Christmas Celebration: Part 1 - Camelot's Gate
Night was falling as Jair and Jason slowly trudged down the road to Camelot. Each had fallen silent, lost in private thoughts of loves lost or missing. The air was soft and warm against bare arms, with a hint of smoke and flowers to flavor it. Off in the distance, some small bird whistled good night. A gentle breeze lifted Jair's damp curls off her neck. Jason stopped to breath in the cool wind, remembering with sudden longing the salty winds that blew across the deck of the Argo.
'Mmmm... that feels heavenly." Jair sighed tiredly.
"I didn't realize how tired I was until just now." Jason agreed.
"I can practically feel the hot bath and soft bed waiting for me. Thank God Camelot is just over this hill."
The travel weary companions crested the hill and stared in awe at the city before them. The setting sun reflected of the gleaming blue roofs. Silver ornamentation sparkled from all over the city. The chapel bells tolled the hours as a thin a line of blue men bearing torches rode slowly down the main road.
"Jason, the guard is changing!" Jair said, a touch of panic making her voice rise an octave.
"Okay..." Jason answered slowly, looking at Jair questioning. "They have to do that on occasion to the other shift can eat and sleep."
"No! I know that." Jair growled in exasperation. "The gate will be closed."
A look of comprehension crossed Jason's face and he found himself nodding along with Jair's pointed look.
"Yeah!... if the gates close, we have to sleep outside again!"
"Then what are we waiting for?" Jason called as he pushed his horse into a gallop. Jair quickly followed suit and the two of the raced down the road to the gate.
"Halt! Who goes there?" One of the guards called out loudly.
"Who goes there?" Jair mimicked in disbelief, "Are you asking me that seriously?"
"Identify yourself and state your business." The guard answered coldly.
"Damn. Either I look like shit, or you're new here." Jair grumbled.
"Jason, do I look like shit to you?" Jair asked him with false sweetness. Before he could answer her, she turned to the guard and continued sharply, "I didn't think so. So you must be new here. I'm tired. I've had a rotten day. But I'm going to forgive you, so long as you open the gate back up and let me in NOW!"
"I'm sorry Ma'am, but we are under orders not to allow anyone through
the city gate after dark without authorization. You will have to
come back in the morning."
"Look here, Mister", Jair said, putting just enough emphasis on the word 'Mister' to make it an insult, "I have had a long week. It hasn't been a pleasant week either. My butt is sore from riding, and my whole body is screaming for a nice hot bath followed by a really soft cushy bed. If you make me sleep outside one more night, where tree roots seem to dig into my back even when there are no trees around and bugs crawl over my legs no matter what I do - I promise you I will be in such a foul mood come morning that not only will I *not* forgive you for this hassle, but I will have you busted down as low as you can be busted and you will be mucking out stalls or scrubbing pots and pans for the rest of your pathetic life. Now for the last time, open this damn gate."
It was unlike Jair to be so difficult, and normally she wouldn't have given a rat's ass if Camelot's guards stopped her or refused her entrance. Normally, she would have just grinned at the excuse to make a campfire and lay under the stars, then give the Chancellor a hard time in the morning. Tonight, she was tired, she was aching, and all the events of the week had caught up with her. Jair shouted the last word loud enough to be heard inside the gatehouse. Sir Patrice came out and quickly assessed the situation.
"What seems to be the problem here?" He asked calmly.
Jair froze at the sound of the Knight's voice, so like Kronos'. Torchlight illuminated the young Knight's face, and the blood drained from Jair's face. Jason glanced over, wonder what had caused Jair's sudden silence. Quickly, Jason saw the similarities between this Knight and the one that had attacked them.
"Excuse me Sir, but my companion and I have been travelling for several days now. We have come for the Christmas Celebration, and I believe we are expected."
Sir Patrice studied the travelers. The man was obviously a warrior, used to some authority. He had the build and quiet assurance of either a noble or an seasoned Knight. The woman, on the other hand, didn't look like any of the ladies on of the island. Patrice had yet to meet any of the other women besides his Lady, the Chancellor, and Lilly, but he was fairly certain they were all as *** Need word here for having strong presence, powerful - only not power... something ***** as those two. The travel stained shrew that had been screeching at the guard early was nothing like what he expected.
