Prompt 24d: “Second place is not an option.”
Those who would claim to know me might say that I am as unyielding as stone, as competitive as the moon, which, even as the ages pass, will not cease its chase of the sun across the sky. But they are wrong. There are only two places where I will not step aside, and they are perhaps one and the same.
When the Romans came, I did not begrudge my parents when their eyes, dull with remorse, slid to fix on me. I was their second son. I went willingly, too naive yet to understand where they sent me. For if my going meant the others could live free, I thought I did not much mind being the expendable one.
When Vanora seemed to do little but scold and berate Bors, even as she looked for him first whenever we entered the tavern, I knew what that meant, although Bors did not. I did not stop flirting with her, of course, nor did I bother to explain it to Bors, who cringed in her presence, but watched her with hopeful, adoring eyes—for what would have been the fun in that?
When Gareth lay dying, his hand choking mine, his feverish gaze seeing not me, but another, I did not care. He died with a smile on his blood-caked lips as he whispered a name. He was my friend, and if it brought him some comfort to believe it was not I, but Gaheris, who sat with him during the endless days while his body devoured itself from within, then I was glad.
When Arthur arrived, I learned I did not resent being second under his command, for he bore the weight of every loss like it was a boulder and each victory seemed not much lighter. He was welcome to that burden, for he embraced it like a man afraid of floating up into the sky.
Only in war will I yield to no one. For to be second place on the battlefield is to lie in the mud and rot, and I have vowed that this land, while it drinks deep of my blood, shall not eat my bones.
Or when Arthur kneels to plead with his silent god, and he drifts deeper into darkness, each time harder to pull back into the light, then too I will not be vanquished by anyone or anything. For while I have claim on neither home nor family, on neither best friend nor command, he is mine.
Thu, Nov. 30th, 2006, 10:20 pm
The first time Lancelot saw Arthur Castus, he nearly wished that he had not gotten the knights' former commander killed. Drusus had been a cruel bastard, but a lazy one, and this Roman had the light of a zealot in his eyes. Greed and self-interest, Lancelot could manipulate, but blind idealism left him far less to work with.
Lancelot spent the first month of Arthur’s command plotting the man's demise. Fortunately—or unfortunately, as Lancelot thought at the time—the first weeks of Arthur’s presence at the fort was a period of unprecedented peace. Not a Woad seemed to be stirring in the forest, and so the knights spent the days in the warmth and relative comfort of the garrison. For the first time since Lancelot had arrived in Britain, he found himself cursing the natives for their lack of initiative.
“We could knock him off his horse,” Bors offered late one night.
“In the training yard?” Gawain snorted.
“Stray arrow?” Tristan suggested.
” Gawain reminded.
Agravaine looked peeved. “We just need to get the cocksucker alone.”
Lancelot rolled his eyes. Castus never seemed to be alone. Damn man always had his squire and all the other fucking Romans about in the garrison.
A few hours, a few more improbable suggestions, and a few more drinks later, Lancelot (not drunk) headed off for his bed in the barracks. He (although sadly not drunk) was relaxed enough that rather than feeling the familiar rage when he unexpectedly came across Castus on the way, he felt only a flare of irritation. Castus, of course, was not alone. Lancelot stood still for a long moment watching before abruptly demanding, “What are you doing?” He was not relaxed enough to forget not to add the “sir.”
Castus started and jerked his head around. He had apparently not heard Lancelot’s approach, and his cheeks looked like they might be reddening. Lancelot stared harder trying to tell. The raggedly dressed boy crouched nearby did not even turn to look—he had been aware of Lancelot’s approach and all the mixed-breed children who scrounged around the fort new better than to be afraid of Lancelot. Instead, the boy’s eyes remained fixed on the object in Castus's hand.
Castus cleared his throat. “The wheels were unbalanced,” he said, sounding a bit pompous, but holding up the crudely carved wagon in front of him as if it were a shield. Lancelot recognized it as Dagonet’s handiwork. “I thought I could make it a bit less wobbly.” He handed the toy back to the boy who snatched it and darted off. Castus stuck his knife in his boot, stood and brushed the dust off his trousers. He looked at Lancelot and then away, his mouth opening and shutting several times. Lancelot, bemused, did not say anything, interested to see what would emerge next. Castus ended up saying nothing. He eventually just clamped his mouth shut and nodded curtly before spinning on his heels and marching off.
It was only after the Roman disappeared around a corner that Lancelot realized that he had had the man alone. He could have snapped the Roman's neck if only he had thought of it.
