meet the laughing couple and were rewarded by hearing the two young women talking at once and at lightning speed as they tried to share their happiness with their friends.
When they all calmed down and were settled by the fire, Harry brought out a flagon of mead that he had brought back to the camp for the occasion and they all took turns toasting the happy couple. B'Elanna once again explained how it was that they could be married in a formal ceremony. Although it was unorthodox everyone knew how important it was for both B'Elanna and Annika to feel that their love and their union was celebrated with a ceremony and so they accepted the plan with unequivocal happiness. They sat around the fire for over an hour making plans and dreaming out loud of the future. Since they were skipping the next tournament there was no need to be on the road particularly early in the morning and so they stayed up talking and scheming until late into the night.
They awoke later than usual and had a leisurely breakfast in the now practically empty tournament grounds before tearing down camp and heading out on the road in a different direction from the rest of the competitors. Because her mind was not on the tournament for a change B'Elanna found herself talking and joking more with her friends than was normal for her. For the first time Tom and Kate were getting a chance to see what Harry had known all along, that being that B'Elanna was actually a much more funny and gregarious individual than they had previously suspected. B'Elanna was having more fun than she had in a long time as she got to know the newest members of her 'family' better.
They had a long leisurely day of riding, B'Elanna was relieved to see that Annika and Kate were adjusting well to life on the road they seemed less uncomfortable than before and even seemed to be enjoying themselves.
They stopped for the evening relatively early and only Harry was surprised to see Annika immediately change into more comfortable clothing and begin to help setting up the camp. With all of the help they had this evening it was no problem for them to set up the tent completely. Tom and Harry were even energetic enough to pick up their bows and go hunting for some fresh meat for dinner. Kate gathered up wood and began brewing tea and roasting potatoes in the coals to go along with whatever Tom and Harry managed to get for dinner.
When they were coming back to the camp with the pheasants they had brought down with their bows, Tom was watching Harry carefully for his reaction to the scene that Tom was almost certain would greet them. He was not disappointed when Harry stopped dead in his tracks with his mouth wide open at the sight of Annika and B'Elanna fencing in the clearing near the fire.
"What " was all he managed to get out as he continued to stare at the improbable scene before his eyes.
"I know it is really quite a sight isn't it."
Harry smiled finally and shook his head.
"Sometimes I think we are living in a completely different world from everyone else my friend. I fear for the day when B'Elanna decides that I should wear a dress and act as her handmaiden and not her squire."
Tom couldn't help but smile at the picture Harry's words evoked in his mind.
"And what will you say if that day comes Harry?"
"Well, you've seen her in the sword ring Tom I'll say 'Yes my Lord' and hope she picks out a dress in my colour."
Tom slapped Harry on the back as the two men laughed uproariously and continued their walk into camp to prepare dinner for the group. The irony of this fact was not lost on them.
Harry and B'Elanna had worked out the timing of this journey to perfection. They would leave in the early morning the next day and arrive just outside of their destination by late afternoon. This would allow time for everyone to bathe and dress for the ceremony that would take place that very evening. Harry had arranged a surprise or two for the couple that he was very proud of, and he was looking forward to this occasion almost as much as B'Elanna. He realized that his life would look slightly different once B'Elanna was married to Annika. He would miss the closeness they had shared up until now, but was truly happy for his friend.
When everyone went to sleep B'Elanna and Harry remained sitting by the fire and talking softly. Harry tried to express his joy at B'Elanna's happiness, and B'Elanna for her part talked openly about her hopes and even her fears as she prepared to take the most important step of her life. She was afraid that Annika would not be able to withstand the rigours of a life spent on the road, and that eventually she would want to have a different kind of life. B'Elanna realized that her life as a champion could not last forever. Eventually she would have to find something different to do with her life; she would be forced to find a new way to make a living. She knew that she had saved enough money to live comfortably for some time, and that if they were smart with the money she won over the next few years that they could have comfortable and simple life for some time. But a simple life was not what she wanted to offer to Annika. Lady Hansart deserved so much more than merely a 'comfortable' life, but B'Elanna was uncertain as to how she could ever possibly provide it for her. With no land and no home to offer, her choices were limited.
Harry knew that B'Elanna's fears were grounded in reality, but he also knew that Annika was deeply in love with his friend and that she was not longing for a life of leisure nearly as much as B'Elanna feared. However, he shared B'Elanna's concerns as to what would happen to them when the day came that his friend could no longer compete in the tournaments. For this evening however, he merely encouraged her to concentrate on the joys the next few days would bring and put aside her more material worries.