"I would be happy to escort you to the Chancellor Sir...?" Patrice let the question hang.
"I'm in Jason, King of Corinth," Jason said in a voice of command only King's could summon. "And this is Jair."
Sir Patrice looked skeptical. Jair was the Island Pathfinder. While she had a reputation for flashfire mood swings, she wasn't known for trying to throw her weight around, or for being a shrew. As for this "king", Patrice had never heard of "Corinth", and it didn't make a difference what place he ruled elsewhere, here on the island, the Chancellor's word was law. Still, the Knights were here to serve, and Arthur would be upset if they didn't do something to help these obviously tired people.
"Wait here, I'll send someone to check." Patrice told them before turning
to the guard Jair had been shouting at. "Go to the Inn, get them some food
and drink for while they wait."
While they waited, Jason turned back to Jair. She was staring blankly ahead. The last of the sunlight was fading, but Jason could tell from the torchlight that her face was white and her fingers where clenching and unclenching around the hilt of Kronos' huge broadsword.
"Jair, you all right?" Jason asked softly.
"Huh?" Jair said as she nearly jumped out of the saddle from surprise.
"Yeah, I'm fine." She said distractedly. Quickly she looked around, only to see they were still outside Camelot. "Jason - *why* are we still outside the city?!"
"The guard's are checking with your Chancellor as we speak." Jason said quickly. Jair's thoughts had been worlds away just moments ago, but she had made a quick return to the present, and her mood had soured on the way.
"Checking?? They are 'checking'?... ' Jair sputtered, sarcastic venom seeping through every sound. "What on God's green earth are they 'checking'? Are they checking the edges on their swords? Or maybe they are checking the straps on their armor? Could they be checking the number of arrows the tower guard has? Or maybe they are just counting the god damned number of stones in the wall. Tell me Jason - what exactly are they checking that couldn't possibly wait to be checked on until after we are inside and I am in a VERY deep, VERY hot bath?!!"
By the end of her tirade, even Jair's mount was prancing and twitching in barely contained ire. For a moment, Jason thought Jair might just ride through the gate. He almost smiled and the image of tiny Jair shattering the tremendous gate and storming the castle single-handedly.
"Jair, they are just following orders." Jason said soothingly. "I'm sure after you told the Chancellor about the raid that she is just taking a few extra precautions. I would do the same thing in her place."
Jason hadn't intended, but mentioning the raid took all the fire out of Jair. She slumped forward in her saddle until her head rested on the horse's neck and her arms just hung down limply.
'Fine, whatever... " Jair mumbled, her face buried in her horses mane.
"Excuse me, Sir..' Sir Patrice called. "The Chancellor has agreed to meet with you and the Lady."
The tremendous gate slowly wound its way up. Jair didn't even lift her head to look. Jason would have asked her if she was okay, but she gently nudged her horse forwarding, trusting it to follow someone to where ever they were being taken. Jason reined his horse in behind her, and together they silently followed Sir Patrice through the torch lit city.
<Much more of this and I'm going to sneeze.> Jair thought sourly. The horse's mane was tickling her nose. <Of course, I could just sit up, but then I might be tempted to say something, and it seems like every time I open my mouth I start screeching.... Better to just lay here.>
Jair had been riding with her face buried in her horse's mane for several minutes. It seemed to help alleviate some of her rotten mood. The rythmic sound of hoof beats on stone, and the gentle swaying soothed away the intense irritation that had possess Jair earlier. After a while, it became a game to try to guess where in the city they were. Since Jair had never been to Camelot before, the guessing wasn't going to well, and in a short while, she was peeking out of the corner of her eyes, trying to see through the strands of mane on either side of her face. Jair still couldn't see much, since night had fallen completely, but it made for some interesting sideways views. In no time, Jair was smiling as she tried to restrain herself from giggling at the ridiculous picture she must make laying across the horses neck like a sack of potatoes. When the horses slowed and stopped, Jair sat up slowly, arching her back like a cat before stretching her arms over her head.