Well, Lancelot thought to himself, there was always next time.
Prompt 10d: "Things don't change, but by and by our wishes change." - Marcel Proust
Thu, Oct. 5th, 2006, 01:58 pm
When we first came to Britain, some of the Roman priests tried to preach to us. Father always said that it was wise to honor the gods of the land you rode across, so at first I listened.
It was confusing. I thought I understood that there were two gods of the Roman forts and they were father and son. But there also seemed to be a third, which was a ghost. But how could a god, who cannot die, be a ghost?
I asked some of the older ones. Gareth told me that I had to have made a mistake, and it was true that half of what was said in Latin was still gibberish to me. So Kay came with me to listen to the priest, and he said, yes, according to the priest one of the three gods of the Romans was a ghost.
After that, I did not dare set foot in the Romans’ gods’ house again. On many nights at home my cousins had told me stories about what evil the unquiet spirits of dead men could do; I did not want to see what a god’s ghost would be like. For if a man could be bitter for the untimely loss of his mortal span, how much angrier would a god be, for the loss of his immortality?
It has been many years since I believed in ghosts of any kind and even more since I have had anything but disdain for Roman's religion and its priests. But Arthur will occasionally, when he is feeling masochistic, try to explain the nature of his god to me—there are three, but there is only one, he says. It makes no more sense to me now than it did then.
I am well accustomed it to it now, as you all should be if you have a drop of sense. It is only children who are surprised when they are lied to. Children, fools, and idealists.
When the Roman legionaries took us from home, there was one, an aberration amid that type, who tried to be kind to a gaggle of boys, who were terrified and homesick and trying not to show it. As the tents and wagons of my clan’s camp disappeared beneath the horizon, he said to me in slow, overly enunciated Latin, “It will be alright. You’ll see.” I was a child still then, but even so, I did not believe him.
So why, now, as Arthur looks at me, with those intent, earnest eyes, do I want to believe what he tells me? I am no longer a child, I have ever sneered at idealism, so that leaves only one other choice. He has made me into a fool.Prompt: 7a
Those who know me probably expect me to answer that what I fear most (if I would admit to any fear at all) is never being able to return to home to Sarmatia. But those who would expect that answer are wrong. Although I do not relish the prospect of dying in this foreign land, fighting an enemy not my own, dying here in Britain is no longer my greatest fear.
Over the long years spent killing for Rome, a new fear has crept up behind me. It is the fear of returning home at last and being a stranger. Sometimes, this fear is the fear of forgetting the lines of my mother's face or the sound of my father's voice. It is the realization that my parents have likely died in my absence, and that I would not recognize my grown siblings if I were to pass them in the street. But the thought that wakes me in the middle of night, my pulse pounding and choking on my own breath, is the thought of seeing my family's smiles of welcome turn to stares of horror as they see the blood that drips from my hands and when they realize that all I am, all I know, is war. Of having them turn from me, leaving me standing, alone, with nothing of my own but my swords.
I was born in a land where the sky and the land went on forever. Where the only the boundary that existed was the one that marked the earth from the sky, and that boundary you could gallop toward forever and never reach.
I was a child of the horse people of Sarmatia. My father gave me my first horse before I could walk. Until the Romans took me away, I had never known any restraint, for that was the way of my people. My horse and I wandered where we willed. I had never slept entombed in a stone dwelling. I had never known a hand raised against me in the name of discipline.
When the Romans came, demanding we honor the pact my forefathers had made with them in the name of survival, they took three score boys from tribes and, we, who were born to ride free across the endless steppe, became their slaves for fifteen years. “Knights” they call us. But slaves and killers is what we are. We fight their battles for them in a land on the other side of the world from home, against a people whose only offense is wishing to be free. As free as I once was.
Here, in this place, there are only constraints that crush down from every direction. The sky is niggardly, the earth, a narrow thing. Hate crushes us from all sides, and there is nothing to do but to hate back.
Arthur, our Roman commander, is not like any of the other Romans. He is the worst restraint of all, for he binds us with ties of loyalty and brotherhood. Against him, even hate must be restrained, for he will not hate you back.
Or perhaps it is the blood on my hands that weighs me down most of all.
I wonder sometimes if my dreams of home are only that--dreams. That it is the gloss of young boy’s memory that creates the wide home I long to return to. But as I look around and see this hell I live in now, I know that without the dream I cannot survive this place. And when the fifteen years have passed, I will go home. We will all go home.