Eventually the two of them talked themselves out and they were content to sit in silence and enjoy the fire. When Harry finally said that he felt it was time for bed, B'Elanna asked him to bring their bedrolls out by the fire. He was only too happy to comply and for the last time ever the two friends rolled up in their blankets beside the fire and fell asleep beneath the stars.
Everyone was up early the next morning and the camp was buzzing with excitement as they packed and prepared for the relatively short journey to their destination. B'Elanna found herself feeling rather shy around Annika this morning for some reason, and so she kept to herself while they tore down the camp and had a quick breakfast before setting out on the road. She trusted Harry with her life but was still worried as to whether or not all of the arrangements for the ceremony would meet her exacting demands. She had given him instructions down to the finest detail and driven him crazy by going over her wishes again and again until he assured her he knew what she wanted. Even so, as she rode to the village her mind kept wandering over everything that could possibly go wrong.
She was lost in thought and so didn't notice Annika dropping back to ride beside her.
"Is everything alright my love?" she asked. She could see the worry on B'Elanna's face and although she knew that the young warrior loved her very much she was concerned that she might be having second thoughts about solidifying their relationship with a marriage ceremony.
B'Elanna shook herself out of her reverie and saw the look of concern on Annika's face. She knew instantly that Annika was feeling insecure and she hastened to reassure her that everything was all right.
"I am fine my love I I just want everything to be perfect." In truth she was still worrying over what was to become of them and desperately trying to figure out what to do with her life, but she was not ready to discuss any of these worries with Annika just yet. She didn't wish to burden her bride-to-be with such mundane matters. She really did want the entire day to be perfect for her love.
Annika urged her horse closer to B'Elanna's and reached out to take the hand of her warrior.
"Things are always perfect when we are together my beloved. I never knew what life could be like until I met you. I thought I was living and that I was content, even happy with my place in the world it was not until I fell in love with you that I understood what it means to truly live. I can't imagine anything more perfect than being allowed to live my life together with you. So have no concern for mere details; we have already achieved perfection tonight is a celebration of that perfection not a means by which to achieve it."
B'Elanna could not believe her ears as Annika so accurately put into words everything she was feeling about their relationship. She could not stop a tear from escaping the bounds of her control and tracking down her cheek.
"I love you Lady Hansart I don't understand what miracle of fate brought you to my life, but I give thanks for it with every breath I draw and I will continue to do so until I breathe my last."
It didn't seem that either of them trusted themselves to speak after such an uncharacteristic display of emotion, and so they rode on in silence, still holding hands, content in knowing that they no longer needed words to share their feelings for one another every touch and every look spoke eloquent volumes about their love.
They rode thusly together until they reached their camp. The whole group hurried to set up the tent before eating a very quick meal and taking turns walking down to the river to bathe in preparation for the evening. Annika and Kate retired to one half of the tent to dress the Lady for the ceremony while Harry and B'Elanna commandeered the other side for B'Elanna's preparations. Tom took charge of the horses, getting the tangles out of their manes and tails and currying their coats until they shone. He then unpacked the first of Harry's surprises and finished saddling the horses before he went to bathe for the ceremony.
B'Elanna had a gift to give to Annika to wear at the ceremony and so she asked Harry to give it to Kate in order that Annika not be disturbed in her preparations. As for her clothing for the evening she had trusted Harry to purchase her clothes and she was not disappointed when she unpacked the costume he had chosen for her to wear this night.
Finally she was dressed and had nothing else to do but to wait until Annika was ready and they could all depart for the ceremony. She paced restlessly around her half of the tent, fiddling with the fit of her clothing, tying and retying the sash around her waist. Finally Harry informed her that Annika was ready and that it was time to go. She took several deep, calming breaths before she stepped out of the tent to greet her future.
B'Elanna was greeted by the sight of Goliath and Annika's palfrey Jet both saddled and richly caparisoned in crimson cloth with gold trim, the trappings were one of Harry's gifts to the couple and indeed the two horses looked magnificent as they stood side by side awaiting their riders. B'Elanna was wearing a dark green tunic and tights with a white sash around her waist. It was approaching winter and the temperature was cool so over her shoulders was a dark green cape lined with white thrown back over her shoulders. Her only other adornment was her sword. Harry stepped forward and handed her the second of his gifts, which was a golden circlet to wear on her head he purchased it to match the one he had helped B'Elanna buy for Annika. They matched almost perfectly except that Annika's had a diamond set into its peak.
