Tangible Schizophrenia


Brotherhood I: August

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Arthur/Lancelot, Arthur/Tristan.
Feedback: Good lines, bad ones, etc.
Disclaimer: Versions started with the movie, not me.
Notes: Pre-movie. Whole poem found here.
Summary: Tristan does some observing and inadvertently sees one conclusion.


“Yet these, who cling to life with stubborn hands,
Can grin through storms of death and find a gap
In the clawed, cruel tangles of his defence.”
--“Prelude: The Troops,” Siegfried Sassoon.

* * *

“He’s a sixteen-year-old boy.” Arthur restlessly shifted in the saddle, fingers working the reins so his horse fidgeted its way beside Tristan’s. When they had first left the garrison, he had not been inclined towards discussing the storm in his eyes, but with every step they took his tongue seemed to slip a little more from its bridle of discretion.

It was a difficult thing to achieve, given Arthur’s iron-clad sense of prudence, but after all, he was barely twenty, and not inclined to stay silent when there were wrongs afoot. A few judiciously innocuous remarks on his disturbed air, and soon Tristan was slowly prying the story from him. “You were about that age when you took command of us.”

“I’m not impugning his ability to be a knight—there I think he’ll surpass all the rest.” For a moment, the darkness cleared to let through a hint of pride. But then Arthur had to bend over to avoid being smacked by a branch, and by the time he’d straightened up once more, they were in the heart of the forest. Both of them instinctively tensed; though a detachment of legionaries was near and should therefore have warned off any Woads, they still knew better than to take their safety for granted.

One eye on the trail markers he’d left behind, Tristan thoughtfully turned Arthur’s statement over in his mind, considering it in light of what else he knew. Lancelot and Arthur had been fast, if rancorous, friends from the very beginning, and generally were as inseparable as a horse and its hooves. But of late, there’d been a strange intensity between them that seemed to pull and push at the same time.

And today Lancelot hadn’t insisted on accompanying Arthur to go see what Tristan had to show. The man had seen them leave, that was certain, and he had deliberately turned his back to continue chatting up some blushing girl. Arthur had flinched like an arrow had struck him.

“He is tripping less over his swords now.” Tristan’s tone was probably a little sharper than it should have been. Not out of envy for Lancelot’s clear skill at arms—Tristan knew where his talents lay, and appreciated that—but out of annoyance.

Arthur twisted just enough to send his gaze slicing past Tristan’s cheekbone, an almost palpable cut of disapproval. Then he looked forward, shoulders hunching in a defense that wasn’t for him.

The silence that followed was strained, awkward, and nearly painful. It was puzzling how Arthur could be so implacable in some things, Hadrian’s Wall in man-shape about what he held close and right, and yet be so easily wounded by an arrogant, careless youth. Life could have been worse, could have been unbearable, and Tristan was grateful that it wasn’t. He gave Arthur credit for that. In fact, all the knights did in their own way, including Lancelot. But Lancelot was grudging and backhanded about it, twisting his compliments around so more often than not, Arthur took only the worst parts for truth. And Lancelot carried more weight than all the rest of them, it seemed. That felt unfair to Tristan.

A sarcastic smile tried to twitch his lips, but he pressed them together and kept it from forming, least things became worse than they already are. Overly optimistic about men Arthur was at times, yet the man wasn’t blind. And Tristan, feeling slighted, had just slighted the man to whom he was wishing less slights. “I shouldn’t—”

“Is there some kind of feud I should know about?” The other man glanced over again, face now composed into a compassionate inquiry.

Again, Tristan had to work hard to keep his mouth from moving. Some day, he was going to discover the secret of the face that let no emotion carve it, the attitude that let all tumult simply roll off of it like raindrops off a blade. “No. Truly. I…only don’t enjoy the same kind of lifestyle he does. It’s a matter of preferences. He goes his way, and I go mine. But there’s no quarrel that would interfere with our duties.”

After watching Tristan for a few hoofbeats, Arthur nodded and seemed to accept that. His eyes, however, continued to wander over Tristan’s face for several more moments before he sat back. “Hard as it is to remember he’s sixteen, I think it’s even harder to remember you are as well.”

“Thank you. I think.” This time, Tristan’s smile briefly beat its way into existence. It felt more ironic than pleased, which suited the confused sensations in his gut quite well. He slowly took a breath and looked around a little harder for the next marker.

“There’s nothing wrong with that age,” Arthur hastily said, apologizing. Another branch made him lean over so his next words, though muttered, fairly leaped into Tristan’s ear. “Though it’s too damned young for deciding…”

Tristan gave Arthur a sidelong curious look. Unfortunately, Arthur caught him at it.

Looking away meant Tristan saw the last marker just in time. “A little further,” he muttered, clucking his horse so it picked up the pace.

Now a bit behind him, Arthur was making what sounded like a frustrated snarl trampling over a sigh. The other man started to say something, then cut himself off and rode up so he could eye Tristan’s blank expression. “You all know that the only things I expect from you are upholding your duties and responsibilities as knights.”