"Okay, I'm in a better mood now." Jair announced cheerfully before flashing Jason a brilliant smile.
Sir Patrice was stunned at the difference in Jair. At the gate, her dusty face had been fixed in a scowl of anger and irritation. Slumped in her saddle astride a tired mount, with her dark tee-shirt hiding her body, Jair had been almost homely. All that had somehow lifted when she had stretched. Jair's body had swayed and turned so seductively, Sir Patrice had found himself staring. Her arms had lifted her ample breasts up, pressing them against the thin material of her tee-shirt while the hem had lifted exposing just a bit of her trim waist and flat stomach. Then Jair had flashed that brilliant smile and left the young knight speechless. The smile completely transformed her face, shining through her eyes with such power that Sir Patrice had no doubts this truly was the Pathfinder.
"Well, that's a relief." Jason said with a laugh. In the past week, he had seen Jair smile like that several times, but it still amazed him. Jair was attractive by any standards, but that smile turned her into something breathtaking. "I think anymore yelling and you might have damaged my ears."
"Oh Jason, I'm sorry I was such a rotten companion." Jair said with a frown. "I don't really know what has gotten into me."
"Don't worry - somehow, I sort of figured this wasn't your average week." Jason shot back with a grin as he jumped off his horse.
Jair watched Jason's fluid grace with envy. She was so bone tired, and so sore that the thought of having to swing her leg over the horse brought a grimace to her face. Jair sat for a moment, contemplating just how ridiculous she would look if she just rolled off the horse, and whether or not it would hurt worse to hit the ground or swing her leg. Guessing Jair's dilemma from the wistful look on her face as she glanced at the ground, Sir Patrice came around to help her dismount.
"My Lady, if I may assist you.." Sir Patrice said as he reached up for her.
Jair's head snapped around at the sound of his voice. A shriek of surprise accompanied the look of fear that exploded on her face. Before Sir Patrice could apologize for startling the Pathfinder, she had fallen over the other side of the horse in her frantic attempt to put some distance between herself and the man that so resembled Kronos.
<Now I have got to find some way *not* to do that again.> Jair thought ruefully as she sat on the ground. <On the bright side, now I know it most definitely hurts worse to hit the ground.>
"Are you okay?" Jason and Sir Patrice asked in stereo. Sir Gaheris (I mean the one with the long blond hair from the movie - but I'm making up his name cuz I couldn't tell which one is really him in the credits <g>) came out of the castle in response to Jair's shout.
"Yeah... I think I'm more embarrassed than hurt. Although my butt may debate that tomorrow." Jair groaned, deliberately not looking at Sir Patrice.
"Even Ares would have been impressed with that move. If it was on purpose that is." Jason said tongue in cheek. "I've never seen anyone jump off a horse backwards and sideways at the same time before."
"Sure, make jokes at an injured woman's expense." Jair chuckled.
"I apologize for startling you My Lady." Sir Patrice said softly, again offering his hand to assist her. Jair struggled not to flinch at the sound of his voice, but she was unable to prevent her muscles from tensing noticebly.
"Don't worry about it." Jair gritted out, jumping to her feet on her own and stepping back a ways pretending to dust off her jeans. "I'm fine."
Sir Gaheris noticed Jair's reaction to Sir Patrice, and shrugged at Patrice's questioning glance. They both glanced at Jason, who also shrugged.
"If you are ready, the Chancellor is waiting." Sir Gaheris said with a slight bow to Jair and Jason. "I can lead the way for you."
Sir Patrice frowned as Jair practically ran after Sir Gaheris.
The Chancellor was standing, again, in her favorite place when a messenger brought her the news that Jair had finally arrived, along with a young man called Jason. The messenger had been gone some time with her ok to allow them inside the castle gate, when she heard numerous footsteps approaching down the hall. Standing, and straightening her gown, she turned to see Sir Gaheris followed by her visitors.
"Chancellor, Ms. Jair and her escort Jason." He gave a crooked look at Jason, and with a bow to the chancellor, backed away. Turning he went back down the hall leaving the 3 looking at each other.