Annika was wearing the wedding dress that her mother had brought to her before she and Lord Hansart departed for France. She was also wearing a cape that matched B'Elanna's; together they made a striking couple. B'Elanna's breath caught in her throat when Annika stepped from her side of the tent in her wedding dress. Her hair was piled high on her forehead, held in its place with the help of the circlet of gold.
"You are the most beautiful sight it has ever been my privilege to behold my Lady," B'Elanna managed when she finally remembered to breathe.
Annika blushed at the complement and hastened to assure B'Elanna that she felt precisely the same way about her. They both expressed their appreciation to Harry as they examined the beautiful cloth draped over their horses. Soon everyone was ready and it was time to leave for the sacred grove. B'Elanna lifted Annika into her saddle before she herself vaulted onto Goliath's broad back.
They rode out with the happy couple in front and the others following. No one spoke as they rode side by side both busy with their own thoughts on this solemn occasion. The group followed the track through the forest as they rode toward the enclave. Soon they could see lights in the distance and as they arrived at the grove several of the villagers stepped forward to take the reins of the horses and help them to dismount. Kate and Harry hurried forward to help their friends straighten their clothing and to remove their capes in preparation for the ceremony. A young woman of the village came and drew Annika aside to describe for her what was about to happen and to teach her the parts of the rituals that she would be expected to recite. A young man did the same for B'Elanna.
There were four young children, two girls and two boys who were waiting for Annika and B'Elanna to finish preparing for their wedding. When they were ready the children stepped forward and took the hands of the celebrants, leading them toward the sacred grove. The full moon was just coming into view over the horizon as the brilliant colours of the sunset faded in the western sky. Harry, Tom and Kate followed along behind them, as did many of the villagers who were happy to help them celebrate their union. When they reached the sacred grove they saw a very large circle marked out on the ground with quartzite rocks. There were large beeswax candles flickering at four points of the circle marking the four cardinal points of the compass. In the center was a large altar constructed from rock upon which several objects were laid out.
The children led them to the east side of the circle, placing a circle of flowers upon both of their heads and kissing them on both cheeks before leaving to stand with the rest of the villagers to watch the ceremony. Mary, the young woman who had healed B'Elanna's shoulder all those months ago, stepped into the grove and rang a small silver bell three times, indicating that the ceremony was about to begin. At this point B'Elanna took Annika's hand and led her once around the circle to enter it from the east again. Annika was trembling with nerves as she walked with B'Elanna, but feeling the strength and steadiness of her warrior's arm she calmed down.
Mary walked four times around the circle, stopping at the candles to speak her invocation. She returned to the centre of the circle, declaring the circle cast. Turned to face the young couple and spreading her hands, palms toward the sky, the healer asked,
"Why have you come forth into the sacred circle on this night of the full moon?"
As one B'Elanna and Annika answered,
"We come to be joined together, so that we may be one in the eyes of the God and Goddess and of all of our friends here tonight."
Mary then turned toward the gathered crowd and asked,
"Is there anyone here present who knows of any reason why these two should not be handfasted here tonight?"
There was a moment of tense silence in which, thankfully, nobody spoke. Then Mary continued with the ceremony.
B'Elanna and Annika exchanged the traditional vows of the handfasting ceremony.
"I have come of my own free will in perfect love and perfect trust to seek the partnership of my future spouse."
They exchanged simple gold rings reciting,
"I B'Elanna Torrance commit myself to be with Annika Hansart in joy and adversity, in wholeness and brokenness, in peace and turmoil, living with her faithfully all our days. May the Gods give me the strength to keep these vows. So be it."
Annika then repeated the vows to B'Elanna as a single tear tracked its way down her alabaster cheek.
B'Elanna and Annika then faced one another, joining both their left and right hands together; their arms and bodies forming a figure of eight, representing a symbol of perfect and infinite union. Mary then took a red cord and knotted it tightly over their wrists indicating their intent to have a permanent relationship.
With their hands still knotted together B'Elanna and Annika then exchanged their personal vows.
