Author: Guede Mazaka
I’m often called a bastard. So often, in fact, that when he’s in a joking mood, Arthur refers to it as my Christianized name. He generally sobers up quickly afterward—that is, I make him sober up. Much as I’d like to see him a little lighter in step and in spirit, I’m not about to sacrifice my pride and name to the cause of making Arthur smile. Especially my name, since it’s one of the few things we’re allowed to bring with us from home.
They let us keep our names and language. I’ve peeked over the clerks’ shoulders and seen them struggle with the spelling of it, learned three different ways to set down my name in Roman letters. I know some of them have given up and merely mark us down as so many numbers. Number Two, Artorius Castus’ cavalry; I’d like to ask who was this Number One that always precedes me, but then, there’s so many possible answers to that question.
Some of them, they’ve given us Roman nicknames because they’re just that hopeless with our language. ‘Black-haired bastard, native officer to Artorius Castus.’ Well, my tongue’s never managed to curl right around ‘Caesar Augustus, my Emperor’ but I still struggle through it. Mainly because I’ll be condemned for treason and slaughtered like a pig, and then I’ll never see my way out of this drenched piss-poor excuse for a country.
And some of us, we’ve decided to bend our heads so far as to take on a proper Roman name. ‘Artorius Castus, Roman’ instead of Arthur. But yes, I’m being unfair. He’s told me he is the second to bear that name, since his father had followed Roman tradition and donated his name to his firstborn son. So I should blame the father and not the child if I’m interested in being fair. Of course, I don’t mind that this also conveniently contradicts the very words of Arthur’s Christian book of truth, or the rationale the Romans used in snatching me away from my home on the steppes.
But it is difficult, and complicated. I hate this land. I hate its people, its soil, its damned incessant rain, and I wouldn’t wish a lasting connection on it on anyone.
There are children. Arthur’s father was hardly the only one to settle down, marry native, and forget the old country, the homeland. There are children and they babble Briton and broken Latin while their height and the sharper planes of their faces, like the jagged cliffs of proper mountains, stamp them as Sarmatian. They run around and stare at us, their not-so-distant brothers, as if we’re curious monstrosities.
I’d like to blame the mothers, but not all their fathers were smart enough to get killed before their children truly knew them. Sometimes I’ll walk through town and suddenly glimpse the slopes of my uncles, the straddled walk of my father, but when I turn around I see only the Briton dress and the top of a head. They never meet my eyes, always looking to their Briton wives and their children and their chains to this land. Grizzled men, scarred men, broken and beaten by years of servitude, and yet they could raise their heads if they wished to.
They choose not to, and in this I find a rare time where free will sticks in my throat. The traitorous bastards. How they can do this, turn their backs on all the death and the loss and all that’s been taken away—
--but ah, Arthur. Ah.
These poor children, they’ve been brought forth into a cruel world without even a true land of their own. No matter what their parents’ choices, they still hail from opposite ends of the world and their children will still feel the pull of them, still know that they do not truly belong here and yet will never know where they should go. The poor little bastards.
And I—I share my bed with Arthur, and have laid so much more at his feet of my own free will, knowing that he will never look down to see them. I’ve turned as well, but I wasn’t born into that. I choose to see Arthur as Arthur, and not Artorius Castus or the Samartian half-breed who calls himself a Roman. I choose him, over and over and over.
So call me a bastard. I am.