"Jair! It is so very good to see you again!" Moving toward the pair, she reached out her arms to embrace Jair with a hug. Turning toward Jason, she gave a curtsy as her eyes covered him head to toe. "Come, I'm sure you must be road weary and thirsty, I had a meal prepared for you."
With that, The Chancellor began to lead them down the hall, to a large staircase which led to the main floor. Jair shot a relieved glance at Jason. On the long walk through the castle there had been plenty of time for Jair to realize just how much trouble she might be in for the whole Efram thing. It occurred to her that the hold up at the gate, indeed the gate being closed, were all probably related to Kronos' raid.
Jair had thought back over her time on the island, and her growing friendship with the Chancellor, only to discover they barely knew each other. Jair had been shocked to realize the only time she had met the Chancellor face to face was the afternoon Jair had come through the Portal. Since then, Jair had exchanged numerous emails with the Chancellor, but this would in effect be only their second meeting.
<Somehow I don't think almost getting her favorite Russian killed is a good way to start things out.> Jair thought with a wince.
"Weary doesn't begin to describe how I feel right now, Chancellor." Jair spoke answered wearily. "I had no idea trees had so many damned roots, and if I never sleep outside again, it will be too soon." A wave of longing passed through Jair as she thought of her wonderful hanging bed in her tree house - the one she had shared with Kronos. A home and bed she wasn't sure she would ever return to now.
As they walked, the Chancellor moved in close to Jair. "Jair? Efram really is ok isn't he? I've been so worried about him. Is he with you? He is coming home isn't he?" When both Jair and Jason shot glances at her, she realized she wasn't acting very Chancellor-ish. Blushing, she cleared her throat. "I'm sorry. I guess this can wait until you two have had some time to rest from your long journey."
About that time, they entered a dining area just off the kitchen. "Here we are. Please, have a seat." The Chancellor rang a small bell, and 2 castle helpers entered with plates of food, and goblets of drink. The room was fairly small, but homey. A small fire burned soothingly in the fireplace and candles were lit for a soft, warm light.
"So, tell me Jason. I understand you are King of Corinth? How is it you come to be with us?" she asked, as both her guests were seated, and began to eat heartily.**
Jair settled down, wiggling her butt deep into the cushions on the chair with a satisfied sigh. The fire was warm and relaxing. The scent of warm bread and mulled wine washed over Jair, cleansing away some of the aches and replacing them with an intense hunger. Jair quickly helped herself to some bread and honey-butter. She was concentrating on savoring the sweet, warm taste and at first didn't even hear Jason start his explanation.
"... I was taking Cerys to meet Hercules and Iolus. I was hoping they might be able to help me think of a way for us to be together. My advisors would never approve of Cerys and my people would never accept her as their queen. I thought I heard something in the woods, so I went to see. I walked into a clearing, and there was this opening in the air." Jason paused trying to think of how to explain what he had seen at first.
"That would have been the portal." Jair inserted between mouthfuls of the bread. She was trying to be helpful but it earned her a sharp look from both Jason and Sharon.
"Yes - it was this Portal you've told me about. But I still don't understand it." Jason grumbled lightly before turning back to Sharon and continuing, "I could see this beautiful woman sitting in the center of the clearing, and she seemed so sad. I remember thinking that I should see if there was anyway I could help her, so I started walking towards her. Everything got all mixed up for a moment, like I came apart and got put back together at the same time. The next thing I know - the lady is yelling at me. Then Jair jumps on me and starts hitting me..... That's how I got here, I guess."
Sharon worked to stifle a smile, and a small giggle. Lilly had told her about the 'attack' Jason had received when he arrived unannounced. Reaching out, she gently patted the back of Jason's hand. "Well, I see that incident didn't leave any lasting marks." She smiled again, and then looked at Jair. "And, I understand there is still someone, this Cerys, that we need to get through the portal?" Jair looked up just then, and stopped in mid chew, when she realized the Chancellor was looking at her.
The pathfinder quickly swallowed the bread, then gulped down some wine when it lodged partway down her throat. As soon as Jair was certain of her ability to speak without food coming out, she smiled sheepishly before darting a quick look at Jason.