"You are the person with whom I choose to spend my life. I can imagine no more perfect joy than to share my life with you forever. All that I am or ever shall become I dedicate this day to you, Annika, Lady of my heart," were B'Elanna's words.
"B'Elanna, I give myself to you this day heart and soul, body and mind. You opened my eyes to all of the possibilities in life that I never dreamed of before I met you. Thank you for loving me and accepting my love in return." Annika had not had time to write her vows before hand, but she spoke from the heart and brought a tear to the eye of many of the guests present that night with her heartfelt words.
At this point Mary untied the cord from around their wrists and handed a knife to B'Elanna, who reached over and cut a lock of hair from Annika's head before handing her the knife so that she might do the same. The couple then placed their combined locks into a small silver box, which they buried at the centre of the circle. Mary then turned to them and gave her final benediction.
"Be understanding and patient, each with the other. Be free in the giving of affection and warmth. Be sensuous with one another. Have no fear and let not the ways of the unenlightened give you unease, for the Gods are with you now and always."
She then turned to the crowd and asked of them whether or not they would support the young couple in their marriage. The answer was a resounding "I do," the loudest voice among them was Harry's. Mary then pronounced the couple handfasted and asked that they exchange kisses as their first gifts to one another as a handfasted couple. When their lips met in the first kiss of their married life the crowd cheered to signify their approval of the marriage. At this point Tom and Harry picked up the broom that was leaning on the back of the altar and held it out. B'Elanna and Annika joined hands and jumped over the broomstick, once again to the cheers of the crowd.
Mary then performed a small ceremony that banished the circle, declaring,
"The circle is open but unbroken. May the peace of the Old Ones go in our hearts. Blessed be."
She rang the bell three times and then B'Elanna and Annika walked the circle clockwise until they were back at the east side of the circle. At this point they each lit a candle and using those individual candles they lit a third to signify that they were one. They then used that candle to light two torches. The rest of the villagers had all gathered up unlit torches and left ahead of the couple, lining the route to the banquet tent in pairs. The first couple in the line then lit the torches of the next couple in line and B'Elanna and Annika walked beneath the raised torches of the villagers that lit the way to the wedding feast with the flames of their combined love.
The wedding feast was to be held in a large open tent lit brightly with torches. The tent was festooned with wreathes of ivy and the tables were laden with food and decorated with bouquets of flowers. B'Elanna and Annika led the way into the tent and took their seats at the head of the long table that would serve as seating for all of the guests. Harry had asked that the villagers spare no expense when they prepared the wedding feast and he had used a goodly portion of the money they had retrieved from his father's house to pay for the food and mead that was laid out before them now. The villagers, who remembered Harry and B'Elanna from their previous visit, had gotten into the spirit of the occasion and prepared a wonderful feast for this special night.
B'Elanna couldn't believe her eyes when she saw how beautifully everything had been arranged. She had to blink back tears as she thought of how much work Harry and the villagers had done on her behalf. She turned to Harry who was sitting just to her left and pulled him into a rough embrace, thanking him profusely for all of this effort. Harry himself had tears in his eyes as he saw the last and most precious of his best friend's dreams come true.
Annika was overcome with emotion after everything that had happened today. She knew that B'Elanna had put a lot of thought into the ceremony and that Harry had personally made all of the arrangements. The kindness of the villagers was most touching to her, as she knew that they were virtual strangers to B'Elanna and most certainly to her. She was unused to kindness like thisa kindness that asked nothing in return, that made no demands on its recipients. In her experience people did not go to such lengths of kindness just out of the goodness of their hearts and it overwhelmed her to see that such people existed in this world. She was happier than ever that they had decided to pursue B'Elanna's idea and be handfasted in the pagan tradition.
The meal consisted of roasted meats and vegetables and was absolutely delicious. The men of the village had hunted for days to procure enough meat for all of them, and the vegetables had to be purchased from local farms, as the village could not spare enough of their own produce without leaving them short over the winter.
Harry had ridden to several of the local farms to arrange for the produce to be delivered to the enclave. One of the young village women had been his guide as he traveled. Her name was Sarah and they had grown quite close over the course of the few days he had spent in the enclave. He had been happy to see her again when they returned for the wedding and she sat on his left now at the table as they enjoyed the fruits of their labours.
