by Hilary Fox

Alternate Universe

Author's Note: This contains numerous spoilers for both parts of 'Wagon Train.' This is sort of a twisted fantasy world I came up with; if it makes sense, there might be something wrong with you.

Since my lady of Champagne wishes me to begin a romance, I shall do so most willingly, like one who is entirely at her service in anything he can undertake in this world...

-Chrétien de Troyes, Prologue to The Knight of the Cart


Between persistent personal demons, the assorted ranchers, bandits, and the rest of the uncounted hosts of villainy sent to torment Four Corners, Josiah Sanchez wondered how he ever managed to find any peace. Even his church, sanctuary that it was (operative word: SANCTUARY, Josiah thought sullenly), figured prominently in some of the more disturbing episodes in Josiah's life. On a quiet day like today, when Josiah could only hear the sound of his own breathing in the small space, the silence seemed truly deafening.

As such, Josiah decided to take full advantage of the town's rare becalming by doing absolutely nothing.

Granted, the windows needed polishing and the third pew from the rear needed to be sanded or else come Sunday someone was going to have a very sharp- and unpleasant- surprise upon sitting down. Josiah felt no sense of pressing need to get his various chores finished, though, and decided that if the poor soul who ended up with a splinter in his backside chose to exhibit his displeasure by indulging in a few curses, he'd at least have material for a sermon.

Come to think of it, Josiah reflected, that would take care of two problems- a splinter would be removed from that pew through no effort of his own, and he wouldn't have to waste time trying to think of something to impart in the way of an epistle.

That settled it in Josiah's mind, and he decided therefore to sit, read something secular, and enjoy the quiet.

Until, of course, some fool saw fit to intrude upon his solitude, but he could see no reason for such an invasion. Buck and J.D. had gone to Eagle Bend for something, Ezra had hit a streak of luck with several rich and gullible financiers, Nathan had precious little to do as the town seemed uncommonly healthy as of late, and even Chris and Vin seemed to have buried the hatchet after the wagon train fiasco.

Yes, things were blessedly quiet and would stay that way for a while. Josiah attempted to divorce himself from reality and immerse himself in his book.

"Hey, Josiah."

Josiah hadn't heard the young man come in, but then, he always expected that. He wondered how the boy managed it, his heeled boots treading soundlessly on the wooden floors of the church- wooden floors prone to squeak if a mouse walked over them. When Vin spoke, though, Josiah's heart convulsed in his chest, seeking an exit through his throat; Josiah willed it back to where it belonged and managed to answer calmly.

"Hey, Vin." Josiah wondered what brought the tracker into church in the middle of the week, and figured that it couldn't be good, whatever it was.

Vin Tanner pushed his hat off his head and wandered down the aisle to where Josiah sat in the front pew. He peered over Josiah's shoulder, squinting in the dim light of the sanctuary. A long moment passed, and Vin finally asked, "Whatcha readin'?"

Josiah flipped the book over so Vin could see the cover and said, "The Arthurian Romances, by Chretien de Troyes."


"Chrétien de Troyes," Josiah repeated. "He wrote just a few of the many stories in the cycle surrounding King Arthur and the Round Table... You know- knights and ladies fair, dwarves and dragons and great acts of derring-do."

Vin nodded and moved across the aisle to sit in the adjoining pew, stretching his legs out in front of him and slouching down on the bench. In moments, it appeared that Vin could have been sitting there for the past hour, the past day, the past two years that Josiah had spent rebuilding the church around the bent figure which had sat there since the beginning of time. Still, Josiah sensed an uneasiness in him, made easier perhaps by the fact that Vin had his hat off out of deference to God and so half his face wasn't hidden in shadow.

He also saw an uncharacteristic tightness around Vin's eyes, though, and dark circles underneath them. Whatever rode on Vin's shoulders, it was a heavy weight, and not likely one to be borne for very long, although Vin would carry it much farther than most others would. Why wouldn't the man just open up? Josiah had asked that question many times before, always arriving at the same answer, and that irked him to no end.

