Tangible Schizophrenia


Five Ways the Arrow Missed

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Arthur/Lancelot, Arthur/Guinevere, Guinevere/Lancelot, Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot.
Feedback: Good lines, bad lines, etc.
Disclaimer: These versions aren’t mine.
Summary: Other possibilities.



It’s futile and it’s hopeless, but they try anyway. Their fathers and grandfathers may have fallen beneath the march of Rome’s heavy-nailed boots, but pride exists beyond generation.

Lancelot is barely old enough to properly hold a sword, barely strong enough to keep his back straight as they rush into the spears and swords and arrows, as the fire rains down and the men crush into blood-waters that threaten to suck down the horses, the boys, the entire land itself.

He’s a man, as of last night’s quick rush with some rough-skinned girl, and he holds onto that thought when the spear lifts him from saddle by screaming shoulder, when he falls and the oncoming horse does not swerve.

The rider is young, like him, and the regret Lancelot thinks he sees in the helmet-shadowed eyes is the last surprise.

* * *


For once, Rome’s robed wonders keep their promises. Laughing, joking about the fleshpots of the empire’s capital, the bishop hands them their discharges as soon as they arrive back at the garrison.

Lancelot can’t stop staring at the paper, tight white roll of delicate power slowly smudging in his filthy hands. The bloodstains still on his skin from the battle are gradually staining it red.

Eventually, he has to open the discharge just to quiet that last nagging doubt. It’s been a long day, and anyway, the skill needed to hold hilt and rein is not the same as that needed to handle fragile things. He almost drops the roll to the ground, but at the last minute, a hand swoops in.

Arthur’s face is strange, almost cold as he gives back the discharge. “I’d hate for you to lose that after so many years.”

“Fifteen, like everyone else.” Lancelot’s stomach is cold, and grows no warmer when he sees the stark black Latin, unashamedly bold, on the paper. “So.”

“Visit me. Remember…in Rome, before you go.” The sky has never seemed so blue, and Arthur’s eyes have never been so dull.

Lancelot forces himself to smile. “And maybe you’ll get tired of your Rome. Travel some…”

“Maybe.” From the doorway, the bishop is calling and Arthur swings around to answer. It might be Lancelot’s imagination, but somewhere near, something softly thuds, like wood against wood. And his fingers itch where they touch paper.

* * *


Later, many miles later and many tellers-of-tales away, Lancelot hears some version of the end, twisted by so many tongues into something so beautiful, so inevitable that it sends him out of the tavern, down the road to the gutter where he drops to knees and vomits.

It’s choice and freedom, he tells himself. He went. Arthur stayed. In the end, neither of them had blamed the other. And besides, Arthur made him promise to live for them. He’d promised.

He’d promised. The vow is like a snake around his ankle, knotting itself around into a vicious bite that sends more bile dripping down his chin, and even when there is nothing left in his stomach, he still feels the coiling fierce emptiness within him.

* * *


Guinevere falls, and it’s as if her death yanks some invisible thread because half a crowded, chaotic battlefield away, Arthur screams and Lancelot hears it in his very bones. He’s thrown to a stop, his race against time coming up too short, and he tastes stale bitterness.

It’s only for a moment—the fighting soon sweeps him away again, and anyway, she was a soldier. It was the death of her choosing.

Still, when Lancelot finally buries his swords in her Saxon killer’s neck, cutting down the ravaging bull in mid-stride, his satisfaction has more than his hot blood stamped over it. And when he finds Arthur at the end of the battle, there’s more than the end of a philosophy, of a Roman, in his friend’s face.

Two weeks later, he tries—and only once. He cannot stand to see the pain in Arthur, deep and raw and unhealing for the rest of their lives, and the woman-shaped absence that hollows out Arthur’s eyes.

Sometimes the ghost mocks him. Sometimes he mocks it. And once in a while, he wishes…

* * *


And he’s been watching Arthur since before she came, and he’s been watching her since she first truly looked at Arthur with those wildcat eyes. So it’s no surprise that Guinevere and he run into each other before Arthur’s door, on the night when lives must be weighed and shaped.

It is a bit of a shock when Arthur opens the door on their bickering and tells them to get inside before they wake everyone.

Lancelot goes in thinking he cannot go, he cannot stay, he loves and he hates and he resents…but once inside, once seeing firelight flickering the age on and off Arthur’s face, feeling Guinevere’s hands tremble the table whose one leg was accidentally shortened one far-off but still memorable night ago—then Lancelot’s tongue is bound, and he cannot speak. He only lays his hands on the table, scars and rough calluses and cuts, because they are what he is and does and they are all he can show.

Arthur’s hands have square-shaped palms mismatched to long fingers, but they seem to know everything. When to move, when to stop, when to hold. When to keep Guinevere’s teeth away from…or keep Lancelot from ruining everything in sudden awkwardness. When to unfold into a world that swallows Lancelot whole, keeps him warmer and closer than his suddenly fading memories of Sarmatia.

It’s two on the hill the next morning, because she has to lead her people, but that soon changes. Six on the hill, six down the hill, and then seven. Lancelot does not leave Arthur’s back, and Guinevere refuses to let him have everything to himself.

And they fight, back to back to back, as long as Britain holds.