Annika had only recently begun to spend time among what her father had termed the peasantry. She was used to quiet genteel company in which women remained silent and only took their food after they were certain the men had had their fill. To see an entire village sitting cheek by jowl, laughing and talking loudly, with the women and men eating together was entirely new to her. She heard the women teasing and worrying at the men and again she marveled at how different this world was from the one in which she had grown up. She was ever more happy that she had left behind the stultified environment in which her family had existed. She knew she would learn to love this atmosphere of raucous fun and irreverent humour. She had seen B'Elanna interacting in a similar fashion with some of the other knights after tournament, but she had never realized that such a thing was in her reach.
She was enjoying the simple food as well. She was used to food rich in sauces that buried the flavour of the ingredients; simple things like roasted meat appealed to her taste buds, although it had taken some getting used to initially. She ate what was for her a hearty meal and as usual she marveled at how much food B'Elanna was able to consume. She would have her hands full keeping her wife full; she laughed to think of herself as a housewife, but she knew that she would never be alone in her responsibilities. She and B'Elanna would have an equal partnership in all such things. She looked forward to all of the new experiences she would have now that she had embraced her new lifestyle.
When everyone had eaten their fill the men of the village leapt up and pulled the tables to the sides of the tent and several of the villagers pulled out musical instruments and began tuning them up. Soon they began to play and everyone joined in the dancing. This was a very different style of music and dance from that of the formal balls that the young couple was used to attending after the tournaments. The villagers laughed at their early attempts to emulate the steps, and soon the young people were happily teaching the traditional folk dances to B'Elanna and her group. It was a much more energetic style of dancing and B'Elanna thoroughly enjoyed herself, as did the others. They danced until the moon was waning in the sky, and the village children had long since curled up under tables and benches and fallen asleep. Everyone had consumed a quantity of mead and now the tired and happy crew began to trail away from the banquet tent toward their homes.
B'Elanna sought out Harry to find out where their horses were being kept so that they could return to their camp. She nearly ran into him as she rounded the corner of the tent. She found him kissing the young woman who had been sitting with him at the table. She wasn't sure who was more surprised she or Harry. The young squire was blushing furiously at first, but eventually he had to laugh at the comical look on the face of B'Elanna.
"Er, what can I do for you B'Elanna?" he finally managed.
"Sorry Harry I didn't know that you I mean I didn't mean to interrupt you and I, uh, I was just looking for the horses I mean I was looking for you to see if you knew where the horses were. Annika and I are going to head back to the camp now."
Harry laughed again at B'Elanna's embarrassment at catching him in the arms of a woman.
"Goliath and Jet are stabled in the village but you and Annika aren't coming back to the camp tonight. You can hardly spend your wedding night on the other side of a tent from the rest of us now can you."
B'Elanna had not even considered such a thing. In fact she had been so nervous about the night that she pretty much put it out of her head preferring to concentrate on more esoteric details such as food and drink. She gave Harry a questioning look and he smiled and told her he would show her what he meant. She noted that he kept hold of Sarah's hand as led the way to the last of the surprises he had prepared for the young couple on this special day.
B'Elanna gave Annika her arm and the two of them followed Harry and Sarah out of the tent and into the woods, picking up torches as they went to light their way. Harry led them to a small path in the woods that had been strewn with wildflowers.
"Just follow your nose my friend," he smiled, stepping aside and indicating the way with a flourish of his arm.
B'Elanna gave him a parting hug and a kiss on both cheeks before she took Annika's hand and followed the path of wildflowers into the woods. The path took a few twists and turns and in the distance they could see a light. As they rounded the final curve they saw a brand new tent pitched in a small clearing. It was lit from within, and slowly B'Elanna led the way into the structure.
The tent contained a bed frame that was draped with sleeping covers and blankets; there was a small table that held a jug of water and a flagon of mead. In addition Harry had somehow managed to have some of their belongings brought out to the tent at some point during the evening. There were several oil lamps burning and a number of unlit candles set around the bed. B'Elanna shook her head at how Harry had anticipated and arranged for all of their needs in such a lovely manner. There was even some bread and cheese in a small basket so they would not have to worry about food in the morning.
Now that they were finally alone B'Elanna found herself unsure of what to do with herself. Her stomach was filled with butterflies as she contemplated the next few hours spent in the company of her new wife. She could tell that Annika was at least as nervous as she was herself and somehow this calmed her nerves. She helped Annika off with her cloak and then removed her own, draping them over a nearby chair. She unbuckled her sword and laid it aside. Now that her usefulness was at an end she was again faced with the fact that she had no idea what to do next.