"Somethin' on your mind, son?"

A quick, inscrutable glance answered him, and for a moment, Josiah thought that was all he could expect.

"Thinkin' a' movin' on, Josiah."

Vin had that one, soft voice for all occasions- it never varied. He would announce the weather or the end of the world in that voice, so when he dropped a great boulder like this one, the announcement seemed ten times more stunning. Josiah's breath caught.

"Might be wonderin' what got that thought into your head..." Josiah didn't ask the direct question, knowing Vin wouldn't answer it. He didn't look directly at Vin, and instead stared at the floor.

"Just a feelin'," Vin said vaguely, and Josiah knew from his tone that he would not elaborate, although he guessed it had something to do with the words he and Chris had exchanged over Charlotte Richmond, and maybe with the lady herself.

"Tascosa?" he asked instead, not wanting to venture so close to an open wound.

"'Mong other things," Vin replied, looking at his hands. The tracker shifted to lean forward and prop his elbows on his thighs.

"A fella might want to know what those other things are, if he can help you with them," Josiah said neutrally.

"A fella might not want you to know, nor help him with 'em," Vin said firmly, nailing Josiah with a look, but not moving.

Josiah almost asked if Vin would consider thinking about it, but in order to think, that meant Vin would find Peso and go riding- not what Josiah wanted to have happen. Desperation seized him as he searched for a reason- a good reason Vin wouldn't see through like glass- to keep the tracker in the church until reason could prevail.

No good reason came, except... no, it wouldn't work. But it had to, just as a temporary solution, maybe, until Josiah could either beat sense into Vin or give Vin enough time to reconsider what he was about to do. Josiah straightened, reopening the book in his hands and directing a questioning look at Vin.

"You mind stayin'? I'll read to you, a little, if you'd like..." Josiah remembered Vin's pride, and how sensitive he was about his reading skills. "These things, you can't read 'em to yourself... Out loud is best. All these stories weren't even written down at first, you know; troubadours sang them, originally, until someone got it in their head to set 'em to paper. Chrétien, he was one of the first to write this stuff down."

Vin looked like he wanted to protest, or just leave, but instead he shrugged noncomittally. "Sure, Josiah," he said softly.

Gonna take what I can get, Josiah told himself, and before Vin could renounce the whole affair as pointless, stand up, and then leave to either think for a while or to just... leave period, Josiah chose a story at random and began to read.

"On a certain Ascension Day, King Arthur was in the region near Caerleon and held his court at Camelot..."

When Vin came to, he wasn't in Josiah's church, and when he realized that, he first wondered who Josiah was.

Oh, yeah... Josiah Sanchez.

A vague image came to him of curly gray hair, a strong grizzled jaw, and pale blue eyes, but it faded quickly as Vin became more aware of the fierce pain radiating from his head, down his neck, and through the rest of his body.

He managed to raise his head and look around a little, but couldn't see anything and soon his head fell back from the effort. Vin grunted softly as contact with the ground elicited another burst of pain, and he breathed deeply as he tried to ride it out. Gasping, at the limits of his endurance and about to pass out, he barely registered the approach of several horsemen. By the time the foremost one dismounted and knelt by him, Vin's awareness faded into oblivion.

"Gawain, fetch the litter," commanded the man kneeling by the fallen knight, disgusted that a helpless man should so be stripped of armor, horse, and his weapons so contemptuously broken. He picked up the long-bore rifle and the sawed-off Winchester, noting with approval that, despite the shattered stocks and bent barrels of both weapons, they'd been kept up well.

After handing the guns to his squire, he studied the man who lay deathly still upon the ground and, after a second's thought, removed his ermine-lined cloak and spread it over the injured man's body. He noted the rough clothes the man wore, and wondered if perhaps he wasn't a knight errant, or maybe a pilgrim journeying home from Byzantium or Jerusalem; in the midst of these wonderings, he saw a soft leather bag hanging from a thong around the man's neck.