Instead of a statement, the words seemed to be more of an interrogation. Likewise, the way Arthur was watching Tristan was the same way he studied the lay of a battlefield. Almost the same way he studied Lancelot.

“I neither have the right nor the desire to demand anything else,” Arthur added. Slight cough. “And if that contradicts tradition, so be it. I won’t abuse what command I have.”

“Tradition?” Too late, Tristan realized he probably should’ve saved this discussion for the trip back. But Arthur had already glimpsed the paleness through the greenery and was pushing forward to the huge oak ahead of them.

For a very long time, the woods were silent to men. That is, birds continued to sing, animals to rustle the underbrush, wind to rattle branches, and all the while, none of it paid any attention to the man who was staring a scream at the body wrapped around the tree with its own entrails.

Normally Tristan thought it better to let Arthur come out of his silences without goading, but in this case, the prolonged tension seemed to need a breaking. “He died fairly quickly,” he hesitantly offered.

Arthur drew out Excalibur and hacked the stinking corpse free, then resheathed his sword. He turned to his horse and dragged out a spare blanket, which he used to wrap up the body.

“Are…we’re taking it with us?” A twig snapped somewhere near just then, and Tristan twisted with one hand on a dagger. But it was only a squirrel.

“This is a man from behind the Wall,” Arthur replied, sleeve over his nose. “He deserves a burial.”

Better to leave it for the animals, was Tristan’s opinion. At the very least, bringing in the corpse was going to frighten the civilians into demanding more of the garrison than they already did. Not to mention it wasn’t going to improve any of the soldiers’ moods. But he helped Arthur strap what was left of the unfortunate Briton to Arthur’s horse, while the other man mounted up behind Tristan. Since Tristan was still whipcord lean from his three months’ quick growth, the crowding was tolerable. On the other hand, he was rapidly discovering the many ways in which silence could be a burden rather than a relief.

When they were just inside the Wall, Arthur dismounted and began to lead his horse in the direction of the church graveyard, which besides being a last resting place for the few Christians was also where paupers and those otherwise unable to pay for decent burials were received. “He doesn’t have any family that I know of,” Arthur said by way of explanation. “No need to lay responsibility for him on the community.”

“You’re going to bury him yourself?” Sometimes Tristan had to wonder exactly which people’s practices Arthur followed. And whose laws.

“I’d be grateful if you could find a messenger as well; done this close to the garrison, it’s a taunt more than a ritual. The legionaries need to shift their sweep east.” Arthur’s voice hardened, and he was briefly all soldier. Then he turned and continued walking.

Tristan’s hand dangled out in front of him, but he returned it to the saddle before Arthur noticed. And he kept his mouth shut.

* * *

Unsurprisingly, Lancelot came round just as Tristan had gotten a fresh horse from the stables—there were no free couriers, and anyway, Tristan rode faster than any of them—and a day’s supplies. The other man pounced on Tristan like a cat on the warmest spot in the hay. “Where’s Arthur?”

It was very tempting to ignore him, but Tristan knew from experience that that reproach never worked on Lancelot. “Churchyard. We found a Briton the Druids had taken, and Arthur’s burying him.”

“Oh, for—” Lancelot jerked his head sideways, then savagely cracked his bootheel down on a few stray straws on the ground. He managed to make eye-rolling look both contemptuous and so bitterly frustrated that Tristan could taste the bile in the back of his throat. “Stupid son of a bitch. Duty’s such a flexible definition for him—can’t do this, must do that, perfect excuse for all occasions—where are you going?”

“To the chapel. He said he had a message needed taking.” Tristan swung up on his horse and hoped Lancelot would just leave. Between Lancelot’s words and Arthur’s, he was beginning to have some idea of what the current argument was about, and he wasn’t enjoying that realization.

But Lancelot must have been waiting ever since they’d left, because he had a horse tacked and ready. In a heartbeat, he was up and maneuvering his stallion alongside Tristan’s. “Why are you upset?”

“I’m not. I’m busy.” Inside himself, Tristan was swearing. Usually only Gawain or Arthur knew enough to realize when he was irritated. “Doing what I’m supposed to.”

“You know, not everything’s covered by the damn rules.” Lancelot clapped his heels into his horse’s side and bolted ahead, flying down the trail towards Arthur.

Since Tristan didn’t feel like attracting any more inquisitive stares than Lancelot had already, he forced himself to proceed at a regular pace. By the time he reached the churchyard, Lancelot and Arthur had been talking for a while.

“…your commanding officer.”

“Which has nothing to do with this, Arthur.”

“It does. You’ve been brought up to—to look to me, with no alternatives. You—perhaps you think you owe me—”

“Have I ever been properly grateful about anything?”

Then quiet. Shuffling feet, maybe. Tristan carefully got off his horse and slipped around the corner. All he could see was Arthur’s back, shoulders a little stooped because he was leaning over something—and then there were fingers clawing along those, digging grooves into his clothing.

Curious, the rewards of disobedience. Curious and contradictory, a puzzle that occupied much of Tristan’s thoughts as he drew back and waited. He was now looking forward to a hard, fast ride through the forest, and if any Woads decided to pass his way, so much the better.


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