"Would you like a cup of mead Annika?" she asked as a way to fill some time.
"I believe I have had enough to drink, but if there is water I could do with a cup of that." Annika answered.
B'Elanna was grateful to have something with which to occupy herself and so she hastened to pour two cups of water for herself and Annika. They stood sipping their water in silence for an uncomfortable moment or two, until B'Elanna finally barked out a nervous laugh.
"We are behaving like a couple of teenagers and not at all like a married couple."
Annika had to smile at the truth in B'Elanna's words.
"I find that I am more than a little nervous," she explained.
"As am I my love, as am I."
B'Elanna sat on the edge of the bed frame and patted the mattress beside her.
"Come sit with me Annika my love."
Annika stepped to the bed and sat close beside her wife. B'Elanna picked up her hand and held it softly in her own, rubbing her thumb gently over the back of Annika's hand. She eventually brought Annika's soft white hand up to her lips and kissed it sweetly.
"You know there is no law that says we need do anything other than talk and sleep tonight," she said softly.
She had to laugh at the comic look of despair that flashed over Annika's face at her words.
"This is our wedding night B'Elanna. We have waited for so long to be together. Do you not desire me any longer?"
"Of course I do my beloved wife. I have desired you since the first time I laid eyes on you in France. I merely want you to know that if you are not ready, or you wish to wait until a later time I will respect your feelings. I will wait as long as you need me to for our first time together to be perfect."
"I do not wish to wait B'Elanna. I am merely uncertain as to what to do."
"To be perfectly honest my love I am not exactly sure what to do either, I only know that I wish to be with you and to show you how much I love and treasure you."
"Well, we are two intelligent and resourceful women I am certain we will think of something," Annika joked.
B'Elanna couldn't stop herself from laughing at Annika's comment and at last the tension between them was broken. She took her young wife in her arms and pulled her close, their lips meeting gently at first and then harder, more insistent as the passion they had so long denied took hold of them both. B'Elanna was thrilled to feel Annika's hands at her lap, loosening and removing the sash from around her waist apparently her wife's passions matched her own in every way this was a very good sign indeed.
Annika felt her heart hammering in her chest, her passion swelling with each caress of her lover's hands. She loved the feeling of B'Elanna's velvety tongue exploring her mouth, as her strong hands explored the contours of her body. When B'Elanna tried to pull her up onto her lap her legs tangled in the restraining material of her dress. She kissed her warrior wife once more and then stood up, pulling B'Elanna to her feet beside her.
"Help me," she asked softly, indicating that B'Elanna should untie the laces at the back of her dress.
B'Elanna obeyed with shaking hands and then watched as Annika slowly slid the heavy linen of her wedding dress from off her shoulders, allowing it to pool on the floor at her feet. Her flawless alabaster skin was still obscured by the whalebone corset that cinched her waist in so tightly that it was only two hand spans across. Annika loosened some of the laces at the front, but again she required B'Elanna's help to undo the laces in the back. When B'Elanna released the laces and helped Annika remove the restrictive garment she was shocked to see the red marks cut into her wife's skin by the stays of the corset.
"I had no idea you suffered so much just from the wearing of your clothes," she said with real sympathy in her voice.
"They are not pleasant, but every lady wears one I am surprised that you yourself have never worn one B'Elanna."
"You forget I was a peasant girl with only my father to raise me I never really wore women's clothing. He tried to get me to be a lady, but he was away so much with Lord Kim that eventually he just gave up and let me have me own way."
As she spoke B'Elanna was massaging away the redness on Annika's skin using her hands to smooth away the lines imprinted on the pale skin, too shy to touch the perfect breasts that had been revealed with the removal of the corset. She dropped to her knees and pressed her mouth to Annika's waist, soothing the heated flesh with her tongue. Annika was lightheaded when she felt B'Elanna's hands on her waist, but when she felt her wife's tongue begin to caress her skin she could no longer keep her feet. She sank onto the floor beside the young warrior, and buried her head in her wife's neck.
As she nuzzled under B'Elanna's chin she drew in a breath and was intoxicated by the scent of her lover's skin. She couldn't resist pressing her mouth to the hollow of her throat, and reaching out with her tongue to savour her wife's taste. She wanted to explore her warrior's body more fully but was hampered by the fact that B'Elanna was still fully clothed. With fingers unused to the task she slowly unlaced B'Elanna's tunic and slid it up over her head, then undid the loose linen shirt she wore beneath. It was Annika's turn to be surprised when she saw the bindings around B'Elanna's chest.