Not wanting to breech privacy, but deciding that the identity of the man had to be established, the knight opened the string of the bag and spilled the few contents onto the man's chest: a couple polished rocks, a tiny silver locket-case, a gold ring. Quickly, the knight set the stones and the ring back inside the pouch, but took up the locket. His nimble fingers pried open the silver casing and exposed the tiny photograph of a beautiful lady and a child on one side, and a carved inscription on the other:

To Vincent, from his loving mother, Isolde de Tannre de San'antonia.

As he read the inscription, he heard Gawain coming up behind him with the litter.

"We're ready, Lancelot. You coming?"

"Yeah," Lancelot of the Lake said. "Let's get him back home."


Heavy silk draperies rustled as the young serving girl pulled them away from the window, allowing light to flood through the windows. The surgeon had admonished her not to open the windows, but Miere considered doing it anyways, because the day surely was glorious, and the room in which she stood closed tightly around her, like a coffin, no matter its grandness.

"Pff... Master Harlan is an idiot," she said to herself scornfully, picturing the fat, red face of the court doctor, with the one really spectacular red wart on the tip of his chin. "He grew up in a physician's office. What's he know about fresh air, anyways?" So resolved, she stood up on her toes and opened one window a little, taking a deep breath of the cool spring breeze that wafted through it.

Miere set about airing out the rest of the chamber, wondering what devil possessed Master Harlan to make the room so stuffy- surely, she thought, the patient would die from suffocation instead of the bullet that Master Harlan had extracted from his abdomen. The wound hadn't gotten too badly infected, which relieved her, and made changing the poor man's bandages more bearable. He had a fine body, much like the other knights to whom she had attended, although this one bore more than his share of scars- she wondered how he'd gotten some of them.

She heard a stirring behind her, and saw that Sir Vincent de Tannre, whom Master Harlan had entrusted to her, had begun to wake. Quickly, Miere hastened to his side, pouring mixed wine from the pitcher next to his bed and readying some cloths. When he opened his eyes, she froze in the act of setting the pitcher back down onto its tray, caught in the net of two deep blue eyes that regarded her blankly for only a moment before closing.

"Sir Vincent?" she asked, replacing both pitcher and cup on the bedside table, wanting to know if he had truly come to or would lapse back into unconsciousness once more.

"Where am I?" he asked, the words grating in a dry throat.

"Camelot, good sir," Miere said promptly, picking up the cup of wine again.

He opened his eyes again. "Camelot? God damn you, Josiah..."

Miere forgave him his blasphemy, seeing as he was disoriented and obviously still unwell. She sat on the footstool next to him, offering him the cup. "Would you care to drink this?" she asked. "It will help restore you. And pray, who is Josiah?"

Vincent hitched himself up on his pillows, wincing, and accepted the cup. He drained it dry in one great draught and collapsed backwards, staring up at the ceiling bewilderedly. "Josiah is... is..." he trailed off uncertainly. "A friend."

"Perhaps he's worried about you," Miere said. "Does he live in Camelot? What does he do? I might get a message to him for you, Sir Vincent, if you wish it."

He seized on two words in her recitation. "Sir Vincent?" he turned to look at her, and she saw confusion written all over his face.

Miere felt sorry for him, wondering if perhaps he had lost his memory- such things were not uncommon, she knew- and if telling him the story of his arrival here would do more harm than good in his present state. She decided to tell the story slowly, to answer all his questions, and stop the telling if he became upset. Pouring another cup of mixed wine, she handed it to him, along with the admonishment to drink it slowly.