"Uh - I thought it might sorta solve a few of your problems Jason. Here on the island, you and Cerys can be whoever you wish. There wouldn't be any advisors, no unrealistic expectations to live up to. She wouldn't be in danger from ignorant strangers......" Jair just let the words trail off. She hadn't spoken of this to Jason yet, and wasn't sure he would want to stay even if Cerys were brought across.
Jason just sat back in his chair with a stunned grin. He had been trying to think of a way to convince the Chancellor to not only let him stay, but to bring Cerys here as well. It didn't really surprise him that Jair had already thought of it, but it did surprise him that the Chancellor sounded so open to the possibility.
Cerys would love this place, Jason was sure of it. Once, as a prank on his friends, Aprhodite, Goddess of Love, had offered to duplicate him. Jair had told him there was at least on God on the island, and a number of other powerful beings. It was Jason's hope that they might be able to create a double the same way Aprhodite had planned. That way, a "Jason" could be sent back through the portal to rule his people in his place.
"I'm sure she would be more than welcome here Jason." Sharon said as she looked over at Jason with a reassuring smile. "We have rules that must be abided by," she continued with a questioning look at Jair, "so that everyone can live in peace. We can discuss this more in detail tomorrow though."
With that the Chancellor herself sat back in her chair, and sighed. Her increased size was really beginning to be a tiring thing. Then she looked at Jair, and her eyes softened from the business look, to show the concern she had been trying to cover all night.
"Jair, is there word on Efram? Where is he, do you know? I'm sorry to be so pushy, but I really am concerned for him. I haven't seen him since I brought them all here. Then to hear that I almost lost him? Please, can you tell me anything?" Her eyes once again became damp as she leaned forward to touch Jair's hand.
Guilt quickly clouded Jair's blue eyes. Jair knew she had totally and completely failed her friend. Jair had been so happy to be able to tell Sharon that the young Russian was safe with Kristov. It had been cute to watch how excited Efram was to be returning home, and to know how happy the Chancellor would be to see him. The Pathfinder was nearly giddy to be part of these two finding their way back to each other. Only now the reunion was to be delayed, and the perfection of it marred by a tragedy that Kronos had caused. Not only was Jair's lover responsible for trying to kill Efram, but Jair wasn't even sure where the young Russian was now.
"I'm so sorry Chancellor." Jair said quietly, looking down at her fingers tracing patterns on the table top. "In this, I have failed. I am not sure where Efram is at the moment, nor do I know when he will arrive. I was sorta hoping he was here already."
Jair paused for a moment to swallow the lump in her throat. She took another sip of wine to buy herself some time to gather control of herself.
"I can tell you this. When I left him, he was alive and well. Efram was helping Methos with the others. I left though, and I'm not sure what happened after that. Maybe Jason knows some more?" Jair asked, looking hopefully at Jason.
"Efram is well. Methos will take care of him. They had to find the rest of the horses, so they may be delayed an additional day or so. I would not worry about him. I went to school with Methos, and I know he will bring Efram and the others here safely."
Sharon sighed, one filled with both relief and disappointment.
"Jair, I know this wasn't your fault. Please don't continue to berate yourself for it. If Methos is still the man I think he is, he will bring Efram home safely. I know you were doing your best, ok?" Sharon gripped Jair's hand, and squeezed it confidently. "When things have settled down a bit, I will send out a party looking for Kronos. It is my full intention, that he will answer to me for this. Since there is no way off the island without help, he will be found."
With that spoken out loud, the Chancellor looked at each of her guests. "So, is there anything else you wanted to talk about tonight? Rooms have been set up for each of you while you were eating, and are ready whenever you are."
"Actually - I've dying for a long hot bath if it isn't too much trouble." Jair answered looking at Jason to see if he wanted anything.
"So I heard." Sharon answered, laughter twinkling in her eyes.
"I could stand a bath as well." Jason admitted.
"Then it is settled. You two will go rest and wash up. We can talk more in the morning."
The Chancellor rang a bell again, and then hugged Jair tight.
"We'll get this sorted out. Don't worry Pathfinder."
"I know Chancellor... but knowing it, believing it, and not worrying about it are not the same thing." Jair whispered as she turned to follow the castle attendant to her room.
~ End of Camelot's Gate ~
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