Chapter 7 - Pain & Grieving
When Tristan returned a few minutes later, he could not open the door. He jiggled the handle, but it would not budge. “Jules? JULES! Open the door! JULES! OPEN THE DAMN DOOR!”
The other knights heard him shouting, almost unheard of for their scout, and came out of the stables to see what was wrong. Lancelot looked up “What is it?!”
“I cannot open the door!”
They all ran up the stairs; Gawain stopped and looked through the small window onto the landing, as the others crowded round the door. “Oh, Goddess..” the horror in his murmured voice caused the others to turn and make for the window too.
Tristan pushed past them and peered in - Jules was lying on the bed; glassy eyed gaze fixed on the door, scratching her arm with her fingernails; blood seeped out of the many angry red welts she had made.
“We have to get in there!” Lancelot could not believe what was happening; he glowered at the “What in the name of Hades is blocking the damn door?!”
Even Tristan could not believe what he was witnessing “I should never have left her…..”
“Dagonet!” Arthur called; the large knight took his axe to the door, two blows and it crumbled. They raced in……
“Jules, Jules! What are you doing to yourself?” Tristan pulled her into his arms, hugging her tightly.
She went rigid ”Get away from me!!! Leave me alone! What care you of aught I do?! Or are you only angered you did not think of it first?!”
He sighed as she pushed him off and scuttled back against the wall “She is asleep.”
“You killed my babies - you killed your own children! What kind of monster are you?!” she hissed.
“I will NOT cry; I will never grieve them, for you can never hurt them again, no matter what you do to me – they are safe now, they are free!” she crowed triumphantly even as her voice held barely checked tears.
“I will not mourn…..NEVER!” she stared round at them, seeing others in their place whose only joy was to torment and abuse her “I WILL NEVER SHED A TEAR!!”
For the knights, suddenly everything clicked into place.
“We have to make her cry.” Tristan sighed, trying to get close enough to bring her back to them; keeping his eyes on her.
“What?!” cried Lancelot.
“You heard her, this is the problem; she will continue to relive this piece of Hades, forever tormented, unless we can make her grieve their loss.”
“He is right Lancelot” said Gawain, “It makes sense. She has all but vowed she would not grieve for those she loved and lost, so this is her mind’s only way of making her. Surely to cry is better than this daily horror?”
The knights all stood around. Tristan’s quiet words soothed her, and eventually she scooted over to him and allowed him to envelop her in his arms.
He rested his head on hers and when he felt she was calm enough asked “can you speak?” The question was now becoming a familiar ritual between them.
Her mouth opened, but no sound came out once again; “tis well, all is well and naught reason for woe” he rocked her while she clung to him. “One day; you will speak one day yet.” Dry eyes maybe, but they could see the despair written all over her face.
Tristan helped her to stand, after a few minutes of hugging her to him; and it appeared to the other knights that both parted reluctantly.
Vanora came running in, followed by all the children “Well my lover, you have returned to me - at bloody last!” She laughed happily.
Bors swept her into a heartfelt embrace “I love you; you and our little bastards. You must know that, aye?!” he whispered urgently into her ear.
She drew back “What is it? What has happened?” she was concerned now, turned and quickly did a headcount of the knights; only when she knew they were all present and uninjured, did she turn back to Bors. Tears sparkled in the big man’s eyes; he pointed towards Tristan, who turned round to reveal Jules.
“Dear Goddess! Oh my dear girl; what in the name of all the Gods of the earth and the heavens happened to you, you poor sweet maid?!” Vanora rushed to hug the girl.
“If we told you Vanora, you would want to kill every Roman here as we do…” hissed Lancelot as she passed.
She shot the dark knight a worried look, and took a glance round at all the stony faces – ‘this was bad; whatever it was, it was very bad.’
As she encircled the girl in a hug, she felt her body stiffen and so backed away. “She cannot speak, except in nightmares and Tristan is the only one who can touch her” muttered Galahad staring at the floor.
The tablet came out, the mangled wax on it one making one final comment -
My apologies, my lady.
I am not used to affection.
I do not mean offence.