"Sir Lancelot found you in the woods to the north," she told him. "Your horse was gone, your armor taken, and your weapons almost ruined. The Master of Arms had them cleaned and fixed for you," she added, seeing the look on his face, and knowing how sensitive knights could be about their possessions. "Master Harlan thinks you were hit on the head, because he could not find your helmet and assumed you rode without one, Sir Vincent."

"Just Vin," he said, and it sounded automatic. In a way, the shorter name suited him.

"My name is Miere de Ravaille, and I am just a serving girl, Sir Vincent," she murmured, and he shifted uncomfortably. "Perhaps I might call you so familiarly in your homeland, but not here in Camelot."

The knight digested this impassively, only nodding at some private thought. "Camelot, huh? Where's that?"

"Camelot, in the Kingdom of Texas, good sir," Miere said, curious as to why he didn't know about the most famous kingdom in the land. "Where is it you are from?"

"Four Corners," he muttered automatically. She wanted to interject something, but could see he was still trying to remember and so she didn't interrupt. "Ain't never heard of a Camelot in Texas before..." His eyes closed, and he seemed to conduct some internal battle. "You know of a Tascosa, ma'am?"

"Yes, good sir, I have. Do you have family there?"

"Oh, God, no. No family a'tall," he said quickly, taking a sip of the wine she'd offered him and making a face. "Awful weak stuff y'got," he remarked. "Any chance of whiskey?"

"I'm sorry, good sir, but we do not. Is that a drink of Four Corners? Maybe the drinking halls have it, but I would have to inquire in the city for it..."

"Ummm... don't worry about it," he said. He looked down at the covers and flushed suddenly; Miere realized that he hadn't known he didn't have anything covering him, other than the sheets and the coverlet. Crimson worked its way up his neck and he kept his eyes averted as he asked quietly, confidentially, "Don't suppose you could get me a shirt 'r somethin'?"

"Of course," she said, delighted by his modesty, and determined not to tell him that she'd seen him scores of times without his clothes on; knights could be so touchy about their pride, and it almost broke them, admitting to knowing that a woman had seen them unclothed and themselves being unaware of it! Well, she'd seen many a good knight hide behind blushes and indignation, but this one seemed calmer than most. She fetched a shirt from the linen chest and handed it to him, turning her back as he struggled into it.

"Good Lord, that hurts," he rasped. She turned around in time to see him finish with the laces and stare critically at the long white garment. "Guess you don't have anythin' heavier?"

"You're attired properly enough as it is," she said as neutrally as she could. "Master Harlan has me under strict orders to not move you; I've opened the windows, and that's more than enough disobedience for me. I should go now, good sir, and give you time alone; the King and Sir Lancelot will wish to see you, and the queen too, maybe." Curtseying to him, she took her leave.

Vin watched her as she swept out, and tried to keep his head from whirling around as he examined the room and ran over the conversation he'd just finished having with the girl- Miere.

She'd called him Sir Vincent. Weirdness enough right there, never mind that business about Camelot, King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, and queens. He looked around for his clothes and saw them stacked on a chair in the corner, a familiar pile of tan with his faded blue bandanna atop it. The huge bed he lay in prevented him from seeing if they'd placed his boots next to the chair, or if maybe his coat was there too. Tired already, he leaned back and studied the room, which seemed to close in on him.

He desperately looked out the windows that lined the third wall, trying to see into the countryside beyond. Through the decorative ironwork, he saw green hills unrolling in the distance and, in the foreground, the walls of a city. Disturbed by the thought of being in a city he didn't know, he returned his gaze to his room.

Huge, ornate tapestries covered the two opposing stone walls; he could see that one had a hunting scene with riders and horses chasing after a white deer (a white deer?), while the other depicted one king surrendering to another on a battlefield. No... wait, those weren't kings. The men on one side wore armor with gray cloaks pinned by broaches bearing a strangely familiar insignia, while those of the opposing side wore armor and blue cloaks held at the neck by a large silver star. Squinting, he recognized General Grant and General Lee, with Stonewall Jackson to Lee's left and Sherman, who held a torch in his right hand, next to Grant.

