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01 February 2010 @ 03:59 am
"The Queens' Lovers' Devotees Club" — Arthurian legend — ensemble gen  
fandom: Arthurian legend
rating: general audiences
characters/pairings: um. various characters; references to canon pairings.
length: ~1500 words in four ficlets
content notes: references to suicide, discussion of adultery, mild swearing, sex-negative dialogue. meta. probably flirting with being crack if it isn't entirely so.
summary/notes: this started with me telling a friend that Elaine of Astolat and Isolt of Brittany should make a club because they both got an incredibly unfair deal in very similar circumstances, and Tragedy Happened because of it. and then somehow I ended up writing fic where they sat around in a gazebo drinking tea and complaining about the menfolks, and then it spawned a 'verse, because this is apparently my life.
ao3 crosspost: here

i. the queens’ lovers’ devotees’ club

It was Isolt of Brittany’s idea, but Elaine of Astolat loved it. She was the one who found them their clubhouse, a gazebo with glass walls that somehow blocked all sound. Isolt made curtains and Elaine made cushions to go with, to put on the wrought-iron patio furniture, though eventually they ended up throwing the cushions on the floor and sprawling on them. The furniture was more for pretty than anything else. Isolt’s curtains were green as the wide fields of Brittany, and Elaine’s cushions were lily-white, threaded with cobalt and slate-blue and silver like running water.

After a little while they realized they should have switched the materials, but by then they were used to the imperfect dust-darkness of the cushions and the way the sunlight came in like they were underwater, which Isolt always thought should make Elaine much more uncomfortable than it did.

“I like the water,” Elaine said when Isolt asked about it. She had more than enough good memories to counter the bad, she thought: peace and belonging, the soothing presence of water nearby. “That’s why I chose the river.” When Isolt still looked confused, she said, even more gently, “And I floated down to Camelot, you know, I didn’t drown.”

It had taken them a while to get to this point, the space after Isolt’s first tentative “I think we maybe have a lot in common?” to this moment when she reached out and looped an arm around Elaine’s shoulders and whispered “Men are bastards,” and Elaine let out a breathless giggle that might once have wanted to be a sob, and poured herself another cup of tea.

“Especially Galahad,” Isolt said, perfectly straight-faced, and Elaine spit tea across the room laughing.

ii. merlin explains isolt of brittany

It isn’t easy, you know, marrying someone who doesn’t love you, picked you out because you have the same name as his beloved (who is married to a man who is—first—his liege-lord and—second—his uncle), refuses to consummate the marriage lest he be untrue to his aunt and queen, and then resents you for all of this. Were it I, I would have been half-ready to kill him myself.

iii. the queens’ lovers’ unrequitedly devoted devotees’ club

Elaine of Corbenic comes by sometimes, allegedly to sympathize with Elaine of Astolat: really to gloat.

If she meant it, she wouldn’t bring Galahad with her. He was as uncomfortable as Elaine of Astolat there, as defensive as Isolt, golden-haired and violet-eyed and beautiful as he stood in the corner and looked at Isolt with approving pity—somehow nobody ever told him about her one despairing, desperate lie—and Elaine of Astolat with something between pity and condemnation. Elaine feels it like fire on her skin and ice in her blood; Isolt tastes it like bile and nightshade—she wants no approval from Galahad the Pure, who damns everyone in the pristine sterility of his mind.

(Merlin said once that Galahad would have made an excellent Calvinist. The QLD Club weren’t quite sure what that meant, but they knew it sounded harsh, the sharp “k” sound at the beginning and the hiss-click at the end. Once he’d explained, it all made perfect sense.)

“It’s so lovely to see you,” Elaine of Corbenic had said the first time she came, with Galahad all arms and legs and somehow graceful withal. “I hear this is the place for women who love men who love queens?”

“You needn’t make it sound so...” Elaine of Astolat said, mouth twisting unhappily. She refused to meet Galahad’s eyes, or even to look at him.

“Trashy?” Isolt offered. She clenched her fingers around the handle of the teapot. “This is a club for unconsummated love of these men who love queens.” Elaine of Corbenic’s small smile flickered, and Isolt thought of the pain of sails white as benediction and the devouring hope in Tristan’s eyes as he looked through her, thought of her own Elaine among the lilies with her face gentled by the awful balm of death, and pressed her words in to the hilt. “You are not eligible. Or welcome.” And twisted. “Lying harlot.”