Tears immediately sprang to the older woman’s eyes; she patted Jules, whose eyes were now downcast, on the shoulder “well, firstly; I am no lady, so just call me Vanora. Second, you will get used to it here – this lot are lovely really, and I need another woman round me as a friend.” She smiled.
Jules glanced at her in the eyes, tried to smile and then hesitantly patted her arm before returning her gaze to below eye level.
“You jammy cow, Van; it took three days for her to do that to me!” Called Bors with a grin, proud as punch that his lover was accepted by their Birdie immediately.
“She still has not done it to me!” complained Galahad, grinning.
“Nor me, come to think it!” Called Gawain.
“Boys, boys – you know I am her favourite!” Laughed Lancelot.
“Excuse me; I was the first one after Tristan and Dag that she liked!” Butted in Bors.
Tristan watched the interaction between his brother knights, all trying to lighten her spirits and the mood in the room; she was looking at them all and smiling, as best she could at least – her trembling was also waning.
He just wished the smile would reach her eyes; though he acknowledged it did when she looked at him. Of all of them, he knew she trusted him the most.
“Come, let her rest….” They all filed out; Arthur turned “You will not leave her again?”
“Good.” Once outside he turned to the others, “We need to rearrange our sleeping quarters, make sure we are all up here. He cannot be expected to cope with this alone.”
They nodded “Not you though Bors – these are single rooms, you would never cope with your brood up here.” the knight went to protest, but Arthur pressed on “if anything happens to Jules, we will fetch you or Vanora - agreed?” The other knight reluctantly nodded.
Leading Vanora away he began to tell her the story…..
“We will move to the next room along for this night. The door will be fixed by evening on the morrow.” He indicated the now smashed remnants.
As they walked along the corridor, her eyes were everywhere. Every noise, every laugh from the tavern made her jump; she clutched his hand so tight he felt she was cutting off the circulation. It was with relief she entered the new room and shut door.
He sat her on the bed and hunkered down in front her “Do not ever do that again. We could not get into you.”
Her eyes widened, she picked up the new tablet Arthur had given her -
I am SO sorry Tristan.
I was terrified.
He put his hand over the tablet, she looked at him “it matters naught; just never bar the door against me again.”
She nodded. He sat down on the bed, his back against the wall and she snuggled up to him, her head in his lap and stroked her hair as he looked down at her ”You have to grieve Jules, you have to mourn their passing. It is not healthy not to.”
She sat up -
What have I said?
He told her…..She closed her eyes, and then wrote -
I would not let him break me and make me grieve.
He would laugh all the more when I cried.
He picked up her wrist and showed her the wounds “you did this Jules. Why?”
I do not know.
I used to do it in the pit.
He inspected her arms further; there were scars all over them “This is not the first time.”
He hugged her tightly to him; the pain from her loss, from the treatment she suffered, must be a thousand times worse than the physical pain.
He could not imagine that kind of suffering. He felt her tugging his arm, and looked down into her black/brown eyes and battered face, now full of worry and concern.
Then the tablet was shoved up to his face; wide, worried eyes hovering behind it -
Are you angry?
Do you hate me for my weakness?
He shook his head “I could never hate you Jules. None of us could. I just want to help you; unless you grieve them, this nightmare will never end for you. I understand why you would not grieve for them with him.......but you are with us now. We would not think any less of you.”
She remained unconvinced -
I do not think I would know how to weep, to grieve.
It has been so long.
I have grown used to the pain.
Grown used to always being alone.
She laid her head back on his lap, he was stroking her hair as he sighed “My sister died of a fever when she was three and I was nine. I doted on her; I could not accept she had gone. A simple fever, and like a puff of wind she was no more. For months I did not cry, did not mourn her passing.”
She sat up and showed him the tablet -
Did you grieve in the end?
“Aye, but by then something had died in me.”
She patted his face with her hand, trying to comfort him. Sitting closer she kneeled up and put her arms round his neck and hugged him. It was the first voluntary show of affection from her; usually it was her trying to gain comfort and security.