Grant accepting the surrender of Lee at Appomattox?

What t'hell's goin' on here?

Were Sherman and Jackson even there? He couldn't remember.

"I see you admire the tapestries? The weavers from Paris really do justice to their craft, I must say."

Vin jerked at the voice; the great pillars of his canopied bed hid any sight of the door, and that bothered him. His irritation and fright nearly caused him to snap off a demand for the person to identify himself, but the sight of a crown and the trailing scarlet robe shut his mouth.

"Uh... yeah, yeah I do, sir," Vin managed to say with some respect.

King Arthur waved a hand at the battlefield tapestry. "I've always thought The Surrender at Ap á Matoix is particularly fine. They say Master De Longue was actually there, you know, and that he met Sir Ulysses de Grant in person. I personally believe that he worked off photographs, for I myself have seen and spoken with Sir Ulysses in person, and his chin is not nearly that big. Nowhere near it."

"Maybe you should ask Master De Longue y'rself, sir," Vin said.

"Maybe I should; I've also noticed that Sir de Shermain is somewhat shorter than he really is in real life," Arthur agreed, nodding thoughtfully. "So how goes it? Are you feeling better?"

"Reckon I am," Vin said, feeling hopelessly displaced. Sir Ulysses? What was going on?

"Excellent!" Arthur exclaimed, moving to take a seat in the chair that Miere had vacated. "I must say your arrival caused quite a sensation in court- we'd all heard the story of the valiant knight errant who saved the life of the Lady Charlotte de Riche-Mont, and all the other ones about you and your companions. Truly incredible, you know. Truly incredible."

"Thank you sir," Vin managed to say. If they'd heard about... GOD. Charlotte? If they'd heard about her, what else had they heard about? What if they'd heard about Tascosa? And why was he worrying about whether or not they knew about Tascosa?

Should be worryin' about what t'hell's goin' on...

Arthur seemed to sense that the young knight had gotten distracted, and stood to go. "I'll let you get your rest," he told Vin, who nodded gratefully. "I'll tell Sir Lancelot to postpone his visit, and I've a feeling my Queen may wish to speak to you as well."

"Thank you, sir," Vin managed to say. His brain desperately wanted to shut down, and he found himself in no mood to argue with it.

"Rest now," Arthur admonished as he walked out the door.

Vin obeyed, and fell asleep.


Wherever he was, it wasn't too different from the world he knew- or at least, in this place, they still believed in giving a man broth if he was sick. Broth! Vin groaned and set his spoon back down in the oversized bowl, having only finished half of the pale brown liquid Miere had brought him. He wondered if maybe Nathan was hiding somewhere, having Miere do his dirty work so Vin couldn't bitch at him about nasty-tasting teas and everything else Nathan forced on him when he got scratched.

Of course, those tapestries, King Arthur, and Camelot, Texas sort of killed that theory.

Vin moved the tray aside and tried to get comfortable in the bed, slightly unnerved by the size of it. It seemed more like a boat, with thick curtains hanging from the canopy to create the feeling of being in a very large box. He shifted unhappily at the thought of that, and tried to think about his predicament.

He'd always thought that people in these stories fought with swords and spoke with English accents- at least, that was the impression he got. But he didn't have a sword to his name- unless his guns had changed to those, in which case he didn't want to think about it, and Arthur and Miere sounded more like Easterners than they did English. Then there was that whole business with Grant and Lee at Appomattox, except Arthur had referred to Grant as Sir- just as Miere seemed bent on calling Vin that- and had pronounced 'Appomattox' differently. More delicately.

That settled it, in Vin's mind. This was a dream. An elaborate, bizarre, twisted dream. At least he wasn't getting shot in this dream, he reflected- that had happened already, as the ache in his side and his head attested, but he was pretty comfortable and Miere and Arthur both seemed nice enough.

