When I glance at Lancelot, he is studying me like he thinks I’ve gone mad, and it occurs to me I probably have a dark expression over my face.
“Look,” Lancelot says, bowing his head slightly. “Before the final trial, I told you that I wanted you to not think of me as the High Knight behind closed doors. That maybe we could be friends. I’m not sure if what I thought at the time is possible, but for one minute, let me be an ordinary person interested in your well-being. You are too hard on yourself. You have a bright future, though you may not see it right now. I see it.” He puts his hand on his chest to emphasize his conviction.
Seeing him friendlier makes me squirm—it’s somehow worse than when he’s being tough on me. I want to scream and run out of the room and over the hills.
He walks closer to me and I’m afraid he’ll smell my sweat.
“You’re tortured to hear this,” he says as if he can see through me. “I don’t know what happened to you in the past and what you’re suffering from, but if you could just trust me, I’ll prove to you that you’ll find a fulfilling career in Camelot.”
Turning my head, I hold my thin gown closer against my chest, afraid that it’s not enough cover.
“Please,” I say. “I appreciate your words, but you don’t understand—”
There is a knock at the opened door. Father peers in.
“Everything okay?” he asks sharply.
He glances at me before eyeing Lancelot.
“Everything is fine, sir,” Lancelot replies and steps away from me. “Good day, Ms. Le Fay. Glad we have an understanding.”
I catch the questioning look Father gives Lancelot. For a second Lancelot looks insecure as he slumps his shoulders just a tiny bit. I realize then that Father intimidates Lancelot. Father was once a highly respected knight himself. Lancelot is still young after all, especially for the High Knight.
Lancelot gives me a curt nod as Father guides him out.
“Apologies for the intrusion, sir,” Lancelot says.
Father doesn’t look happy. “I understand your job. I once had to do similar tasks myself.”
As I hear their footsteps recede, I am left to face dread. I don’t know what ideas will spring from my mind to deal with this conundrum. But I know whatever course of action I choose to take will be my worst and best idea—terrible and unstoppable, like a forest fire. I know this but cannot do anything about it, just as a drowning person cannot help but try to stay afloat to breathe. This is my attempt to take a breath before sinking. To push past that strong current that keeps me in one place.
I take the statue of Astolat off my nightstand and hold on to her.
“Please… please,” I whisper to her. “Don’t let me…”
Don’t let me what?
What am I afraid of doing?
As my room darkens, the question haunts me.
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