He put his arms round her waist and hugged her back. He was still telling himself that such sentimentality was nonsense, but also knew he was strangely taking comfort himself from the contact.
After some minutes she was hugging him even tighter and he realised he had closed his eyes and was leaning into the embrace, burying his head in her neck….inhaling her scent; drawing it deep into himself, into his soul and his heart……. He sat back abruptly; she looked at him in concern -
Did I do wrong?
“Nay, it is only I should not crowd you like that.”
I trust you.
He looked at the wax tablet; one line, three little words - and yet they meant the world from her. She who had been abused so, that she should let her guard down with him – allow him to be the one she gave so much to.
He sighed “Then let me help you…..”
“You have to cry…grieve.”
I DO NOT KNOW HOW!
She stood and began pacing. There was a knock “It is Arthur, may I enter?”
Tristan strode across and flung wide the door “what?”
“Umm, we were all going to eat together at Bors, why not bring Jules?” He was a little nonplussed at the annoyance in the scout’s eyes and the abruptness of his tone.
The knight rolled his eyes “We would have to pass the tavern.”
“Oh. Well, mayhap we could eat at the round table?”
“I will tell Bors.”
Tristan returned to Jules “I am sorry; I am pushing too hard. We willl leave this now and go eat with the others, agreed?”
She nodded and smiled; she raised her hand and caressed his cheek her eyes meeting his. A look passed between them and he nodded. They had an understanding; she would try.
As they entered the room Vanora stood holding a blue dress; it was one of her old ones, but still very serviceable and would look lovely on Jules.
“Here, you can put this on.” She smiled. Everyone could see Jules start to panic; Van was confused “what is wrong, Birdie?”
Jules motioned for Van to come to her.
“What is she saying?” asked Bors, as they watched Jules scribble on the new tablet, so Vanora read it out -
You are as kind as they, Vanora.
But - I -
She hesitated, not wishing to offend her new friend.
Luckily the other woman understood “you do not wish to wear a dress?”
I am sorry. I wish no offence.
She continued writing, and then showed Van with a sad smile. “Oh my little bird, you would never offend me. But you poor little sparrow; I understand your reasons.” Van felt the tears spring to her eyes as she read the words pressed into the wax.
“What is she saying, woman?!” cried Bors in frustration.
Van swallowed and read aloud from the wooden board in her hands “I like breeches. I can run faster in them. And they are harder to remove, so I can fight longer.”
The meaning behind the words hit all of the knights like a physical blow. “Well, then you wear what you like our little Birdie” said Bors gruffly.
They sat down to eat and passed an enjoyable evening; but every so often they would catch her staring into space.
“Did you have a big family?” Van asked, sitting next to her. Then read out her replies for Bors who she knew would be listening.
There were four of us.
Mother, father, me and Tabiti.
My little sister.
She was four years younger than I.
Tristan looked up – he and all the other knights, including Arthur, were now listening intently to the conversation; not just Bors.
“You were all taken as slaves?”
Our owner picked the ones he wanted.
If any refused, the village was forfeit. It would be burned and all within killed.
How old were you?”
I was ten summers.
Tabiti was just six.
“What happened to them?”
My wonderful, loving, wise mother died in childbirth.
Our owner’s baby – my half brother - lived for a few minutes before he killed him.
My father was killed last summer.
My sister was raped to death at fifteen.
Van sat open mouthed in horror, her voice trailing off at the end. Jules painstakingly patted down the wax -
I could not save them.
I wished only to join them.
But the Goddess would not let me.
It seems I am to survive; the pain in here
- She indicated her heart -
It is bad.
As if it is being torn from me and smashed into so many small pieces.
I do not think it will ever be complete again. Too many scraps are missing.
She shrugged. Lancelot stood and strode out, his face thunderous. Jules looked round in surprise, so intent had she been in talking to Van. She motioned to Arthur, who was going after him, to sit -
I will go.
I want to speak with him.
His anger is not worthy of him. He is a good man.
She motioned them to stay as she walked outside. But she could not see him; it was dark and she began to panic.
She turned to go back inside when she collided with someone. She screamed……at least in her mind she screamed, but no sound came from her mouth.