A soft knock at the door broke into his ruminations, and the door opened just afterwards to admit a tall, well-dressed man who, to Vin's startled eyes, looked an awful lot like Chris.

He did and didn't, Vin decided after a minute of study. The man had a smoother face, the dark eyes not as hard and concealing as Larabee's, and the brown hair was neatly trimmed. He moved with that same grace, though, and carried an air of command much like Chris did. Vin noticed the sword strapped to the man's left hip... and then he saw the .38 on the right. Ornate silverwork decorated the holster of the gun and the sword's sheath alike; Vin's usual attitude held that the more decoration a man had on his weapons, the more likely he was gonna end up shooting his own fool self- but the man who swept toward the chair next to Vin's bed moved in such a way that Vin knew he was more than comfortable with the gun and sword.

The stranger sat in a flourish of immaculate duster, clasping his hands and looking at Vin consideringly. Vin returned the look, face just as impassive.

"You feelin' better?" the man asked in an unexpected-and welcome- Texas accent.

"Yeah," Vin said. "Should be ready to go in a few hours." He wanted to get gone right that second, but didn't say that.

"I don't think ol' Sawbones Harlan would like that," the man said. "He's damn touchy about the people he treats- takes it as a personal challenge to get 'em well again, even if'n he has to drag 'em back from their graves t'do it. An' I wouldn't take too kindly to it either- don't aim to see the man I rescued fall down dead from somethin'."

So this guy brought him back. Vin relaxed a little and said, "Well, if you're the one brought me back, I s'pose I should be offerin' ya my thanks. So, thank you."

The stranger waved that off. "Call it my Christian duty," he said dismissively. "Didn't seem right, lettin' a man lie unaided at the side of a road, 'specially one who'd been ambushed."


"Only explanation for it," the man snorted disgustedly. "Roads're pretty bad for travelers nowadays, and we knights try our damndest to keep them clean of vermin, but there's been bandits up an' down the main roads for a while now. Ill wind for Camelot- makes us look bad an' all."

Well, okay... Vin wondered if people in the Middle Ages had to deal with bandits and carried peacemakers. They probably didn't. Yes, definitely a dream.

"Would like to know the name of the man who saved me," Vin said slowly.

"Sir Lancelot du Lac, Sir Vincent," the man told him.

God above, they were back to the Sir Vincent thing again. "Just Vin," Vin sighed. "Ain't got a Sir in front of my name, so far's I know."

"What do you mean, you aren't knighted?" exclaimed Lancelot. "You are Vincent de Tannre, right? That locket in that pouch I found on your neck says so, anyways. An' everyone in Texas- an' everywhere else for that matter- has heard about the mighty prophet Orin who journeyed at the direction of the leaders in Wash-on-Tyonne to bring justice to the Western Territories."

Lancelot's voice fell into a tone that made him sound as though he were reciting his lessons. "An' he found there seven men who'd come from all corners of the land, seven men of honor an' worth, an' charged them with the protection of the Four Corners. He knighted all of 'em, and they reside there to this day, bringing justice to the unjust, hope to the hopeless, and succor to those in need. His recitation ended with a triumphant flourish, and he stared at Vin. "So say the writings of Jacques of Steele, anyways- he's a pretty popular guy around here, too. Almost as popular as this Malory fella. I'm really hopin' you're the same guy that Jacques fella was talkin' about, so's I'm not makin' an ass of myself."

"Guess I'm the same one," Vin said weakly. Orin as a prophet? Still, Lancelot's story came close enough to the truth, and Vin decided that he might as well get used to this thing; then he realized that, acknowledged or not, he owed this Lancelot fella.

"Look," he said slowly. "I got no call to just say that 'thanks' is enough for what ya did for me..." God, he hated saying these things, and regretted the necessity. "Would like to repay the favor," he finished after that pause.

Lancelot nodded. "I like your honor, Sir Vincent-"

"Vin," Vin interrupted.