"I see that I am not the only one who must wear restrictive clothing when out in public," she mused as she began to undo the wrappings and unwind the cloth bands from her lover's chest.
"A necessary evil if I am to pass as a man in public," B'Elanna replied.
Annika finished removing the restrictive bindings and stood back to marvel at the power and beauty that was revealed by its removal. B'Elanna's breasts were small and pert and her shoulders, arms and stomach rippled with muscle. She reached out to trace the red, ropelike scars that stood on in bas-relief on her warrior's body.
"You received this when you saved my family from the highwayman," she mused.
"Yes and you bound my wounds and took care of me that day. I think that day was when I realized that you were much more than just a beautiful woman you were brave and resourceful "
"I was frightened near to death that day," Annika interrupted.
"I would never have guessed you were frightened my love you seemed so calm to me."
"If I was calm it was only because I felt so safe with you there my Lord," she smiled, "just as I feel safe with you now."
"It is my most sacred trust to ensure that you will always be safe my love I will spend my life to my last breath defending you and all that you care for."
Annika took B'Elanna's face in her hands, tears shining in her eyes,
"I know that you will my wife."
Their lips met once more and B'Elanna gathered Annika up into her arms and in one smooth powerful motion stood and carried her to the bed, laying her down gently without ever breaking the contact of their lips. Annika's arms came up to twine around her neck, holding her close as B'Elanna stretched the length of her body along that of her wife. She balanced on one arm and finally allowed herself to reach out and touch the perfect skin of her lover. She stroked her fingers through Annika's hair and traced her exquisite jaw line; she let her fingers dance over the bone structure of her collar bone and down along the sides of her breast, eliciting a gasp from the younger woman's full and luscious lips. She limned the outlines of her ribcage and down along her hip, pulling the slim young body closer to her own.
In her, albeit limited, conversations about sex with her mother Annika had always assumed that it was something that proper women merely endured. She had never heard one word about pleasure or desire and she had been fully prepared to merely get through the night in hopes that B'Elanna as a woman would not demand lovemaking too often. So it was that she was shocked by the passion and desire that she felt coursing through her body with every touch of her wife's hands. She ached to explore her lover's body with hands and lips, and was surprised to hear herself moaning in pleasure at B'Elanna's touch. She couldn't stop her body from pressing against B'Elanna's in an effort to maximize the contact between them.
B'Elanna was operating on instinct alone as she moved her body over Annika's, balancing on her elbows and knees between her legs. She lowered herself gently down until the aching tips of her breasts brushed against the nipples of Annika's as they strained upward to meet her. At the moment of contact the sensation was so exquisite that they gasped in unison and B'Elanna had to fight to maintain control of her body and stop herself from collapsing on top of Annika. She rocked back and forth enjoying the sensations the movement evoked as their painfully erect nipples rubbed together. She placed soft sweet kisses on Annika's mouth, flicking out her tongue to taste her lips, drawing one and then the other into her mouth, biting and then soothing them with her tongue.
Annika couldn't stop her hips from pressing ever upward; she ached for contact with her lover, and her breath caught in her throat as B'Elanna lowered herself down until their centers met. The sensation was electric and Annika instinctively locked her legs around B'Elanna in an attempt to draw her ever closer. The shy young blonde gave herself completely over to the sensations she was experiencing she allowed her hands to wander all over B'Elanna's body, relishing the feeling of her wife's muscles working as she made sweet love to her. She reached up to cup the warrior's breasts, rolling her cinnamon coloured nipples between her fingers, loving the sound of B'Elanna's moans as she did so. She felt their sweat soaked bodies sliding together and heard the ragged sound of B'Elanna's passion-laboured breathing; this was pleasure and sensation beyond her wildest imagining.
Loving B'Elanna had set her free and now it was giving her wings. The pressure was building in both of them, but it was Annika who reached the breaking point first the sound of her name torn from her lover's mouth sent B'Elanna over the edge almost simultaneously and she rolled to her side pulling Annika on top of her, holding her tight and rocking them both through the aftershocks of passion that washed over both of them. Many minutes passed before either of them were able to speak or move and when they did it was to move together once again in love.
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