Elaine of Corbenic stepped back, one hand closing around her son’s elbow. He stood very still, and she felt the tremor of conflict in him: mother, duty; fornicator, castigation. She tried not to touch him, whenever she could she tried not to touch him, because although he blamed his father for the most part, he could not see her as sinless. But he didn’t flinch away, and she was grateful for that, under the angry forge-fire of Isolt’s eyes—enough, maybe, even, to temper pale fragile Elaine of Astolat, Elaine the Fair.

The lily maid, the bride of death.

She said it aloud and didn’t mean to; the words dropped from her lips and fell on the flagstones of the gazebo like a gauntlet, and Isolt of the White Hands looked through her with a gaze that burned like the depths of winter, that pierced like a lance of moonlight, and dismissed her with that look as if she had never been.

It was the one Tristan had taught her, without ever meaning to—the one he had given her, day after day, week after week: you are nothing, nobody, because you are not who I want you to be you are meaningless—the one that left her empty and heartbroken.

Elaine of Corbenic turned and left without another word; Galahad bowed, ever-so-slightly, more to Isolt than to the lily-maid of Astolat—a suicide did not deserve the grace of Heaven; why then should she receive his own respect?—and followed.

In the time following Elaine of Corbenic came back sometimes despite herself, despite Isolt’s protectiveness of her Elaine—a protectiveness she uses like a weapon when she wants, which she wields like a sword and cuts to wound rather than to cleanly kill. Or perhaps because of that, because even though Elaine of Astolat lost, Elaine of Corbenic sometimes thinks that she could be made something real and strong and whole.

It worked for her, after all.

iv. vivien speaks on the subject of galahad the pure and purely obnoxious (demi-continuity)

[Concept comes from Heather Dale’s song “The Trial of Lancelot”, on the album of the same name. I very strongly recommend Ms. Dale’s music; the lyrics to the song in question can be found here, if you’re curious; you can probably also find the song as a whole on YouTube.]

You just know if it hadn’t been for the seriousness of the situation Arthur would have been slowly and dramatically beating his head against the table because he couldn’t even find the words to describe how incredibly offensive Galahad’s sanctimonious attitude was. So fine, the lad’s the Grail Quester, how nice for him. Last Arthur checked, that didn’t actually make him Almighty God, or even a mouthpiece. At least not officially. And certainly not yet. But this is life and death, his beloved wife and his dearest friend, and Tristan was so clearly biased, and Gawain was... well... Gawain. And if a man’s own son won’t argue for his life, even the High King can only do so much.

Tristan was taking deep breaths—meditation breaths, they would call them later, or yoga breaths, something to center him in his body so he didn’t suggest the lad have the stick up his arse apparently the size of a full-grown oak removed forcibly with the nearest sharp implement. Pure, he was learning, well—you know, you’ve met Galahad—it didn’t mean nice, or good with people, or anything like that, and really, did Galahad even think before he said anything? Sometimes adultery and the like just sort of... happened.

Which, really, I mean, they do, sometimes even truly by accident, and they’re both very startled. You see a lot if you’re working with Merlin. I think I’ve stopped being surprised by anything.

Gawain was thinking about the oak-sized stick too—I like Gawain, rather; I mean, he’s a bit... well. You know. Very “I am knight! I slay dragon and rescue damsel!” But he’s a good man despite that, and loyal, and kind. And I actually don’t think he’s slain many dragons, exactly, which is all for the best because they’re rather rare these days and most just want to be left alone. And he knew, because he has the ability to deal with people better than a half-dead slug or a Grail Knight, that Galahad had just been very insulting, and I really never thought I’d see the day when Gawain was being the socially adept one.

I supposed I haven’t stopped being surprised by anything at all, after all.

Even Kay, who’d argued like Galahad for Lancelot’s death, was taken aback by Galahad’s sermon. He’d made his argument as a point of law: it is treason to bed your king’s wife; the punishment for treason is death. Once a king starts making exceptions for treason, you end up with ruin and desolation and insurrection and civil war and dynastic succession. Which, in the end, they did, so in a way Kay had a point and in another he might just as well have stayed silent, because clearly if Arthur had just sort of calmed down about the whole thing nothing would ever have happened. But anyway, Kay hadn’t meant it as a whole hellfire-and-brimstone thing, just as the law, and it was always disconcerting when people take the law and make it a whole issue.

Men are real idiots sometimes, you know? I mean, so are women, of course, but the way Merlin’s explained things nearly everything that went wrong for them happened because of an excess of manliness. Or an excess of attempted manliness.

And then there was me, but that really didn’t work out the way everyone said.

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