"Vin," Lancelot corrected, smiling. "If you feel that you gotta do somethin' to balance this out, maybe you'd give a letter to your next visitor for me." He produced a folded parchment from a coat pocket, the thick paper sealed with a blob of wax.

"Sure," Vin agreed, taking the letter. The suspicious thought arose that the next visitor was the queen and that Lancelot gave in way too easy, but Vin banished it to the back of his mind. He had no idea what was goin' on, and wasn't going to get involved. Hell, no way was he gettin' any more involved.

"Great!" said Lancelot, standing up and brushing invisible dust off his clothes- very Ezra-like clothes, Vin noticed, deciding the gambler would have approved. "Well, I'm sure my Lady the Queen'll be wantin' to pay her respects- she does that for all the injured men around here. 'S gotten so bad that the fellas're screwin' up in the practice yard, an' Arthur's startin' to catch on," he snickered. "See ya 'round, Vin."

"See ya," Vin echoed, turning the letter over and over in his hands, watching Lancelot move toward the door- and hearing a soft, female voice make an inquiry.

"How is he, Lance?"

"Looks pretty good, Ginny," said Lancelot.

Lance and Ginny? Vin's stomach tried to sink to his feet, and he looked for a place to hide the letter. The rustling of a long dress aborted the attempt, and he looked up, eyes going wide as he saw her for the first time.

Good Lord she was beautiful. Vin tried not to gape, and knew he probably was failing. A long, russet waterfall spilled down her back, all curls that the golden tiara resting around her forehead did little to tame. They framed a delicate, heart-shaped face untouched by makeup- just like Mary, Vin thought abstractedly- and with expressive blue eyes that regarded him (she was looking at him! Vin found himself exulting) with both calm and compassion. She moved quietly to take a seat in the chair Lancelot had just vacated, and Vin almost unabashedly stared at the clean lines of her body moving underneath the heavy dress. She caught his considering gaze and returned it for a moment before glancing away demurely.

"I hope you're much recovered?" she asked in a soft, musical voice.

Vin could see how falling in love with her could be easy- and then thought uncomfortably of Charlotte, and dropped his eyes. The letter seemed to burn a hole in his hand.

"Much better, ma'am, thank you," he mumbled, knowing his face was on fire.

"Excellent," she replied, and he saw her glance at the letter he held, saw anticipation and excitement cut across her face.

"I, uh, I got a letter for you," he said unnecessarily, seeing that she already knew who the letter was for, and who it was from. He handed it to her; she took it, studied it for a moment, and then put it in a pocket.

"Thank you, Sir." She glanced at him. "I saw that the seal was not broken; most men and women would have broken that seal in a trice, I think, to discover the contents of the letter. Lancelot must trust you very much, and knowing the stories of you, good Sir, I can see his trust was not ill-placed."

"Well, I owed him..." Vin couldn't come up with a better reason, or a better way of saying it.

"Would you consider staying on?" she asked.

"Haven't got much of a choice for a while, it looks like," he said, hoping he hid his shock better than he thought he did. She saw it though, and leaned closer to him. He breathed in her intoxicating scent- rosewater and some fancy perfume- and tried not to get distracted.

"Your debt to Lancelot will not be so easily discharged," she whispered, "however much he says it is. The customs of our land are not so... unbalanced. You are not a prisoner here, but you do have an obligation to the man who saved you."

Vin bristled, but found he couldn't argue- that letter hadn't done anything for his sense of duty, however much he wanted it to. No way could handing over a measly scrap of paper balance out against saving a man's life, no matter who said it did. He nodded silent agreement, wishing it were otherwise.

"You will stay by Lancelot's side," she told him, "and protect his life with your own. It is the nature of the obligation."

Vin nodded weakly once more. "Yes, ma'am..." he managed to say, and the bad feeling that had surfaced when Lancelot handed him that letter only got stronger.


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